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Is ‘a11y’ exclusive?

Posted in Accessibility

The other day, a colleague was taking me and one other person through a recap of a group exercise they’d led, where the group had explored how we might improve some processes. I was heartened to see accessibility mentioned front and centre and, interestingly, the ‘a11y’ numeronym had been used instead of the word ‘accessibility’.

I imagine this had been clarified during the exercise, but what was interesting was that the other person who was catching up on things didn’t know what it meant. They asked, it was explained, and all was well, but it got me thinking.

I remember reading an article by Chris Coyier where he wondered:

how many conversations or articles I’ve missed because I just assumed the weird moniker was referring to something that had nothing to do with me

My colleague’s question also made me ponder how many people might not have asked. Risking exposure as the only one in the group who doesn’t know something can be daunting!

Are we putting our own convenience, typing four letters rather than thirteen, at the expense of being understood? Are we using jargon which leaves some people out of the conversation?

That exclusionary aspect of the word is absolutely valid; it feels contrary to the idea of inclusivity. But I’d argue it’s perfectly fine to use as shorthand in a:

  • personal document that nobody else will see
  • public or group document where:
    • everyone knows its meaning
    • it has been defined first

Eric Bailey’s take on it is bang on:

knowing how, when, and why to use the term largely depends on being conscientious of context

Me? I’m a creature of habit, and I try not to use it just in case it ends up in a document where I forget to qualify it. I also find it a bit awkward to type.

That said, ‘accessibility’ is not exactly easy to type either! I often misplace one of the many is, so I’ve set up some Text Replacement snippets to correct me.

One place I do use the term ‘a11y’ is on Twitter; I usually tag tweets about my blog posts with ‘#a11y’ (though I always pair it with ‘#accessibility’). As Eric goes on to say in his article:

a11y is largely a categorical marker … I’ll append it to tweets when I want to increase the chances of the content being noticed outside of my immediate followers

Using it as a keyword for search like that provides a nicely focused set of results, where ‘accessibility’ would cover all kinds of things not specifically related to web or digital accessibility.

So: ‘a11y’ or ‘accessibility’? Totally up to you; just be careful it’s in a context where everyone knows what it means.

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