Bruce Lawson's personal site

Bad performance is bad accessibility

What is “accessibility”? For some, it’s about ensuring that your sites and apps don’t block people with disabilities from completing tasks. That’s the main part of it, but in my opinion it’s not all of the story. Accessibility, to me, means taking care to develop digital services that are inclusive as possible. That means inclusive of people with disabilities, of people outside Euro-centric cultures, and people who don’t have expensive, top-the-range hardware and always-on cheap fast networks.

In his closely argued post The Performance Inequality Gap, 2023, Alex Russell notes that “When digital is society’s default, slow is exclusionary”, and continues

sites continue to send more script than is reasonable for 80+% of the world’s users, widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. This is an ethical crisis for the frontend.

Big Al goes on to suggest that in order to reach interactivity in less than 5 seconds on first load, we should send no more that ~150KiB of HTML, CSS, images, and render-blocking font resources, and no more than ~300-350KiB of JavaScript. (If you want to know the reasoning behind this, Alex meticulously cites his sources in the article; read it!)

Now, I’m not saying this is impossible using modern frameworks and tooling (React, Next.js etc) that optimise for good “developer experience”. But it is a damned sight harder, because such tooling prioritises developer experience over user experience.

In January, I’ll be back on the jobs market (here’s my LinkTin resum!) so I’ve been looking at what’s available. Today I saw a job for a Front End lead who will “write the first lines of front end code and set the tone for how the team approaches user-facing software development”. The job spec requires a “bias towards solving problems in simple, elegant ways”, and the candidate should be “confident building withreliability and accessibility in mind”. Yet, weirdly, even though the first lines of code are yet to be written, it seems the tech stack is already decided upon: React and Next.js.

As Alex’s post shows, such tooling conspires against simplicity and elegance, and certainly against reliability and accessibility. To repeat his message:

When digital is society’s default, slow is exclusionary

Bad performance is bad accessibility.

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