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Accessibility Adventures: November 2021

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about in the world of accessibility: birding, description lists, personalization, video games, audio descriptions, and the contrast triangle.

A tufted titmouse spreads its wings to start flying on a sunny winter afternoon.
Photo by Mark Olsen on Unsplash


My last Accessibility Adventures blog post was just over a year ago now: “Accessibility Adventures: October 2020,” and I’m happy to jump back into this column now. I’m hoping to write these a little more frequently and keep the posts a little shorter.

Accessibility Adventures is my roundup of things I’ve come across in the realm of accessibility. These posts are my way to signal-boost cool stuff, to leave notes for my future self, and to reflect on and engage with things I come across.

Accessible Birding

Accessible birding is a thing!

Bay Nature has a good article about this: “Accessible Birding for Every Body” by Chris Okon. is also a good resource.

Accessible Podcasts

I love podcasts. Don’t you? Are you thinking about creating one? If you do, remember to make it accessible! Here’s a great resource for that. Nic Steenhout and Eric Eggert created a cool website all about podcast accessibility.

Love Letter to HTML & CSS

I enjoyed Ashley Kolodziej’s love letter to HTML and CSS on CSS Tricks. A lot of what Kolodziej says in this post resonates with me. I know the fundamentals of programming, and I enjoy programming, but markup languages are my true love: HTML, Markdown, Asciidoc, even DocBook.

Description Lists (Featuring Dungeons & Dragons)

Ben Myers has a great post — “On the <dl>” — about description lists in HTML, which don’t get the appreciation or use they deserve. I’ve tended to think of those as ways to represent simple descriptions or definitions, but Myers points out that the <dl> element is a good tool for name-value pairs, which actually have lots of potential uses. My favorite part of this post is that it incorporates Dungeons & Dragons: Myers writes HTML code for a monster stat block, and uses five <dl> elements in the process.

HTML Essential Training with Jen Simmons

Jen Simmons is great. I love and recommend her YouTube channel Layout Land. I recently saw that she has a course on LinkedIn Learning: HTML Essential Training. I watched it, I enjoyed it, and I recommend it! There wasn’t a ton in there that was new to me, but it always helps to review and solidify the fundamentals, and I appreciated the way she framed and explained the core concepts and integrated accessibility concerns into the course.

Personalization & Accessibility

Personalization is an upcoming frontier in accessibility and inclusive design. Ted Drake wrote a good post about this on Medium: “Personalization and Inclusive Design,” and I saw Carie Fisher give a great presentation about this at an A11yBay meetup: “The Future of Accessibility is Choice.”

I don’t believe either Fisher or Drake mentioned RSS feeds, but both Fisher and Drake got me thinking about those. RSS feeds are great for many reasons, but one big reason I love them is customization. I use NewsFlash to read RSS feeds. In NewsFlash, I can control which feeds I follow, how they are organized, and how each post is presented. I can choose between different color themes and change the font family and size. RSS feeds are great, and they can be great for accessibility. I think more people should use them, and I wish more websites supported them more robustly.

Sheri Byrne-Haber

Sheri Byrne-Haber is a wonderful accessibility blogger. She recently wrote a handbook about accessibility: Giving a damn about accessibility: A candid and practical handbook for designers. Check it out! She also wrote an interesting blog post about the handbook: “Why I wrote ‘Giving a Damn About Accessibility’ and why you should read it.”

Relatedly, I enjoyed Sheri Byrne-Haber’s post “Radical Candor about Accessibility Day-to-day Job Responsibilities.”

Jennison Asuncion

I enjoyed this conversation with Jennison Asuncion on Diamond’s blog. Jennison helps organize Accessibility Camp Bay Area and the A11yBay Meetups that I have started attending, and he also co-founded Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).

(Virtual) Braille Keyboards

At Accessibility Camp Bay Area in May, I attended Brian Kemler’s talk about the TalkBack screen reader for Android. I learned that braille keyboards are a thing, and that Android phones now have a virtual braille keyboard. Very cool!

Here are two other videos about typing in braille that I enjoyed and which helped enlighten me:

People Who Are Blind Play Video Games

Imaginary Worlds is a wonderful SFF podcast, which recently released “Episode 181: Playing Blind,” an episode about blind people who play video games and about designing accessible video games. I enjoyed it and recommend it!

Black ASL

I knew there were different sign languages, such as American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language, but I didn’t know that there are different dialects of ASL, such as Black ASL, until I encountered this post from 3Play Media: “Celebrating Black History Month: Deaf Culture and Black ASL.” Now that I think about it, it makes sense that Black ASL would be a thing, but it also makes sense that dominant culture would marginalize it and that I wouldn’t necessarily learn about it. So this is me signal boosting it!

Hocus :Focus (Keyboard Accessibility Horror Game)

I really enjoyed Hocus :Focus, a Halloween-themed keyboard accessibility horror game by Rémi Parmentier. It’s cute, fun, and educational.


I recently discovered the HTMHell website — and I love it! It’s a website by Manuel Matuzović that collects and dissects bad practices in HTML copied from real websites. In addition to surveying the wrong ways to write HTML, the site also collects best practices, tips, and tricks. Check it out! In particular, I’ll recommend this post about using landmarks in HTML.

On the topic of bad code and how you make it better, I enjoyed this post by Scott O’Hara, which looks at good markup and accessible forms: “Redundantly Redundant a11y Accessibility .”

Integrated Described Video

Audio descriptions are cool, but so is Integrated Described Video (IDV). It’s a way of creating videos that naturally integrates description into the “regular” audio track, so that a secondary audio description track isn’t necessary. It’s an approach to audio descriptions inspired by universal design.

AMI created a series of videos aimed at video creators which explain what IDV is and how to do it: Integrated Described Video Creator Series. These videos are funny and engaging and also quite informative and eye-opening. It made me realize we should probably have many more videos with integrated descriptions.

Producing Audio Descriptions (With Text-to-Speech)

When you’re creating a video, try to integrate descriptions into it, or at the very least plan for and create a separate audio description track during your video production process. But what if it’s too late?

It can be a pain to create audio descriptions after the fact. You need to write them, record them, and edit them into one file that aligns with the video track. Now, if you have experience recording audio descriptions, and if you can recommend a simple way to make them, please let me know! I’m curious about that.

That said, did you know that you can write audio descriptions in a WebVTT file? WebVTT files are typically used for captions and subtitles, but if you’re using Able Player you can use a WebVTT file for audio description, and Able Player will read those descriptions using text-to-speech as you watch the video. There’s even the option to pause the video when description starts, which could perhaps allow you to write extended audio descriptions. Here’s an example: Able Player with audio description via VTT track.

This is super cool! Look, I know it’s not as great as integrated descriptions or a human-voiced secondary track. But it’s awesome that this is a possibility. This approach makes it relatively easy to create both standard and extended audio description, and it can be especially helpful in remediating inaccessible videos. (Slight disclaimer: Users can select an option to automatically pause the video when description starts, but I’m not sure developers can set that as the default behavior.) Thanks to Sumner Davenport for putting this Able Player functionality on my radar.

Now, theoretically, you shouldn’t need Able Player to do this. I believe you should be able to use kind="descriptions" in the track element, and the default video player in browsers should support this functionality. (That is, it’s in the HTML standard for the track element.) but as far as I’m aware, no browsers support this functionality out-of-the-box. For more on the track element, check out “Issue #17 - the track element” over at HTMHell.

Thinking More Deeply About Color & Contrast

I really enjoyed Erik Kroes’s post about colors: “Color and contrast, what does it mean?.” Color is one of those things that seems simple, but every now and then I think more deeply about it, and it’s actually just so incredibly layered and complicated. In the accessibility world, I feel like I’ve come across a lot of writing about WCAG’s color contrast requirements and “don’t use color alone to convey meaning,” but I haven’t seen as much about how color contrast is measured or its implications for color palettes. This post does just that, and I recommend it!

On the topic of color, have you encountered the contrast triangle before? Basically, if you don’t underline your links, you need to ensure that your links have sufficient color contrast between your body text so that users can identify them as distinct. However, your link text and body text both need to have sufficient color contrast with your background color so that users can easily read them both. This puts you into a careful balancing act that can really constrain your color choices. For more on this, see Chip Cullen’s post “The Contrast Triangle” and the accompanying contrast triangle checker tool.

Additionally, on the topic of color, I enjoyed these two posts by Lea Verou:

Accessibility Internet Rally

One last thing: I recently finished participating in Knowbility’s Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) program. AIR is a friendly competition where web developer teams create accessible websites for nonprofit organizations (NPOs). Knowbility provides accessibility training for both developers and NPOs, and developer teams are paired with mentors who provide coaching and guidance.

My team designed and developed an accessible WordPress site for our NPO. I served as our team lead, scheduling meetings, taking notes, and managing our to-dos.

AIR was a terrific experience, and if you’re interested in making accessible websites, I highly recommend it!

I learned a lot. I learned about accessibility of course, but it turned out that I already knew the fundamentals pretty well. I learned more about development and testing. I’m familiar with WordPress as a user, but this was my first time approaching WordPress as a developer. We created a child theme for our site, and it was … frustrating, honestly, but also a great learning experience. I also learned a lot about accessibility and usability testing. I learned what bookmarklets are, and I used axe DevTools for my first time. We also had the great fortune to conduct usability testing through Knowbility’s AccessWorks program, which paired us with a tester with disabilities.