Building accessible websites is challenging work. It requires thoughtful approaches by developers and the business leaders who commission the work. The false belief in quick-fix software solutions highlights a misunderstanding of the nuanced work required to achieve truly accessible websites.
Drawing upon the insights of Gerson Lacdao, a web accessibility consultant with rich experience in the field, we explore the necessity for a shift in mindset and strategies from quick fixes to the embrace of longer-term fixes, which benefit everyone.
Unveiling the Hurdles and Cultivating Awareness of Web Accessibility with Expert Website Accessibility Consultant, Gerson Lacdao
Gerson Lacdao is an experienced web accessibility consultant at Desert Wing Design, whom I first met during a live Q&A on web accessibility he was leading. He is a professional resource in all things related to WordPress, the ADA, and WCAG. In addition to being a featured speaker at WordPress Accessibility Day, he founded Web Accessibility Philippines Community.
In this article, you’ll learn about:
- Some of the biggest challenges facing web accessibility consultants today.
- Common misconceptions about the humans who are using accessible website features.
- Tools of the trade for website consultants who specialize in accessibility.
- A potential path to get your start in a web accessibility career.
My Interview with Gerson Lacdao
Toby: How did you get your start in web accessibility?
Gerson: I’d been a freelance web developer for several years prior to encountering web accessibility. In 2021, I chanced upon a live interview by someone I follow on Youtube of a web accessibility expert. I found it really interesting and I tried to learn more about it, really hoping to expand my skills. I took an online course about web accessibility to understand it better, and I realized how inaccessible a lot of my practices were. In the middle of that course, I decided to focus on web accessibility. I tried updating some of the client sites that I was managing and then the following year I joined the Accessibility Air Rally competition and our team won first place.
Toby: What currently attracts you to the field of web accessibility?
Gerson: My initial reason for diving into web accessibility was professional development. I wanted to improve myself to be able to create better websites, but I was not keen enough to learn all the new languages or frameworks. Web accessibility helped me to improve what I already know and have.
It’s also fulfilling to know that my work helps people with disabilities be able to navigate the world wide web. One of the realizations I’ve had with this practice is that people with disabilities feel empowered when they are able to do things independently, and I feel happy and more drawn to this work knowing I can contribute even a tiny bit to that.
Toby: What opportunities exist for certification in the field of web accessibility?
Gerson: The ones I’m aware of are provided by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) which I’m personally interested in. There’s a general certification and a few specialized certifications based on the specific work that you do.
Toby: What is the biggest challenge you face on a regular basis when it comes to web accessibility?
Gerson: One of the biggest challenges is the lack of knowledge of clients, of teammates, of the general public about web accessibility. While I certainly enjoy bringing awareness, it can get tiring at times. And it’s not uncommon to encounter resistance from clients and teammates. For clients, accessibility is just an additional expense that they can cut off. For teammates, it’s additional work that they can do without.
I try to counter this through education. I created a local online community so that I can share what I’ve learned with other service providers in my network.
Toby: What are your web development tools of choice when it comes to testing and building accessible websites?
Gerson: My tech stack for building websites isn’t necessarily specific to web accessibility. It’s more on doing best practices and implementing what I know about web accessibility.
I use a few browser extensions like Axe devtools and Wave for quick and on-the-spot automated testing. I also use a WordPress plugin called Accessibility Checker for WordPress sites. I also use a special browser called Polypane for testing where I can also do some automated and semi-automated accessibility tests and disability simulations. And I also use NVDA, Voiceover, and Talkback screen readers for manual testing.
Toby: What is the single biggest misunderstanding that people have about web accessibility today?
Gerson: For many website owners, there’s a misunderstanding that accessibility issues can be fixed simply by installing software. There are some companies that claim to automatically fix accessibility issues when you install their software on your site, and wouldn’t that be great, but unfortunately, it’s far from the truth. These accessibility overlays can actually make the experience worse for a lot of people with disabilities. Some sites with minor issues can end up with more serious issues because of the way these software modify the code of the website.
Toby: People I’ve spoken with about web accessibility (even web pros) oftentimes believe web accessibility concerns only people with vision impairments. Is this true? If not, what is a broader human perspective to consider when building websites with web accessibility in mind?
Gerson: That is definitely not true. I think it’s understandable that people make this assumption because it’s effortless to imagine someone who has a vision problem having difficulty doing something that typically requires eyesight. I suppose I’m guilty of enforcing this myself because when I share about web accessibility, I always use people who have vision problems as a convenient example.
But web accessibility covers so much more than that. For example, in the US, there are more people with serious hearing difficulty than people who have vision disability. And if we consider cognition disability, it’s about as many as people with hearing and vision disabilities combined.
Let’s not forget the elderly. They also use the internet and they may have one or more disabilities that have gradually developed as they age.
Web accessibility also covers the general population who, in one way or another, have experienced temporary or situational disability. Browsing your phone under the bright sunlight, watching a video in a loud environment, slow internet speed or limited bandwidth, broken arm or injury, there’s a myriad of examples that we normally overlook.
The thing is, when we make websites accessible for people with disabilities, we elevate the experience for everyone else.
Toby: On the whole, does it seem like the general populace understands the need for accessible websites?
Gerson: I think it’s still a long way to go but it’s definitely something that progresses each day. More and more website owners are becoming aware of this as legislations in various countries worldwide gradually make accessibility a requirement in their digital assets. Smart service providers are able to recognize this growing demand and are upskilling to have an edge against their competition. It’s a win for everyone, especially the people who need it most.
Toby: If you could waive a magic wand and fix one thing about the web tech stack to make your job easier, what would it be?
Gerson: I would wish for web development software to produce accessible code out of the box. Many service providers who don’t code depend heavily on what the tools generate so if the tools output inaccessible code, the end product is still not accessible.
Toby: Thank you so much for sharing your insights about web accessibility, Gerson!
This conversation with Gerson Lacdao, an expert in web accessibility, illuminates the intricate path toward achieving an inclusive digital environment. It highlights the formidable barriers, such as a general lack of awareness, resistance due to misconceptions about accessibility’s importance, and the inefficacy of supposed instant solutions.
Gerson’s expertise sheds light on the necessity of a holistic approach to web accessibility beyond aiding those with visual impairments. True digital inclusivity not only serves individuals with disabilities but substantially improves the user experience for the entire online community.