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What's your Accessibility Origin Story? Here's Mine.

Marcy SuttonMarcy Sutton

I got my first full-time development job at a Seattle design firm as the only in-house dev in 2009. I landed at a really cool boutique creative firm but software quality wasn’t the focus of what we built. As long as it looked amazing and told a compelling brand story, that was what they cared about. I was still super new to development and learned by copying the structure of other people’s stuff to figure out how it worked. This was back in the Flash and ActionScript days, with a lot of learning by “throwing code at it to see what sticks”. Needless to say, I didn’t know anything about accessibility.

My first real accessibility-focused work came a couple years later in 2011 when working at an agency who specialized in working with well-known companies and brands.

One of these companies was Target, who had been sued over the accessibility of their website. And if Target was being held accountable, any agencies they hired were obligated as well.

This happened to be the first client account I was asked to lead.

I was super pumped for the opportunity and dove right in.

Back then, the dev tooling ecosystem wasn’t nearly as good as it is now. Some of the lessons were hard won as I learned about accessibility for the first time on the job. I was able to take what I learned about building accessible web applications that fulfilled legal & contractual requirements for Target and apply them to other projects, too. (It turns out companies like being confident in avoiding lawsuits!)

By far the thing that made accessibility really “click” for me was the connection I made with Target’s accessibility QA team.

As a developer it’s nice to be able to talk to someone who is testing your code to determine if it works or not. It becomes more profound when the person testing is directly impacted when it doesn’t work.

My buddy Steve from Target’s QA team was blind and used a screen reader to interact with web pages.

It’s one thing to write semantic markup that passes basic tests and “sounds okay” when announced in a screen reader. But being able to ask someone who relies on Assistive Technology for their honest perspective will have a way bigger impact.

Looking back, this was a pivotal moment in my accessibility journey.

We weren’t only making sites that fulfilled requirements for conformance. We were instead making sites that disabled people could use, including Target’s customers as well as Steve and his colleagues.

That’s my accessibility story.

What’s yours?

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