Lindsey Kopacz talks about how she learned about a11y, why you should be making your site accessible, and how you can start making your site accessible.
When Lindsey started, she didn't know what accessibility even meant. She would see that there was an "accessibility error" and fix it, but she didn't understand why she was fixing it. A11y clicked for her when she realized that the point of accessibility was to make the web usable for people with disabilities.
Code, at its core, is about people, and it allows people to use and purchase products. Ultimately we code to make people's lives better, and if you aren't making your site accessible, then you are discriminating against the one in four people living with a disability. Accessibility is not an edge case.
Doing the following will take you far!
- Make sure you have form labels
- Use alt text in your images
- Don't leave buttons and links empty
- Use buttons and links appropriately
- Test your site with a screenreader
- Navigate your website with the tab key
Install and use the AXE Chrome extension!
Kent C. Dodds: Hello friends, this is your friend, Kent C. Dodds, and I'm joined by my friend, Lindsey Kopacz. So Lindsey coached me on how to say her name and I, I think I sort of said it right, but kind of wrong.
Lindsey Kopacz: It's okay.
Kent C. Dodds: Okay. Lindsey, I'm super excited to be joined with you today. I have been friends with Lindsey for, I don't know, like a year, maybe longer?
Lindsey Kopacz: Probably about that.
Kent C. Dodds: It's been a while and I don't even know how it started- just on Twitter probably- but it's been a good, good friendship. We chat all the time on egghead psych and stuff too. It's a total pleasure to be friends with Lindsey and I want you to be a friend with Lindsey, too. So Lindsey, can you introduce yourself to our audience?
Kent C. Dodds: Yes. I think we're going to dive quite a bit into your accessibility background and that kind of thing. You also have a cat. Can you tell us a little bit about your cat?
Lindsey Kopacz: Sure. Well, my cat's name is Bella. I actually got her about two years ago. She's eight, actually. So one of my best friends got a dog and owned Bella and Bella did not like the dog, so I ended up...at the time I wanted a cat, so I ended up being like, hey, I can take your cat. And she's super sweet, super snugly. When I got back from React Rally, she was very upset because she had not any days of cuddling.
Kent C. Dodds: Aw.
Lindsey Kopacz: So she has, she's pretty cute. She like likes to come up into like my armpit nook when I wake up in the morning, which is kind of uncomfortable but super adorable at the same time. But she's sweet and she keeps me company when I'm working from home, which is, I mean, I think for a lot of people working from home, having an animal is super helpful. Or even just like anybody like your partner or like a kid or something. But my partner works not at home, so I don't get that pleasure, so I get my cat instead. She hangs out with me.
Kent C. Dodds: Mm.
Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah. But definitely working from home can be kind of lonesome. So having some living, breathing organism around can be really helpful.
Lindsey Kopacz: Totally. Totally.
Kent C. Dodds: Cool. Well Lindsey, you are super into accessibility. You write blog posts about it and Egghead stuff about it and you do have Egghead stuff, right?
Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, I have- I don't have any courses, just lessons at this point. I probably have like 10 lessons on it. Not a ton, but it's definitely a decent amount compared to some.
Kent C. Dodds: That's 10 worthwhile lessons to watch for sure.
Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah.
Kent C. Dodds: So, awesome. So what is it that got you into accessibility? Like, why do you care so much and why should I care?
Lindsey Kopacz: So I actually started working in accessibility kind of by accident. I was actually a technical project manager at the time, but I was still trying to get my hands into code, like I went from being a coder to a technical project manager and missing it. So trying to get into the code as much as possible. So whenever I had extra tickets I would try to jump in and help with them. So one of the tickets that I had was accessibility errors that were happening and needing to fix them. And quite frankly, it's embarrassing to admit now that I didn't even know what accessibility meant. I just knew it was an error, kind of like how you have like responsive errors or like browser errors on different browser views. So I kind of thought of it like that, but didn't actually know why I was fixing it.
And that's important and I'll get back to that later. But I started fixing them and didn't actually know what I was doing, so I would go to other developers and be like, I got this error. I literally have no idea what it means. And I would figure out what it meant through them, but they still wouldn't tell me what accessibility was. They're just like, Oh, you need a slap this like four on this label and put that ID on an input and then you'll be good. And I was like, okay, cool. I guess that's good. But I just always have that natural curiosity. So I started realizing it was for people with disabilities and that made me really start liking it because I've always had, I know it's really corny to say I'm a people person, but I've always had this...my hardest part about being in tech is I love people and tech can be isolating sometimes when you're not around people.
So for me, it just gave me a deeper connection once I learned a lot about what it is. So I decided to learn more about it. I was like, I'm going to give a talk on it. And that is the best way to force yourself to learn something is to give a talk on it.
Kent C. Dodds: Absolutely.
Lindsey Kopacz: You have a deadline. So I got accepted for an intro to accessibility talk and I think it was for the Tech Lady Hackathon in 2016 and now it's called Tech Rebalance, but it's basically a little mini-conf we have here in D.C. And it's really incredible...I don't want to call it a conference because they called it a hackathon, but it's basically a very mini conference and it was really fun and I learned a lot in the process and after that it just sort of started really, really snowballing into my learning and learning more about it. And three years later, here I am.
Kent C. Dodds: Wow. Yeah, that's, that's quite interesting. I know lots of people who are super into accessibility have some connection, whether it be themselves, like Johnny...oh shoot. What's Johnny's last name? He just spoke at React Rally.
Lindsey Kopacz: Johnny Bell?
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah. Yeah. Johnny Bell. Yeah. He doesn't have a, let's see, is it his left hand?
Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah.
Kent C. Dodds: He was born without a left hand. And so he clearly has a strong connection to that. And Marcy Sutton, I think, has a close friend who has a disability. Ryan Florence worked next to a blind to developer for years and developed that strong connection. And it sounds like you just really like and care about people and that's a wonderful reason to get into this.
Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, totally. Actually, a little bit of a sidebar story is after I started learning more about it, at the time I actually had a blind roommate and it's one of those things I kind of realized at the time and how that actually aligns with that time of my life because she was actually really, really functional. And I think for me, it made me realize that...it kind of helped me stop othering people and start thinking about, it's a little embarrassing to admit that I've ever done that, but you know, she was so human and sweet and awesome.
And then when I heard her on a screen reader ordering things, I'm like, how do you do that? And she's like, "oh, you'll get used to it". And I'm like, oh my God, it sounds awful when things are messed up. And you know, I think about that a lot and I'm kind of embarrassed I didn't include that as the first part of my story. But it's actually kind of important because when it comes down to it, accessibility is about people, you know? And it's, you know, there's code solutions and testing and stuff, but it's about people and people being able to use products. And ultimately when it comes down to it, what are we even coding for? We're coding to make people's lives better.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, exactly. So this actually makes me think of something that has happened pretty recently. I think it's actually still going on where Domino's, as delicious as their pizza is, their website is not very delicious if you need to use a screen reader because it's, like, totally inaccessible. And so you can't order a pizza like a seeing person can, for example.
Lindsey Kopacz: Totally.
Kent C. Dodds: And the fascinating thing about all of this is that they did some analysis and it's like they decided it was millions of dollars to fix all of these problems and they're just not going to do it. So they're pushing back on this lawsuit and taking it, I think to the Supreme court, and that's just, like, bonkers to me. But I am curious what your take on this is. In particular, why do you think that it's not just acceptable for somebody to say, you know what, I'm going to make a pizza place that's only for people who can see and can actually order on this, you know, through this medium of my website. Like why is it unacceptable? I almost said inacceptable and then it's like [inaudible 00:10:06] . Why is it not acceptable for a company to just say, you know, I know that I'm limiting my customer base and I'm okay with taking that customer base hit, I guess.
Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah. Well, I mean for me it's just like the literal, I don't like to say the legality of it because it sounds so sterile and clinical, but it's discrimination. You're literally like withholding somebody from your service for no reason other than you're being cheap. And the ironic part in my head, if you're even thinking about money, is you probably would make that money back because who needs the apps or who needs to order online the most are people who might not be able to drive. I mean that's, for me, the part where I'm like, there's so many reasons why you would want to use an app versus the phone or driving. And you know, for me, I get a lot of telephone anxiety, so if there is an app to use, I will most likely use that.
And I think about other people. I'm like, what's saying that somebody who is blind doesn't have phone anxiety? You know, they're human. People are humans. Some people have phone anxiety. Some people don't want to call them. Some people, you know, I don't know. For me, it doesn't make a lot of sense because one, from the financial aspect, you will probably make that money back. Second of all, I know for a fact that most accessibility issues aren't that expensive unless it was so poorly designed that, I don't know, I just, I get so angry about it so I'm trying really hard to [inaudible 00:11:52] myself.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah.
Lindsey Kopacz: But the very short version is: it might cost money, but Domino's is a multi-million, I'm sure, dollar company that can afford it and they're literally just taking a stance to be a jerk. Like that's kind of what my read on it is, like, why don't you just settle for it and then make your site accessible? I think that would even be way cheaper than pushing it to Supreme Court or, I don't know. I think about that, even if you're going to take 'be a good person' part of out of it, it just doesn't make a lot of logical sense.
I mean, I have a lot of trouble with the legal reasons and the business reasons of why you should do something, because for me, the motivation has always been very empathy driven. But I get so ranty when I'm like, it literally doesn't make sense. Like, eCommerce businesses have so many problems in this space and they're the ones who can financially benefit from it the most. And from a logical standpoint, it confuses me. I don't know.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah.
Lindsey Kopacz: That was a very ranty answer to your question.
Kent C. Dodds: No, no, it's fine. On top of that, I saw Ryan Florence was like, "hey, Domino's, you give me, like, $500,000 and I'll get this done in three months". It's not that hard. It really is not. And that actually is a great transition into the next thing that I want to talk about is I think that there's been a lot of focus on, you know, accessibility, focusing on accessibility and fixing those problems can be a huge help financially and just to be a good person. And there are all these reasons to do it, but people still don't.
And so I'm trying to think of, like, why is it that people don't do this? And I'm guessing it must be because they don't know how. And so, I'm still learning about accessibility, but I certainly have that low hanging fruit down. Like, it's just a natural part of my coding now. So it's actually not that hard. So why is it that people just haven't learned how, and I guess that's the question that I'd like to pose to you. What do you think is holding back some people from investing some time into learning how to do this?
Lindsey Kopacz: So I think personally, something I'm pretty opinionated about is I think there's a lot of tutorials out there for people who are self-taught coders. So a lot of online materials, a lot of coding boot camps. So a lot of people who are coming from nontraditional educational backgrounds in tech and a lot of the front end stuff, like the HTML and CSS, it either gets taught really quickly or it doesn't get taught in depth. And you know, a lot of times, that's 80% of the problem is just improper HTML and CSS. Because at the end of the day, what do these front end frameworks render? HTML. So I think, you know, I see that and I think it's mostly just an ignorance problem and not knowing it's a thing. And I don't think ignorance is necessarily the enemy of accessibility. I think willful lack of empathy is the enemy.
And when you know, you're like, oh this is an edge case or not that many people. I mean, we were just at React Rally and we heard Johnny's talk and, you know, it's like one in four people, at least in America, that have a disability and that's not trivial. So I think about that a lot and I think a lot of it is ignorance, but I don't think that's necessarily the enemy because ignorance can be fixed. So I didn't learn about it until I had been doing web development for at least two years. And being in this industry for two years, I had no idea. And you know, a lot of times we kind of just start going into HTML and because HTML is syntactically easier than Java script. A lot of people take it for granted and just kind of skip over a lot of the attributes that... just small attributes that make things better.
And there's things that I still don't even know. I mean, I think I know a decent amount, let's hope. But there are things that I learn every day about accessibility in HTML and things that I've done or I've approached that could be improved and, and even new HTMLs coming out to make the browser better and there's better ways of doing things. So it's constantly learning, but I think it's just like the knowledge isn't built in from the start so people don't think about it from the start. So whenever I teach anything, like any intro to coding, you better believe accessibility gets thrown in there like very heavily. And people are like, well what is alt text? And I'm like, well have you ever thought about what this image would be announced as if you couldn't see? Like what would you need for this image to get the context of that picture? And sometimes the context is, it's decorative.
And for me, I remember realizing you could have empty alt text and when you could have empty alt text, that means it doesn't add any value. It's just decorative. Like on a bio page or something. And if you're on the bio page of your team and you haven an image, you have the empty alt text because all of the context of that page for Kent C. Dodds, like your bio page, you don't necessarily need your alt text on your photo or you don't need a non empty value. You still need an empty alt tag. But that's because all of the information about Kent C. Dodds is there. Or wait, what is it, Ken C. Dots? Is that your new name?
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah.
Lindsey Kopacz: Sorry, I thought I saw that change.
Kent C. Dodds: [inaudible 00:18:17] For the listeners, David Khourshid gave a talk at React Rally and in the talk, he had a bunch of dots on the screen that were creating a model, a state machine. And he gave it a bunch of different names and he said you can call whatever you want. You could even call it Ken C. Dots. So I changed my Twitter name for a day. [inaudible 00:18:38]. You know, something occurred to me while you were talking and I wonder if one of the reasons why that people don't learn accessibility is because they don't use the tools of accessibility like the people who need those accessibility features do. For example, of course your website works with a mouse because like pretty much everybody who's building the website is using a mouse.
And so, if it doesn't work with the mouse then they can see that, oh very clearly, this is a bag because it's not working with a mouse. And lots of dope developers like to be on the keyboard a lot. And so typically, lots of the time, the keyboard will work pretty well, at least sometimes. At least in sections of the app where the developers are iterating a lot or something. And so I wonder if people listening, if they want to get good at accessibility, maybe finding the tools of blind people or otherwise would be a good exercise for them.
Lindsey Kopacz: Totally. And the same thing like with motor disabilities or even screen readers. So something that I actually learned, well, not recently but relatively recently, is that a lot of people with dyslexia actually use screen readers, so it's not just for people who have visual impairments, but it's also for people who have cognitive disorders who may have trouble reading, people who have maybe a lower reading level. It's super helpful to them as well. So it's not just about visual impairment. I know we hear about screen readers and we always think somebody who's blind or somebody maybe has low vision or something. But a lot of times, actually that's how I edit most of my blog posts is with a screen reader because I have ADHD and until I started using a screen reader, I would read through halfway, get distracted, forget where I was, start over.
And then you think about it and it would happen over and over and it would take me, like, three days to edit a blog post. And just by using a screen reader, I've shortened that so much because you can hear when something sounds off because the screen reader will tell you. It reads it exactly how it says it. And it's also a lot more foolproof that way because you don't accidentally miss over something. And for me, I have high anxiety and also ADHD. So those are like not exactly the best siblings of cognitive disorders. But yeah. I think with, with that being said, this is a little bit of a tangent, but when I think back to just testing and thinking through things, it's actually really helpful for everyone.
You were saying with developers- I use a lot of keyboard shortcuts, especially when I'm typing. So if I'm deleting words, I usually use option shift in the arrows and stuff for deleting words. And I was on Evernote, not their desktop app, their web app. And I actually think all of those were disabled. It was super frustrating.
Kent C. Dodds: Boo.
Lindsey Kopacz: Huh?
Kent C. Dodds: I just said boo.
Lindsey Kopacz: I know, I was really upset about it. But I mean it was fine. Like out of all times for me to complain, I think that's a little trivial, but you know, who knows? Maybe it's not trivial. Maybe that's a super important feature for somebody. But you know, I think with what you were saying about testing before I got into my very long tangent, I think testing really helps you understand why things are important.
So even just like the manual testing, even if you go into automated testing or you go into writing your own tests, it's really important to understand the why. And that's what I like a lot about AX and WebAIM or the WAVE tool with WebAIM and even just a keyboard is you're like, oh, that's why that stinks. You know? It gives you that 'why' in that context of why you have to fix. And hopefully I like to think that most of us are good people and you're like, oh, I don't want to exclude my users. I feel like a lot of us in front end development care a lot about our users. And so we're like, okay, well we don't want our user to be literally unable to use something.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah. That's wonderful, thanks for saying all those things. I'm trying to think of which of those, I want to [crosstalk 00:24:44].
Lindsey Kopacz: Sorry, I'm a chatty Cathy sometimes.
Kent C. Dodds: No, no, it's wonderful. So I wonder if part of the struggle to getting into accessibility...the thing is, that we know, clearly, that there are many people who have just not even taken those first steps into getting things accessible because things as simple as labels not being associated to input fields on a form is not happening. And lots of these things are just like, that's such low hanging fruit that there's really no good reason for those things to not be taken care of. And so what would you say are some of the things that people can do, just as we're kind of wrapping up here, that people can do to get into learning accessibility and just turn it into a habit?
Lindsey Kopacz: Awesome. So the first thing, if you're just getting started, is I would not worry about ARIA, which seems to intimidate a lot of people. I would just start going into, like you said, labels for form inputs. The other one is making sure that alt text is proper and I have actually a blog post all about that, that I could explain in more depth. And a few other things that I think are super important is making sure you're using links and buttons properly and not leaving either of them empty. And so what I mean by that is remembering that links go places and buttons are usually interactive functionality. I think, a lot of times, people don't like the default styling of a button. So they'll either make it a link and change the role and then make the HREF like a pound sign, when really all they really need is a little bit of CSS to reduce the styling. And the even worse part is when they a Div instead. Because then you don't get all this stuff that's built in.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, yeah. There's so much that's just built in for free. And you're intentionally going off of the path.
Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah.
Kent C. Dodds: Like, you're making it worse and working hard at it, too.
Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, totally. For me, because they're not thinking past just the mouse, they're like, oh, this works with the mouse, I have to write a click event. But they don't realize what they're missing out on. So the other part is just learn your semantic HTML. The semantic HTML will get you 80% of the way there. And so those are probably my four biggest HTML takeaways. And the other thing with getting started with accessibility is don't be afraid to turn on your screen reader and don't be afraid to try to navigate something with your keyboard. And the only thing that you really need to do to navigate with your keyboard is just press the tab key and make sure you know exactly where you are on the page. It should be very obvious. So those I think are the...I said four takeaways, but I guess I added two more with the screen reader and the the keyboard.
So just making sure you have form labels, making sure you have proper alternative text, making sure you don't leave your buttons or links empty and making sure that you are using links and buttons appropriately. And then not being afraid to turn on your screen reader. If you use a Mac, it is command, F, 5. You don't even have to go all the way into your settings. You can literally just use that shortcut and then making sure you go through it with a keyboard by using the tab key. So those are like my six things. That's a lot. But I think if you go through that you are, like, 90% of the way there. And you will get so much done and learn so much just by doing those six things. I wanted to make it as actionable of a takeaway as I could because when it comes down to it, I can talk about it, but if you don't have action items, it defeats the purpose.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. And there are tools that exist that people can use, like it's built into the browser, the accessibility audit, so you can do an accessibility audit. And then if you want to take it a step further, and this is our homework for folks, is go in and install the AX Chrome extension. And I'll have a link in our show notes. But if you install that, then it will give you pretty much everything you get from the audit but a little bit more and in more detail.
And I think a lot of it has to do with, as you were saying, Lindsey, earlier, ignorance. And it's not necessarily the enemy, but it definitely feeds into the problems that we have today. And here's the cool thing: if you get really good at accessibility, which Lindsey just said, it doesn't take a lot of work and I can tell you that as well. I mean it's not an easy thing. Nothing in programming is easy. But if you were to dedicate some time into learning it and being good at it, then you can go off and be a consultant and maybe make 3 million dollars from Domino's. [crosstalk 00:30:11].
But yeah, in all seriousness, this is definitely something that's worthwhile learning and it makes things better for everybody, not just those using assistive technologies. And even if it were just for those using assistive technologies would be worth the while.
Lindsey Kopacz: Agreed. Agreed. Yeah. But accessibility is for everyone. True.
Kent C. Dodds: Well, that was awesome, Lindsey. Before we wrap things up, is there a best way to contact you, connect with you online?
Lindsey Kopacz: Sure. So best way to get in touch with me is always going to be Twitter because I don't check LinkedIn or my email. I'm so bad at email. So if you want to get in touch with me, either send me a DM on Twitter. My handle is @LittleKope. So that is K.O.P.E. It's actually a shortening of my last name. So yeah. That's the easiest way to get in contact with me.
Kent C. Dodds: Sweet. Cool. Thank you so much, Lindsey. It's been a pleasure. I hope that you have a wonderful rest of your day and week and that those listening also have a great day and that we can make good connections and improve the world through accessibility. So with that, we'll say goodbye. See ya!
Lindsey Kopacz: Bye Kent!