Accessibility: Why You Need to Work Toward Progress Over Perfection

In August 2017, I had unexpected emergency surgery. This was going to make it difficult for me to train for my second half marathon the following December. The doctor told me to take it easy for two weeks. And then slowly ramp up my workouts based on how I feel. In other words, make progress, not perfection. [Progress collection shop!]

Would you tell me to start running 5 miles on my first day back? Of course not! Right?

The Progress Over Perfection Way to Train for a Half Marathon

I started with a slow walk. I kept walking. When I felt like I could, I jogged a little. Walk, jog, walk, jog, and so on. By November, I was back to running and worked to increase my distance each week.

It paid off. I shaved a whopping 10 minutes of my time from the previous year and got a Sub-2 time! That means I finished in under two hours at 1 hour and 55 minutes!

Meryl wears running gear and arms in the air celebrating her 2017 half marathon time

I didn’t go from hospital bed to running. I slowly worked my way up. If I did too much, it could lead to an injury or hurt my recovery. You could say accessibility is like starting an exercise program. You don’t go from 0 to 60 mph out of the gate.

It took time for me to get the hang of remembering to add the image description. In the early days, I’d miss a few. Now, I’m good about it. Occasionally, one will slip through. (I’m human — sometimes I forget to hit the Save button.) I’ll delete it and issue another one. Or if it’s too late, then I’ll add the image description in some other way.

What’s the point of this?

Getting Started with Accessibility

A company was lauded for adding artificial intelligence (AI) aka automatic captioning to its live events. An accessibility supporter scolded them and said that human captions are better. Agreed. Still, we need to think progress, not perfection. Besides, many, many other companies are not captioning their videos at all.

Someone complained about a company’s image description aka alternative text for an image that contained text. The company did a great job describing it as it had a lot of relevant details. Again, this company adds alternative text. Many don’t.

Please don’t beat up companies that are doing something. Doing that could have the opposite effect.

Instead, let’s educate those who aren’t doing anything. And it’s OK to suggest how the company can iterate and improve in a friendly and constructive way.

I like what Cam Beaudoin says:

“One thing I always try to talk about with clients is a Good / Better / Best model with every accessibility issue outlining what things I’d like to see to meet every level. This is totally uncoupled from the WCAG too since, as we know, it’s up for interpretation.”

Accessibility isn’t all or nothing. It’s progress, not perfection. And here are examples of ways to make progress.

Giving Accessibility Progress, Not Perfection Feedback

Don’t criticize a company for having an alternative text that’s not good enough. There are too many who don’t add any alternative text. This contains a description of what an image contains based on context.

Don’t criticize a company for using automatic captions for live video events and then human captions for recorded videos. There are too many that don’t caption at all.

Although some of the captioning options on Instagram and Facebook mobile could be better, I view it as progress. It’s my hope that compels creators to make captioning part of their video creation process. Just like editing is part of the writing process.

Praise companies for getting started. Encourage them to iterate and take their accessibility efforts from good to great with suggestions.

I see plenty of captioned videos that could be better. But I never provide feedback unless asked. Providing criticism and negative feedback could have the opposite effect. It could make the company give up thinking there’s no point.

I know I work harder when someone says I’m doing a good job or gives me advice on how to take it to the next level. I beat myself up when someone gives me negative feedback. It takes me a long time to shake it off. It’s just my nature.

It takes practice, practice, practice for something to become a habit … to become muscle memory. In the early days of adding alternative text, I’d forget every other photo. Now, I rarely do.

Take action: Thank a company for making progress or ask a company to do one thing, such as captioning a video or adding alt text.

Watch out for the Accessibility Paradox aka Schrödinger’s A11y Cat

When it comes to accessibility, I encourage taking that first step. Don’t wait until you get the website, product, or whatever just right. Don’t wait until you launch something.

No matter how small it is, it’s a step forward.

The trick is to start. Even if you plan to launch a redesigned website built with accessibility in mind, ensure any new content you add to the old website is accessible. When you publish the next blog post, make sure it has proper headings and alternative text for any images.

Besides, you’ll eventually run into, as Christopher Patnoe says, the accessibility paradox or as I like to call it Schrödinger’s a11y cat. (There are 11 letters between A and Y in accessibility, hence a11y.)

What’s Schrödinger’s a11y cat? It means that something you do for accessibility could be an accessibility problem for someone else.

Meryl wears a shirt with #A11y in ombre from pink to yellow

You could launch a website with dark colors as a lot of people struggle with the brightness of white. Yet, some will struggle with dark colors and do better with lighter colors. A lot of products offer a choice of dark or light mode. But not everything has this.

Another example is captions. I met a hard of hearing person who prefers transcripts to captions. She needs to see more lines. Many of us prefer traditional captions because transcripts give us cognitive overload.

Besides, it’s easy to offer transcripts when you have captions. Screen readers and refreshable Braille readers often work well with transcripts. It’s not an either-or situation. Provide both. Captioned videos posted on YouTube automatically generate transcripts. Some content management systems have an extension or plug-in that can do the same.

Take action: Take the first step. One small thing, such as using <h1>, <h2>, and <h3> for headings in an article and in the proper order. Don’t start with <h3> and then <h2>. <H1> is usually the title of the page. Learn more about how to create digital content with accessibility in mind.

A Better Way to Link Text and Boost SEO

This is a small thing we can all do better to create more accessible content.

How often do you search for “Click here”? What about “Learn more” or “Read more”?

I’m channeling my psychic powers to determine your answer: “No” or some variation of that like “Heck, no!” “No way!” “You kiddin’ me?”

Then, why are websites, emails, and other digital content linking to these words over and over? No one is going to or wants to rank for “Click here” or “Learn more.” It’s useless. It says nothing about your product, business, or brand.

There’s a better way that will help optimize the content for search engines.

Select Meaningful Text for Linking

The linked text adds fuel to the search engine optimization motor.

Learn more about our pizza made from scratch.

Wouldn’t you rather rank for “pizza made from scratch” than “Learn more”?

Click here to download your free B2B marketing tips.

Wouldn’t you rather rank for “B2B marketing tips” than “Click here”?

You may not use a screen reader, but sometimes you search a web page for a word, yes? Well, imagine searching for “Click here” with 10 on a page. You’re going to be jumping a lot of times. And you’re scanning, so it won’t be obvious where “Click here” will take you.

That’s what it’s like for people who use screen readers. The screen reader announces links. The person using the screen reader won’t know which of the 10 “Click here” links they want. It’ll be tedious to work through the page to find the right link. People will leave rather than spend time figuring it out.

As Steve Krug’s excellent book title says it all: “Don’t make me think!” [Affiliate link]

Clicking Vs. Selecting Vs. Activating

Besides, a lot of people don’t click. They use their keyboard to navigate and ignore the mouse. I tend to use “Select” when providing instructions.

But Thomas Logan recommends “Activate.” In one situation where you select a star to toggle it, I felt “Activate” was too much. I suppose “Toggle” would work too.

I digress.

At one point, marketing advice was to link [verb + noun], such as “Read report.” But verbs are often meaningless from a search engine optimization point of view. Yes, it’s supposed to compel you to act. Save that for the buttons instead of the links.

Replace the “Click here” or “Learn more” with more valuable keyword-rich words. Link a noun like pizza, coffee, burger, etc. (Clearly, it’s almost lunchtime.)

Take action: Pick one “Click here” or “Learn more” link in an article, web page, or other digital content you manage. Move the link to better words that make it clear what people can expect if they select the link. Don’t forget to delete “Click here.”

The Progress Over Perfect Way of Captioning Videos

Twitter announced it automatically captions any video that doesn’t have any. And it uses Microsoft artificial intelligence technology.

How about that?

No … no … stop. This isn’t the time to say:

“But human captions are better.”

“But you can’t edit the automatic captions.”

No. This is the time to celebrate and give each other high fives. It’s progress, not perfection. Social media is doing more and more of this. Tik Tok, Meta Facebook, and Instagram all have automatic captions.

Maybe people posting their videos will see the captions aren’t perfect and be compelled to add their own accurate captions. Maybe people posting their videos will make captioning part of their video creation process. My hope is that moves like this will compel companies to change their workflow.

No English teacher would tell students to turn in their paper after the first draft. They expect students to do at least one round of editing. No high-quality blog would publish posts without editing. (I’m sure there are bad ones where they just post the sloppy first draft.)

I hope in the near future that no video will go live without accurate captions and audio descriptions. When captions keep showing up, it’ll become second nature. It takes time to create new habits.

Celebrate then iterate! Next up is how you can iterate with captions.

The Progress, Not Perfection Caption Road Map

Do you want to reach more people with your videos?

Of course, you do.

Do you want to win new fans with your videos?

Of course, you do.

Do you want people to grasp your video’s message?

Of course, you do.

Well, then …

Take the Caption Pledge

You can do that by adding one thing. Take the #CaptionPledge to show you will add captions to all your videos from now on. The #CaptionPledge is a movement started by John Espirian, one of my favorite people.

CaptionPledge: I pledge to caption ALL of the recorded videos I publish. Will you take the pledge?

Don’t worry about getting the captions perfect. Don’t worry about the color, font style, and all that stuff. Just get started. Think progress, not perfection.

Getting Started with Captions

Here’s your “Captions: Progress, Not Perfection Roadmap” to help you get started with captions and make progress.

1. Use an automatic caption app or tool.

Most social networks have a built-in automatic caption tool. If you have a social network you regularly post videos on, start there. You can easily find resources by doing a search for “[fill in with social network] + captions”.

This is a great way to see how the captions work and go through the steps with basic captions. And get that feeling of satisfaction of captioning your first video!

Add #Captioned to your post when you publish it on social media. It helps us find captioned videos effortlessly.

2. Celebrate!

When you’re ready to make progress, go to Step 3.

3. Use an automatic caption app and then edit it.

Automatic captions are rarely accurate. That’s why I call them autocraptions. Now, this is your first foray into playing with captions. So, let’s start small by editing them to be accurate. Many apps allow you to edit them.

Remember to add #Captioned to the post!

4. Celebrate!

When you’re ready to make progress, go to Step 5.

5. Select a readable style of captions.

Most social networks have only one style of captions that is accessible. The other styles all have various problems. Movement, changing font sizes, ALL CAPS (NO! And I am yelling here!), bad contrast, no background to improve contrast.

TikTok surprised me. They have only one caption style and it’s the default style. Bonus points for them!

The No. 1 rule for accessible captions is readability. When you can’t read the captions, none of the other rules matter.

If you have options, go for an off-black background (#242424) with an off-white text (#fffffc or #fffff0). I’ve tested these and they work well for multiple disabilities. NO color pair will make 100% of viewers happy.

That’s why closed captions tend to be better. They put the captions in the viewer’s control. But how much control depends on the platform.

6. Celebrate!

Take action: Take the #CaptionPledge and start captioning all videos from now on.

Don’t Have a Bad A11y Cattitude

A dear friend posted images on social media that provided excellent accessibility tips. However, the images did not have a strong enough contrast. We happened to get on a video call and I educated her on the color contrast accessibility. I told her about a tool that makes it easy to know if the colors pass the contrast ratio.

My friend’s designer was working with her brand colors, which didn’t have a strong contrast. Both are learning accessibility as they go. My friend shared the color contrast checker tool with her graphics designer. This friend is an awesome supporter of accessibility and inclusion. She’s always pushing for it.

Well, someone saw the images on social media that were posted before we talked. And they responded with a harsh message. It upset my friend. Of course, she felt awful. She’s one of the kindest and sweetest people I know. Fortunately, this didn’t deter her from continuing to push for accessibility and learn about it herself.

Accessibility Takes Time

The next person may not respond like she did. These harsh words can have the opposite effect and someone ends up not bothering with accessibility at all.

We. Don’t. Know. Everything.

Accessibility is huge! What may be obvious to you may not be obvious to someone else.

I’m also learning. I don’t know how to do everything in accessibility. Far from it. WCAG is challenging for me to understand. ARIA and I aren’t on speaking terms because I can’t understand ARIA.

That’s why I’ve been pushing for progress, not perfection. It’s a kinder approach. And we have to keep in mind that someone may not know what they don’t know and needs a gentle education.

Swap A11y Catty for Education

Instead of snapping, educate. Something to the effect of:

“Hey, I appreciate your efforts with accessibility. I thought you might want to know that these images don’t have a strong enough color contrast. You can check color contrast with a free tool like Colour Contrast Analyser.” (No, I didn’t suddenly start speaking with a UK accent. That’s the name of it.)

It’s the ol’ catch more flies with honey than vinegar thing. I don’t love this idiom, but I haven’t found a better one. Do you know of one? Let me know!

Also, please suggest a few things to improve instead of everything. I know when I look at a very messy room, I turn around and leave. It’s overwhelming. But if there are a few boxes in the room, then it’s more manageable and I’ll move them right away.

Let’s not get all A11y catty 😸

Meryl shows off her a11y cat shirt with 3 x 3 rows of different cats with disabilities

Please educate. Please be kind.

Take action: If you spot a problem, educate the person or company in a nice way and see what happens.

Text on Images Progress Over Perfection

One of the most common mistakes with images is putting all the details of an event in an image. Images are not meant for this. Besides, the event organizers want as many people to attend the event, right?

Unfortunately, an image with all the event information can be inaccessible to a lot of people. Not just those using screen readers. Their colors and font choices may not be readable. There may be contrast and sizing issues.

Understanding WCAG Images of Text

Heather Burns, my awesome colleague at Equal Entry, contacted me about the images I had been posting with our Accessibility Activist interviews like this one from before I took over the interviews.

Meryl wears purple collared shirt: The No. 1 rule to great captions is readability. If you can't read the captions, none of the other rules matter. Meryl Evans, Accessibility Activist

Heather explained that WCAG 1.4.5 Images of Text states not to use text on images.

Here are two exceptions:

  1. Logos
  2. Text that appears in the scene. For example, a photo of a city’s downtown has signs that contain words.

When I started doing the Accessibility Activist interviews, I worked to try to find short quotes because I didn’t want to put a lot of text on the image.

Thanks to the awesome Heather and Jennifer Smith, PCWA, I’m changing my ways. Future images will not have a quote. Our graphics rock star Rodrigo Sanchez changed the image to add Equal Entry’s mascot Knomo holding a microphone to replace the quote.

Adding Text on Social Media Images

However, my images for A11yNYC Meetups will continue to have the title and the name of the speaker. That’s because these images are primarily shared on social media. Putting up someone’s headshot doesn’t give it much context.

My goal is to create an A11yNYC event image like we do for A11yVR. These show the speaker’s photo along with the A11yVR logo. This works well and passes WCAG muster.

We want to update the A11yNYC logo before we take this approach. I have an idea of what I want to do for the logo, but I’m such a bad designer and it doesn’t look right … yet.

It is possible to have an image with text overlaid using CSS or to use SVG. We may try the CSS approach. And this is how we’re making progress toward text-less images.

Take action: Work toward using fewer words in your images.

When an Event Isn’t Accessible

A friend had an ethical and moral dilemma and reached out for my thoughts. She had been invited to do a podcast on accessibility and inclusion. However, they’re a small independent podcast with no funds for a transcript.

The question was should she do the podcast and educate people? Or should she ask them to reach out when they’ve added transcripts?

I’ve heard stories of accessibility activists who refused to speak at an event that doesn’t have captions or uses automatic captions. Remember, these events aren’t all big events. Some are small and managed by volunteers.

Speaking at Inaccessible Events

In answering the person’s question, I find accessibility supporters fall into one of two schools of thought.

  1. Don’t do the event and explain why.
  2. Do it and view it as an educational opportunity. This may be the audience that needs to hear the accessibility message.

Occasionally, educating the organizers will lead to them fixing the problem. But not always.

I’ve spoken at events that used automatic captions. And y’all know how those autocraptions love my hearing-free aka deaf accent. Not.

Again, I believe in progress, not perfection. It should not be all or nothing.

Good Things Happen After an Inaccessible Event

After speaking at several events with automatic captions, it made such a huge impact on the attendees and organizers. They often end up cleaning up the captions in the recording. In other words, they make progress.

If someone invites me to a podcast or live conversation without a script, then I absolutely must have captions. When I don’t, I feel insecure like I’m flying without a net.

I know some will disagree with me. But I’d rather educate and get the message out to the audience. If I turned it down, then only the organizers will learn from it. Their audience will never know about it.

By the way, I told my friend about a free tool for creating transcripts to share with the podcaster. And you know what? I shared this story on LinkedIn and people started asking about transcript tools! See what happens when you think progress, not perfection?

Educate event organizers about one thing they can do to make it accessible. Offer up ideas and solutions to help them get started.

Take action: A great first step is the event registration form. On that form, ask the attendee what accessibility services or accommodations would they like.

Sign Language Interpreting at Virtual Events

It’s very hard to caption and interpret live events well.

That’s one reason why I rarely go to live conferences. That and I rarely have any spoons left for captioned video calls because my work calls use them all. [Wondering what the spoon thing is about? It’s based on Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino.]

One conference team went out of its way to ensure an accessible and inclusive conference. When Ashley Coffey and I had our speaker tech checks, they walked us through accessibility-related things. For example, they advise us to identify ourselves when we’re speaking.

However, the event had problems with some of the American sign language (ASL) interpreters. Several had a blurry videos. A couple of them were too close to the camera causing their hands to be cut off. And a couple were great.

How can we make progress over perfection with sign language interpreters? Create a document for the interpreters to do a check to ensure they’re at the right distance from the camera and that they show up clearly. Maybe it’d be good to have a tech check with the interpreters.

Take action: Learn how to hire sign language interpreters.

Automated Accessibility Checkers Are Not Perfect

Accessibility supporters love to call out companies for their accessibility mistakes. Especially when it comes from a company that specializes in accessibility.

One time, someone complained saying their automated checker found a problem. It turned out to be a false positive. Other times, the supporter would be referring to problems on ancient pages.

The Progress Not Perfect Way to a More Accessible Website

I’ve had this website since 1994. So, you won’t be surprised to learn it has hundreds of pages.

This website’s accessibility statement states: “As we add new pages and functionality to our website, all designs, code, and content entry practices are checked against these standards.” (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1)

Notice it says “as we add new …” Whenever I review an old page, I fix any accessibility errors.

And sometimes it’s technology’s fault! It does happen! Like the few times when my closed captions disappeared. As soon as a post a new video, I check to verify the captions work. Yet, days later, they’d be gone.

Sometimes Technology Mucks Up Accessibility

I published an article on one of my client’s websites. It had the proper headings and everything. Somehow, those headings got messed up. Embarrassing.

We believe the content management system did something to some of the pages and have submitted a ticket with the company.

Sometimes the problem may not be the company’s fault. Technology. Love it. Hate it. It can mess things up. Let the company know. They may not be aware of the problem.

Accessibility is about progress over perfection. The important thing is to start and …

keep iterating …

keep making it better …

and remember to celebrate progress.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
― Maya Angelou

Take action: Stay in touch by subscribing to the Meryl mailing list, following Meryl on LinkedIn, ordering your POP or PNP swag, and hiring Meryl to speak with your employees.

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