In Defense of the #a11y Hashtag

There are some accessibility issues you could call evergreen. One of them is whether we should use the #a11y or #accessibility hashtag when spreading the good word on the social medias. Mosen Consulting shared a post in which Mr. Mosen holds that

… the use of the #A11Y numeronym, a hashtag sometimes used on Twitter to group accessibility-related tweets together, lessens the impact of tweets on a subject that is critical to the independence of many of us.

I would like to respectfully disagree and challenge this viewpoint, in favor of the #a11y hashtag.

Firstly, hashtags may have started out as a way to conveniently group social media posts, but they quickly became a marketing tool. At this point, they’re about branding. The word “Accessibility” means different things in different contexts. So those of us concerned about accessibility as it pertains to making things useable by people with disabilities need to be able to distinguish between “accessibility” as a general term and “Accessibility” narrowly defined in the specific way we’re concerned with. The #accessibility hashtag doesn’t do that. The #a11y tag does.

Secondly, people more often than not interact with social media on their phones. That’s one of the reasons numeronyms became a tool among various groups of professionals on social media. Other examples include #i18n (for internationalization), #l10N (for localization), and conference names beginning with just their initials in a lot of cases instead of the entire name. Previous character limits also played a role in this. But between convenience and previously-existent character limits, #a11y wins the game whereas #accessibility creates a barrier to entry.

Thirdly, the #accessibility hashtag might have been able to gain a hold if it had been campaigned for back in 2010 or 2011 when this all started. But by 2013, (when Mosen Consulting first raised the issue), #a11y was already entrenched. That’s only a three-year difference, but three years in social media land is like thirty years everywhere else. At this point, using #accessibility instead of #a11y would be separating ourselves from the community of practice, and this community is small enough that it really can’t afford that kind of split.

If it’s newby confusion you’re worried about, people who are new to accessibility are going to be confused no matter which hashtag is used. Whether you explain what a numeronym is, or whether you explain that “Accessibility” has a specific meaning when it comes to people with disabilities that doesn’t have anything to do with the other meanins, you’re still explaining.

Finally, dropping the #a11y hashtag would negatively effect other related hashtags, like #gbla11y. This one would, (at best), need to then become #GBAccessibility, or #GBAccessibilityAwarenessDay. Either of these are very long to type on a mobile device.

As long as we’re talking about confusion among terms, I think we ought to drop the term “Accessibility” altogether in favor of inclusive design. Inclusive design goes further when it comes to addressing the needs of everyone, including people with disabilities, and there’s no ambiguity around the term. We could even go with the #iDesign hashtag. As long as we’re keeping “Accessibility” though, I think it’s best not to further muddy the waters with what I would respectfully call a localized version of the “tabs versus spaces” argument.


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