[Photo: Cartoon character with finger in the air]

April 14, 2010

It started with a simple thought…

[Photo: Cartoon character with finger in the air]

I follow a lot of people on twitter. Honestly, some of the people I follow are not necessarily “web accessibility” people, although most have some level of tech savvy. Some of the people I follow are people whom I follow simply to help me understand the perspective of people with disabilities. Blind users. Deaf users. People with various mobility disabilities (one who’s promised blog post from me is being delayed by this posting). All so that I can better do what it is I do; to understand, to teach, to bridge.

One such user posted a tweet about the twitter hash-tag #a11y. He echo’d something I’d heard often before: people were unclear what that meant (the 11 represents the letters between the A and Y in the word accessibility), many did not understood the relationship between a11y and accessibility (although they learned somehow that they were linked, so they used that hash-tag too) and many others actively disliked that numeronym as being either elitist or techie. Yet still, many of us find it useful to tag our tweets with metadata – metadata being useful sometimes – and so in twitter we use hash-tags; and currently, for lack of anything better, we’ve been using #a11y for topics about accessibility.

…for lack of anything better…

And so, in the nature of spontaneous blurts that is very much part of twitter culture, I suggested #AxS. I checked, it wasn’t already being used somewhere. It had the happy advantage of being read aloud by screen readers as “access” when written as UPPERCASE lowercase UPPERCASE and was phonetic to those who vocalized it. It was easier to type on mobile devices. It was a sum total of 4 characters, down one from the 5 of #a11y – and in a world that lives and dies in 140 characters, every character counts. So I figured, why not – almost everybody was unhappy with #a11y and we had a problem. So rather than complain about a problem, I figured lets try and fix it, and I pushed the conversation a little harder – laughingly in twitter itself, at 140 character bursts. It started to pick up some resonance. Yes, there were cons to the conversation as well as pros, but I got a sense that there might be something here.

Three days later, the conversation has continued on twitter. A lot has already been said, but in my assessment, more good than bad over-all. And so, I pose the question again, “could #AxS be the next #a11y?”

A few people have tweeted me that yes I should continue, to which I can only reply, it’s not up to me. This is a decision of our community, and the only way to vote is with your feet. If you think that #AxS is a suitable replacement for #a11y, then just start using it. In many ways, that is how #a11y emerged – there was no board room meeting or pronouncement from Twitter HQ that we had to use that hash-tag, our tribe just adopted it as our own. So if we want, we can adopt another one. Many have expressed support of the #AxS hashtag. Some have already started to tentatively use #AxS, paired with #a11y, while others jumped in with both feet. That’s cool!

So that’s what I’m going to do, I’m just going to start using it. People interested in me because of my activity within the accessibility field will likely not stop following me because I’m using a hashtag they don’t recognize or use; they may in fact pick it up as well. And if they don’t, there’s no harm, no foul – it’s just a piece of metadata I’ve attached to my tweet that anyone can freely use or not use. In fact, the tag is in many ways even less than metadata, it’s a token that represents an idea. The idea of universal access, and accessibility, and everything we tweet about in our tribe related to those ideas. It’s not about the semantic correctness of ‘Access’, it’s not going to solve any real problems, it’s just about the human experience and inclusiveness that we are talking about, and using a little token to link our thoughts as such. And I think that #AxS as a hashtag has more merit than #a11y.

What do you think?

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 It started with a simple thought… by John Foliot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Posted by John

I am a 16 year veteran of Web Accessibility, living and working in Austin, Texas. Currently Principal Accessibility Strategist at Deque Systems Inc., I have previously held accessibility related positions at JPMorgan Chase and Stanford University. I am also actively involved with the W3C - the international internet standards body - where I attempt to stir the pot, fight hard for accessibility on the web, and am currently co-chairing a subcommittee on the accessibility of media elements in HTML5.

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