Hannah is co-founder at Green Tech South West, who seek to improve online ethics, to create a better, fairer and more energy efficient web for future generations. She also helped to develop the Open Green Web Syllabus Programme for the Green Web Foundation, who believe humanity deserves a healthy and sustainable internet; one that is green, open and diverse.
Hannah, explain what you do and what you care about
Well, I’m a freelance WordPress developer. So that’s my day job.
What I care about. Well, I care about giving my clients a good experience. I care that my clients give their users a good experience, and I also care a lot about whether the planet gets the good experience as well.
So I think a lot about sustainability and whether any of the tech that we’re building is green and what kind of impacts it has upon the planet as well.
How do you personally go about explaining the importance of an online accessibility to someone who’d never even considered it?
The approach that I tend to use is to start by asking someone how they access online services. So what devices do they use? Where are they when they’re accessing a service? What kind of internet connection have they got? And you kind of get those answers.
And what I tend to do then, is take the conversation from there and say, OK, so do you ever access services through, say, a mobile phone or through your TV when you’re in the car traveling?
And the whole point of asking those questions of someone is to help them understand that there’s a really diverse approach to accessing online services. So many people that I work with, a lot of my clients don’t realize that mobile is a thing even still. So their lens is that they’re expecting everybody to be accessing their website through desktop.
So I think when it’s the first opening conversations, it’s just to open people’s minds to the level of diversity that we have in terms of how people access online services.
And then I think another absolute sort of killer question, or killer way of of asking people to think about this topic is to say, have you ever tried to access a service from a rural area where there’s really slow broadband? You ever had that experience?
Because I think of accessibility in a wide range of things, not just the devices, but the speed of the internet connection as well.
So I say to people, have you considered the diversity of approaches that people will use when accessing services? And then I can take the conversation from there to say, well, accessibility is about considering that whole wide range. It’s not just thinking about disability or impairment – it is obviously thinking about those things, but it is wider than that as well.
How do you think the internet will change over the next ten years? And what specific features or habits that exist now, do you hope will be seen as from their time?
How do I think the internet will change versus how I want the internet to change is a really interesting sort of balancing act in my head.
How do I think the internet will change? I’m concerned that the internet will become ever more complex over the next ten years. We seem to be going into this trend where technology is becoming more complicated. There’s 1,000,000 different ways of achieving the same thing, some of which are good practice, some of which aren’t. And personally, I’m not a big fan of that.
I’d like to see things actually slow down a little bit. And that’s one of the reasons why I love working in WordPress. It’s been around a really, really long time. People accuse WordPress of being boring, but actually, I think that’s something to be completely celebrated, I think in terms of creating accessible and inclusive experiences for people. “Boring” tech is kind of what we want, actually.
So how do I think the internet will change? I think it’s going to get more complicated.
How would I like it to change? I’d like it to slow down.
And then that last part of your question, what specific features and habits that exist now, do you hope will be seen as from that time? Cookie pop-ups I would very much like to see relegated to history. They exist for a reason, but I don’t think they add any value really in the way that they’re done at the moment.
I think the other specific habit, I’d like to see things slow down a little bit, particularly in terms of the experience that users have on the web. I’m a massive non-fan, as in, I really dislike websites that bring texting and animate. I think that’s just such a symptom of our fast pace of living these days. We want to grab people’s attention and wiggle things up, so I feel that that’s really overused. And that’s definitely a specific feature I’d like to see in the bin. Personally.
If you’re with somebody who needs to check how accessible their website is, but only has five minutes – talk us through how you go about showing them.
I think the first thing I’d say in challenge to anybody that’s you’re going to spend five minutes on this is if you’re really serious about accessibility, five minutes ain’t going to cut it. You really need to invest a little bit more time.
So I challenge someone and say, “Why have you only got five minutes, this is important.” Assuming that they do only have five minutes and then literally running off to catch a train or something like that, I think the first thing I do is show them Lighthouse and actually get their site scored on Lighthouse.
It’s got a number of different metrics that it looks at, and I like how easy to understand the information is. So you need a little bit of technical knowledge to understand it, but you can get a very good sense – the score out of 100 – as to how well you’re doing.
I reckon the Lighthouse score might take one or two minutes, so given that we have a few more minutes left, the other thing I’d do is activate the keyboard navigation and just show them how to tap through a website and what an experience might be for someone using the keyboard to navigate this site. I find that very illuminating. I think people often have an entirely different experience when they’re using the keyboard, and that’s a great way to show someone how easy or hard it is to work with that content.
In terms of the adoption of accessible digital products, what do you think is the biggest challenge?
For me, it’s always a conversation about getting the client to value the edge case of any system that they’re designing. So it’s the edge cases, those situations of scenarios that don’t come up all that often, but when they do come up can be completely detrimental to somebody’s experience of using something.
I just had a challenging conversation with a client this week about IE11 support. Now, I think IE11 is actually an important thing to consider when you’re thinking about accessibility because there are still a significant number of people that use IE11, even though we all wish they didn’t, they do for various reasons, particularly older people I find. But it’s still a small number. It’s 0.3%.
I was looking at analytics this week across a range of clients, and I could see that over the last year, between 0.3% and 2% of visits were in IE11. So the numbers are quite small. So I consider that a really strong edge case or a good example of an edge case. Not that many people, but it’s still people.
Talking to the client about how we can justify budget for dealing with IE11 and making sure that the website was compliant with IE11. It’s a really big challenge. That client doesn’t have a lot of budget. They’re a charity. So how could we get them to justify the budget for dealing with that perceived edge case? It’s really challenging.
Obviously, you and I will know what the arguments will be because we’ll know that if we cater for them, everyone will probably end up having a better experience. But the client doesn’t always see it that way or the company that’s responsible for the product doesn’t always see it that way.
What is the one thing that every single person can do or learn to play a part in the progression towards an accessible internet?
Yeah, singling it down to one thing is tricky, but the one thing that I only decided on was actually trying out a service on a really slow connection. So actually imagining that you’re in a rural area and you’ve got really slow internet and trying out your service in that way, because I think that’s a really, really powerful way for everybody to think about accessibility in the widest possible sense.
If you have a website that loads quickly and that responds well in an area with not so good broadband connectivity, what you’re probably doing is then building a much more performant, better site as well.
So again, it comes back to everybody. Everybody benefits from that. So yeah, my idea is, go out into the woods, find somewhere where you’ve only got one bar of reception, get your cell phone 3G, and have a look at how that experience feels to you. Because I think that’s a really, really powerful learning experience.