Accessibility and Disability Blogging — one year anniversary
Here are a few things that I’ve learned
In April 2018, I had been thinking about writing a book on accessibility. Blogging, I thought, would be a good way to meet my writing goals and would help me explore topics for the book. But like many good ideas, that one sat around for a few months and I didn’t do anything towards 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 things that are important to be a good accessibility tester. For the record, JAWS knowledge is NOT one of them. The fact that JAWS has recently dropped from it’s #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 !)
- Started off with about 3,000 article views per month, now I am at more than 10,000 views per month as people have kindly forwarded my articles on which has allowed 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
There are several things that happened that directly correlated to 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 who has expressed an interest in that hashtag will be shown your article as something potentially of interest for them to read.
Getting picked up by larger publications is also helpful
There are also several large publications on Medium such as the UX Collective, The Startup, VMware Design, and Prototypr.io. Twelve of these larger publications (mostly pertaining to 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 hoped 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 who are writing articles to get info from experts. Every time a question comes up either on accessibility or related to accessibility (UI, UX, etc.) I submit and answer. The link I submit with the answer is the link back 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, honestly, it’s the second group are the readers you want to target anyways. If you are preaching about accessibility to accessibility professionals, you are converting no one. If you want converts to the “accessibility religion” you need to travel to where the unbelievers are. The unbelievers, under these circumstances, 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 of linking the articles together. 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 have been picked up by the UX Collective, 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 :-) )
- Accessibility and Dark Themes
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 that will focus 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 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 on “How to Identify a Toxic Accessibility Environment”. I think it resonated with a lot of accessibility leaders that 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 started a TON of conversations on 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
Every time 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 go searching 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 currently have 132 articles in my drafts folder, which should be enough for at least the next year and a half. It is likely I will slow down the pace of new articles in 2020 as I am finishing the book. There are only so many hours in the day.
Blogging can be cathartic
About 1/3 of my articles come from be being angry, where I see something happening in the software development field in specific or business world in general and think to myself “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 at hand. 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.
Probably my biggest surprise was when the UX Collective picked up my first article. I didn’t really 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 are largely targeting business people, my pieces were buried in their inboxes on Monday mornings. Now I generally publish on Tuesdays and Thursday regardless of when I write the articles by 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 inaccessible charts. 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 duplicate all my Medium articles at SheriByrneHaber.com which is built on an accessible word press template. I pay my assistant (who lives in France, I found her on freelancer.com) once a month to transfer over all my new articles, and to add all my new readers to my LinkedIn network.
How much money did I make?
Not a lot, but enough to buy my nephew’s architecture books for college this fall. The nice thing is as your catalog of published articles increases and new readers find you, they will read articles you wrote 8 months ago and you still get credit for them. If you’ve cross-linked well, they may read other articles you’ve written too.
Won’t be quitting my day job any time soon. Besides if I did that, I might run out of things to write about :-)