Life as an inclusive developer
When I first started learning to code, I didn’t think that the world of accessibility and inclusion would become such a large part of my life. Yet here I am, writing blogs about inclusion, doing webinars on accessibility, and running a Slack channel to encourage fellow students and alumni to code accessibly. But that’s such a small part of being an inclusive developer.
I’m all about providing a fully accessible user experience on all websites, but we can’t stop there. To be fully inclusive, we have to consider so much more. For instance, the average reading age across the world is 9. Many users have dyslexia, learning difficulties, some don’t speak English as their first language, and some are functionally or completely illiterate. If you’re writing with complex words and sentences, many users may struggle to understand the text content on your site.
We also need to consider the language that we use. Before becoming a developer, I worked in pubs. In one pub, we had a regular that we called ‘blind Steve’, who was visually impaired. He stood in one spot at the bar, we all knew his order, he was an incredibly kind and funny man, and we loved him. We had no other regulars called Steve. So why did we feel the need to add the ‘blind’ modifier? We gave him a nickname based on something that he had no control over and hadn’t chosen. We considered his visual impairment to be his defining feature. To us, it was harmless. An easy way of telling new bar staff who he was.
Sadly, inaccessibility and lack of inclusion are not just issues on the web, it’s part of our lives. Catcalling is still common, people still make racist comments, and homophobic and transphobic people still make life difficult for the LGBTQ+ community. These things only serve to hurt others, which definitely isn’t inclusive. It’s one thing to code an accessible website, it’s another to be fully inclusive in our day-to-day lives.
To many people, being inclusive isn’t something we think about regularly. Many people don’t regularly think about whether their words would be considered racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ageist, or ableist. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that their words aren’t hurtful, even without intent. Accidentally using the dead name of a transgender person doesn’t make you transphobic, but it still causes hurt, even if you didn’t intend it.
So what can we do? There are many ways that you can be inclusive, but my go-to is to always ask if you’re unsure. Not sure of someone’s gender? Ask for their pronouns. Not sure if they need extra accommodations? Ask them. Yes, it might be awkward to ask the question, but it’s much less awkward than getting it wrong.
You may notice that in this article, I haven’t used the phrase ‘disabled people’. Many people with health conditions or impairments don’t identify as disabled, leading them to be excluded from accommodations that we give to those who identify as disabled.
When discussing accessibility and inclusion, a question often asked within businesses is ‘How many of our users are affected by this?`. Sometimes, that answer is none. Because they can’t get past registration.