E36 – Interview with Eric Eggert – Part 2

Among other things, Eric points out that you have to start implementing accessibility at some point, why not from the start? Don’t give up on implementing as much accessibility as you can because it might be too difficult to implement 100%


Nic: Welcome to the Accessibility Rules Podcast. You’re listening to Episode 36. I’m Nic Steenhout and I talk with people involved in one way or another with web accessibility. A transcript for the show is available on the show’s website. This episode has been sponsored by patrons like you. I really do appreciate your support. If you’re not a patron yet and you want to support the show, please visit patreon.com/steenhout. So, this week, we’re continuing our chat with Eric Eggert.

Hi, Eric.

Eric: Hi, Nic. Thanks for having me back.

Nic: Thank you. For those of you listening, if you haven’t heard the first part of the conversation, I really invite you to listen to it because Eric told us a lot of good stuff about W3C, and different legislation in Austria in Germany, and all kinds of good stuff. So, Eric, should we continue where we left off?

Eric: Sure.

Nic: Wonderful. I’m gonna ask you what’s your greatest achievement in terms of web accessibility?

Eric: Oh, that’s a hard question. That’s a hard question because I try to not think about achievements too much. I think back in 2010, we won an award for accessibility here in Germany and it was an award that basically was given out to the best websites, best most accessible websites in the German speaking region. So, it includes Austria and Switzerland and it was called BIENE, which stood for Barrierefreies Internet Er√∂ffnet Neue Einsichten, which means accessible internet opens up new horizons. Something like that and BIENE is the abbreviation, basically means bee, honey bee and, yeah. That was really nice because we did not do that as an agency or as a commercial project, but we picked a non-profit and we provide them with an accessible website and published it and like an auto-complete function. 2010 was not the year of auto-completes. That was much later.

We had someone who dedicated, cared about it, alternative texts. We won the gold tier and we’ve been in Berlin and it was a really, really nice gala, thing and they’ve never given it out again, so I’m still few of the people involved there. Yeah, it was great. We’ve been like a local community gathering here in Essen, Germany and we just did it over a few weeks and it was really intense process. Like the assessment and stuff. Yeah, it was really, really nice and I really enjoyed that.

Nic: That’s quite an achievement building the most accessible website in all the German speaking area of Europe, that’s great. Congratulations.

Eric: There were other winner as well and other gold winners as well. Lot of bigger projects than we were. Like the small organization part of it, but it was for something where there was no money involved and getting real world trophy, like really heavy thing and being able to have that and send honor on stage and say ”Thank you” to everyone and stuff like that, also pretty amazing and it’s quite sad that we don’t have that anymore in Germany because they- Funding organization doesn’t do it anymore, but it was pretty great and really gave, at least me personally, but I think everyone who was involved pretty much, boost of confidence, in terms of accessibility, so that was pretty nice.

Nic: Excellent. What do you think the conventional wisdom about accessibility is that one thing everyone knows about it?

Eric: I think everyone knows that accessibility is hard. It’s a really, really hard thing, right? The thing with conventional wisdom is that it’s always only half true. I think that’s also for accessibility. I think a lot of things are really simple and simple changes and just using HTML correctly can go really, really far with good HTML and CSS and once you bring JavaScript, then it gets more complicated with Aria and then you have to learn stuff and it gets really, really hard at some point. Like programming and JavaScript gets hard at some point or doing PHP database queries get hard at some point. But there’s a sliding scale, I think, the conventional wisdom is that accessibility is really, really hard, but some aspects are really, really easy and simple and everyone can use them.

Nic: I like that. I really do.

What’s number one reason most people fail to succeed with implementing the web accessibility?

Eric: I think it’s the lack of education for a lot of people, like having, really, the basics, if I see a span element with the wrong button, people want to make it accessible and I think with the internet getting more, and more complicated, I think we’re getting to a point where people are lacking the basic tools to make websites really good. I think that’s a problem with getting the right education. Many of today’s web developers, they come out of school and they learn some react or angular, or what have you, what the tool of choice is at the specific point in time, used to be jQuery. Then they use those tools and, if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I think it’s the same thing with building websites and the thought and the time, really seeing building websites as a craft and that you should use the appropriate tools to do them. I think that got lost over the last few years and that’s probably normal for something that grew so fast and quick. They’re still searching for a lot of best practices, to be honest. I think that getting back and really concentrating on the content and how it’s structured and then what you add on top and layers. That could help to avoid a lot of accessibility problems, I think.

Nic: I have to agree, I often tell people, if developers knew html and css inside out, a lot of the problems we’re encountering, in terms of accessibility, barriers in the code, we wouldn’t see them.

Eric: Yep, certainly. Using the correct element for the correct content, is an art in itself. It’s not necessarily hard once you learn, but you have to just get into the right mode and you have to really understand the content you’re working with. And even then, sometimes there is not the right element, but there are options and you have to pick one of them. That’s something that people need to do and often I see that the result to the least- To the option with the least resistance and that is just using a div and a class and put something there.

Nic: I was speaking at a conference last week, Midwest PHP and I actually had a couple people come up to me and say, ”Nick, every time I speak to accessibility expert and I ask question, they answer pretty much with the answer that, it depends. There seems to be no one right answer.” They say and I wonder if you’ve encountered that and if you have, what would be your answer to that?

Eric: This is the answer often that it often depends on, what are the requirements? What are the goals of the project of the side? What are the issues? You can say, ”Should I make an image? Should I add alternative text?” And I would say, ”Well, it depends on what is the image? What chosen image? What is the context of the image? Is the image a clickable link? Should it say what the function of the image is?” It quickly goes into details because you don’t have enough information. So, I think it’s important that accessibility experts get into the weeds and ask those questions. What is the image? It depends on the image. Often it’s easy to say ”It depends.” But in reality, you just have to know what you’re talking about and then, usually, you have a very clear answer.

The other side of that, is that we WCAG the accessibility guidelines. They define the base line for accessibility. To achieve WCAG, you can do acts, like the minimal thing, adding Aria label to something, is a good example. And that might be sufficient to achieve WCAG conformity, but in reality you want to have a good user experience on top of that and then it depends on how good you want to make the experience. How good you want to make implementation because sometimes a visible label is much, much better than using just using Aria and put that on to a specific button. It’s no accessible cause that’s just the minimum you can do.

Nic: What are the greatest challenges for the field of web accessibility, moving forward?

Eric: The greatest challenge for accessibility, I think, is integrating accessibility into a curricular and making sure that everyone who works on the web has heard of accessibility and is aware of it and of the basic concepts. I think that’s a big thing that we need to achieve and make sure that it’s not tagged on. I think there are a lot of challenges, even if I do something that’s accessibility to the WCAG specification through Aria or one of those.

Sometimes, spring readers or other assistive technologies, just do the wrong thing and have bugs or it’s not well defined or what should happen. We need to be more proactive to catch those issues and make sure that we- When we write x in our html, that predictable thing happens in the screen reader or the assistive technology. I think that’s a big part of the solution as well, this is all- We’re all guessing sometimes and then someone who is using a hardcore screen reader user comes and says, ”This is not screen readers are actually using that.” And that happens to me. Being, like 10 years into working in accessibility and I still have things where I don’t know, really, if this comes out in the assistive technology as I will specify it as because there’s no way for me to test it in real conditions.

Nic: So, what’s the hope for someone that doesn’t work with accessibility, what’s the hope for them to actually be able to make any progress and reach successes when people like you who have been doing it for 10 years, still don’t have all the answers?

Eric: I think we have two things that we have to keep in mind. So the basic accessibility principles, they are pretty straight forward. Mixed of perceivable, operable and understandable and robust. Those are the basics principles, if you know them and you think really hard about them and what they mean in your specific content, you can deduct a lot from them, I think. At least get into the right direction.

The other thing is to keep a line open for people to send you back reports. To say, this is not working for me. I see it often with things like tabbed area, tabbed navigation, if you are using the Aria standard, you are switching tabs by using the left and right keys on your keyboard and then using the tab key to get into the content of that tab area.

That’s how the operating systems are doing it, so that should be an expected behavior for the user. However, in practice, you see users using the tab key and wondering why they don’t get through the individual tabs. So there is even a disconnect there. The only thing you can do is listening to your users and to use a testing with people with disabilities because you really have to use, or have to make use of people who are using assistive technology all the time to get a really good result, otherwise you’re testing with someone, something, you’re not really- You don’t have intimate knowledge of. It’s much harder.

Nic: What’s your greatest frustration in terms of accessibility?

Eric: That the whole internet is not accessibility by now. Come on, it’s 2018. I only got so many years to live and I will probably will get a disability and the cost of that and I want to use my favorite sites and stuff. Get going, I’m waiting, it’s getting a long time.

Nic: I think it’s frustration that everybody that, either is involved with web accessibility or needs web accessibility, can relate to.

If you had to switch jobs, what profession other than doing accessibility would you like to do?

Eric: I don’t know if I can do anything else. If there was no work and there was no internet of any sorts, and probably no computers at all. I will probably cascade into doing something program-y, something. But if there are no computers anymore, I probably would just be a taxi driver or something like that because- I can’t really do anything more. I mean I could probably teach people about doing good content, but where would they put that content? Do we want to go back to printing presses and stuff like that? I don’t think so.

Nic: So you really live and breathe accessibility and that’s all that you have in mind at the moment?

Eric: Yeah, I’m in good in html and css and JavaScript and I could make it work, if everything- But that wouldn’t apply if there was no space for accessibility anyway.

Nic: Who inspires you Eric?

Eric: I’m inspired by the people around me. The accessibility community is always so inspiring whether I’m at CSUN or XSU and I just see what people are doing on a day to day basis, how they make the web make for a lot of people. How they manage and different circumstances to make the world a better place. That inspires me. I really want- That’s what striving me, is making the world a better, more accessible place. Also, for me, as I mentioned, mostly because I think that’s something we should do as a society and when I see people doing the right thing, that’s incredibly inspiring for me.

Nic: So you’re really an idealist?

Eric: Yeah, I think so, I think so. I’m also the standard guy who says it’s like that in the standard so you have to do it like that. That’s probably my German bureaucracy coming through. I think we can do so much better as a society, why stop?

I have ideals that I want to achieve, but I want to, be also realistic. Giving people the right advice at the right time. I think that’s also important. We’re always doing moon shots sometimes and saying, oh no, if your website is not triple A’s, superb, gold standard, accessible, then you shouldn’t even have tried. I think we’re often… Making people try to do the right thing and we’re telling them off and say ”Oh, if you don’t get it right in the first place, then you shouldn’t- You should first learn how to do it.” And I don’t believe that. I think this step by step process and we have to talk to people and lead them to the best outcome for them and their situation.

Nic: I often say that any accessibility is better than none and that, I think, people can make a site 80% accessible with maybe, 20% of effort and it’s the end that’s very difficult, but it’s not because the end is difficult that you should forget to start.

Eric: Right, and if there is- If you have a complicated form that needs to be accessible, then that should be accessible. And that’s the main part of your site, making that accessible should be your main focus because that’s where the most transactions or way you have the most people, and if some information on some subsection or on your block that doesn’t have proper alternative texts, that is bad and you should really do something about that, but it’s totally a consideration to prioritize the main site first.

Nic: Yeah. What’s the one thing people should remember about accessibility, do you think?

Eric: That there’s a lot out there where you can learn about accessibility. And that accessibility is not about technical solution, but it’s about taking a look at the problem in a very specific way, so you can make it accessible and that it’s not about just throwing lines of code or JavaScript or even html and css at a problem, but it’s thinking about how detail’s displayed, how content’s created, how you can make sure that videos are captioned, stuff like that. That you keep that in mind. I think that’s the most important thing to learn about accessibility, that your content can be used in different situations and you should be aware that people need good content in different forms. I see that on Youtube, right now, a lot that people are uploading videos and they have captions in them because they know most people who are on Facebook, they are reading their Facebook feeds on buses or on the subway where you don’t want to have blaring video. And suddenly you’ve got that whole accessible video thing going on because it’s a normal thing and it’s interesting thing to see. Think about your content in different situations, I think that’s really important.

Nic: That’s a wonderful answer. You’re the first one to answer with that, so thank you, it’s good thinking.

Before we wrap it up, Eric, is there anything else you would like to add or share with our listeners?

Eric: If you have any questions about accessibility feel free to ask, even if you think that’s a dumb question, sometimes it’s not a dumb question at all. Sometimes, it can spawn a blog post or an article or a W3C resource, which doesn’t mean, just ask me about your latest startup and ask me to do- Or ask experts to do a free assessment of your site. But if you have questions and you want to know answers, feel free to ask the accessibility community is very open and really wants to help developers and business owners to do the right thing. I think it’s always good to be able to- To ask for advice and, usually, getting really good answer and hopefully one that’s better than, it depends.

Nic: Yes, and I think, perhaps, a good place for people to start asking these questions is either, on Twitter using the hashtag, A11Y, or try to find the web accessibility slack channel that’s open to everyone. Those are two good places where we can start asking questions and start getting answers.

Eric: Yes, I totally agree, I totally agree. There’s also at W3C, there’s the way IG working group, which is a mailing list where you can also ask questions. There’s pretty much going on and I don’t follow it closely, but a lot of accessibility people are and so there are a lot of avenues where you can get- The first questions answered without much details, usually, but getting some thoughts.

Nic: Wonderful. Eric, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today and to our listeners out there, thank you for listening. Until next week, that’s all for us.

Eric: Thanks for having me.

Nic: Cheers.

Eric: Thank you.

Nic: As usual, I want to thank the people who support this show. A great particular thank you to Joel Dawson from Accessible Web Design who sponsored this show with his help and support. Contact me on my website at incl.ca.