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I am Marcy Sutton. Ask me anything.

Senior front-end engineer & accessibility advocate at DequeSystems. axeCore team member, eggheadio contributor. Dirtbag bike racer, music junkie, dog lover.

Ask Marcy Sutton about:

  • Web Accessibility
  • CSS
  • JavaScript
  • General Front-end Development
  • Petting dogs 🐶
  • Bike Racing 🚴
  • Life Pro Tips 🙆
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48 discussions

Why just following semantic web standards not enough for web accessibility? Why do a web developer has to add additional data attributes like aria?

My egghead video on Intro to ARIA might answer that question:

Short answer: you should always start with semantic HTML because of what you get for free (keyboard focusability and semantics, style and behavior built-in). Sometimes, though, ARIA is necessary to expose accessibility information on custom elements. It doesn't add any behavior to the DOM, though, it only impacts assistive devices. It's one tool to have in your toolbox, knowing that you should reach for native elements first so you aren't having to recreate what browsers give you.

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Hey Marcy! thanks for hosting the AMA...

I'm interested in knowing how modern CSS affects accessibility.

With things like flexbox and grid layout, the visual layout can be completely different from the DOM tree and can really mess up with accessibility functions like screen readers.

Do you think as we are going advanced with our layouts, we are making web less accessible?

As far as I know, sadly the answer is yes (right now). I think browsers need to do more work to make flex and grid layouts more accessible by default. For example, if you reverse the order of flex items they will impact the reading order but not the tab order. So a keyboard or screen reader user might be confused about the order of content on a page. There has been some discussion around this recently, and I think Firefox even did the right thing at one point–I'm unsure of the status without doing some testing myself. But here are some links for further information:

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How do I get started with doing web accessibility testing? Is there a standard checklist one can adhere to?

There was a very similar question earlier, you can find my answer here:

I would start by tabbing through a page with the keyboard to make sure you know where you are on the page (using the default CSS outline or custom :focus styles) and that all actions can be completed without a mouse. You could also use one of the aXe extensions to run an audit:

Check out my videos on, which may help with various accessible development topics:

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If you had the time to just give one life pro tip, from which everyone here could benefit from what would it be?

Also, how did you get into bike racing? :)

My biggest life pro tip would be to try and engineer your life around what makes you the most happy. For me, that means getting away from the computer and outside into nature in all seasons, particularly for snowboarding and mountain biking (my favorite sports).

I sat in an office from 9-5 Monday-Friday in downtown Seattle for many seasons watching snowy powder days pass me by, and it made me sad every single time, like I was missing out on life. Yet, it was important ground-work for learning how to be an effective front-end developer. Eventually, as I got more senior in my career, I was able to take a remote job and move outside of the city so I no longer had to fight traffic to do my favorite non-work activities. I'm now under an hour's drive to a legendary ski area and countless hiking trails, making my seasonal outdoor dreams much more attainable. That balance helps me be an effective web developer and team member because I come back refreshed and happy that I'm living the best life I can while my health is good.

On bike racing: I got into cyclocross because it looked fun and there was beer involved. I met a rad group of folks who said if I raced singlespeed I could be on their team. I don't race a whole lot since I enjoy being solitary or in small groups a lot more. But bike racing is a fantastic community that I would recommend to anyone.

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"I learned we can all make a big difference on the web for people with disabilities by designing and developing inclusively." I can't agree more.

  • There is so much being written on Progressive Web Apps, Mobile First Design; but there is a serious lack of content when it comes to "Accesibility First Design"; what do you think of it?

  • What are a few things that can we do to design websites that are inclusive to blind people?

My hope is that accessibility is integrated into each of those topics so it doesn't get left behind. Of course, as an accessibility advocate, I would hope accessibility would be first, but the challenge is that everything can't be first. Security first, mobile first, offline-first...which one is actually first depends on how the learner got there. For that reason, I try to speak and write about how accessibility is relevant to other topics, since there are always interesting points to be made–hence my talks on Mobile Web Accessibility, Accessibility and Performance and Accessibility of the Shadow DOM / Web Components. As new technologies come about, we will always have the opportunity to highlight their impact on accessibility. Always. Despite being told "accessibility has been solved" by a conference CFP early in my career, it hasn't been solved. We get to keep bringing it up, and that's what makes it interesting.

A few things you can do to design websites that are inclusive to the blind and visually impaired: turn off your screen and ditch your mouse. Follow an accessibility design checklist like this one from WebAIM: For development, use accessibility testing tools such as aXe and the Chrome Accessibility Inspector.

But you should also keep in mind that accessibility is more broad than blindness and low vision–there are also many people with physical, hearing and cognitive disabilities. That's where testing tools and checklists can help, in addition to usability testing with actual people with disabilities.

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