Accessibility Checklists — Just say No

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC
6 min readMar 11, 2019
Checklist with Yes and No Options, red pencil, X in “no” checkbox

I am a Accessibility Manager with 15 years of experience. No more general A11Y Checklists, PLEASE !!!

There are so many articles touting themselves as general “accessibility checklists” that I’ve literally lost track. Even respected organizations like W3C and WebAIM have published them. WCAG 2.1 triggered the authoring of a slew of new checklists. Consultancies post checklists partially to try and prove that they are subject matter experts, and partially to scare companies into thinking “wow, this is complicated, I need to hire a consultant.” There is one author who appears to be in the process of posting a general accessibility checklist for every…single … US state.

There has been an entire book written on checklist use by Atul Gawande, Rhodes Scholar, MacArthur Fellow, Harvard educated surgeon who is now the head of the new Amazon / Berkshire / Chase health partnership. His opinion — Checklists might be thought of as handy, but are abused and frequently used inappropriately. If you don’t believe me, believe him :-)

In general, I strongly believe that general checklists are the lazy/ignorant person’s approach to accessibility, and they should be avoided unless there are NO other alternatives. They are probably better than providing no instructions at all, but not by much.

In the long run, general accessibility checklists do far more harm than good in establishing a good accessibility program. There is even a good argument that a culture that relies on checklists for dealing with disability related issues is probably not inclusive regardless of what fluffy “we value everyone” language they have on their diversity and inclusion microsite. Here is why I think general checklists are a pox on accessibility programs everywhere.

Checklists are part of a reactive, not proactive accessibility practice

Checklists typically come into play long after the digital property is designed. The time to fix accessibility problems is BEFORE they are introduced (i.e. prevent them from happening in the first place). There is zero difference between accessibility defects and other types of software defects from this perspective.

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC

LinkedIn Top Voice for Social Impact 2022. UX Collective Author of the Year 2020. Disability Inclusion SME. Sr Staff Accessibility Architect @ VMware.