There is no such thing as “perfect” accessibility

Accessibility is a really bad place for perfectionists. Here’s why.

Blackboard with wooden rim with “If you wait for perfect, you’ll never get anything done” written in white chalk
Blackboard with wooden rim with “If you wait for perfect, you’ll never get anything done” written in white chalk

You know, perfectionism. That “humble brag” that you throw out there when in an interview setting you are asked to identify your biggest fault?

Oh, yeah, biggest fault. I’m a perfectionist.

Always trying to make things better

But that isn’t really what perfectionism is about. Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by:

a person’s striving for flawlessness and

setting excessively high performance standards,

accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and

concerns regarding others’ evaluations

Some traits that are common in perfectionists include:

Perfectionism isn’t just about high standards. It’s about unrealistic standards. Perfectionists don’t let things go, and never don’t stop at “good enough” unless forced to.

I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing lately to fill testing positions for the expansion of the VMware accessibility team.

If you are the kind of person who needs to know Friday night what you are doing Monday morning, this might not be the right job for you, and;

If you insist on perfection in everything you do, this might not be the right job for you.

Here is why both of those are incredibly important to me as a hiring manager.

  1. I need employees who are flexible, because life happens. People break bones, need emergency surgery, get divorced, move, and go on maternity leave. Older relatives get ill, and sadly, leave us. That means the highest value employees, like in baseball, are the ones that can play several positions. Employees who lack flexibility are not automatically out of consideration, but I can teach you ARIA faster than I can teach you to be flexible.
  2. Contrary to initial instincts, perfectionists make terrible co-workers, which drags the entire team morale down. You might think “yay, someone who is always going to get it right,” when in reality, perfectionists:

One of the insidious side effects of perfectionism is complacency. The voice inside your head, in an attempt to avoid the crushing effort of being perfect might whisper to you “if I can’t be perfect, why even bother?” — and that’s where the failure to your users with disabilities comes in. Even the most minimal amount of user research will tell you:

Users with disabilities don’t want perfect !!!

WCAG standards are not set up for perfectionists to succeed. If everything in accessibility were black or white, the Pause, Stop, Hide guideline, for example, would talk about a *button* being required, not a mechanism. The heading and alt-text guidelines would say more than the header/description need to have “purpose”. WCAG is not prescriptive, therefore, it is impossible to be perfect at implementing it. You can only make the best recommendations you can think of that comply with the guidelines.

Accessibility is frequently a place for compromise. Fix all the Level A bugs now, and get the AAs in a maintenance release is a frequent remediation compromise. Get to minimal compliance now, and we’ll talk about best practices and user research in the future. Perfectionists hate compromise, because, by definition compromise is NOT perfection. My favorite law school professor defined a successful compromise in a class I attended 25 years ago and remember to this day as something where “no one is happy with what they got, but everyone can live with it”. There is always going to be more work than time, and a successful accessibility tester will decide when something has received enough attention (even though it isn’t perfect) and move on to something else that needs more review.

There is no black and white in WCAG. There are all kinds of shades of accessibility gray, that that’s before you get into things like “Why doesn’t WCAG have guidelines pertaining to font families or italic styling” that have to be covered as best practices, if you want to try and include them at all.

When you are building any team, each individual is like a piece jigsaw puzzle and you are trying to find the best fit amongst the pieces. It’s OK for one person to have weaknesses, as long as that weakness is another team member’s strength. The ultimate goal is for people to be happy in their jobs, because happy people do the best work and are the most committed to their craft. It’s hard for perfectionists to be happy, and I’m making that statement as a recovered perfectionist. Do the best you can. It’s what people with disabilities want. And check your perfectionism at the door.

Written by

Accessibility Architect @ VMware. W3C Silver, ITI & IAAP GLC committees. Degrees in CS, law, business. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store