Why the #A11Y Hashtag Needs to Die

I’m a very active Twitter user, with almost 2700 followers and over 76000 tweets. I enjoy Twitter’s simplicity and immediacy.


Distilling one’s thoughts into 140 characters is challenging at times. As a result, sometimes when Twitter is used as a tool for debate, it can lead to misunderstanding. But it can’t be beaten as a tool for breaking news, and for short, sharp observations.


Because of the 140 character limit, someone came up with the idea of using the abbreviation “A11Y” to mean accessibility. Why, you ask? Yes you won’t be the first person to ask that. It’s because the word “accessibility” consists of 13 letters starting with an A, 11 more letters, then a Y.

Other people have blogged about this practice before, and I’ve gladly retweeted those who have expressed misgivings about it. Without fail, every time I’ve tweeted a link to a blog post, or have entered into a Twitter discussion about it, I receive tweets that say things like, “oh, so that’s what it means! I kept seeing this hashtag and had no clue what people were on about”.


There is a deeply sad irony in the idea that people who are all about inclusion use a cryptic Twitter hashtag that excludes all but the elite who have been clued into what it’s supposed to mean.


By using such a hashtag, it also prevents the grouping of tweets in a way that assists developers who want to learn about accessibility, and perhaps find some expertise in the field, but who would never dream of looking for a hashtag like #a11y.


Twitter is a public medium for all except  those who protect their updates. Many companies scan Twitter for references to themselves and the services they provide. In that scenario, which of these two versions of a tweet is most likely to get a result?

I’m having issues with the #a11y of the Boing Boing Rubber Company website.


I’m having issues with the accessibility of the Boing Boing Rubber Company website.


While there isn’t universal understanding by any means, far far more people know the word accessibility than know #a11y. So whoever is scanning Twitter for references to the Boing Boing Rubber Company knows they should let the web architect know that an issue has been reported. You’re leaving a lot more to chance that they’ll get in touch with you to ask you what #a11y actually is.


Then, of course, we get people using a dreadful abbreviation in a way that crucifies grammar. I see countless tweets like this. 

I’d like to use this app, but is isn’t #a11y.


Now of course translated, that means, “I’d like to use this app, but it isn’t accessibility”.


Even more nonsensically, I now see the abbreviation being used on email lists, and at at least one conference, where no character limitations exist.


Imagine how the world would be if more people started abbreviating words like this. 

I’m not a p7l person but I do think d8c freedom is in7t


I’m tempted to leave that untranslated to get my revenge on all the users of this abominable hashtag, but what that said was

I’m not a political person but I think democratic freedom is important.

In another ironic twist, the hashtag itself only gives a screen reader one less syllable to say, so while it saves characters, it doesn’t actually save a screen reader user much time.


Since the use of the hashtag is contentious, and people know there are those who object to it and won’t use or track it, what we’re now finding is that people who tweet are hedging their bets and using both #a11y and #accessibility in the same tweet, meaning that they have fewer characters to play with and defeating the purpose of the hashtag.


There are some who say, “yes it’s a poor choice, but it’s a standard now.” I’m too much of a student of history to simply follow a mob. For the reasons I’ve outlined above, I will never use it, or retweet anything that contains the hashtag. This hashtag is most certainly not a standard. It’s a fad that we can cause to pass, simply by refraining from its use.


So is there an alternative? A few have been proposed. But in the end I think we just have to accept that #accessibility takes up the number of characters that it does. If we need to go into a second tweet, so be it. But at least #accessibility is clear, and something someone is seeking information would think to search on.


We have too many barriers as it is to make more for ourselves by using cryptic terms that only the inner circle understand. Join me in helping to make it stop, by simply not using #a11y.

4 Comments on “Why the #A11Y Hashtag Needs to Die

  1. How does anything become a standard? Of course it isn’t a standard until something gets into the mainstream. That goes for every word in every language. Your point about being searchable is a good one but the standard point is not. It is also true that people do not want to write a 13 letter word. They will not do so whether it is a11y or whatever. If that fails there will be something to replace it. That is what texting in abbreviated form is built on and you aren’t going to change that. So come up with another word to replace that lengthy word and try to make it a standard otherwise you will find yourself stuck with a11y.

  2. Well, I can understand your concern about A11Y. The use of 7 in words such as political loses me and is, as you suggest, annoying. Sighted performers who use clever characters in their names make confusion, too. Think P!nk for the singer, Pink, or Ke$ha for Kesha. Our text-to-speech technology is at times unpredictable enough without adding complications.

  3. okay, now I don’t have to feel so dumb. thanks for the explanation and the rant. I had no idea what a11y meant but because I saw it used my many web-design guys, I thought it must be a technical term for some sort of accessible software program. I guess people assume things like this hashtag can be figured out easily. Perhaps if there was a Twitter glossary page where folks had to add their hashtags along with the definition of the hashtag so others could go there to see what is it supposed to mean may help. I have avoided using #a11y as I did not want to use it incorrectly.

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