Tuesday, June 7, 2022

How accessibility helps a nursing mother

 When I talk about accessibility with budding web developers, I always like to make 2 points:

  • When you improve the accessibility for someone with a particular disability, you often improve the usability for a whole other set of users. For example, by supporting keyboard navigation for visually impaired users, your website now works better for vim/emacs users.
  • Accessibility isn't just about helping people with chronic, severe disabilities; accessibility helps people with a huge spectrum of disabilities and temporary conditions that affect the way they use a website. For example, by supporting offline access for a remote island village that has no Internet connection, you're also helping users who have WiFi issues in their urban dorm.
I am now once again in the phase of life where I am a nursing mother, and I am very much appreciative of how accessible websites make it possible for me to breastfeed and use the web at the same time. 

Here's what's different about my ability to use the web these days, and how improved accessibility helps:
  • One hand only. I can sometimes use both my hands, thanks to my hands-free nursing + laptop station, but I often am using one of my hands to better position the baby. What helps...
    • Autocomplete. I was skeptical of GMail's autocomplete email responses when they first came out ("stop trying to predict me!"), but now I love them and use them in MS Outlook too. It's just really nice to not have to type at all, even if my responses are slightly less "authentic".
    • Large click targets. I am not very coordinated with only one hand, especially if my one hand isn't my dominant hand. I can't make dainty movements or pull off any sort of "hold shift while right clicking" shenanigans. Simple clicks on large targets are the easiest UI right now.
    • Keyboard navigation. Well, as long as I only have to press a single key, and certainly not a key combination with two keys on opposite sides of the keyboard. 
  • Poor lighting conditions. I have to nurse every 3-4 hours, including at night, so I am often on my laptop or phone in low light conditions. Or, I might be in a too-bright condition, like when the sun starts streaming behind me, and am unable to adjust the curtains due to a baby napping on me. What helps...
    • High contrast colors. Many websites these days use low-contrast text color combinations for design/branding reasons, which are difficult to read in poor lighting conditions. Props to the websites keeping it simple with black&white or other combos that pass the Contrast Checker guidelines.
  • No audio. I do have headphones that I can theoretically use while baby is nursing/napping, but it's better if I can hear my baby to make sure she's swallowing and breathing fine. So I generally have audio turned off on all my devices. What helps...
    • Subtitles. I turn the closed captions on for every YouTube video, even though most of them are autogenerated. The autogenerated ones are sometimes hilariously bad--I just watched an episode of The Canadian Baking Show with 10 different spellings of "croquembouche", including "pro-kombucha"--but they are still way better than no subtitles. 
Thank you to the websites that enable me to be both a nursing mother and a web user! Let's keep trying to make the web a more accessible place for everyone.

No comments: