What follows is the foreword I wrote for A Web For Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton & Whitney Quesenbery. If you work on the web at all, you need this book. It’s an amazingly easy read that brings humanity to an often dry subject and I am very thankful to have been a part of it.
I was an only child, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I grew up thinking the world revolved around me. In fact, I’ll be the first to admit that I was a pretty selfish kid. Well behaved, certainly, but not terribly concerned with how my actions affected others.
As an only child, the Golden Rule my grandparents insisted was so important—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—didn’t really resonate. But I was a kid, what did I know? I was sheltered. I was young. I was the sole beneficiary of my parents’ love, time, and money. I had a pretty good life, but I lacked perspective.
I like to think I’ve grown immensely in the intervening years. Through my work, travel, and moving around a lot, I’ve experienced dozens of cultures, and I’ve met hundreds of new people, each with their own life experiences, needs, and desires. Exposure to their unique perspectives has broadened my own and helped me break down the psychological barriers I maintained between me and the “others.”
But it wasn’t until I started working on the web that I came to a full understanding of the importance of the Golden Rule. Prior to becoming a developer, the ramifications of my decisions were fairly limited. But on the web, every decision I make can have a profound effect on hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people’s lives. I can make checking into a flight a breeze, or I can make it a living hell.
That’s a lot of power. And to quote Stan Lee: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
My mom always told me that if you choose to do something, you should do it well, so I made it my mission to make the web an easy-to-use, friendly, and accessible place. I chose to make the Golden Rule central to my work.
As schmaltzy and self-aggrandizing as all that may sound, it’s also pretty shrewd. The Golden Rule can do wonders for your business. After all, what is good customer service if not treating someone like a human being worthy of your time, consideration, and respect? If we spend every day looking for new ways to make our customers’ lives better, we’ll create a lasting legacy and build a strong base of customer advocates along the way.
A commitment to universal accessibility is the highest form of customer service. It recognizes that we all have one special need or another at one time or another in our lives, and that fact should not preclude us from experiencing all the web has to offer. It’s about providing everyone with equal opportunity to engage with your brand experience, even though they may do so in different ways. It breaks down the barriers between “us” and “them” and recognizes the humanity in our customers.
And it’s really not that hard.
In the pages that follow, Whitney and Sarah beautifully lay out the case for accessibility, show you what it looks like, and demonstrate just how simple it is to achieve. They introduce us to a series of personas—Trevor, Emily, Jacob, Lea, Vishnu, Steven, Maria, and Carol—and help us effortlessly slip into each of their shoes, to see the struggles they experience when using the web, and to recognize our own needs and desires in their own.
In a time when many of us are scrambling to keep up with technological advancements and the opportunities they create, this book grounds us in what really matters: people. This book is a roadmap to providing incredible customer service and realizing the Golden Rule in our work and—much like the code we write and experiences we design—the ripple effect it generates is sure to bring about a more equitable web.