Book Review: Just Ask - Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design

Book cover of CSS Mastery by Andy BuddAt this year's SXSW Interactive, there was a book that caught my attention for various reasons:

  1. The striking cover
  2. I had no idea it was published before SXSW and
  3. It turned out that the book was self-published, but I guarantee that if you were to flick through, you'd have no idea.

Regarding that last point, what I'm really saying is that in a lot of cases when you look at a self-published book, it looks like it's been knocked together with a copy of Word, some rudimentary (or non-existent) design skills, copied on an old photocopier and then bound with all the manual dexterity of an arthritic elephant. Or in short - they usually look pants.

This, however, is a joy to behold - Shawn has created an excellent book that is well presented, clearly laid out and notated, nicely designed and just looks extremely sleek. But you're not here to find out how shiny the cover is, are you? (If you are, the answer is: somewhere between gloss and satin).

What's It All About?

Well, if you want to know, why not just ask? Actually, that's the basic premise of the book - here we are all talking about accessibility, and some of us doing that rarely come into contact with the people that they are purporting to represent (those are my words, not Shawn's). So why not 'just ask' these people, regularly and at key stages of your development cycle?

How It's Structured

The book begins by setting out some of the simple, underlying reasons for incorporating people with disabilities in any given project, including some advice about how to interact with these people (it can be quite daunting for some people to know exactly how to approach matters, what's the right thing to say or, more importantly, what they need to avoid saying/doing). I love the fact that this is in here - it's a world apart from the clinical/academic tone of W3C documents and the like.

Then we're on to the main course - how to get accessibility incorporated into a User Centered Design (UCD) methodology. In this, the bulk of the book, Shawn covers the analysis phases, talks about the need for personas (I always thought it was personae?) and scenarios to test against. This is not something particularly new to anyone who's been involved in testing before, but personally I've not seen scenarios that cover accessibility to this depth (you're lucky, sometimes, if you get a persona that includes 'an oldie'!).

Finally we're on to some techniques for the testing phase itself, right from the initial planning through to advice about how to prepare reports.

Sorry, did I just say finally? Actually, here's the 'and finally' part of the review - the resources. Shawn has referenced a lot of resources and soaked up countless different tomes of knowledge to create this book ... so you don't have to. But should you wish to learn more, all the resources are listed at the back of the book like the good academic minded soul that she is.


This is not a book about accessibility techniques, be that HTML, CSS or scripting advice. And despite working for the W3C, Shawn has not created another W3C-stlye document. This book will find most use, I think, with people who already do testing of some nature but to whom accessibility is still a black art. It will also appeal to people running small business - perhaps developers who know their HTML/CSS trade inside and out but want to be able to expand their horizons and go beyond simply saying "we create accessibile web sites" and really mean it - and I would also recommend that some of the accessibility gurus take a leaf through this and not assume that they know it already. The fact that by buying the book you'll be helping the author directly makes it oh so much sweeter.

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Title Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design
Where to buy Buy direct from author
Publisher Self-published (via
Written by     Shawn Lawton Henry
ISBN-10 1430319526
ISBN-13 978-1430319528