My URL Is is a podcast which features a new guest every two weeks to talk about how they got involved with the IndieWeb and what hopes, goals and aspirations they have for the community and for their website. The guests are a combination of those both new to the IndieWeb and those who have helped build it from the beginning. This episode features Greg McVerry who has been using the web as a teaching tool almost since its inception.
There are a couple of things which stood out to me in this episode. First, the discussion about online versus offline identities. The idea that online and offline are somehow separate is an idea that I think is pretty common, and if I understand Greg correctly, he’s basically saying that there really isn’t a difference between online and offline. I have to agree. In my experience, the separation between identities is usually maintained by people who are particularly rude or trollish to other humans, and then when called on it, come back with, “Oh, that’s just online” or “that’s just Twitter”. Still going with my understanding of what Greg is saying in this podcast, I have to agree. There’s no difference between the online and offline you. If you treat people with little respect online, there’s a good chance you’ll treat those same people with little respect offline as well, and I don’t think the arbitrary separation between online and offline should be allowed to remain.
The second thing I found interesting in this episode is that Greg’s son uses a screen reader to read CSS and other code documentation because he’s in the third grade and therefore reading that kind of documentation is still difficult. I think there are a few things to be gleaned from this. First is the reminder that not all people who use screen readers are blind. I’ve always understood this on an intellectual level but I don’t think I’ve ever run into a real-life non-blind human who also uses a screen reader, so I’m somewhat fascinated and I think I want to pick Greg’s son’s brain and/or watch him work with the screen reader so I can learn if there are any differences between how I use it and how he uses it. Also, out of pure curiosity, I’m interested in which screen reader he’s using.
I think it would be interesting to find out whether or not there might be some room for documentation, (for accessibility related topics and otherwise), that is geared toward a younger and possibly less technical audience. I’m aware of efforts which focus on educating high school students, but nothing for younger generations, and at the risk of coming across as one of those “code solves everything” people, I think we need to focus on groups younger than high school students as well. I have no idea how we solve this.
I’m also curious as to whether or not accessibility as a field could glean something from the generational approach Indieweb takes when it comes to onboarding new community members. This isn’t me trying to start an accessibility fight, or even necessarily criticize what’s come before, I’m just thinking out loud. We know that in order for designers and developers to bake accessibility in from the start of a project, they have to be trained at every level on the intricacies. I think it’s obvious that this is not happening, and I’m not sure the lack of knowledge on the part of designers and developers can solely be chalked up to laziness on their part. OK, I suppose that last is maybe slightly controversial. We also know that people who are not traditional designers and developers are building websites, and, barring the tools they use doing everything possible to output accessible markup and generally guide them through creating things which everyone can use, expecting that they are going to be trained on the intracacies of accessibility when designers and developers aren’t is, I would say, quixotic at best. I think Gutenberg, (the new WordPress editor), can play a role in at least this part of the problem, provided it gets its own house in order and is itself able to be used by everyone.
But anyway, back to the generational thing. The idea behind the indieweb generations is this:
Generations in the context of the IndieWeb refer to clusters of potential IndieWeb adopters in a series of waves that are expected to naturally adopt the IndieWeb for themselves and then help inform the next generation. Each generation is expected to lower barriers for adoption successively for the next generation.
(Full discussion of the “Generations” concept here, with links to other resources.) I see a parallel between this and things like the work that Microsoft is doing through its Microsoft Enable group. That’s not an exact match, because I don’t believe you should build webpages with Microsoft Word, for example, but I think it’s a pretty good template for doing things like making it easier for end-users to make things accessible, and I would like to see this mindset ported over to the web. The important part here though is that they’re also focusing on making it easier for people who use assistive technology to use their products, and I think that’s critical to all of this.
What I’m mostly thinking of though is making it easier for designers and developers to make the things they build accessible to everyone. The work Deque Systems began at this year’s WordCamp US is a really good example of this, and I’m excited to see how this plays out. I think the principle of “Manual until it hurts” also finds a home in the accessibility space, and I believe that ideally designers and developers would do all the accessibility things manually by learning HTML, CSS and the like until they completely understand the foundations of the web. I also know however that we aren’t living in an ideal world, and as much as those of us in the accessibility space scream until we’re blue in the face about learning foundational technologies deeply before learning the stuff that sits on top, this doesn’t seem to be scaling very well. I don’t know why that is and I don’t have a solution for the problem, but it seems to be where we are.
Anyway, that’s all the stuff that bounced around my brain while listening to the third episode of “My URL is”. If you’re interested, even mildly, in the idea of an open, independent web, I think you should check out the podcast.