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Being an A11y: the meaning of Accessibility

While there is a huge commitment to the principles of accessibility among the Carleton – and no more so among the community of people who maintain its web content – there is always more for us to learn. Today we are going to learn about one word:


If you’re thinking that’s not a word – that’s a typo, then pay attention while we talk about Numeronyms.

What’s in a number

Numeronyms are words or expressions where some of the letters are replaced with numbers to create an abbreviated form of the word. If you think you have never seen a numeronym before, then let’s think back twenty-two years to Avril Lavigne’s 2002 hit single Sk8tr Boi. The word sk8tr is a numeronym for skater. Now you know. (And yes, that was 22 years ago, and yes, you’re getting old: Avril turns 40 this year.)

Sk8tr is an example of a homonym numeronym – a word with a number or numbers which sounds like the numbers. (l8tr is another example, as is B4.) Other numeronyms are numerical contractions – this is where a number replaces a section of a word with the number of letters it is replacing. An example is g11n for globalization.

A11y – a numeronym with meaning

Which brings us to a11y – the numeronym for the word accessibility. The 11 in a11y represents the eleven letters the number replaces. But of course, the word also spells ally, and allyship is a crucial component in creating more accessible space. Without a set of allies, accessibility initiatives often fail. Therefore, a11y is a particularly appropriate way to represent accessibility.

Spelling is an accessibility issue

This brings me to the selfish part of our drive to use a11y. Spelling is an accessibility issue. This can be for different reasons. For people with dyslexia or other reading disabilities, of course, spelling is a major barrier in written communications that they either consume or create. But spelling some words can be an issue for anyone with a visual disability. You don’t have to be particularly long-sighted to find the seven letters in a row with vertical strokes in the word accessibility hard to read. I know this from experience and as I have to write the word accessibility multiple dozen times a week I am leading the drive for us to employ a11y when and where we can.

For this selfish reason I am advocating that we all now accept the common spelling of accessibility as a11y.

Say it out loud

When we see the word though, what do we say? The A11y Project has guidance on how to pronounce the word a11y. They say we should continue to pronounce the word accessibility in full rather than as ay-eleven-why. This is because the numeronym is only meant as a shorthand for what it means (with the neat association of being an ally as a bonus). We need to remember that the prime focus of what we do is the accessibility component.

Useful places to employ a11y include in an article like this where you otherwise have to type the word accessibility multiple times, or in a social media post where you want to limit your characters – using a11y saves you nine letters!

You can learn more about the use of this numeronym on the A11y Project website. They are keen to use the word appropriately and without causing anyone any stress. As they say, “as long as we do our best to make people aware of what numeronyms stand for, and use them appropriately, then their usage and accepted understanding will only grow.”

Thank you for being a11y ally!