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Why I turned down a job for a client not interested in accessibility

Yesterday I had an interview for a front-end developer contract. The job would have involved overseeing a small front-end team rebuilding a suite of marketing sites on a strict deadline, specifically focused on improving performance.

I asked about the client's commitment to accessibility, and whether that was part of their redevelopment plan, only to be told no, it wasn't. Meeting their deadline and keeping costs down was more important, apparently, than making sure a large percentage of their client or potential client base can use their site.

I thought about it, but decided that I couldn't take the job. This isn't said to toot my own horn, but to encourage other developers to consider accessibility as essential a part of the job as any other skill. You almost certainly wouldn't take a job where they told you that you had to build the site without any CSS or JavaScript, right?

Given the unfortunate persisting high prevalence of accessibility issues, and clients still unfortunately considering accessibility an optional extra, I'm determined to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I can't put my name to something that I know is inaccessible, especially not while claiming to be an accessibility-focused developer.

One way developers can encourage greater adoption of accessibility is by refusing jobs where it isn't part of the spec. Yes, that might be hard or impossible to do if you really need that job to pay the rent, but if you're able to, I'd encourage you to be part of the push to make accessibility part of doing the job correctly, not an optional extra.

This is the email I sent to the agency hiring for the contract. It's a bit unfortunate as I really liked the guy I interviewed with and think he'd have been a great person to work for.

Dear all,

Thank you very much for the opportunity to interview with you for the Drupal Front End developer position. I really enjoyed speaking with you. Unfortunately I am going to have to decline the job.

The client has indicated a lack of commitment to building the site accessibly, and I have a personal commitment to always build accessibly. I do not consider this an optional extra but an essential part of the front-end developer job. Inaccessibility is a serious, wide-spread problem, and I am committed to being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

In addition, this simply makes good business sense. It's estimated about 15% of people suffer from some type of disability which impedes their access to online platforms. Given the essential nature of the web today, this results in serious difficulties for people so affected and a significant loss of business for companies who don't pay attention to this demographic.

Most clients wouldn't choose to deliberately exclude 15% of their client or potential client base, but in ignoring accessibility, this is essentially what they are doing.

In addition, ignoring accessibility opens the client up to potential lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Contrary to claims, automated solutions such as accessibility overlays do not protect clients from this type of liability. It is far better and saves far more time and money to build accessibility into the development process from the beginning, than to suffer a lawsuit and have to do everything over again to make the site accessible later.

Therefore, with my deepest apologies I have to decline this job, as I can't put my name to something that is not accessible. If I were building the front end on my own, I would build it accessibly as I consider this part of doing the job correctly, but overseeing a team and being unable to ensure they are building their part accessibly is not something I'm able to sign on for.

Nevertheless, thank you very much for the opportunity, and please don't hesitate to contact me should further opportunities arise in the future.


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