Today, I wrap up what really has been an insightful interview with Jennison Asuncion. Check out Interview with Jennison Asuncion and Interview with Jennison Asuncion, continued if you haven’t already.
We’re down to the last question, about how to tackle web accessibility with less-than-receptive audiences.
Steve (SG): When people getting into web accessibility advocacy are met with obstacles such as businesses or cultures who do not “get it” or see its value, what advice would you give them?
Jennison (JA): The advice I would give someone would be similar to the advice I would give for any advocacy effort. Absolutely my first piece of advice would be to listen. Listen to understand what possible constraints and/or lack of knowledge may exist that is resulting in a business or culture not “getting it.” I truly believe no one sets out to build a website or application with the express intention to exclude anyone. That said, if, for example, a client does not explicitly state and fund accessibility as a requirement, a development shop cannot be expected to slip accessibility in just because it’s the right thing to do. In this case, the complaint and/or issue rests with the client not with the developer.
The other advice I would give, and again, it can be applied to any issue, is to keep the tone respectful throughout, as much as possible. While I mentioned earlier that I am seeing constructive conversations happening among and between the communities of developers, accessibility champions and end-users with disabilities, I have certainly seen a few not so constructive conversations on all sides. It’s obvious that none of this advances the cause at all. Of course it goes without saying that if you are being ignored or are just not getting anywhere, you may need to take a different approach, but I would hope that would be the exception and not the rule.
On a more practical level, when discussing web accessibility problems, as an end-user, don’t assume that the first person you communicate with will be highly technical and/or will know what you are talking about. I would highly recommend reading Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites, which is I believe in draft stage. However, it is a document from the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative, and provides practical steps and templates on how to address the topic of web site inaccessibility.
I want to thank, for a final time, Jennison for taking the time to put together such extensive, articulate answers. He obviously put a great deal of thought and attention into them, and as you can see, he has a wealth of information from several different vantage points — from working in the business sector, education sector, and having a visual disability.
For anyone, like myself, who is taking on web accessibility and trying to wrap their head around where to go for information, how to advocate it effectively, etcetera, Jennison provided a lot of direction. He shared a ton of organizations and web sites that are great places to go for information, consultation and all-around insight.
I have to share that it wasn’t until many months after following Jennison and conversing on Twitter that I even realized that he is blind. At first, I felt bad I didn’t catch that, that I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Then it hit me as he, again, worded it as being a web user who “happens to be blind”.
Jennison doesn’t beat you over the head with his disability. He’s a person who utilizes web sites like all of us do. He wants to access the same social media sites, the same information sites, the same transaction sites as any of us. Having or not having a disability makes you who you are, but at the same time it isn’t some bright, blinking badge on your shirt.
It’s the same thought that occurred to me as I became familiar with the AbleGamers organization, whom I recently interviewed and will be sharing next week. One of my favorite hobbies is video games. If, today, I lost my hearing or lost my sight, that wouldn’t automatically make my love for games go away. I’d then become a disabled video game enthusiast, and I’d want as much the same experience as before, as close as possible.
In closing, I’m very grateful that Twitter and my growing place in web accessibility has enabled me to meet people like Jennison Asuncion. I’m hoping to meet more people, attend accessibility conferences and unconferences, and learn from it all.