Progress Over Perfection: A Better Way to Accessibility

Summary

What does progress over perfection mean when it comes to accessibility? It means to get started. Don't wait until everything is done and perfect. The small steps make a big difference. It also means educating people who don't know about accessibility. Educate, don't berate. If the world needs more of anything, it's kindness.

What’s the progress over perfection approach in accessibility?

First, let’s get something out of the way. Often, people think accessibility is the web development or IT team’s job. Far from it.

Accessibility is for everyone. It’s everyone’s responsibility, every department from human (HR) resources and marketing to finance and procurement has a part to play.

HR needs to create an accessible and inclusive hiring process. Marketing needs to ensure its public-facing social media and website content are accessible. Sales produces presentations and documentation that need to be accessible. Graphic designers must consider things like color contrast to produce accessible designs.

Procurement can make it a requirement that vendors provide an Accessibility Conformance Report using the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT®) to select the most accessible products. Employees can ask their team how they prefer to communicate and collaborate. They can also verify their in-person and online meetings are accessible.

Customer support needs to offer multiple input and communication options to make sure their communications are accessible. Customers can ask companies to please make their content, products, services, and experiences accessible.

When companies learn about accessibility, it doesn’t take long before they have the deer in headlights look. Accessibility is big. It’s daunting. They feel overwhelmed. They can’t get started. But it’s easier when you take the progress over perfection approach with accessibility.

The Progress Over Perfection Approach

When it comes to accessibility, I encourage focusing on progress rather than perfection. Take that first step. No matter how small it is, it’s a step forward. Don’t wait until you get the website, product, or whatever is just right. Don’t wait until you launch something.

This cartoon is a perfect example of progress over perfection. It has two panels. The top panel shows two people and one has two large stacks of books next to him. The other person says, “Are we ready to include students with more severe disabilities in regular class?”

The second person says, “As soon as I finish reading these books on inclusion and draft our long-range plan… We should be ready in 7 or 8 years.”

The bottom panel has two people facing each other. One person says, “I’m sure glad we got started including and supporting all our students in regular classes.” The other person replies, “Me too! I know we’ll learn things along the way from our successes and mistakes.” The tagline under the cartoon reads, “A tale of two schools.”

Cartoon on a Tale of Two Schools
Source: The University of Vermont Center on Disability and Inclusion by Michael Giangreco and illustrated by Kevin Ruelle

Instead of waiting to study inclusive design and accessibility and making grand plans, get started and learn from successes and mistakes. Sometimes you’ll take a step back. That’s OK. It doesn’t mean progress has stopped. Progress isn’t always a straight line.

The trick is to start on the journey and stay the course. Even if you plan to launch a redesigned website built with accessibility in mind, you can still make your new content accessible. When you publish the next blog post, make sure it has proper headings and alt 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. (A11y is short for accessibility. There are 11 letters between A and Y.) So, what’s Schrödinger’s a11y cat? It means that something you do for accessibility could be an accessibility problem for someone else.

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

Another example is captions. I know a hard of hearing person who prefers transcripts to captions. They need 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. It’s not an either-or situation. Provide both. Screen readers and refreshable braille displays work well with transcripts when they’re compatible. For example, YouTube’s transcripts work with screen readers and refreshable Braille displays but not Zoom’s transcript. (As of this writing.)

Think of accessibility as an ongoing journey with no finish line. This perspective makes things easier knowing it’ll be part of your business every day.

Progress Over Perfection for Accessibility Supporters

On things related to disabilities and accessibility, some people with disabilities or supporters come across as angry. This could be happening for different reasons.

Our bad days spill over into our interactions

If you’ve been the subject of that anger, you may have been the fourth person they’ve talked to in your company. Everyone else ignored them. Or maybe they’ve spent hours on the phone or in a chat with customer support to no avail. Or they’ve been through too much with their intersectionally lived experiences.

Think about it. If your five-minute drive turns into an unexpected 65-minute drive, how do you think you’ll feel? Or a 20-minute phone call turns into a 2-hour chat. (This happened to my spouse as the company’s phone system malfunctioned.) By the time the person reaches you, they may be at the end of their rope.

It may not be any of these. A few sound huffy in most interactions. I’ve been the subject of their anger, which is why I had a nightmare that woke me up. More on that later.

I manage a lot of social media accounts for my clients and myself. I always add alt text for images. Well, one image slipped through scot-free … or rather alt text-free. And someone jumped on me. I apologized and fixed it. Fortunately, I care about accessibility and will fix things regardless of their attitude.

But they may not be so lucky with the next 10 people who don’t add alt text at all. Their attitude might have the opposite effect. When someone gets called out, they might decide … “Well, if this is how people respond, then I’m not going to bother with accessibility. What’s the point?

Reporting accessibility problems or letting them go

I know an accessibility leader who adds alt text to their social media posts. One day, I was shocked to see new photos have zero alt text. What did I do about it? Nothing. I don’t know what’s going on in that person’s life. Bad day? Multitasking and forgot? Bad headache? Maybe … maybe … maybe.

Yet, I sent a private message to another friend and educated them about adding alt text. Although they care about accessibility, they’re new to alt text. They thanked me and made an effort.

Everyone has their own focus on accessibility including people with a disability. Like one deaf person who captions everything but doesn’t do alt text. Another deaf person uses one of the worst caption styles on social media with uppercase captions that move and change size. I don’t tell them anything.

No. I celebrate they intentionally add captions when so many don’t. They don’t let automatic captions do all the work. When I gave feedback like on “Stranger Things” captions, I approached it with that it has good captions. Here’s what they do well. Here are a couple of areas to improve and take to the next level. Thankfully, it was well-received. In fact, some people expressed appreciation for saying something about it being over captioned. Whew.

This is why I preach progress over perfection. It’s kinder. People respond better. They’re more likely to keep trying. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it’s two steps back and no step forward.

When Disability and Accessibility Supporters Make Mistakes

There are many topics related to accessibility. No one can know it all. Yet, the accessibility community will call out someone for an accessibility mistake.

For example, someone shared this image of an amazing ad at a bus stop’s window. It says:

“Dear Entertainment Industry, There’s no diversity, equity, and inclusion without disability. Disability is diversity .com. Designed by an all-disabled creative team and powered by Inevitable Foundation.”

Bus stop ad says: "Dear Entertainment Industry, There's no diversity, equity, and inclusion without disability. Disability is diversity dot com. Designed by an all-disabled creative team and powered by Inevitable Foundation."

The person who shared the photo did not add alternative text aka alt text aka image description. Fortunately, in this case, the comments about the missing alt text were kind or talked about the irony. The person sharing the image is a big supporter of disabled people being a part of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The person thanked everyone for their help and added the alt text. That’s progress!

Here’s another example. A colleague is a speaker and educator on including people with disabilities. She’d add captions to her videos. But her images did not have alt text. As soon as someone educated her, she started adding alt text. That’s progress!

Yet another example. This person often gives talks about digital accessibility in a specific industry. His images had alt text, but they did not have a strong enough contrast ratio. I educated him and told him about a color contrast tool. From then on, his images started getting good grades on the color contrast report card. That’s progress!

Progress Over Perfection Focuses on Education

While sleeping, I once had a nightmare that seemed real. I posted a meme-like photo on social media. Shortly after, I grew horrified as I realized I forgot the image description also known as alt text. Thankfully, I caught it and deleted it. Then, I posted another image.

A real nightmare

I went about my weekend. Being the social media addict that I am, I couldn’t help but check social media a little later. Picture my face horrified times 10! I did it again! I forgot the image description! And of course, the post went viral. Believe me, I chided myself for my mistake. As expected, I got a few replies berating me for not having alt text.

I’m already upset with myself and these replies make me feel worse. I become a pile of emotions as I’m upset with myself and the rude replies also made me feel angry. While writing this, heartburn appears. This experience feels real because it has happened to me.

First, I needed to fix my mistake. I reshared the viral post along with an apology and an image description. I also replied to the post in case people followed the thread.

Remember, this is a nightmare that woke me up from slumber. The criticizing stuck with me. Fortunately, I care about accessibility and don’t let it deter me. However, it makes me feel gosh-awful for a few days.

I’m having this reaction because of my experiences with overzealous accessibility supporters whose comments hurt. Scolding people isn’t going to accomplish as much as educating people. I’ve heard the many reasons why the accessibility community does this. Occasionally, it’s called for especially when a company does not listen to them after they’ve tried the kinder approach. Don’t get me started on the airline industry’s treatment of wheelchairs.

But the next person who isn’t passionate about accessibility may quit altogether.

Educate … don’t berate

Educate … don’t berate. Remember, we’re human. We make mistakes. I’m self-employed wearing many hats and serving my wonderful clients. Any work that I do for my business here at meryl.net is the last thing I do. Despite making it a habit to add alt text, sometimes I get distracted or I’m plumb tired and skip a step.

Educate … don’t berate.

I wouldn’t feel as awful if the people who caught my mistake said something like: “Hey, Meryl! You forgot the alt text.” Or if they don’t know me and my accessibility background, “Hey, Meryl. In case you don’t know, adding alt text helps those using screen readers. It’d be great if you could add it.”

Despite making it a habit, one of my images will slip through without alt text on occasion. I’m human. Maybe I’m multitasking. Maybe I’m tired. Who knows? Believe me, when I realize it, I’ll wake up at 3:30 am unable to go back to sleep until I fix it. For real.

Educate … don’t berate.

Getting started with accessibility

The key is to keep moving forward. Assigning a passionate executive to be the champion is a huge first step. You need that champion to make things happen.

The next step is to hold company-wide accessibility and disability awareness training. I’m not saying this because I offer this training. I’d rather you hire someone else than not do it at all.

If your organization doesn’t have a champion yet, you can do something as a leader. Creating processes and checklists will go a long way to prevent skipping or forgetting a step.

Here are some simple ways you can take action to make progress in accessibility and inclusion.

  • Check your forms to verify you give people multiple contact options or ask them their preferred contact method.
  • Capitalize the first letter of each word in a hashtag. It improves readability and helps screen readers say things correctly. Still, check your hashtag in lowercase letters to make sure it doesn’t create an unfortunate phrase. Here’s an example: #GodIsNowHere vs. #goisnowhere
  • Make it a habit to always have a second way to communicate in case the default doesn’t work. If someone doesn’t understand you, be gracious and offer another way to communicate. (Hint: Watch TEDx Talk.)
  • Take the #CaptionPledge to add subtitles to all videos going forward. John Espirian explains: https://bit.ly/3yOtuce
  • Create a transcript for your most important podcast or audio clip.
  • Say “This is [your name]” whenever you speak on a call.
  • Add an image description to your image on a blog or social media post.
  • Put all questions asked in the chatbox on a video call. (Or read out loud if they’re entered in the chatbox.)
  • Use “Check Accessibility” on Microsoft Word and PowerPoint in Review menu. So easy!
  • Verify your Zoom account has the captions turned on BEFORE the meeting.
  • Turn on the captions on Zoom every single time.
  • Ask your coworkers and clients for their communication preferences for live (synchronous) and non-live (asynchronous) communications.
  • Have a text messaging conversation with someone in the room with you. Great for noisy settings!
  • Get some “Progress Over Perfection” or “Progress Not Perfection” swag!
  • Hire me to do a talk or train your employees.

Educating people goes a long way and leads to change. This is what progress over perfection is all about. One step at a time. Sometimes it’ll be small steps. Other times it’ll be big ones. Go for progress over perfection.

Accessibility and Disability Awareness Training

I can help. I can do a series of presentations and training sessions. Or if you want to start small, I can train the marketing and communications team on how to create accessible content. Contact me or get to know me.

Featured image description: “This is progress” six circles filled with water with the first being little working up to full. “This is also progress” shows very slow progress. “And so this” shows little, then a lot, then back down and then back up. Image credit: mounika.studio.

4 thoughts on “Progress Over Perfection: A Better Way to Accessibility”

  1. “Educate … don’t berate.” Love this! Our organization is in the midst of this journey – your message is so timely. Excellent. Thank you!

    Reply

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