Adam

Software engineering manager, author, and educator. Probably over-caffeinated.

10 Ways Web Developers Can Stand Up to the Trump Agenda

For many of us the days after the election were a deep, dark flurry of emotions (anger, fear, frustration, disappointment, sadness) that led to a feeling of helplessness. In the weeks since, many have turned those emotions to action. How can we, as web developers, use our skills to take positive action in the face of dangerous regressive attitudes and policies?

1. Build accessible interfaces

The image of Donald Trump mocking a disabled reporter is seared into my mind, so let’s use it as a motivator to develop more accessible applications. Building accessible interfaces is a step towards inclusion of everyone, regardless of ability. The amount of accessibility information out there can seem overwhelming, but here are a few steps you can take towards making your applications more accessible:

2. Care about users with older devices and slower connections

As professional web developers we are more likely to have modern hardware and access to fast web connections, but this isn’t true for everyone. In the United States, for example, 1 in 5 people own a smartphone, but either do not have access to high-speed internet at home or have limited access other than their cell phone. When we build our sites and applications with only modern devices and connections in mind, we shut out these people. How can we build applications that are modern and resilient for all users?

3. Build inclusive forms

Forms allow users to interact directly with a site. They are often the thing that differentiates a web site from a web application and entering our name and gender are often key components.

In Dale Carnegie’s influential 1936 self-help book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, he states “a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Names are a core part of our personal identities. We often identify with them, turn at the sound of them said across the room, and intuitively appreciate when a person we have just met understands our names.

Unfortunately, it is possible to make assumptions that lead to the incorrect handling of names from minority groups. When working with names, we should be prepared for a variety of characters, spacing, and unique international formats.

For many, gender is not simply the binary sex of either male or female as determined at birth. When we limit a form to these two options we are excluding those who do not identify with these choices. When including a gender option in a form we should include space for a custom inputs as well as a “prefer not to say” option.

To improve your handling of names and gender in forms, I recommend reading these articles:

4. Test with diverse users

When we only consider the opinions of those around us, we are potentially building things that shut out groups of people. When we test our applications with a diverse set of users we ensure this isn’t happening and build a better product. Everyone wins!

Julie M. Young’s article Inclusive Usability Testing Best Practices offers great guidance on recruiting and conducting user tests with a diverse audience.

5. Use HTTPS everywhere

HTTPS makes the web more private and secure, two things that only increase in importance with a Trump administration. Organizations such as EFF and the United States Government(!!!) have been pushing for site owners to enable HTTPS by default.

Traditionally, SSL/TLS has been tricky and expensive. Today Let’s Encrypt and Certbot make it much easier and completely free.

6. Ensure your user’s privacy

According to Pew Research, over half of all Americans are concerned about government surveillance and 91% of American adults feel that consumers have lost control of how their personal information is collected and used by companies. User browsing history can reveal religious preferences, political affiliations, and even predict illness before diagnosis. As developers we are on the front lines of protecting our user’s privacy. To ensure user privacy, we can:

7. Secure user data

Data leaks are in the news nearly every day. For the user data that we collect, it is more important than ever to secure that information. Some practical steps we can take:

8. Be an ally for a diverse workforce

It’s no secret that the tech workforce has a diversity problem. At a time when our leaders are ignoring the wonderful diversity of our nation, let’s really commit to making this better. For those of us who come from a majority group, we can start by being good allies.

  • Commit to working to support a diverse culture
  • Be aware of your unconscious bias
  • Listen and support your colleagues
  • If you aren’t finding diverse candidates, change your hiring practices
  • Read and utilize the (many!) great Project Include resources

9. Volunteer your time and skills

As developers we have two incredible assets: an in demand skill set and, oftentimes, a flexible work schedule. Take advantage of these and put them to good use. Find local progressive organizations and volunteer to build them a website or improve the one they have (HTTPS!). Or use your flexible schedule to donate your time.

10. Share your wealth

Thanks to the demand for development skills, many of us are fortunate to have a well-paying job. Use some of that money to support organizations that fight for equality and civil liberties.

The easiest way to donate is to set up a monthly reoccurring donation. Think of it this way: if you have small monthly subscriptions fees (Netflix, AWS, Digital Ocean, etc.) you can afford to support a progressive organization committed to our freedom. Match the fee of one of those services and set up a monthly donation. Here are a few of my favorite orgs:

Jezebel has compiled a more exhaustive list of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support.

Most importantly, remember that we are all in this together. As President Obama said in his farewell address, we must be “willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward.” My hope is that we can all use our talents and skills to build a better Web and country. 🇺🇸

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