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(By that measure) Everything has failed

That Jakob article. Oof, hey?

Lots of people smarter than me have written high-quality take-downs of the article: here’s a list of links of some of them. Two things caught my attention:

  • binary thinking for measuring failure;
  • event-thinking rather than process-thinking.

I think both of these stances are wrong. I’m going to sidestep “AI will fix it” as that’s another big topic of its own.

The line that saying accessiblity has failed is from near the start of the article:

Computers are still difficult, slow, and unpleasant for disabled users.

Binary thinking

I don’t think the claim is correct about disabled users’ experience. Léonie Watson does a great debunk of this in her article Nielsen needs to think again. I don’t think it’s correct in the implication that computers are not sometimes difficult, slow, and unpleasant for users who aren’t disabled.

For this post I’m interested in the nature of the claim, though. The claim is that “accessibility has failed” because computers are difficult, slow, and unpleasant for disabled users. So for accessibility to succeed, the opposite must be true: computers must be easy, fast, and pleasant for disabled users. Essentially, things need to be 100% accessible for accessibility to have succeeded. I think “100% accessible” is impossible.

Event-thinking rather than process-thinking

The “still” seems to suggest that one day accessibility will be “Done”. That there’s a finish line, a final state, when we can stop working because everything is done, fixed, static. It doesn’t align with reality, which is constantly changing.

Applying this thinking to other aspects of our work

I think it’s illuminating to see what that line of thinking suggests when applied to other aspects of the work.

  • Websites still get hacked sometimes. Security has failed.
  • Websites still have bugs. Quality Engineering has failed.
  • Websites still get updated. Maintenance has failed.
  • Websites are still slow. Performance has failed.
  • Websites are still difficult, slow, and unpleasant for users. Usability has failed. 🌶🔥

To me, this makes it clear that “accessibility has failed” is not a solid conclusion to draw from “Computers are still difficult, slow, and unpleasant for disabled users.”

Team take-down

Some links offering constructive criticism and critique of Jakob’s article.