Talking Accessibility at GRWebDev

Ellen speaking in front of a slide that asks, "What does inaccessibility feel like?"

This October I was invited to be a speaker at GRWebDev, a leading development Meetup group here in Grand Rapids, MI. I love sharing my knowledge of Web Accessibility with the local tech community, so I jumped at the opportunity. Many thanks to Sloth over at SlothWerks for extending the invitation! 

Talking the Talk

My presentation was called “HTML + A11y”, and in it I examined some practical applications of HTML for Web Accessibility.

The GRWebDev crowd is an awesome mix of both seasoned developers and beginners. I was able to get into some deeply technical Accessibility topics, like focus control in Single Page Applications (SPA’s). I also didn’t want to rush from zero to sixty, so I spent a good amount of time laying the ground work for understanding Digital Accessibility more broadly. 

This talk covered topics such as:

  • Assistive Technology (AT)
  • Native OS accessibility features
  • Alternative text
  • Form controls
  • Keyboard interaction

Starting with Empathy

It was important to me to begin the evening by centering the lived experiences of people disabilities. I didn’t start by talking about compliance. I didn’t start with rules, regulations, or lawsuits, although I'm sure folks were interested in hearing about recent cases like Robles v. Domino's. Access is a fundamental human right. So, as much as I love getting carried away with technical stuff in a room full of developers, I will always begin by telling stories, and illustrating user experiences. 

Empathy is also an engineering superpower. A better understanding of what’s broken helps us solve technical problems. Actually using a tool like an end-user might, gives us problem-solving power. If we as developers understand how real people use the web, we can develop more robust applications. In my talk I shared examples of how people use Assistive Technology (AT), and demonstrated the principles of code samples on the macOS Voicover web rotor.

Building Momentum

We had a terrific turn-out for this event. People seemed very motivated and excited to push the conversation further. We didn’t waste a minute pondering if Web Accessibility was worth our efforts. In fact, a good portion of the Q&A time centered on getting other people on board. How can we implement accessibility for more budget-conscious clients, or smaller projects? How can we collaborate with other developers better? How do we reach out to other devs who use popular client-side JavaScript frameworks, but might not have accessibility in mind? Lots of great discussion ensued.


Missed the talk? No problem! A recording is available through the GRWebDev Facebook page.

Video recording on GRWebDev's Facebook

Slides are available here in DOCX, EPUB, and PDF formats.