#a11y: Accessible or ironic?

Is #a11y an accessible hashtag?

I get asked this at least once a month, so I'm going to answer it as a quoted tweet thread in case it is helpful to others who are wondering themselves or who also get asked this.

a11y is a hashtagged numeronym. Numeronyms include any abbreviation that uses numbers to shorten/to abbreviate words. ๐Ÿ“Œ

K9 == canine
101 == beginner subject
i18n == internationalisation
l10n == localisation

Screenreaders will tend to (settings/variations considered) read it in English as "hashtag a-eleven-y." You might notice that people in the accessibility space will mimic reading it like this IRL.

Now that you have the context, to address the question "is the hashtag #a11y" accessible?

In short, I would say yes, if used carefully. (More on that later.) And, I would say that this invites a really excellent lesson in accessibility of tech terms broadly speaking.
I'm not ignorant to the fact that a lot of techies rag on the #a11y hashtag for not being accessible because they haven't encountered it before.

And many of these techies ask the question facetiously to prove a point and mock the "irony."

To address them, I ask my own facetious questions:

  • Do you ask with the same snark about blockchain? Cryptocurrency? WYSIWYG? Hooks?
  • Or, do you think you're clever and the first to point out that it's "ironic"?
  • Could you define irony?

Do I think that the #a11y hashtag is immediately clear if you don't know what it is? No, I don't. However, I think it's helpful to differentiate this sphere of accessibility with a searchable, shortened term. (If you search "accessibility," it's quite broad.)

I also think that there's a common pattern we follow when we see something we don't understand: We look it up. Searching "#a11y" yielded me 301,000 search results. The entire first search engine results page (SERP) is full of relevant answers. To make it as accessible as possible, we can borrow a common practice from journalistic && scientific writing:

We should reference its first instance in long form, then follow with its abbreviation. Here are some examples:

"Accessibility (#a11y)"
"Accessibility ... #a11y"

tl;dr: #a11y is very accessible when we include a reference to its full form when possible; its power is in its searchability and conciseness. When not clear, it is immediately defined with a search. Lastly, I hope that we remain as critical and thoughtful of all words.

I think that using a11y is still helpful when included with accessibility. I also think that the voices who tend to be the loudest about this complaint tend to be able-bodied people like myself. While we can continue to educate people on what a11y means, I think we could be spending a lot more energy centring disabled people in our conversations, rather than (and I am guilty of this) taking up the stage with two abled voices recursively debating something that can be solved with a bit of intention.

Our industry infatuation with abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms might make us lose clarity.

Thu Nov 12 2020 21:04:03 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)