Media Access Australia’s Matthew Putland reflects on learning about accessible code, and the positive benefits it can have on web design.
During my experience at university, I learned front-end web development such as HTML and CSS, with a very small hint of accessibility standards included. Due to its apparent insignificance, I didn't look far into it and assumed that it's too complex for the few marks it gave, and focused on other areas. Now that I've worked in an organization all about accessibility, I've noticed the benefits of learning accessible code. Learning accessible code not only improves your website for people with disabilities, but it teaches you good design principles and concepts that can be applied to make your website better in general. This is helpful for anyone learning or are even veterans of HTML/CSS, as learning how to create accessible code will drastically improve the quality of your code.
Working at Media Access Australia taught me to learn accessible code and revealed to me the wonders of HTML5 and what it brings to the table. In many areas it's far simpler to include accessibility than it used to be. Applying accessible code is no longer seen as a nuisance for front-end developers, instead of making code more complicated, adding accessibility can make it easier to understand. Once you have the basics of HTML and CSS, you can begin to apply many of the accessibility concepts immediately, and often when doing so, you find ways to make your code more robust and understandable.
Accessibility is growing in a way that more and more websites are taking notice of it and competing websites will need to include accessibility in their websites to stay relevant. Having knowledge of accessible code is not only easy to learn but it's an excellent skill to have. By learning this code, you are enabling yourself to apply best practice to many situations. Without learning accessible code, you are left to learn best practice until only after multiple years of experience and learning from others what is right and wrong.
Accessible code should be more pronounced in HTML and CSS classes. It can help to understand concepts such as effective but simple website design, a clearer understanding of how your code works and the valuable knowledge of understanding why what you're doing is right. When I learned new accessible code, I could return to my old assignments during university and improve it just that little bit more.
Despite all this, we still see accessibility as an "extra" skill that can be learned, but is ultimately not necessary. I'm not saying that you should go out and begin reading every WCAG 2.0 success criteria, but rather gain the understanding on why accessible code is important and certainly keeping accessibility in mind when creating a website. From top to bottom the code of a website can be greatly improved so easily, and all it takes is understanding the concept of accessibility.