Interested in the podcast? Listen to this latest episode of Skip to Content.
It’s a very exciting 15th edition of our interview series on Skip to Content because this week we spoke to Chris Coyier.
He’s been a big influencer of mine throughout my career mainly as I loved to listen to the podcast he runs with Dave Rupert – The Shop Talk Show
A lot of us all seen him talk loads at conferences, used his tools and resources and if you are a front-end dev or you’re interested in development, you will know or need to know about all of that stuff!
With such a grounding in making good things for the web I was really excited to be able to speak to him and get his take on the questions we have been asking everyone.
Chris brings a lot to the chat, with a focus on what accessibility means to web designers and developers. The points discussed are also universal and as such provide a valuable angle and insight into the implications of digital accessibility and the different facets we need to consider.
As with a lot of the chats we’re having now, the looming spectre of AI also appears.
Who are you and what do you care about?
I’m a Developer Relations Specialist at a company called sanity.io which is a headless CMS, or a place where you can go and edit content. I care a lot about web accessibility and I’ve worked in web accessibility for a long time.
I learned the hard way that it would be really good if web accessibility was somewhat easier and if there were ways that web accessibility could be taken away from web developers and moved to browsers and CMS’s because they can impact a lot because they are the ones where we create content and where we look at content. So there is a lot where browsers and CMS’s can actually impact what the accessibility situation is and I’m interested in that. Yes, we all need to do our best and make sure that websites are accessible when we work on them but if some browsers and CMS’s can do a part of that, I think that would be really cool.
How do you, personally, go about explaining the importance of online accessibility to someone who never even considered it?
It depends on the person I’m talking to but what I often do is look at the real world, thinking about stuff that we do in the real world that makes the real world more accessible – like tactile pavements that we have to lead people through the way that they need to go to traffic lights that make sounds so that people know what the status is and saying we’re going to do that but for our websites or for digital experiences. That sometimes works.
Sometimes I’ll have to say there is a legal requirement or you’ll lose money when you don’t make it accessible because you’re losing out part of your customers. I have a bunch of different arguments for accessibility and I use them when I think they’re most effective because it really depends on the person you’re talking to.
How do you think the Internet, or the Web, will change over the next 10 years? And what specific features or habits that exist now do you hope will be seen as from their time?
One of the major ones that I hope will somewhat disappear is that building custom components for the web relies on ARIA, that is something that is the case today where as a web developer, you’ll need to do a lot of the accessibility groundwork yourself. One of the things I’m hoping for in the next while is that we’ll get new additions to HTML where ARIA components are actually part of the HTML specification. So when you’re trying to build tabs, there is a tabs thing in HTML, where you can’t really get the ARIA wrong, because you’re not doing the ARIA, the browser does it for you. That would be really cool.
Some of that work is happening in a group called Open UI that I’m a part of. It is also really challenging – how do you actually make it work? And how can you come up with components that everyone’s happy with? We all know the select element that is part of the browser and it does accessibility automatically but we’re not as happy with it as browser makers; one because we always customise them and try and do our own things with them and build them out of the errors because it’s hard to customise so there are challenges to overcome there but one of the main things I hope for the Web and for Web accessibility is that there’s more stuff built into HTML and it becomes easier to do accessibility on the Web.
If you’re with someone who who needs to check how accessible their website is but only has five minutes, or it might be someone that wants to understand it more, talk us through how you go about showing them?
I love this question. I do this a lot with customers – just tell them things like, “Hey, have you tried to get through your website with a Tab key?” and see how they got on. Sometimes they can see where they are because there’s focus tiles and sometimes they get stuck right at that point. That’s a really interesting way to try and find out if you have any issues.
The other is zooming in. If you zoom in 400%, you can also quite quickly find out if your website works well, if it’s responsive, etc. That usually also gives away quite a lot.
In terms of the adoption of accessible digital products, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing us?
I think it’s hard to get people who make products to do accessibility and that has been hard for decades, and these standards have existed for decades but I do feel it’s starting to improve. I think that is one of the biggest challenges to centre product development around accessibility and make sure that things are accessible by default. It becomes increasingly clear that this is important, with legislation and with more people starting to understand how this accessibility works. But I think that is the that is the main thing – getting companies to actually understand their role in all of this.
I think that becomes increasingly clear that it’s not just about websites but also about other products around websites and intranets and things like that where before maybe people would have said, “we don’t have anyone who works here with a disability so we don’t need to care about internal products”. It is now increasingly the case that (I know from accessibility all in the peers that I know and work that I’ve done) it is the case that we’ll look at intranets as well, like internal products because, of course, it also matters. They’re just like on the Web, at least for the outside world.
What is the one thing that every single person can do, or learn, to play a part in a progression towards a more accessible web??
For me, that’s probably to try and understand your own assumptions. It used to be the case that websites were 800 by 600 pixels. That isn’t the case today and that assumption could have hurt you if you were building websites that way and suddenly smaller screens came out.
I think, for me, that is the major thing to think about; people might not use their computer with a mouse, they might be using touch or a keyboard or you know, combination of those things. Any assumptions you have, try and get rid of them because that will probably make it a lot easier to make accessible experiences – to really think in terms of no assumptions at all and try to get them out of your brain, basically!
It’s basically understanding that not everyone uses the computer in the same way that you do. And you probably use it differently than other people like there is a lot of difference there and paying attention to that is going to get us super far in terms of accessibility.
Please do check Chris’ blog out at chriscoyier.net – I particularly like the stuff he shares on the ‘Interviews, podcasts and publication page’. If you work in the web you’ll already know about CodepPen, but whether you know it or not, it’s well worth working into dev processes so you can knock things around collaboratively.
Check out the Shoptalk Show Podcast podcast which appears to be a mere 550 episodes in!
We will continue to try and draw insight from similar brains that you can sue to help you understand what it means to make a more accessible web so keep checking back. You can always hit us up on our channels @huxleydigitaluk