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The Accessibility Collective

The term "a11y" is becoming more popular, especially among those who focus on accessibility. While it might look like a strange code at first, it's just a shorter way of saying "accessibility".

Written by Taeke Reijenga

Taeke Reijenga has extensive experience with the business side of Web Accessibility. As CEO of the full service digital agency Level Level, he has managed in a short amount of time to get his entire team on board when it comes to including web accessibility in their workflow.

Decoding numeronyms

Numeronyms are a type of abbreviation where numbers are used to represent sounds or letters within a word. Unlike common abbreviations such as FYI or acronyms like HTML, numeronyms use numbers to encapsulate the essence of a word. In “a11y”, the ‘a’ stands for the first letter of “accessibility”, the ’11’ represents the eleven letters that follow, and the ‘y’ wraps it up as the last letter as we also explained in our glossary.

A11Y means Accessibility with 11 letters between A and Y

Examples of other prevalent numeronyms include:

  • i18n → internationalization
  • i11l → international
  • l10n → localization

Understanding and using ‘a11y’ in accessibility

Numeronyms, like “a11y”, can be confusing when you first encounter them. But they’re helpful, especially on platforms like X (formerly known as Twitter) where space is limited. “a11y” serves as a quick reference to the term “accessibility.” But when introducing “a11y” in conversations or content, it’s advisable to clarify that it stands for “accessibility,” ensuring everyone is on the same page (hence the title of this blogpost).

Fonts and clarity

It’s easy for some to confuse “a11y” with the word “ally,” whether in written or spoken form. This misinterpretation can be likened to mistaking “l10n” for “lion.” A solution? Choose a font where the number ‘1’ is distinctly different from a lowercase ‘l’. Ideally, the ‘1’ should be more than just a straight line to avoid confusion.

Spell checkers and consistency

For those involved in the accessibility field in any capacity, it’s worth adding “a11y” to your personal or company dictionary. While seasoned professionals might understand “ally” as a reference to “a11y”, ensuring the correct term in content will help in clear communication and more efficient searches. In essence, take control and prevent tools from unintentionally changing your message.

Raising awareness

Are you about to share the importance of accessibility with your team, client or employer? Don’t presume everyone’s familiarity with the term “a11y” and make sure to add a slide or section to explain it. Even on platforms like Twitter, I mean X, where the #a11y hashtag sees a lot of activity, there’s an ongoing process of educating and enlightening.

Pronunciations like “ally” and “alley” have been adopted by some, sometime cleverly woven into company or product names. As the community continues to grow and mature we expect to see a lot more of this kind of linguistic creativity. A good thing in our eyes as it will help to further embed the concept of accessibility in various ways.

To conclude, while “a11y” provides a concise way to reference “accessibility”, make sure to be mindful of its presentation and usage. Ensuring clarity can make a world of difference in promoting inclusivity and understanding.

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