The Road to Accessibility is Paved with Best Practices: Avoiding Best Intentions Pitfalls in Accessibility



  • Rachel Comerford, Senior Director of Accessibility Outreach and Communication, Macmillan Learning
  • Crista Earl, Principal Accessibility Consultant, Tech for All

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Beginner
  • Type of session: General Conference


We know the basics of accessibility etiquette (don’t pet a working dog, don’t grab the arm of a person who is blind) but what happens when best intentions get in the way of best practices. We will explore some common pitfalls encountered by accessibility entities: excellent accessibility solutions with poor implementation, addressing accessibility as a ‘feature’, and wearing disability as a costume. We will also dig into practices with mixed outcomes such as long self description by presenters.


Our discussion begins with what we understand to be well-known accessibility etiquette for practitioners in the field, although we acknowledge that there is still significant education necessary outside of accessibility practitioners. When it comes to physical space or personal space, we have a good idea of what the best practices are and where good intentions can be problems for people with disabilities.

Digital spaces, presentations, and verbal interactions come with many more vagaries. Rather than discourage good intentions with bad results, we should harness the desire to help and make sure we are educating our peers about best practices.

We plan to discuss common pitfalls including the pros and cons of self description in presentation. This growing trend is meant to be more inclusive but the question remains as to whether it levels a playing field or just introduces needless information. Included in this discussion will be when it’s appropriate to identify gender, ethnicity, and other identifying features and how to avoid establishing any particular identifier as a baseline (ie Doctor and Female Doctor).

Companies embracing inclusion often want to demonstrate this with the imagery that they use. Marketing material now has a more diverse set which includes people with disabilities… but does it? Often these are images of people dressing up as disabled by hopping in a wheelchair or grabbing a cane and sunglasses. We will discuss where to find images of people who have disabilities and some search tips for testing the images you’re currently using.

Finally, we’ll take a look at big improvements that lack a complete implementation. In physical spaces, this is the printed sign advertising braille menus and the sign on the elevator to ask for access… up a flight of stairs. In the digital space, accessibility window dressing is increasingly common from web pages touting product accessibility that are merely images of text with no alt text to “If you need accessibility help, contact us” links that lead to inaccessible forms. This discussion will include half implemented features such as videos with audio descriptions that don’t include that description in the transcript.

There are ways we can pull our colleagues and ourselves back from falling into the pit of good intentions. Let’s talk about what methods are working and how we can make them widespread.

Involve people with disabilities in all steps of solutioning

Consider HOW something is being used, not just what has to be done

Be open to criticism - be constructive in giving criticism

Stop firefighting, start planning

Don’t make roles in name only - make sure your team has expertise

Consider accessibility throughout your process, not just at the end


  1. Attendees will learn to recognize accessibility pitfalls: good intentions are getting in the way of doing good
  2. Learn techniques and practices for addressing the pitfalls.
  3. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good: we can harness the power of wanting to do good to make a difference.

Disability Areas

All Areas

Topic Areas

Accessible Educational Materials, Administrative/Campus Policy, Faculty Development & Support, Teaching about Accessibility in Curriculum, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Rachel Comerford

Rachel Comerford is the Senior Director of Accessibility Outreach and Communication at Macmillan Learning where she leads cross-functional efforts to ensure students of all abilities have access to their course materials. In 2020, BISG awarded Rachel the Industry Innovator award for her work helping Macmillan Learning to become the first Global Certified Accessible publisher by Benetech. Under her leadership, Macmillan was recognized by WIPO’s Accessible Book Consortium with the International Excellence Award for Accessible Publishing in 2020 for their work towards providing educational materials that any student can use. She has over a decade of experience in the print and digital publishing world. Prior to coming to Macmillan as an editor, she held a variety of editorial and sales positions at WW Norton and Pearson.

Crista Earl

Crista has 30-plus years of experience in design, development, and testing of accessible information and communication technology. Previously as Director of Web Operations at the American Foundation for the Blind, she oversaw a team of developers, database administrators, content managers, and social media professionals to develop and expand several accessible websites and software applications. With CrissCross Technologies, she created and distributed audio tutorials on Windows-based applications for users of screen-reading technology and developed and distributed games and educational software for people with visual impairments. As a senior member of the TFA consulting team she leads non-visual accessibility evaluation of software, website, mobile, and integrated hardware & software products. As an instructor at the Baruch College Computer Center for Visually Impaired People, she taught several courses.