I Am Finley


Blue Beanie Day and Why It Matters Now More Than Ever #a11y


I tried to find a couple of quotes from this article, but I think I need this entire section to sum up where I am as a web developer.

Many web developers have “moved on” from a progressive-enhancement-focused practice that designs web content and web experiences in such a way as to ensure that they are available to all people, regardless of personal ability or the browser or device they use.

Indeed, with more and more new developers entering the profession each day, it’s safe to say that many have never even heard of progressive enhancement and accessible, standards-based design.

For many developers—newcomer and seasoned pro alike—web development is about chasing the edge. The exciting stuff is mainly being done on frameworks that not only use, but in many cases actually require JavaScript.

The trouble with this top-down approach is threefold:

Firstly, many new developers will build powerful portfolios by mastering tools whose functioning and implications they may not fully understand. Their work may be inaccessible to people and devices, and they may not know it—or know how to go under the hood and fix it. (It may also be slow and bloated, and they may not know how to fix that either.) The impressive portfolios of these builders of inaccessible sites will get them hired and promoted to positions of power, where they train other developers to use frameworks to build impressive but inaccessible sites.

Only developers who understand and value accessibility, and can write their own code, will bother learning the equally exciting, equally edgy, equally new standards (like CSS Grid Layout) that enable us to design lean, accessible, forward-compatible, future-friendly web experiences. Fewer and fewer will do so.

Secondly, since companies rely on their senior developers to tell them what kinds of digital experiences to create, as the web-standards-based approach fades from memory, and frameworks eat the universe, more and more organizations will be advised by framework- and Javascript-oriented developers.

Thirdly, and as a result of the first and second points, more and more web experiences every day are being created that are simply not accessible to people with disabilities (or with the “wrong” phone or browser or device), and this will increase as standards-focused professionals retire or are phased out of the work force, superseded by frameworkistas.


I’ve personally been building websites since 2001. The web standards movement was just beginning. In 2004, I was part of a state web development competition through my high school and they required our sites be built in XHTML and CSS. I felt the push back against ugly, inaccessible plugins— like Flash— and bad JavaScript practices from the start. Fast forward seven years and I led the charge for responsive web design at a Chicago-based agency, declaring that we shouldn’t upcharge our clients for something that is absolutely necessary. That was before we reached 50/50 desktop-to-mobile traffic.

Progressively enhanced, responsive, and accessible websites are in my blood. And that’s why it pains me so much to be rehashing conversations from the start of the standards movement as to why we shouldn’t require JavaScript, or assume that our user’s device supports fill-in-the-blank, or even assume our users can see like we do. And I’m having to rehash these conversations regularly with the Angular and React JavaScript frameworkistas.

We fought this fight for a reason and it matters today more than ever. Tomorrow is Blue Beanie Day. I’m old enough to remember why. I will be wearing one to stand for accessibility and progressive enhancement. I hope you do too.


Core Development Principles


Development shops are relying on the communications team at a finance agency to know that they should request their code be optimized for performance or accessibility. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that shouldn’t be the client’s job. We’re the experts; we understand web strategy and best practices—and it’s time we act like it. It’s time for us to stop talking about each of these principles in a blue-sky way and start implementing them as our core practices. Every time. By default.

A List Apart

I’ve been in the web industry for 15 years, grew into my own during the web standards revolution, and have a huge heart for a11y issues. Seeing our industry revert to, in many ways, the methods and practices from before the standards movement is disheartening at best. We need, now and always, to insist on core development principles.


Accessibility and Flipboard


When you build a website with traditional standard DOM techniques, you get accessibility “for free” more or less, and this is without question a good thing. I’ve been a proponent of accessibility for as long as I can remember. It does not follow, however, that what Flipboard chose to do is wrong.

It is true that Flipboard’s engineering decisions prioritize animation and scrolling performance above accessibility. That’s no secret — the title of their how-we-build-this post was “60 FPS on the Mobile Web”. It does not mean they don’t care about accessibility. My understanding is that accessibility is coming — they’re working on it, but it isn’t ready yet.

When titans clash. I love that we are, as a web community, getting back to writing instead of quick messages on Twitter. The thought that both Faruk Ateş and John Gruber have put down in words is great and the conversation is what makes the web such a great platform.

Last week, I shared a blog post from Flipboard’s engineering team about their new, mind-blowing website. Not only did they create a great desktop version of their service, but they built a stunning, Canvas-driven mobile version. Their whole reason for not using the DOM (HTML and CSS) was for the sake of visual performance and user experience. 60 frames per second. In iOS, we call this butter. It isn’t something iOS developers sacrifice. It’s the expected norm. In fact, it is by and large why HTML5-driven, app-wrapped apps are so bad. With the web stack, smooth animation doesn’t happen. When a scroll view doesn’t scroll like butter, it looks jumpy. Jumpy looks cheap. Facebook suffered from this. So they went native. Basecamp suffered from this, so they are slowly going native. My bank suffers from this but they continue using Phone Gap and it is the worst app that I am forced to use.

As Gruber points out:

Blinded by ideology, oblivious to the practical concerns of 60-FPS-or-bust-minded developers and designers, the W3C has allowed standard DOM development to fall into seemingly permanent second-class status.

The DOM was never built for what we are doing with the web today. But Faruk is right about the DOM:

[The DOM makes] content easily accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime, using any device

This is what is difficult. If you want to build a great product, some sacrifices must be made. Gruber says so perfectly that “shipping is a feature.” Ship early, ship frequently is oft the motto of web companies, and one I agree with. Flipboard chose to use new technology that fits their product and by doing so increased the amount of effort needed to pull it off. If Gruber is right, that Flipboard is working hard on accessibility for their new web service, then I don’t see much of a problem here. Before last week, Flipboard was only available as an app. Last week that changed. Those that need accessibility will have to wait a bit longer.

But like Gruber and Faruk, I care highly for accessibility. This is why I took the opportunity with Ashes a couple years ago to involve a blind man in testing the app. With his help, most of the app is fully accessible through VoiceOver. Subsequently, Ashes was featured on a number of podcasts because of it’s accessibility. Making it accessible was an afterthought. Design and, as Faruk says, flashiness were crucial to making the app what it was. The design sold it. But accessibility came soon too.

I think in a year we’ll look back at the amazing, open-source library that Flipboard will have released for making Canvas accessible and forget that for a few months we had a beautiful, cool app that was inaccessible. But in the meantime, the conversation will continue.