Why a little bit of ARIA knowledge can get you into trouble

I’ve been running our Accessibility for Web Developers training for over 5 years now, training people all over the world for Hassell Inclusion. Up until recently we’ve only delivered our training courses bespoke to our clients, but over the last year we’ve heard from many developers who want to access our training either individually or in small numbers. So we’ve decided to open up our training courses and run them publicly.

Why accessibility is important

When you see someone with a white stick, a guide dog, or in a wheelchair or other mobility device it may be a reasonably safe assumption that that person has some kind of disability or impairment. But many other disabilities or impairments are not so visible.

Surveys suggest that 20% of the population can struggle with websites that are not built in a way that suits their needs. And adding in older generations – people who would never consider themselves disabled, but may have reduced vision or movement – the number can jump even higher.

So if you’re building websites for a company selling products and services, or a council, university, or other organisation offering information, it’s vital that you make those websites as accessible as possible, or substantial numbers of people can be excluded.

Most organisations now realise that accessibility is essential to delivering a good website. That’s why accessibility is one of the most valuable dev skills you can have on your CV. But what can mark you out as a developer who knows how to get accessibility right from all the others who can’t?

A little bit of knowledge isn’t always a good thing

Developers can pick up accessibility skills in all sorts of ways – on the job, from blogs, or taking brief free online video training. Your time is really precious – so why would you pay for a 2-day course?

Here’s one reason, from WebAIM’s 2019 survey:

“Pages with ARIA present have 27 more detectable errors (65% more errors) on average than pages without ARIA. This is up from 26.7 errors per page (61.2% more errors) in February.  The correspondence between ARIA usage and number of errors is getting stronger over time.”

This is what we’ve known for years, having assessed, trained and audited the output from thousands of developers. Technologies like WAI-ARIA were created to improve the accessibility of websites, but in reality many developers’ incomplete knowledge of how to use ARIA correctly can actually be the biggest problem found in most websites when they are audited.

So a little bit of knowledge (of ARIA) can really get you into trouble. Accessible development isn’t a thing you should get a vague idea of, it’s something that you have to commit to fully. You need to know if your skills are enough to fully create accessible modern sites. You need to know if you can put everything together in an accessible way. And you need to know if you can trust the source that you got your skills from.

Thin line between scoring or failing

Building an accessible website is like playing darts – it’s not hard to hit the board and score some points. But the difference between scoring one or a treble top is just a few millimetres.

Similarly a web page is usually just a series of basic HTML elements, some CSS and often some JavaScript. But the secret to building a fully accessible web page is using these elements properly.

The Accessibility for Developers training that I deliver for Hassell Inclusion covers just this – how to use the basic building blocks in such a way that the meaning of the elements and content is clear to all site visitors. This includes people who can’t see, who can’t hear, or who don’t use a mouse etc.

So the training is about following HTML standards and understanding how people and assistive technologies like screen readers interact with the elements and attributes on a page. We show you how to ensure images (including SVG), icons and tables, etc are added in an accessible way. And we focus on all aspects of building accessible forms and validation error messages – one of the key areas of site visitor interaction within a website.

Essentially, we show you the accessibility challenges in coding today’s websites, with interactive features like dropdown and ‘burger’ navigation, accordions, tab panels, carousels, etc. The training shows you how you can use ARIA to help ensure such functionality is accessible to the widest audience, rather than coming up with a well-meaning failure.

What you get from the course – proof that you can do it

Accessibility for Developers training course.We’ll give you a PDF copy of all the course materials to keep as a best practices reference that you can use in future development work.

But the key thing we can give you is proof. At the end of the course you can sit an online evaluation assessment. This consists of a series of multiple choice questions and deeper scenario questions. If you do well enough we’ll give you an accreditation from the Hassell Inclusion Academy that’ll show your organisation or future employers and clients, that you’ve got a good grounding in accessible web development.

You got me, how do I sign up?

To check when we’re next running the course, and register your interest, head over to the Accessibility for Web Developers training page. You’ll see the dates, the cost, pre-requisites and other sign up instructions. We’ve separated the course into Part 1 & Part 2 for your convenience, as in our experience it can be difficult for developers to take time-out from their projects for too long.

If you need more information, or if you’re not sure whether the course is for you, please reach out via our Contact page. We’d love to help you.

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