Digital Accessibility - we need more basic Knowledge and less Experts

It's no secret that in many cases accessibility hasn't made any progress for years and, more often than not, has gone backwards. While the few experts in technical discourses tangle, accessibility falls by the wayside.

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Everyone has to, nobody knows how

Essentially, accessibility guidelines are violated every day. Every time a non-accessible PDF is posted online, at least three unicorns die. It's not just the creators who are to blame, because they often don't know any better. Blame Adobe and Co. who have not been able to get the topic right for decades. It's easier to make gold out of lead than to make a PDF accessible. With accessible PDFs, you always have to think of the quotation marks next to "accessible", because 99 percent of the documents with such titles have minor to major errors, even though they were created by alleged experts.

Since the right to accessible documents exists, basically every administrative employee should know how to make documents accessible if they take on internal or external communication tasks. In fact, no one knows how to do it. The logical consequence would be to include it in administration training or the corresponding courses. To my knowledge this has not been the case so far. It is not uncommon for people to call me who want to train hundreds of people, preferably work in Buxtehude and of course want it to be free of charge.

We find the same tragedy among web developers, who should better be called box-pushers. If they used HTML and CSS the way they intended, 80 percent of the work would already be done. But either they can't or they don't want to, both are a sign of inadequacy for this profession. Web developers and web designers who are not accessible do not master their job properly .

We take care of the symptoms, not the causes

To put it cynically, we as accessibility specialists are not very interested in improving the situation. We make a lot of money from this situation, namely because the clients and web agencies lack specialist knowledge. The more people mess around, the later they bring us in, the more hours we can bill afterwards. Fixing something that's broken costs more than getting it right from the start.

There are also the testing procedures, certifications, poorly designed courses and other offers with which the experts earn a decent amount of money, but which do not always benefit accessibility.

Half knowledge is sometimes worse than none

There are countless "experts" who spout nonsense: One uses CAPTCHAs on his own website. The other seriously believes ReadSpeaker is an assistive technology. And the third uses ARIA in such a way that the page would be more accessible without ARIA.

I praise the people who have no idea and do research. Unfortunately, it still doesn't seem to be the norm in the scene to exchange ideas with those affected or to think outside the box of the written guidelines.

More basic knowledge, fewer experts

The solution is very simple: We need less expert knowledge and more basic knowledge from all those responsible. It is now taking revenge that accessibility does not take place beyond special circles. We have specialist conferences on accessibility, but at Normalo conferences it is a niche topic and is also perceived as such, if it occurs at all. In the relevant study and training courses, it occurs as a marginal topic, if at all.

There is not a single German-language program to comprehensively qualify people for digital accessibility. The HDM Stuttgart and the University of Hildesheim only cover sub-areas that are either too specific or too general.

So no substantial progress can be expected. And that, unfortunately, even if the government were to pass even stricter laws, but they don't plan to do that anyway.

Accessibility expertise is not required

In fact, accessibility expertise is usually not necessary at all. Most people work within a certain range of topics: some create brochures, others write texts, still others create infographics. The infographic designer must know how to implement colors and visual indicators in the most accessible way possible, but she does not have to be familiar with plain language. Conversely, the web developer does not need to know how to make infographics accessible.

So we have to give up the idea of trying to teach everyone everything. It's like trying to fill a full glass with more, most of it goes wrong. The people need the specialist knowledge that fits their job.