Monday, October 9, 2017

Laws and Guidelines: Accessibility for Everyone: Long Form Book Review

IT's been a fun ride, but it's time to close out my long form review of Laura Kalbag's "Accessibility for Everyone".

I have discussed with Laura my intention to do this, and she has given me her approval. This is going to be a review of the book and my own personal take on the concepts and ideas. I do not in any way intend for this to be a replacement for the book or otherwise want people to consider that reading my long form review basically means it's a Cliff Notes version of the book. I'm excited that books like this get written and I want to support Laura and other authors out there. If you think this book sounds intriguing, buy the book!!!



Front cover of Laura Kalberg's book "Accessibility for Everyone"
If you have ever set yourself down to reading the actual guidelines for WCAG, the U.S. ADA Section 508, or other guidelines for complying with requirements, you have probably felt a bit of frustration while reading them. That's because they are written in a legalese that only attorneys would love. Additionally, one of the biggest reasons that Accessibility projects are undertaken in the first place is because there is a threat of legal action, if not currently then in the future at some point. The retail chain Target and the UK airline Bmibaby are two high profile examples where legal action was taken due to sites not being Accessible to all users.

As mentioned above, in the USA, Section 508 is the part of the Americans with Disabilities Act that deals with making electronic communications available to everyone. It specifically has teeth when it comes to government agencies purchasing and using products. As I had mentioned in other posts in this book review series, my current company went through a large scale Accessibility project because a large entity wanted to purchase our product, but that product has to meet Section 508 guidelines. You may be asking, "was it a government agency?" The answer is, "Yes."

Europe has its own standard similar to Section 508. It's called the European Accessibility Act, developed to work along with Article 9 of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Many of these legal guidelines point to WCAG and consider compliance with it to be sufficient to match the legal codes. As Laura points out, there are four fundamental principles that underly the WCAG guidelines (the following is right out of the book):

  • Principle 1: Perceivable—information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
  • Principle 2: Operable—user interface components and navigation must be operable.
  • Principle3: Understandable—information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
  • Principle 4: Robust—content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
WCAG hs three levels of conformance. Those levels are 'A', 'AA' and 'AAA' with the greater number of letters the more complete the conformance. Different organizations will aim for varying levels, with 'AA' being the most common. Achieving an 'AAA' rating is the ideal of Accessibility and Inclusive Design, but may not be feasible for many organizations, as it requires a lot of time, energy, and cash outlay to achieve it.

The key point of this section is the fact that Laws and Guidelines are all well and good if we want to ensure that we are not running afoul of legal commitments, and they have a tendency to "keep us honest", but that's a poor place to be keeping our focus. Much better would be if we were to consider that we are doing these things because they are the right things to do because we want to include people into our product usage because at some point every one of us will face Accessibility issues of some kind.


Laura provides a lot of additional reading options for Accessibility, Coding Patterns, Animation, ARIA tags, Assistive Technologies, Color and Design, CSS, HTML, Guidelines, Internationalization, Planning and Research,  Performance, Typography, Subtitles and Captions, SVG Graphics, Usability, Validators and Inspectors, Video and Writing/Readability. There's a lot to dig into here and its safe to say that using these as a jumping off point, even if you only explore half of them listed, you will walk away with a lot of new skills and understanding of Accessibility that will stand you at least a head above many of your peers.


If you have stuck with me this far, you probably have surmised that I like this book a great deal. It takes a broad and sometimes sticky topic and makes it "Accessible to Everyone". This is not a coding book per se, though it does have some code examples. It's not a design book, though it does cover a number of design ideas and techniques. It's not a "how" book in a strict sense at all. What it is is a "why" book, and at that level, it succeeds admirably. It's written in a plain and understandable style while not being patronizing. The examples are clear and easy to understand. The sections of the book build upon each other and allow the reader to "level up" with each chapter. The ordering makes sense in that they help shape why we should care before we get into the nuts and bolts of what we should do. Laura has put together a book that is focused, distilled and lacking "the boring bits", which of course falls into line with the ethos of "A Book Apart" and its publishing style. Would I consider this a worthwhile addition to my book library? The fact that I have done a long-form review like this should be ample evidence that I do, but even without this commitment, I consider "Accessibility for Everyone" to be a book that I will turn back to as I need to. The Resources section itself is worth the purchase of the book, but what you get in the preceding chapters will provide a great deal in helping anyone get a better feel for and a desire to want to make Accessivility a primary focus of their programming and testing efforts.

No comments: