Accessibility and Disability Blogging — one year anniversary
Here are a few things that I’ve learned
In April 2018, I considered writing a book on accessibility. Blogging, I thought, would be an excellent way to meet my writing goals and help me explore book topics. But like many good ideas, that one sat around for a few months, and I didn’t do anything toward making that goal a reality.
In November 2018, a friend of mine who is one of the best accessibility testers I know (and I know a LOT of accessibility testers) texted me saying he got turned down for an interview because he didn’t know enough JAWs. That made me mad enough to write the first of many articles on essential things to be a good accessibility tester. For the record, JAWS knowledge is NOT one of them. The fact that JAWS has recently dropped from its #1 place among screen readers only reinforces that opinion — and people who have DEEP accessibility proficiency knew that day was coming and invested their time on things way more valuable than learning how to use a specific screen reader. And people with DEEP accessibility proficiency are the ones you want to hire, in case that is not obvious.
And that was a year ago today. One thing I swore NOT to do was write yet another article on how to do good alt-text, header structure, or “this is what accessibility is” summaries. Those have been done to death; I can’t add any value. I wanted to write articles that I had spent a lot of time thinking about, but not found much online that others had written.
What I’ve written in a year:
102 Articles (including this one)
About 88,000 words (enough for a book !)
I started with about 3,000 article views per month, and now I am at more than 10,000 views per month as people have kindly forwarded my articles, allowing me to find new readers.
Writing has led to…
Two Podcast guest spots (AXSChat with Debra Ruh and Disruptability sponsored by Inclusive Cork)
An increase in my LinkedIn connections (almost all accessibility and D&I professionals) from under 500 to over 7000
Invitations to four new speaking engagements I wouldn’t have known about otherwise
Invitations to write articles that are shared through other platforms
Several things directly correlated to the increased readership.
Getting curated is essential.
Having an article curated on Medium means that one of their editors picked it up and recommended it for readers interested in a particular hashtag. After that, anybody interested in that hashtag will be shown your Article as something potentially interesting for them to read.
Getting picked up by more extensive publications is also helpful.
There are also several prominent publications on Medium, such as the UX Collective, The Startup, VMware Design, and Prototypr.io. Twelve more extensive publications (mainly about Design, UI/UX, and Startups) and four organizations outside of Medium have picked up one or more of my articles. This allows me to leverage the publications’ larger audiences, where even if only 1 % of their readers opened my Article, it was more readers than I could ever hope to get on my own.
Developing connections outside of Medium that point to your articles is also good.
I belong to HARO, which stands for Help A Reporter Out. This is a resource for reporters writing articles to get expert info. Every time a question comes up either on accessibility or related to accessibility (UI, UX, etc.) I submit an answer. The link I submitted with the answer is the link to my Medium story list.
#accessibility, #disability, #diversity, and #inclusion are fairly small hashtags as these things go. They are important but not nearly as important as #UI, #design, #softwaredev, and #nativeapps, which are much larger.
If your goal is to improve exposure to accessibility concepts, the second group is the readers you want to target anyway. If you preach accessibility to accessibility professionals, you are converting no one. If you want to convert to the “accessibility religion,” you need to travel to where the unbelievers are. Under these circumstances, the unbelievers are the people who should know or care about accessibility but don’t. (PG&E, are you listening?)
After you’ve done a few articles, it typically isn’t hard to find natural ways to link them. Make it easy for people to find other things you have written on similar topics. Then you get credit for two reads, not just one :)
Most widely read articles
My most widely read articles are those that the UX Collective has picked up because they have almost half a million members.
Those two highest read-count articles include:
Color blindness considerations (notice how I snuck that cross-link right in :-) )
Another article that I am proud of is Accessibility and Motion. This Article generated a ton of readers even though it didn’t get picked up by either curation or a collection. Because it was so popular, I am now working on two follow-up articles, one on Accessibility and Haptics and another on how we are adding accessible motion to VMware products.
My highest “percentage read” articles.
Medium has a calculation called “percentage read” — it knows (approximately) how long your Article requires to be read and gives you an estimate of how many readers are stuck through to the end.
My highest percentage read articles, probably not surprisingly, are the legal summaries where I take a case like Domino’s, White v. Square, the DoT Scandinavian Airlines case, etc., and try to explain it in English. These are all part of the series I call “This Week in Accessibility.” Most people don’t speak “lawyer,” and even if they do, they can’t translate it into English.
Translating law into English is my superpower :-)
My most impactful articles
I got a lot of personal messages from people after I wrote the article “How to Identify a Toxic Accessibility Environment.” It resonated with many accessibility leaders who have bumped into toxic decision-making.
My two personal favorite articles are
The Accessibility Issue More People with Disabilities Should be Thinking About (my first attempt at a vague headline, not a great one, maybe, but I started many conversations on the accessible blockchain.
Disability and AI Bias — again, started a lot of “oh, bleep, I had never thought about that” conversations.
When one of your readers has an “oh bleep” moment, you may have just converted another unbeliever.
Use your Drafts folder to store ideas.
Whenever I have an idea for a new article (which includes every time I get mad about something related to disability/accessibility), I open a new story on Medium, jot down the headline, type or dictate a paragraph, and then close it. Time permitting, I will also search for a picture on unsplash.com or stock.adobe.com. This way, I can be sure I will not run out of ideas for the foreseeable future. I have 132 articles in my drafts folder, which should be enough for at least the next year and a half. I will likely slow down the pace of new articles in 2020 as I finish the book. There are only so many hours in the day.
Blogging can be cathartic.
About 1/3 of my articles come from being angry. I see something happening in software development in a specific area or the business world and think, “How could ANYONE think that was OK?” Some of my favorite articles are the ones I’ve written when I was angry. These represent my “no holds barred; this is how I *really* feel” thoughts on the topic. I’ve always felt better after I’ve written them, and even more so when people start agreeing with me or sharing similar experiences.
When you belong to a marginalized group of people, there is comfort in knowing that you aren’t the only one experiencing something that you can’t believe is happening in this day and age.
My biggest surprise was probably when the UX Collective picked up my first Article. I didn’t understand how that worked on Medium. So having someone who operates a collection that 500,000 people belong to think that your Article was good enough to be published under their umbrella is pretty sweet.
Also, I had probably published 15 or 20 blogs before I realized that you could schedule your articles to be posted in the future. I was doing most of my writing on the weekend and publishing immediately. This methodology was causing me to lose a lot of readers. Since my articles primarily target business people, my pieces were buried in their inboxes on Monday mornings. I generally publish on Tuesdays and Thursdays, regardless of when I write the articles, using the “Schedule for later” publishing mechanism.
Medium is not fully accessible :(
Medium finally got around to implementing alt-text a few months ago. From the readers’ perspective, Medium is nominally usable. From the authors’ perspective, there are a TON of charts that are inaccessible. I wouldn’t even attempt to use Medium as an author if I relied on a screen reader unless I didn’t care about statistics or payments.
As a result, I duplicated all my Medium articles at SheriByrneHaber.com, built on an accessible WordPress template. I pay my assistant (who lives in France; I found her on freelancer.com) once a month to transfer all my new articles and to add all my new readers to my LinkedIn network.
How much money did I make?
It's not a lot, but it's enough to buy my nephew’s architecture books for college this fall. The nice thing is that as your catalog of published articles increases and new readers find you, they will read articles you wrote eight months ago, and you still get credit for them. If you’ve cross-linked well, they may also read other articles you’ve written,
I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon. Besides, if I did that, I might run out of things to write about :-)