On Accessibility, Mobile Responsiveness, and the Personal Web

Creations / Blog / On Accessibility, Mobile Responsiveness, and the Personal Web

Oct 12, 2023 | About 5 min reading time

Honestly, didn't think I was going to make another post about accessibility and mobile responsiveness, especially not so soon (here's my first one). I've seen a lot more discussion about it in the web revival space, though, so I'd like to talk about it a bit - namely responding to some common arguments against it.

A quick summary of points, if you'd like to jump around in this post:

But this website is just for me!

To tell you the truth, this argument is starting to annoy me, because it seems pretty obvious to me that there's nuance here. My website is mostly just for me as well, and I understand that making a website accessible and responsive takes time. Sometimes I'm too tired to add alt text to images, so I add an empty alt attribute and leave it for the time being. Sometimes I notice an element of my website doesn't work on phones and simply note it down to fix it when I'm not exhausted. This is something I do as a hobby, after all - I'm not getting paid to maintain my website. I obviously do not think an individual deciding that accessibility and mobile responsiveness on their website are not their top priorities or even priorities at all is a bad thing.

However, our personal websites are not just seen and used by us as the webmasters. They're hosted publicly and are seen by the world. For example, if you have flashing GIFs on your homepage with no warning and no way to turn them off, you put certain visitors at risk of dangerous seizures. It is not a case of "Don't like, don't look", because a person who experiences photosensitive seizures has no way to know that your website can potentially cause them physical harm. Making this hypothetical situation worse, a person having a seizure may have difficulty clicking off of the webpage that is causing the seizure. This is just one, very specific example of how lack of accessibility can harm people, and it's not even hard to fix - simply hiding flashing GIFs under a details element and warning that there are flashing GIFs in the summary of the details element eliminates the problem.

Besides that, when most people in a space respond to concerns about accessibility or mobile responsiveness by treating it as an unreasonable concern or even somehow harmful to them, disabled people see this. And it doesn't exactly make us feel very welcome in web revival spaces, even though we have valuable things to contribute to these very spaces.

TL;DR: you don't have an obligation to make your personal website perfectly accessible and mobile responsive, but you shouldn't be acting as if genuine concerns about accessibility from disabled people are a personal attack. Or referring to it as (and yes, a person I used to follow on Neocities actually used this term) "elitism". Doing so is just ableism, plain and simple.

Phones and other mobile devices result in mindless scrolling!

This one is so ridiculous, I barely know where to start.

Phones and tablets are not inherently addictive any more than a PC or laptop is. Many social media apps are designed to keep users on the app for as long as possible, but this is not a fault of the device being used to access that app. Besides that, mobile devices are more affordable for many people in the world and more accessible for some disabled people as well (I've mentioned before that when I have migraines or bad fatigue days, it's much easier for me to browse the internet on my phone while laying down than it is to sit up at my PC, as my migraines and fatigue tend to get worse when I'm in an upright position). There's no reason to act like using a PC or laptop instead of a mobile device makes you superior to anyone else.

Accessibility and mobile responsiveness are too difficult!

There are literally so many resources out there on both of these topics, and besides that, they're really not that difficult. Making a mobile responsive layout for my site was one of the easiest parts of building my website, actually. Media queries are not that hard. The Accessible Net Directory created by pinkvampyr has a whole page dedicated to resources, the Responsive Web Directory created by kalechips also has a page listing resources, and there are tons of people who have made mobile responsive templates that are FREE TO USE:

The above is by no means an exhaustive list, either.

Not every website is for everyone!

That's absolutely true, but when the vast majority of webmasters in a space use this to justify not adding even minor tweaks for accessibility and responsiveness that would be easy and completely viable to add, it still becomes an issue, because that makes the space as a whole unwelcoming to disabled people and mobile users. It is disproportionately disabled people and mobile users that are affected by this, and that makes it a problem.

Repeat after me, folks: an inaccessible web is not a free web.

Beyond that, it's honestly frustrating to constantly see people make a big stink over how they don't want to make their site accessible or mobile responsiveness. It's gotten to the point that I don't explore personal websites on places like Neocities as much, because half the time, I immediately see a statement insulting mobile users (ex. "Don't be a phone chump! Buy a PC!").

Or, I find a post the webmaster has written that's just complaining about how people like me voicing our concerns about accessibility and mobile responsiveness and sharing how it directly impacts us and our experiences in these spaces... makes them feel bad. They decide that this discomfort - despite all the disclaimers that us talking about this issue is not meant to shame any webmasters or imply that everyone needs to have a 100% accessible and responsive website right now or else they're a bad person - means that we're forcing our opinions on them, or pressuring them. This happens regardless of how nicely or gently we phrase our posts about the issue. It's incredibly hurtful to share how an issue negatively impacts you while clarifying that you're not trying to shame or attack anyone, and immediately have people twist your words and accuse you of "elitism".

Anyways, this isn't a super well-written post and it's more a bit of a rant, but I wanted to get some of my frustrations out because I've been growing increasingly disappointed with the way issues like this are handled since I made my website back in June of 2023 (just four months ago). I even do my best to provide resources on my site and help people who are struggling with making their site accessible and mobile responsive because it's such an important topic to me that I'm fully willing to go out of my way to help people who don't know where to start. Many people are very supportive of efforts to make the web revival more accessible, too, but it's still draining to see the dismissive and flat-out hurtful responses.

I'm incredibly grateful to those who care about and support web accessibility and responsiveness, you are amazing. And if you have questions about these issues, you are free to contact me (I may take a little while to respond and I make no guarantees that I'll have the answers to your questions, but I do enjoy trying to help people with this stuff) or check out the resources I listed earlier in this post.