Building Accessible Products

An estimated 253 million people are affected by some form of blindness or visual impairment. But with no universal standard for how to build accessible digital products, their experiences are varied and wildly inconsistent. This article will explore

OVERVIEW

An estimated 253 million people are affected by some form of blindness or visual impairment. But with no universal standard for how to build accessible digital products, their experiences are varied and wildly inconsistent. This article will explore why and when developers should consider accessibility and how to achieve it. It’ll touch on aspects of disabilities, accessibility, usability, and inclusivity of websites and applications. The intention is to build interest within the community and provide a starting point for developing and building accessibility into everything we do.

GOALS

  1. To explain what disabilities are, temporary and permanent and understand their impact
  2. To provide resources for information on accessibility guidelines
  3. To advise on the legal requirements surrounding accessibility

What is accessibility? 


Simply put, accessibility is making something more inclusive for those with disabilities. Accessible web content allows everyone to interact with it. In order to accomplish accessibility, it is necessary to consider two essential elements. 

  • Assistive Technologies 
  • ~Any hardware or software used to access content.
  • ~~Glasses, spelling and grammar assistants, braille keyboards, special mouse, screen readers, voice assistants (Alexa, Siri, Cortana, Google Home)
  • Adaptive Strategies 
  • ~Any technique used to improve interaction. 
  • ~~Closed captions, auditory descriptions, increased text size, reduced mouse speed

It should be noted that some people use multiple assistive technologies or adaptive strategies together in order to interact with websites and applications.

Why accessibility is important

No one sets out to build an application or experience that limits access to others. But when websites and applications are designed to work well for everyone—regardless of their device, location or ability—we remove communication barriers that many people face in their physical surroundings and create a more rich, inviting virtual space. 

Web accessibility makes a strong business case, too. Those who build for it enjoy increased market share and a positive brand reputation. Being recognized as an accessible compliant company sets the company apart from the competition. A web accessible compliant site or application can also prevent possible litigation. 

  • NetFlix
  • Nike 
  • Amazon
  • Beyonce
  • Burger King

(litigation)

What is a disability? 


A disability is a mismatch between a person and their environment. There are 5 categories of disabilities:

Motor, Cognition, Vision, Hearing, Speech. 

Is your disability permanent or temporary? Web accessibility benefits people that have permanent disabilities but also benefits people without disabilities, such as:

  • People using mobile phones, smart watches, smart TVs, IoTs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.
  • Older people with changing abilities due to aging
  • People with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm, illness or lost glasses
  • People with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio, dead batteries, cold fingers from environmental factors, and small links on mobile devices requiring the pinch to expand technique
  • People using a slow Internet connection, or who have limited or expensive bandwidth

There are currently more than 1 billion people with disabilities in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) a disabled person is anyone who has “a problem in body function or structure, an activity limitation, has a difficulty in executing a task or action; with a participation restriction”. An estimated 253 million people are affected by some form of blindness and visual impairment. This represents 3.2% of the world’s population. That’s twice Mexico’s population*! (WHO)

According to the CDC, 61 million adults in the US live with a disability. That’s 26% of adults, and 4.6% with a vision disability. More than 375,000 Americans become disabled every year. (cdc)

How can we make our products accessible?


In order to make websites and applications accessible to the needs of people with disabilities, look no further than the principles of user-centered design. Here are just a few examples of how a company can address accessibility.

  • Allow Lots of Time

There’s more to accessibility than just updating some user interface (UI) items and changing colors. There is a different approach and manner of thinking required, especially for people without disabilities to create applications for people with disabilities. It’s about design, and providing flexibility to meet everyone’s needs regardless of their ability. It’s about enabling users to interact with the site or application whether it’s via screen reader, braille keyboard or any other assistive technology. It’s about the social model of disability, a way of viewing the world—best understood by developing with people with disabilities themselves. 

To design websites and applications in this manner requires thinking about accessibility upfront, testing with many different technologies, devices, browsers and methods of interactivity. All of this requires time for designers, architects, developers, testers and management to approve and complete. Accessibility is not an overnight process. It's a shift in how you think about building.

  • Bake-in Accessibility

It is necessary to be concerned with accessibility from the start of a project. It is simpler and less costly to implement than attempting to make a product accessible after it has been built. Understanding the governance and policies that are in place for your company is a starting point. Setting objectives are necessary. Objectives should include deliverables for the project team, timelines for the deliverables, and what measures will be used for success to know if the objectives are met. Securing a budget for the project is required to provide tooling, training, support and possible recruitment to meet the objectives. Keeping all of this in mind from the beginning, provides an accessibility friendly environment to create websites and applications that are usable by everyone.

  • Draw a Line

Setting a time when sites and applications will be designed and built with accessibility will help everyone in the company prepare for, and understand what is required to meet your accessibility goals. Making a product accessible never stops though and as new technologies are created, and the way in which people interact with content changes, adding, designing and developing for accessibility is an ongoing process. 

  • Focus on Focus Order

It’s important to define how a user would naturally navigate the product and provide an intuitive flow to all of the information and features. Information should be presented in a clear and orderly fashion. The application should adapt to present content differently yet maintain the structure and functionality. Page headings, lists and images need to be coded appropriately to meet the adaptability guidelines presented in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

  • Use Landmarks

Landmarks are regions within the website or application that group items together. Working in one region allows the work to be broken down into manageable parts. It also allows for smaller site or application changes that can be developed and tested quickly. To illustrate landmarks in an application:

  • Use Proper HTML Semantics

The complexity of today's applications may require extra attributes such as Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA), custom event handlers, and/or hidden DOM elements. Whenever possible, consider using defined HTML elements as they have many accessibility features built in. By leveraging existing accessibility features, the developer can focus on functionality while ensuring a consistent, familiar experience for users with a disability.

  • Prepare for Testing

It is important to pay close attention to testing the application. Whenever possible, people with disabilities should be consulted. In absence of these individuals, testing should be done on desktop and mobile devices and with a screen reader, such as VoiceOver for Apple products. Testing on multiple browsers, and devices from various manufacturers is necessary and becoming the norm in order to meet accessibility requirements of the user community. Having the talent and tools in place before testing starts is beneficial to prepare your project team for development of web accessibility.

An example of an accessibility workflow:

(medium)

Accessibility is the law 

Section 508 Standards are established and maintained by the U. S. Access Board. Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, agencies must give employees with disabilities and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others. (digital.gov)

For information regarding accessibility, consult the following:

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The globally recognized guidelines for creating accessible digital experiences from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG). Part of a series of accessibility guidelines. 

The User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) documents explain how to make user agents accessible to people with disabilities

Conclusion

Many businesses compete for ¼ of 1% of the market for their brand, and are missing out on 15 - 20% of the population who have a disability. Creating applications that are accessible by everyone can increase market share by allowing people with disabilities to interact and take advantage of the opportunities the application offers.

Having the right resources involved from management to recruitment are all necessary for a successful transition to making applications accessible. As more applications are developed and become available in a broader more inclusive environment, the tools to accommodate their development will continue to evolve. Therefore, it is necessary to continue to stay involved with the trends and needs of accessibility. Web accessibility is necessary for some to overcome barriers in the physical environment, but is useful for everyone.

Endnotes

WCAG

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2 is developed through the W3C process in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally. The WCAG documents explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Web “content” generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including:

  • natural information such as text, images, and sounds
  • code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.

ATAG:
The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) is part of a series of accessibility guidelines, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG).

The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) documents explain how to:

  • Make the authoring tools themselves accessible, so that people with disabilities can create web content, and
  • Help authors create more accessible web content — specifically: enable, support, and promote the production of content that conforms to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

UAAG:
The User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) documents explain how to make user agents accessible to people with disabilities. User agents include browsers, browser extensions, media players, readers and other applications that render web content

UAAG is part of a series of accessibility guidelines, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)

WAI:
The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) develops technical specifications, guidelines, techniques, and supporting resources that describe accessibility solutions. These are considered international standards for web accessibility; for example, WCAG 2.0 is also an ISO standard: ISO/IEC 40500.

ARIA:
Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) is a set of attributes that define ways to make web content and web applications more accessible to people with disabilities.

References

WCAG 2 Overview
Date: Updated 1 February 2022. First published July 2005.
Editor: Shawn Lawton Henry.
Developed with input from the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG) and the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AG WG).

ATAG Overview
Date: Updated 1 July 2020. First published July 2005.
Editor: Shawn Lawton Henry.
Developed with input from the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG) and the Authoring Tool Accessibility Working Group (AUWG).

UAAG OVerview
Date: Updated May 2016. First published July 2005.
Editors: Jeanne Spellman, Jim Allan, Shawn Lawton Henry.
Developed with input from the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG) and the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (UAWG).

Introduction to Web Accessibility
Date: Updated 6 October 2021. First published February 2005. Changelog.
Editor: Shawn Lawton Henry.
Developed by the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG).

Introduction to Accessibility
Date: updated by ToniBonittoGSA on May 03, 2021 at 6:02 pm ET

Disabled People in the world 2021: Facts and Figures
Date: Updated November 26, 2021

Disability Impacts All of Us
Date: Page last reviewed: September 16, 2020

Building an Accessible Product medium.com
Date: Accessed Mar 6, 2022

Title III Lawsuits: 10 Big Companies Sued Over Website Accessibility
Date: Accessed Mar 7, 2022

MDN Web Docs
Date: Last modified: Feb 18, 2022, by MDN contributors

Tom

Sandeep

Sandeep: Tell me a bit about the early part of your career.

Tom: I spent a decade helping to build start-ups focused on application and database software. This was where I learned how to sell and do business development. I was fortunate to be part of one company going public and another being sold to IBM.

Sandeep: What is something you learned during this time that helped you with consulting?

Tom: I began to appreciate how different customers achieved varying levels of success with the same foundational technology. This made me understand just how critical getting your team and process right can be.

Sandeep: This is something I only came to appreciate years into consulting, especially after the sale of my first consultancy to Capital One.I saw teams in different parts of the company trying to solve challenges like real-time messaging. Same corporate culture, same technology, same internal support mechanisms. Night and day outcomes.

Tom: We saw a lot of the same thing after selling our practice to EMC (sold to Dell in 2015). This is probably the thing I'm most proud of when it comes to the teams I've helped to build: the ability to perform well in a variety of contexts, sometimes in ways that inspires the client team to up their game as well.

Sandeep: Yes. It's particularly cool to see your team succeed in individual ways after an acquisition...consulting skills definitely translate into the corporate environment.

Tom: Totally. We have people who've stayed on at Dell and risen up the ranks, while others took the opportunity to become successful executives at other Fortune 100 companies....or to start their own agencies and startups.

Sandeep: We've both been around a while. My first consulting project was a Y2K thing for Cisco back in 1998. You've been around a little longer than that :). How do you think consulting has changed most during the past five years?

Tom: I think because there is so much infrastructure available now, consulting has become more delivery and outcome-oriented. A better blend of strategic and tactical. Public Cloud has also enabled velocity to increase at a pace unfathomable 5 years ago.

Sandeep: What has stayed the same?

Tom: It's still mostly about people. People who thrive on change and are focused on their personal and professional development. I love that this has not and will not change...it's what I love about consulting.

Sandeep: I know you're adjusting your work style to COVID. You're still a dude who clearly prefers to drive an hour for a socially-distanced hike or outdoor meeting over Zoom any day of the week :) But personal styles aside, what is specifically compelling about a remote agency during the era of COVID?

Tom: Kunai has been remote for years, which gives them an inherent advantage. There is something about the communication and management styles that just works in a way that other organizations are still figuring out.

Sandeep: Yeah, I think what a lot of people fail to realize is that remote work isn't just office work over Zoom. it's an entirely new paradigm. There needs to be an understanding for asynchronous efficiency...and this just takes time and effort to develop. How do you approach remote work and family? What are you learning about separating work and personal time?

Tom: No matter what the form of interaction, Focus. Be present. Quality over quantity. The best weeks are the weeks where I proactively schedule work and personal time. Neil (Kunai's Head of Delivery) shared a great quote with me "With discipline comes freedom." When I am proactively addressing the majority of my professional and personal commitments, I find I earn a little flexibility. A little freedom.

Sandeep: Tell us about a business hero of yours that I may not have heard of before.

Tom: Paul O'Neill is someone you may not know. His work in both the public and the private sector created a profound impact

Sandeep: We are both over forty years old :). How have you learned how to work smarter during the past decade or so? What do you wish you knew about consulting when you were 25 that you know now?

Tom: Consultants want to make lasting change. Lasting change is often not the act of a single person. Today I work much harder bringing others along on the journey.

Sandeep: Last question. What are you doing here? :) Why join a small consulting company this late in your career when you could have a cushy job somewhere else?

Tom: I love a good challenge personally and professionally. When I turned 40, I decided I would run a 10K every Thanksgiving weekend and try to have my finishing time be less than my age. With the exception of one year where I did not run due to a health issue, I have met the goal. I also recently completed the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race. So, I guess I'm here because I'm a glutton for punishment :) Jokes aside, our customers have a job to do and I intend to put Kunai in a position to execute flawlessly on their behalf. I love committing jointly to audacious goals for our customers and our business.

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