Accessibility for designers

A transcript of Episode 196 of UX Podcast. James Royal-Lawson and Per Axbom talk about what accessibility means for UX designers and what you should do to make your designs more accessible and inclusive.



James Royal-Lawson: You’re listening to UX Podcast, coming to you from Stockholm, Sweden. We are your hosts, James Royal-Lawson.

Per Axbom: And Per Axbom.

James Royal-Lawson: We have listeners in 178 countries; from Uganda, to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island.

Per Axbom: And today we are doing something we haven’t done in a fair while. We’re doing a topic show.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah. And this time the topic is, Accessibility.

Per Axbom: Which means that it’s just you and me today James.

James Royal-Lawson: It is. How’s that going to work? Accessibility is one of those topics which we’ve mentioned in a lot of shows. Maybe not every show, but, it’s a lot of times accessibility comes up. But, we’ve never had a show dedicated to the issue or the topic at large.

Per Axbom: We’ve had some people actually reach out and ask us, “Have you done an accessibility show?” And having done over 190 shows and not done one on accessibility actually surprises me. We’ve done niche subjects around it, but we haven’t done the topic of accessibility, since we started in 2012.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah, we deep dived, but we’ve not paddled in the water. And that’s despite the fact that, you’ve done plenty of talks about accessibility or even workshops. And I too have worked with accessibility issues during the years.

Per Axbom: And that’s the thing I think. I actually started doing accessibility talks, back in 2000. That’s 18 years ago.

James Royal-Lawson: You old man.

Per Axbom: You can find them on SlideShare if you don’t believe me. And it’s just; sometimes I get so frustrated because, we’ve been talking about it for so long. And, I go to these meet ups sometimes and I see people doing essentially the same talks that I did back then; which means that, the way we are supposed to do accessibility, hasn’t changed that much in these years. And still, people are not implementing it.

James Royal-Lawson: I think, what you hit upon there is both the curse and the blessing of the medium we work in. The web … HTML is so fantastically robust. You can build stuff in so many ways. You can really really break web pages or HTML and it still works, it still does something; whereas if you break other bits of code they fall over. So there, we have the essence of why we have so much problems with accessibility is that, we don’t have to do it for things to work.

Per Axbom: Exactly, you can’t, just by looking at a website, you don’t even know if it’s accessible or not. But, it’s also testament of course to really, how young our industry is. I mean, in these 18 years, the number of people going online, and the number of websites online on the web, of course has increased exponentially. So of course, there’s going to be a lot of people out there who don’t even know what accessibility is about.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah.

Per Axbom: Which brings us to the topic of, what is it?

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah, what is accessibility?

Per Axbom: And intentionally I did not write any notes about what it is in our notes here because, I wanted us to think about it. We worked with this for so long, we just said.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah.

Per Axbom: But, what the hell is it?

James Royal-Lawson: We haven’t even talked about this before the show. What is accessibility? I mean, for me, it’s … there’s a bit of a dichotomy with accessibility. There’s the formal definition, what it means to me is that, not … inclusion. Not excluding someone from the things we create. Making sure that, it’s possible for anyone to use things. Whereas, because we’ve been working with this for over 20 years, I instantly think, when I think of accessibility, about the challenges to do with getting it implemented. That, almost every single time you work with it, it’s something you have to fight to be done.

Per Axbom: Yeah.

James Royal-Lawson: Rather than something that we live to uphold.

Per Axbom: That’s very well put. I think that’s sort of the sadness of it. Because, I did those talks 18 years ago, and I sort of lost hope. I think I lost hope for a lot of years. And then I found some souls in our networks, who are so passionate about this subject, that I realized, I’m now finding my way back and understanding that, I can still be passionate about this. I can find the ins of being someone who actually is an activist, talking about how important it is to think about these issues.

But, I’m also trying to understand at the same time, why are so few people implementing them? And I think, that’s where I can contribute by helping to understand, why are organizations not thinking about accessibility. But, back then if you had asked me what accessibility was back then, I would definitely have used the word disability. Because world content accessibility guidelines, which we’ll be talking about today as well, was designed to think about how people with particular disabilities, can actually use the web. And I think that when we talk about that, most people think about visually impaired users. So, people who use screen readers. And that’s … when people say accessibility, that’s mostly what you think about.

James Royal-Lawson: And that’s not surprising given the visual nature of the early web. Your instant response is that, it’s not surprising given it was very visual. You were reading words and so on.

Per Axbom: And I’m still in meetings where I can say that people use screen readers and some people can actually be surprised by the fact … they say are there blind people who use the web, and they are surprised by it. And for me, that is what actually was, the appeal of the web to me was that anyone could use it.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah, exactly. It is that medium that unifies us all. But ok, with disabilities, we talk about the problem, think about why is this such an issue. Why have we not managed to get over that little barrier in the beginning to kind of just become natural? Is it down to the fact that … like I said in the intro there, it’s too easy to do stuff anyway or is it organizations that don’t have a high enough or broad enough perspective on this?

Per Axbom: So, that’s … its twofold I think actually; because to do something about it, you have to be aware of it. And there are so many people who are not even aware of it. And I think, where we have failed a lot is in education. Whereas you and I are not educated in this industry, because the roles we have didn’t exist as educational programs back then. But now, people are actually educated interaction designers and developers. But accessibility is rarely part of these programs which is just … blows my mind. And it’s happening now; I see … I’m engaged in some education programs as well, where people are actually talking about this. But then, there’s the fact that we are treating accessibility as something different. So, from an organizational perspective, it’s like, “Yeah, and we also have to think about accessibility.” Now, if accessibility was a part of everything else as it should be, then there would be no discussion about it.

James Royal-Lawson: This is an excellent point. So, okay, I was about to ask you, what are the kind of disabilities or accessibility areas that we should maybe think about, be aware of? But, I’m actually going to flip the question and say, before we get into that, name some of the benefits of accessibility for people without disabilities or accessibility issues.

Per Axbom: Well that’s the thing; people today don’t realize that they are using lots of tools that were originally designed for people with disabilities. And the earliest one I can think of now, top of the mind, because I tweeted about it the other day was, one of the earliest typewriters, was made for a woman who was blind so that she could write letters. And even the remote control for your television, was made for people with disabilities. But then, everybody realized, “Wow, I can use that.”

And then moving on to more communication digital medium, subtitles, captions on movies and films, everybody uses that. I turn them on when the kids are asleep and you want to turn down the volume. You have the captions on because you can still have a little bit of sound on to get the feel of the movie, but you have the captions on. I mean the captions were not originally made for me of course, but I could benefit from them. So, I see accessibility as a driver of innovation. If you think about the needs of people that traditionally we see have disabilities, their needs are perhaps more pronounced, but, its needs that everybody has. So, if you cater to those needs, you are actually going to build something that’s so much better for everyone.

James Royal-Lawson: We have … I know that’s I’ve heard being brought up as an example at accessibility talks and so on. It’s the example of a parent carrying a newborn child. That, when you’re carrying your newborn child, it’s very likely you have the child in one arm. Meaning that, you are temporarily one armed. You can’t do things with two arms, two hands. And now when we’re the the age we are Per and need reading glasses, I’d be zooming in on the … not just mobile screens, I’ve be zooming in on webpages certain times depending on the size of stuff to help me read it. I never considered … twenty years ago, I couldn’t consider the fact that I had glasses was, would create a need for accessibility. But it makes complete sense. Even contrast, through certain pages where I can’t read certain contrast. Not because I’m colour blind, but because some contrasts on some web pages, it’s just really terrible.

Per Axbom: And there has been trends of sometimes having grey on white and I mean, just these fonts with just … they’re so thin you can hardly see them. It’s just crazy. But actually that’s what your talking about now, it’s interesting because that’s one of the big differences of talking about accessibility back in the day and today actually, is that people are more talking about. And I think that’s actually a lot of things to Microsoft there with their … they have an accessibility document where they also have cartoons where they talk about the permanent disabilities, temporary and situational. In what you said, there was the example of the woman with the baby on her arm.

James Royal-Lawson: I didn’t use woman, I said parent; got you.

Per Axbom: You got me. Sorry. And that’s an example of a person being one armed in that particular situation. Another example of someone being deaf perhaps is a bartender, working in a loud space. And he is then deaf in that situation. Someone who is sick and has a sore throat is actually someone who has a mute in a temporary situation. So, everybody is disabled in a sense sometime in their life, in different situations. And, once we realize that, it becomes so self-evident that, yes, accessibility is about designing for everyone. And it would be much easier if we didn’t treat it separately.

James Royal-Lawson: That even the writing we do, when I was learning Swedish, having a simpler version of Swedish, made websites more usable for me.

Per Axbom: Of course.

James Royal-Lawson: Because, I just could understand it more. And again, I probably years ago, wouldn’t have thought about that as an accessibility issue. The content was the content on the page. But, the fact that we could actually put that little bit of effort into pitching the words to the right level so we’re inclusive with how many people can understand the words on our screens.

Per Axbom: So now I’m going to return to your original question, what types of disabilities, because now it makes more sense once we’ve talked about that. Because now we can talk about the disabilities that people usually reference is that, yes you have the visual disability where people actually they see nothing. They see a little, and this is something that people don’t realize, even if you are legally blind, you usually actually have some field of vision. I can’t remember the exact figure of the field of vision for being blind. But, or you need glasses like you and I and that’s also of course disability. But, we have corrective lenses, means that we have actually eliminated the obstacle in a large sense with that disability. And that’s what we’re doing when we designing for the web also, we’re eliminating obstacles.

The other one would be auditory like deafness or even having an auditory processing disorder which means that in certain situations, you have a real difficulty differentiating between words. Even though they are spoken clearly, some words are difficult for you. And then there are motor skills which means that you have difficulty in muscle control and there are specific illnesses like, dyspraxia or you can have cerebral palsy or it could be even something that’s temporary then. You have your arm in a cast and it’s really hard for you to move it around. And then there’s the cognitive issues. We have language processing disorder or even, you don’t even speak the language. And one of my favorites that you and I have mentioned here before is dyscalculia.

James Royal-Lawson: I was just thinking of that; yeah.

Per Axbom: Which essentially means … you know, dyslexia means you have trouble reading words. Dyscalculia means you have trouble with numbers and figures. So people with dyscalculia, of course, there’s a scale here, there’s difference, but they traditionally have a problem with understanding numbers and volumes and telling time because there are lots of numbers involved.

So if you’d tell a person, walk 300 meters in that direction, 300 is a really difficult concept for them to grasp. So that means, to help them with that, you can actually visualize things so, dice, like playing dice, board games. Those are really helpful alongside numbers because they actually have the number of items you are talking about, visually represented. So those are easier to understand for them. So, just thinking about those ways in which you can convey information in different ways, will help so many people. And it will help everyone and that’s the point.

James Royal-Lawson: When we get on to kind of like … do you want to move on to practical issues? Like, where do we actually start when it comes to creating better or more accessible websites and products?

Per Axbom: And I think that’s where we are helped by web content and accessibility guidelines which, I think the first one was released, when could that have been? 1998.

James Royal-Lawson: This is WCAG?

Per Axbom: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: Which gets referred to all the time in accessibility.

Per Axbom: Yes. Some people say “wuh kag”; and as W3C was just World Wide Web consortium, who brings us all these guidelines to help us navigate the web. They had guidelines for html, and other stuff as well online. And this is specifically as it was made for people with disabilities or ability divergent people. Because, that’s also something and when you talk about accessibility, some people don’t like to be called disabled. So, it can be very sensitive. So, it’s an issue of understanding what people want to be called as well. Because, some of these communities such as … specifically I know the deaf community, would never refer to themselves as disabled for example. They just communicate differently.

James Royal-Lawson: But, would we actually start? Is the actual starting point diving into WCAG? It doesn’t feel like it. I don’t think I would recommend that to someone getting into this. Not as the starting point. Or?

Per Axbom: No, that’s when you’ve identified the problem. But you’re talking about understanding what the problem is.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah, because like I mean if … looking at the formal specification for WCAG, and the ARIA as well, it’s not for the light hearted. Reading those documents and documentation, is not something you do to fill up a few minutes, light hearted read. It’s not like sitting down watching a Netflix comedy.

Per Axbom: That’s very true.

James Royal-Lawson: So I think there’s got to be something, there’s got to be another way in that’s more, not palatable, that’s not the right word. But, a little bit softer start I guess.

Per Axbom: Well what happens when you give a course or do a talk on these subjects of course, you start often with videos. You show people using the internet. Specifically screen readers. But you show other examples of people having a hard time using a mouse, there are people who actually navigate almost via mind control; using only their finger to navigate, for input devices.

There are so many things that you could show that actually gives people this, a-ha moment of realizing, wow, there are so many people out there using the web in a different way. And then, you tell people, if you design the right way, all of these devices that people use will just work. They’ll just work because, you’re following standards. And as long as you’re following standards, it will work for everyone. So it’s essentially about creating that empathy but also compassion for people who are struggling to use it if you do it the wrong way.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah, but then, so what we’re saying here then, is if you code your things according to web standards, a lot of things are hunky dory? But, that means that we’re saying that accessibility is for Devs. Because it’s all about doing html right, it’s all about putting ARIA. We’ve not actually talked about what ARIA is but, it’s all about putting the right html code in the right places to get accessibility to work.

Per Axbom: You tricked me into that one, didn’t you?

James Royal-Lawson: A little bit.

Per Axbom: And that’s interesting because, that’s also something that’s a huge misconception that you can actually then, you code right and then you can test if the code is right, and you can check that off and you say, “Okay, so my site is accessible.” There are so many aspects of accessibility that are not testable.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah, the judgment calls.

Per Axbom: But, automagically because, some things are about … like the font choice, that we talked about before. It’s really hard for the computer to know if that font is readable for you. That’s something you actually have to bring someone in front of the screen to look at, to understand how they perceive the information on it.

James Royal-Lawson: Exactly and there’s other aspects of WCAG which is talking about how error messages have to be understandable. So, that whole judgment call about, is it understandable?

Per Axbom: And like you were saying, things written in simple Swedish in the beginning for you that was much easier for you. That’s something that you would only have … you could only test it, you would only know by testing if it works. So a lot of it is about actually bringing people into the design process. That can help you understand what works and what doesn’t work.

James Royal-Lawson: So, it’s not just about Devs and developing and coding. Then we’ve got a number of what we would class as “UX aspects” to accessibility.

Per Axbom: Ah so now you’re explaining why we actually have this topic on UX Podcast.

James Royal-Lawson: Exactly, we know that we can’t just sit here and say, do good code and you’re all going to be okay. We’ve got to think beyond that aspect and I think if we say that it’s a bit of a cliché and some people think that it’s a dev problem, then I think you can also extend that and say perhaps it’s a bit of a cliché to say that UX-ers are then doing colour. Because I’ve come across both of those aspects that, the code is the coders’ job there of course and the UX have to just choose the right contrasts.

Which, yes, we do have a responsibility I think to choose good colour combinations and offer choices of colour palettes which I think is something we still don’t do often enough, is give some flexibility in websites to allow high contrast versions. The BBC used to have some excellent, I don’t know if they still do, but they used to offer some excellent opportunities to choose a really high contrast version. If you really want to be pushing something like that.

Per Axbom: But, yeah, so people latch onto those things and they say also, everybody says, “Oh yeah, you mean you work with accessibility you mean “alt tags” and people think about, “Oh, you need to have image descriptions.” Yes you do. But that’s like a tiny part of what we’re talking about. And there are also descriptions for example, a button. So, some people actually use voice to navigate. And sometimes the label on the button isn’t the same as the label in the code for activating the button which it should be, according to the new guidelines actually released in June; which specifies actually how that actually must match. Because otherwise, it’s really confusing for someone navigating with voice, if the label they’re reading on the button and they say it and it doesn’t activate.

James Royal-Lawson: That’s the WCAG 2.1 standard that was released this year. This is actually a really good point though, that we have this marriage between dev and UX. That if we come with a suggestion of a layout or a pattern. Say for example, you were going to use a … I don’t know… I’m going to throw … a drop down you can filter by writing into a box. So, it’s a drop down but you can write in it so that it reduces the number of options …

Per Axbom: Oh yeah, okay.

James Royal-Lawson: Now, that kind of design decision has quite an impact on what code you have to develop of course.

Per Axbom: And a big clue there is actually you’re going away from the standard of how a drop down works.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah, but we get a lot of … there’s a lot of pressure on us to come up with novel solutions to design problems. And dropdowns, there’s a huge number of dropdowns; different variations of what is effectively a list activated by a link. And, those UX decisions, so when we’ve decided that we’re going to implement a certain pattern, that then has a massive impact on the complexity of your code and how challenging it will be to maintain code standards and on following some of these ARIA or HTML5 or so on to make it as successful as possible.

Per Axbom: Yeah, exactly.

James Royal-Lawson: So that there, I think is a big challenge for us. Because, straight away, you’ve got, how do you get a UX-er to have the understanding about the implications of some of the design decisions, which seem so trivial maybe at the time?

Per Axbom: Well again, it’s about awareness, it’s about understanding that as soon as you go away from HTML standards, HTML standards like you were saying, extremely robust, it works across everything if you do it right. But also, you can make a lot of mistakes in HTML code and it will still work; like you also said. But, that awareness of how code works, I think UX-ers need it. And this is the … it’s such a debate. It should … designers know how to code. I’m saying no they don’t need to know how to code, they need to know how the code impacts the experience. They need to understand that what they design on screen may work extremely differently code wise and make it extremely complex.

James Royal-Lawson: That’s an excellent point too. Because, if you have the fortune to work with someone who’s very good or maybe … or very aware of the coding standards around ARIA and HTML5, then perhaps they don’t even need to ask you at all if you are about the design decision you’ve made. They can just implement it. Because they can actually … they are so good with using ARIA to enhance the code that they can get your plan to work. I say work I mean, effectively, they could make it accessible. But, it’d be complex code, it’d be may be costly to manage in the future and you maybe weren’t aware of that at all because you had a good dev on the team …

Per Axbom: And that is such an excellent point. Yes, exactly.

James Royal-Lawson: Whereas, maybe if you sat together with the dev, and then you could see the complexity of the code depending on what decision you’ve made. Maybe then that could cause you to double think and say, “Okay, maybe we can … maybe we just have a link and a dropdown here or maybe a link and a list or maybe we just have a list. There’s maybe a dialogue there that we need to be better having openness between those two sides so that we don’t just … we’re not just making things more accessible, we’re reducing the complexity.” And that should be something that really appeals to us. Because, normally, reducing complexity is like a UX tick box. It’s one of those things that gets us going. And this is an excellent opportunity to reduce complexity.

Per Axbom: I think actually something has to be said about progressive enhancement as well. That was something … it was hugely popular to talk about a few years back; that you make the simple solution work for everyone. And then you add stuff that will make it better for the people who can interpret that information. You can add even more stuff for the people who can interpret that information. But, the basic one, the basic solution should always work for everyone across the browser and even back to Internet Explorer 3. Because, why not? It’s completely possible.

James Royal-Lawson: Pretty much it’s all just words and links.

Per Axbom: Exactly, yes. One thing I also wanted to mention when you mentioned that drop down is, light boxes or modals, that’s something that’s hugely difficult to do right. And it’s something that I see a lot of interaction designers just add on to their designs because; it’s such an easy solution. So, how do I make the user confirm, “Yeah, I had a modal window?” Or, “I need to add an extra information for clicking an information icon or something added in a modal.”

And what tends to happen is that, the interface reader, which could be a screen reader or whatever, that is trying to interpret the information loses its place where it was. It doesn’t know if it has to start reading in that box that just appeared, or some screen readers stay behind the box and just read what is happening behind the box, which means they’re completely losing context. And so, what you have to realize is that, there are many ways in which a modal can go wrong. And that means, you need to test for it and sometimes you also need to think about how can I do this without a modal? Couldn’t I just go to another web page?

James Royal-Lawson: I completely agree and I’ve seen that too. That some of these component libraries, they are very cheap and you can just insert a whole kind of features into your website just by clicking a few buttons. And they do things like; they inject code into the page, and live depending on what you’re doing. When you click a drop down, it injects the list right at the bottom of the page. And depending on how well they’ve implemented other aspects of their accessibility standards, the screen reader’s never going to find it or it’s just going to be a complete audio mess to read out. But, you got the drop down included really quickly in your code. So, that’s a good thing. Looks like the designer wanted it.

Per Axbom: And you could move fast, and people would be happy because you did it really quickly, and visually it looks awesome for most people, so …

James Royal-Lawson: I think that’s also there. It looks good for most people. We’ve had the whole … we’ve talked about this before in the show with the 80–20 rule. They should make it work well for 80% and don’t worry so much about the 20. And we talked about this a huge amount in our Eric Meyer interview a year or so ago. Where, you shouldn’t be … you can maybe play with this rule, working for the majority, when it comes to a feature. That you can decide that you concentrate on a feature that is used by like 80% or 20%. But you shouldn’t be using that same percentage thing for humans, for people. Say, we’ll implement this because 80% of people are able to use it.

Per Axbom: Yes and this actually ties to what I said on twitter the other day. Where I’m just so upset with people asking for numbers on, “Well how many people does this affect really?” and you can read between the lines and realize, depending on what I answer, they are going to say that we can’t design for just one percent of our users; which is just an awful way of looking at what humans are. Those people are looking for an excuse to argue that it’s too costly to design special solutions for that one percent. But, it’s never a special solution the way I see it. It’s always something that will benefit everyone — always; because, it will also benefit even searchability; the way your information can be tagged and found by others. It always benefits everyone. And I’m going to stop actually talking about how many people have a particular disability; because, that’s just not relevant.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah, because it’s not … they say the features … some of these things we’re taught about, they are not features, they are parts of the standards we should be following. And this is … again back to what we said at the start that, in some ways I wish that html broke a little more easily. Because then we’d have to follow the standards. Whereas, it’s so robust that we don’t. So we have these conversations about ignoring that or ignoring this because no one uses our product in the screen reader, no one who is blind or deaf uses this and so on. But, I wonder, have we got some kind of … can we actually do some really properly concrete tips now; to come towards the end part of the show?

Per Axbom: Yeah. Depending on what you mean with concrete tips; because I know what I want to talk about.

James Royal-Lawson: Well okay, I mean I … for me, if I want to … shall I spit out some of my own concrete tips then?

Per Axbom: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: If you’ve got your own list then I’ve got my little list. So, for me, we’ve already mentioned many times now in this show, follow code standards. Always. HTML5, fixed with ARIA when needed.

And then, we’ve also talked about, earlier, about how you said about understanding; so building up that kind of empathy and understanding for some of the situations that exist out there. And I think one good suggestion there, is to use or try with Funkify.

Per Axbom: Yeah, good one.

James Royal-Lawson: Which is a Swedish developed bookmarklet for your browser. And Funkify simulates a number of different challenges I guess, when using the web; from shaky hands to blurred vision and so on; very good tool to get some understanding. And you can also download a screen reader or even a plugin for your browser that pretends to be a kind of screen reader or is a kind of screen reader, so you can actually experience maybe how really awkward it is to use your product or website with audio only and keyboard.

Never rely only on colours. So you’ve checked your contrast and text size and have a clear semantic structure for your pages. When I get asked the question about where do you start, I often say, headings; because headings, or that kind of structure, I think you can make the biggest quickest impact of improving your accessibility.

Per Axbom: That’s such a good point because backing up to when you said, “You start with the small things that create a huge impact.” That’s what you always want to do. And headings are a great example of that.

James Royal-Lawson: And then moving on from that, if you’ve done the headings then you probably at the same time can do a bit of tweaking of the words. So, you write great headings, write great labels and explain things clearly.

Per Axbom: My list is not as practical as yours.

James Royal-Lawson: There we go.

Per Axbom: Because it’s around … because I’m, as you know, very much thinking about, why do people keep doing the things that actually hurt people or harm people? And we tend to think about sometimes … and what helps me sometimes is I want to be on the right side of history because; people with disabilities have been treated just awfully throughout history. And going forward, I’m thinking about, how can I make sure that people in the future looking back, at how I was performing my work, how can I ensure that I won’t be looked upon as being on the wrong side of history.

And that’s what makes me … helps me think around, I have to push harder to get these issues on the table. To have the company I work for actually make it a focus. To understand that they need to design for everyone and not just specifically for people who are considered normal in society. It’s just crazy. And thinking of that, you always have to start by thinking about, so what does that even mean to me, being on the right side of history?

So, it means … so now I’m talking about introspection. This is about you as a designer. Have I even thought about what that means to me? And then, what do I need to know then? So now I’m actually motivated. So what do I need to know to be able to act within those boundaries?

And that’s what’s going to help me move forward and help me voice my opinion in meetings. And sometimes, I think, we should allow for people working with development to actually say that, “Okay, the meeting decided to go forward with the solution, but I actually want to say that I did not agree with it.” The majority agrees with it, but I just wanted for the record to say, I did not agree with it. Because, I think it can hurt people.

So, I think the discussions you need to be having inside your organizations to start with, if there’s something you want to start with, is actually, start talking about, what in our organization is preventing us from designing with accessibility in mind? What is it that is preventing us? And how can we listen better to people being impacted by our design choices?

James Royal-Lawson: Next time you get asked to put down only three of these left on your website, or book in two minutes to keep your place, say no to it; because it stresses people. And it may not be as accessible as you think. I just threw that example in there now about the scarcity.

Per Axbom: That’s really good.

James Royal-Lawson: But it’s one of those things … that’s what comes from inside organizations. You get this kind of like, how can we get people do thongs more? So we quickly get from accessibility, through to, as you said, understanding of being on the right side of history I suppose; but also, persuasion. Where do some of the techniques we’re using for persuasion actually impact on accessibility, both cognitive — and not just the classic disabilities — we’ve also got … not all of us are impacted by some of the cognitive persuasion techniques that are used out there or even dark patterns.

Per Axbom: And I think, the people who are most impacted, are the people who are already marginalized. So they have the most to lose, and they are losing the most. Because of decisions we make.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah, it will be amplified.

Per Axbom: Thank you so much for spending your time with us today. As always, links and notes from this episode found on

James Royal-Lawson: And if you want something to listen to next, well we’ve got a couple of episodes to recommend for you here. We’ve trawled back in the archives and we have got a chat that we had about comments for all; which was accessible feedback or comments on websites. That was back in episode 72. We have accessible infographics, which was way back six years ago, in episode 31; where we talked to Derek Featherstone who’s worked a long time with accessibility; and has done a lot of good things over the years for accessibility.

Per Axbom: I remember that show. That was a long time ago.

James Royal-Lawson: And finally a third one. Episode 152, shortcuts. Where we dive deeply into making keyboard shortcuts. How does that work?

Per Axbom: Remember to keep moving.

James Royal-Lawson: See you on the other side.


James Royal-Lawson: Knock, knock.

Per Axbom: Who’s there?

James Royal-Lawson: Wooden shoe.

Per Axbom: Wooden shoe who?

James Royal-Lawson: Wooden shoe like to hear another joke?

This is a transcript of a conversation between James Royal-Lawson and Per Axbom recorded in October 2018 and published as Episode 196 of UX Podcast. 

Cover art: Panda by vanhalligan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) with the UX Podcast logo super-imposed