Accessibility is important. Let’s do something about it.

Hi! I’m Ally Palanzi.

Senior Front-End Engineer @ Vox Media


Accessibility (a11y) refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people who experience disabilities.

In 2001 the World Health Organization redefined disability as: “a mismatch in interaction between the features of a person’s body and the features of the environment in which they live.”

Our work can create or remove mismatches in interaction.

The impact of disability is radically changed on the Web because the Web removes barriers to communication and interaction that many people face in the physical world.

W3C Accessibility

By designing with disabilities in mind, we create better products for everyone.

Disability affects all of us at some point.

  • Permanent
  • Temporary
  • Situational

Ok, but why should we care?

a.k.a. what to tell your boss

It’s better for business

  • Device independence
  • Usability
  • Design for older users
  • SEO

Case studies show that accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance, and increased audience reach.

W3C Accessibility Overview

Accessibility supports social inclusion, allowing us to hire more diversely & reach a diverse audience.

Scary legal things!!

Many countries are recognizing and acting upon the need to ensure access to the web for people with disabilities.

Web Aim

A common approach throughout the world is for nations to adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

USA 🇺🇸

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act means that all users, regardless of disability status, can access technology.

Australia 🇦🇺

World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes requires equal access for people with a disability where it can reasonably be provided.

Europe 🇪🇺

EU Charter of Fundamental Rights Article 21 prohibits discrimination based on grounds of disability, among others.

...and more!

WebAIM World Laws

And if this still doesn't convince your stakeholders...

Ask for forgiveness later

How we’re solving a11y at Vox Media.

Our foray into accessibility didn’t really get started until May 2016.

We’ve always had advocates for a11y.

A slack screenshot showing the channel was made in Feb 2015

An accessibility slack channel was created in early 2015.

Lots of talking.

A slack convo talking about planning an accessibility meetup A slack convo talking about planning an accessibility meetup

Two Days

  • Brainstorming
  • Speaker
  • Documentation
  • Planning

We wrote a lot of docs!

screenshot of documentation folder

Our Guiding Principles

We came up with some guiding principles to consider when thinking about accessibility:

People want to access our content and use our tools; let’s make it easy for them.

We don’t make assumptions about our users.

This is where the industry is going. Get on board or get left behind.

Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility.

We shared internal guidelines

screenshot of our internal documentation site

We ran knowledge shares

screenshot of our Storytelling Studio blogpost

We began to incorporate it into every project

screenshot of our Verge contrast tests

Keeping people accountable

  • Integrating accessibility into QA process
  • Treating it as any other feature in a project
  • Celebrating wins!

How can we share them with the world?

Vax 2016!

2.5 days figuring out the best way to open source our documentation

gif of user using

Accessibility best practices* for designers & developers

*Not all, but some good ones.

Make sure there is enough contrast between text and its background color.

examples of button contrast

Don't indicate important information using color alone

examples of links, one with only color, one has an underline

Pair values of colors together (not only hues) to increase contrast

examples of colors

Design accessible forms

Fields should have labels that are always present, error messages should be clear

examples of forms

Build accessible forms

  • Always have labels, don’t rely on placeholder text
  • Labels should not disappear on form focus
  • Use fieldset and legend for larger forms like a checklist

<label for="name">Name:</label>
<input id="name" type="text" name="name">

  <legend>Select your pizza toppings:</legend>

  <input id="ham" type="checkbox" name="toppings" value="ham">
  <label for="ham">Ham</label>
  <input id="pepperoni" type="checkbox" name="toppings" value="pepperoni">
  <label for="pepperoni">Pepperoni</label>

Use semantic HTML

  • Limit div soup, strip unnecessary HTML elements
  • Use headings h1-h6 for content structure
  • Avoid skipping headings in the same sections
  • It’s okay to have multiple of the same heading on a page.

<html lang="en">
W3C HTML5 Semantic Elements

HTML Landmarks

  • These landmarks help define specific areas that a user might want to seek out and can save them a lot of time.
  • <header> for role="banner"
  • <main> for role="main"
  • <nav> for role="navigation"
  • <footer> for role="contentinfo"
  • <aside> for role="complementary"

HTML document should have a language attribute

						<html lang="en"> </html>

Focus States

  • NEVER remove focus states from elements
  • Design better ones or leave them as-is
  • These should not be subtle – they should stand out so users can tell what item they are tabbing to

*:focus {
 outline: none; //BAD!!!

Know when to use buttons vs. links

  • Linking to something outside the page? Use an anchor tag.
  • Performing an action on the page? Use a button.

Search it here


Make links descriptive

  • “click here” vs. “click here to read more about Vox Media”
  • This is also helpful for SEO!

Write good alt text for your images, hide decorative images

<img src="catomg.jpg" alt="cute fluffy cat">
<img src="border.png" aria-hidden="true">

Accessible Inline SVGs

SVGs are often used as icons on interactive elements in sites. The SVG should have a title or description, then you can use the aria-labelledby attribute to tell the screen reader what element to use to describe the SVG.

 Green rectangle

Sitepoint Tips for Creating Accessible SVG

If an experience cannot be made accessible, create another route for assistive tech.

Maps, charts, graphs might be more accessible as HTML tables.

Allow viewport zooming


Support keyboard navigation

  • Users should be able to tab through the entire page
  • Don’t allow “keyboard traps”

Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility

  • Don’t hesitate to push back on inaccessible designs
  • Semantic html goes a long way
  • Don’t change default semantics

Okay this sounds like a lot. How do I test it?

Testing best practices

  • Navigate the page with your keyboard
  • Add accessibility to your project checklist just as you would any other function or feature.
  • Include a11y in your device/browser QA process
  • Test early and often!

Tota11y bookmarklet

screenshot of tota11y bookmarklet on Curbed

Colour Contrast Analyser screenshot of colour contrast analyser


Disability affects everyone.

Trouble getting buy in?
Ask for forgiveness later.

Baby steps count, it’s not going to happen all at once.

Think about accessibility
early & often.

Semantic HTML + browser defaults go a long way.

Let’s make our work better!

Tools & Resources:

Thank you!