Working with Assistive Technologies


When the implementation of a new feature or story starts, the developer’s role often revolves around ensuring web pages remain compatible with assistive technologies, which could explain why AT and accessibility are often conflated. However, facilitating this compatibility is not purely the job of the developer. Especially when implementing web apps, particularly complex UX patterns may need specific alternative implementations and interaction methods, which could require further collaboration with an interaction designer to define how those interactions work in these constrained environments. But like addressing other accessibility issues, this can benefit all users too.


When British law was changed to mandate dropped curbs at pedestrian crossings, this was mostly done to benefit wheelchair users. However, it was appreciated by other unintended users too, such as parents with prams, or skateboarders, where the change in level between the road and the pavement was previously a challenge to overcome. Adding keyboard shortcuts to a web app that relies largely on clicking buttons and mouse movement can benefit power users, where the shortcuts can be learned to speed up common tasks.


You won’t be surprised to learn that progressive enhancement is an effective way of making web pages work well with assistive technologies. By starting with the base of a simple page and then layering on additional enhancements, you always maintain that accessible base, and all you then need to do is ensure that you don’t break the accessibility of the base with these enhancements. The other benefit to HTML being accessible by default is that if you use HTML in the way it was designed to be used, then those enhancements you bring in will also be accessible with little extra work.
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