Today, we’re delving into the intricate world of accessibility with a seasoned advocate who has navigated the evolving landscape of website creation since 1998, Anne-Mieke Bovelett. We first met in Porto back in 2022, at WordCamp Europe and immediately knew her refreshing point of view on accessibility is something we wanted to share with the world!
Predrag: Can you start by sharing your perspective on what accessibility means in web design?
Anne: Accessibility in web design is fundamentally about inclusivity. It’s the practice of ensuring that websites and digital platforms are usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. This includes visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor impairments. It’s not just a legal obligation; it’s about creating an equal and enjoyable online experience for everyone.
Predrag: Your journey spans over two decades, witnessing the evolution of website creation. How has this extensive experience shaped your understanding of accessibility?
Anne: I began crafting websites in 1998, but it wasn’t until 2020 that I realized the importance of accessibility. Over the years, I have observed the shifting tides of technology and design—from the nascent days of the web to navigating the intricacies of corporate cultures—and each step has contributed to my perspective on accessibility. Understanding diverse business environments, whether giants or startups, has become a cornerstone of my approach. It’s not just about compliance; it’s about tailoring accessibility solutions to fit the unique dynamics of each business.
Predrag: When did you realize that responsive design became a necessity? Can you elaborate on how this realization impacted your approach?
Anne: In the late ’90s and early 2000s, websites were designed with fixed-width layouts optimized for standard desktop screens. The landscape changed with the rise of tablets and phones, prompting the need for responsive websites. Adapting came with challenges. Clients wanted responsiveness but often lacked the budget for multiple designs. This led me to use themes. While efficient, the mass adoption of themes had consequences I didn’t grasp then. However, in 2020, I realized that what seemed like a smart move from a financial perspective wasn’t that smart from an accessibility standpoint. Relying solely on themes to deliver responsive design led to accessibility nuances being overlooked. It’s a lesson learned—the pursuit of efficiency should never compromise inclusivity.
Predrag: Your insights touch upon the essence of design—function over form. Can you delve into how this principle applies to website creation, particularly in the context of accessibility?
Anne: Design isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s about how it functions. This applies perfectly to websites. The goal is functionality, conveying information effectively. As I evolved in this space, I had to redefine what design meant to me. It’s not merely about visual appeal; it’s about ensuring that information is accessible to everyone, regardless of impairments. It’s a shift from a do-it-yourself culture to a thoughtful, inclusive design approach.
Accessibility in Practice: Navigating Challenges and Pitfalls
Predrag: You recently did a presentation at WordCamp Germany. Could you share some insights into the challenges you discussed regarding accessibility and how to counter arguments from different stakeholders?
Anne: Certainly. The presentation focused on countering accessibility arguments from developers, designers, marketing agencies, and managers. I believe it’s essential to address common excuses like “it works for me” or “blind people don’t visit my website.” Toward the end of my presentation, during the Q&A session, Sandra Kurze from GREYD raised an interesting question. She was curious about how implementing changes that make the content better suited for accessibility might take too much time and she unknowingly touched on a crucial aspect. The argument that making content accessible takes too much time is interesting. It’s a matter of responsibility, and it’s not for the content or marketing team to decide whether it’s too time-consuming. That’s for the highest level of management to decide. Accessibility is as important as any other aspect of website management. Even if companies disregard the potential 15% increase in conversion, they should be aware that the rules, especially with the upcoming enforcement of the European Accessibility Act in June 2025, will be more stringent. Legal and commercial implications are at stake, making it a management decision to allocate the necessary time and resources.
Predrag: The intersection of legal and commercial implications adds another layer to the accessibility conversation. Can you delve deeper into how companies should approach accessibility and integrate it into their workflow?
Anne: Accessibility should be understood as a collective responsibility. The management must grasp that giving teams the time to address accessibility is not an afterthought. If it’s treated as such, things can go awry. Changing even a small piece of text in the content might seem trivial, but it’s about much more when considering the broader picture. With upcoming legal frameworks that use the official guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.2, companies should calculate accessibility considerations from the start. This involves understanding the legal implications and ensuring teams have the necessary time to implement changes without compromising the user experience.
Joy of Successful Projects: Celebrating Accessibility Triumphs
Predrag: Can you share how your inspirational talks at companies emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of accessibility and the challenges faced in the WordPress community?
Anne: In these talks, I emphasize that accessibility is not confined to a single discipline. The WordPress community, which has a strong do-it-yourself culture, has initiated a democratization of publishing. However, this doesn’t mean everyone is suddenly an expert in all disciplines involved in creating and maintaining a WordPress website. I draw parallels with hiring an all-in-one accessibility person for a company, which is like expecting a CEO to design and build a car engine and then wash and repair it too. It’s about understanding that accessibility involves different specialties, and companies should embrace a collaborative approach. Accessibility is overwhelming only if viewed as a single-discipline task.
Predrag: Your experience with GREYD exemplifies the evolving landscape of WordPress and accessibility. Could you walk us through how you got involved with this innovative WordPress product?
Anne: Around one and a half years ago, Thomas Koschwitz from GREYD reached out to me through LinkedIn. Intrigued by my work with page builders, he proposed a discussion to showcase their creation—Greyd Suite. In our meeting, he unveiled this theme that not only replaced many everyday plugins needed for building a WordPress website, such as form plugins, custom post types etc, but introduced a groundbreaking concept—global content and dynamic post types across multiple sites and domains. It’s a game-changer for franchises or businesses with numerous locations. They can centrally manage overarching content while allowing each location to handle local information seamlessly. It blew me away. I’ve been in the website creation field for over two decades, and I haven’t seen anything like Greyd.Suite, especially within a multi-site structure. They tackled every aspect, including the notorious security concerns that often arise in large multi-site projects. However, one crucial question lingered in my mind—it’s great, but is it accessible? So, I posed the one million dollar question to Thomas.
Is this platform truly accessibility-ready? Would they be willing to address any shortcomings?
Predrag: The question of accessibility is pivotal, and your straightforward approach is commendable. How did Thomas respond to this?
Anne: To clarify, I took him to his website, which was built on this technology. I asked him to navigate it using the tab key, and, surprisingly, nothing happened. I pointed out that the focus was coded out. It was a moment of realization for him. Instead of deflecting with smoke screens or irrelevant arguments, Thomas responded with refreshing honesty and welcomed my concern. He admitted he didn’t know much about it and started asking questions. This was a pivotal moment. I provided examples, demonstrating the difference between mediocre and excellent keyboard navigation.
Predrag: That’s an exciting revelation. How did this lead to the incorporation of accessibility into Greyd Suite?
Anne: Before investing more time together, I urged Thomas to discuss accessibility with his team. I emphasized that it’s not just a moral imperative but also a smart business move. Creating an accessible experience ensures equal treatment and opportunities for everyone. It’s not about neglecting the social aspect when money is involved; it’s about understanding the commercial benefits. Fortunately, the team agreed to delve into accessibility, beginning an ongoing journey to make Greyd.Suite accessibility-ready. In their commitment to accessibility, Greyd.Suite has significantly improved, recently ensuring an accessible menu experience and accessible tabs, to name some of many examples—an ongoing journey towards a more inclusive digital landscape.
Making Accessibility a Priority: Legal Implications and Financial Considerations
Predrag: Can you shed light on the global accessibility landscape?
Anne: Absolutely. It’s not just a U.S. concern. In June 2025, the EU is set to rigorously enforce the European Accessibility Act (EAA), marking a significant shift. Moreover, a noteworthy development is unfolding in California—a bill is underway. Unlike traditional approaches, this bill targets those who deliver websites—the developers and designers. While it’s yet to be enacted, it underscores the gravity of the issue. Accessibility is gaining momentum globally; it’s no longer an overlooked matter. Bills are on the horizon.
Predrag: The legal landscape is evolving, and you’re at the forefront. Can you delve into the potential impact of the European Accessibility Act (EAA) on private companies?
Anne: The EAA brings a distinctive angle. Private companies, irrespective of their location, will be directly affected. If you serve European customers, accessibility becomes non-negotiable. It’s a game-changer. I foresee a shift in perception. Companies insisting, “I don’t care about accessibility” or attempting to sidestep obligations may find themselves in an unfavorable position. The tide is turning, and public opinion is a powerful force. In a landscape where everyone is prioritizing accessibility, those lagging may face repercussions.
Predrag: Your insights paint a compelling picture. Beyond legalities, there’s a financial aspect to consider. Can you elaborate on how neglecting accessibility impacts a company’s bottom line?
Anne: It’s a critical point. Accessibility isn’t just a legal requirement; it’s a business imperative. Companies often overlook the financial repercussions. Inaccessibility means excluding a portion of your audience, which translates to missed opportunities. The potential consumer base that struggles with inaccessible websites or apps is significant. Just look at the official reports, companies are leaving trillions of dollars on the table (yes, not millions, not billions but trillions). Equal access isn’t just a moral obligation; it’s a sound business strategy. Ignoring this aspect can result in substantial financial losses.
Predrag: Looking ahead, how do you envision companies navigating this changing landscape?
Anne: It’s about future-proofing. Companies need to embrace accessibility as a fundamental aspect of their operations. The legal landscape is evolving, and consumer expectations are shifting. Beyond compliance, it’s about creating an inclusive digital space where everybody has equal opportunity to access information. As legislation tightens, companies must invest in accessibility. The path ahead involves not just meeting standards but exceeding them. Tables will turn, and companies that lead the way in accessibility will be viewed favorably by consumers. It’s an opportunity to showcase values and commitment.
Image credit: Unsplash.