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Why a11y Isn't Ironically Inaccessible

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a11y is the numeronym for accessibility. The 11 signifies the 11 letters between a and y. It’s pronounced a-one-one-y though I say ally because 🤷🏾‍♂️.

Some find it ironic how a11y seems to be inaccessible but what what if I told you that was the point? Heck, here’s one such reasoning.

The irony of this abbreviation is that a11y isn’t accessible. Using jargon in this way can be a fail for WCAG guideline 3.1.3. Some people with disabilities such as autism can struggle to understand non-literal language. Dyslexia can make some characters difficult to distinguish, and mixing letters and numbers in this way can exacerbate this. Screen readers often won’t understand how to pronounce non-common words and abbreviations, so the pronunciation of a11y can vary. When writing we should generally avoid domain-specific jargon where possible, especially where there there is a common alternative like accessibility.

Having read around a bit, there’s a good reason for that.

For one, as I said it’s a numeronym, a number based word, which aren’t anything new (moreso for web development). After all there’s:

  • W3C for the World Wide Web Consortium,
  • i18l for internationalization,
  • K9 for Canine,
  • and others.

Note the quote I added up there? It’s from a post titled a11y is not accessible published on… mobilea11y.com! You say a11y isn’t accessible and yet your website is named after it? Gotcha.

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