Accessibility on the small web

The March edition of the IndieWeb Carnival is about accessibility on the small web. The host, orchids, touches on a note-worthy design pattern found in this fine corner of the Internet: that of artsy, personal websites that emulate technology of old, particularly the early days of Internet. The fair question orchids poses is: how does this design pattern affect people with particular accessibility needs?

Here I am.

I always say that I like returning from church with more questions than I brought in. The same is true for this month’s prompt.

As a User Experience designer of digital products and software, my 17 years in the industry tells me accessibility is hot these days. Back in the day, before we ever even began to make things that were responsive, I hardly ever thought about the concerns and needs of people living with blindness, color blindness, deafness, or another disability.1 Now, and rightfully so, many of us raise an eyebrow when we encounter online spaces that do not take into account such needs. The revolution and evolution of activism is wearing off on us, luckily.

In my line of work, the chances of encountering users who have considerable accessibility needs are very slim, smaller than if I were working in a business-to-consumer environment. Because of this, I like to pay attention to accessibility in my personal endeavors. It’s my way of better understanding what design today constitutes, and I suppose I’m simply a person who enjoys inclusion. Y’all means all.

On zinzy.website, accessibility is a journey. There are some things I take care of naturally, such as a proper HTML document structure. Other things, like always making sure there’s alt text available for imagery, are a work in progress. I sometimes struggle with the fact that I have to do a manual audit of each of the pages on my website to check it for accessibility. I suppose I like a good Google Chrome extension. In 2024, one of my goals is to work through the WCAG guidelines and see how far I get.

I have yet to form a strong opinion on small websites using the aforementioned design pattern. My initial response is always this: do the makers of these websites not care about the accessibility of their content? I’m one of those people who believe that tools do not matter. Whether I use TextEdit, Word, Pages, nvAlt, Evernote, SimpleNote, Notion, Roam, or Obsidian, my writing should be able to travel with me without the export button being standard travel fare. That’s why almost2 everything I write lives in a text file using Markdown syntax, and why I don’t use Notion.

Does tool agnosticism not matter to people making artsy websites? That is simply not the right question.

The right questions are these. What’s the difference between a content-centered website, and one where form is content, where non-words carry much of the intended meaning? How do people with disabilities navigate a web in which “form is content” is an artful, relevant way of conveying information, ideas, and emotions? What can we learn from the working definition of the word “accessibility” as it has been adopted by the art world, the world of music, cinema? Do these worlds call it that? If RSS is a means of extracting from a content-centered website what is most important, what would one use to extract the same from an artsy one? What’s digital art? What’s a website?


  1. I use the word “disability” not derogatorily, but because using any other word makes me feel I’m reducing the experiences of people to something smaller than they actually are. ↩︎

  2. There are things I have to Google Workspace or the Atlassian cloud. ↩︎

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