The importance of accessibility is often preached to web designers. Thankfully, many of us have taken it to heart. In this day and age, there’s no reason why a website shouldn’t implement best practices.
However, if you don’t regularly use assistive technology, accessibility can be a bit of a guessing game. With that in mind, how many of us have consulted a person with a disability – someone who uses this technology daily?
Taylor Arndt is someone who understands website accessibility from multiple angles. She not only consults with all types of organizations regarding the subject, but she is also blind. This provides her with a first-person perspective on the challenges of using a typical website. In addition, she has the expertise to both define and fix any outstanding issues.
If you really want to learn the ins and outs of accessibility, Taylor is someone you’ll want to know. She was kind enough to answer some questions about her background and offer advice for fellow web designers.
The following is our Q&A session, slightly edited for brevity and context.
Could you tell us a little bit about your background in web development? How did you get started?
I got started when I worked for the local university auditing and fixing websites to meet the web accessibility standards. During 2020, after I lost my job at the university, I decided to start a business.
Today, I own my own company, Taylors Accessibility Services LLC, where I build websites but also educate developers on the best ways to ensure websites meet standards. Not only that, but I emphasize compliance along with usability.
How did you come to focus on accessibility?
I came to focus on accessibility because being blind myself, I faced these challenges and I wanted to do something about it.
What sort of assistive technology do you use when browsing a website?
The assistive technology I use is called a screen reader. A screen reader is a tool that reads what is being presented on the screen aloud to users so they can get information – just like the rest of society.
Is there any particular item related to accessibility that developers commonly miss or implement incorrectly?
The most common thing I see developers not implement has to be heading structure. I see lots of times where headings are used as a visual formatting indicator, rather than the real use of a section indicator for a new block of content.
Are there any specific website features that tend to hurt accessibility?
There are for sure features that are not accessible most of the time. One good example is carousels or slideshows. While these features make the website look nice, they can be an accessibility nightmare.
How do you go about certifying that a website meets the appropriate standards?
The certification of websites is not the easiest thing to do. There is no real recognized thing that says you met the standards. Instead, there are companies like mine who do accessibility statements saying that the website has been reviewed and meets all standards.
This review is done using manual auditing performed by users who have disabilities along with an automated report that only catches the things wrong with the code aspect. (With) those things working together, we can make the statement.
What advice would you give to web designers who perform accessibility audits?
The advice is simple. Have someone on your team who has a disability to audit along with you. The reason for this is that people without disabilities may have a basic idea of how to use the assistive technology, but they don’t use it daily, and they may not understand how a disabled user navigates.
Many thanks to Taylor for taking time out to speak with us! Be sure to check out her website and connect with her on Twitter.