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Introduction to accessibility world

Published on February 13, 2019 in Industry category

Collection of accessibility logotypes including various companies and tools

I’ve been watching the digital accessibility (a11y for short) world by the sidelines for some time already, but never really “got into it” - meaning I understood that images need alt tags and that HTML must be semantically structured, but not much else.

As I always liked building projects, designing and coding, recently I got more intrigued by the accessibility, as it encompasses everything from the user interface design (color contrast, color blindness), user experience design (structure, meaning, the whole package) to actual nitty-gritty code details (alt tags on images, ARIA attributes for interactive applications).

Here are some of my first insights as I learn more about accessibility.

It’s a small world

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of people/companies doing accessibility as their primary service/product, mostly because accessibility is still “the extra”, “will get to it at the end of the project”, “too expensive” or simply non-existent.

IAAP

I’ve joined the IAAP (International Association of Accessibility Professionals) and it counts only ~1,800 members so far (at least according to the forum statistics where you are automatically joined upon registration). About 69% of members are US-based and 80% are from US/Canada/UK/Australia. It is recently founded, in 2014, but if you are doing accessibility you probably are aware of it as it’s an only global non-profit organization dedicated to accessibility professionals. Membership costs are $55/year for developing countries and $185/year for everyone else.

Companies

There are several companies working as accessibility consultants, most notable ones being:

People

Apart from people working in companies mentioned above, Rob Dodson from Google particularly stands out as he and the team created A11y casts on YouTube as well as Udacity course on accessibility fundamentals so it’s quite a familiar name when you are starting to learn about accessibility. Karl Groves is also frequently mentioned with his blog.

Making accessible products

While developing products, there is much more to accessibility than just developers implementing HTML tags or making modal dialogs accessible via Javascript focus() commands. However, there are plenty of resources to learn from and tools to help you and I’ve listed some of them below.

Not just for developers

At first, I thought that accessibility is primarily a developer’s job - to implement proper tags, semantic HTML etc. - but as I dug deeper I realized that accessibility isn’t something you do at the end of the project or as you are coding, but something that various roles have to keep in mind when designing and developing products. Coding proper tags is just a smaller piece of the bigger picture.

Those roles include project owners, user experience and user interface designers, developers, QA people, content team and more. Each of them have something to contribute to make products more accessible - project owners can allocate time & training/education for it, user experience designers should consider various flows & interactions within the product, user interface designers take are of color contrast and color blindness, developers implementing proper accessibility tags, QA people testing for accessibility, content team providing captions, transcriptions, alt tags descriptions etc.

Accessibility devices

Majority of accessibility talks are oriented towards blind people as websites are primarily delivered as visuals (text & images) - making sure that HTML is in semantic order so when blind person tabs through the page it all makes sense, various ARIA tags are in-there to enable seamless interactivity, keyboard navigation works so one doesn’t end up in keyboard trap and more.

However, there are more disabilities than just blindness - including deafness, motor disabilities, cognitive disabilities, reading disabilities and multiple disabilities (eg. deafblindness).

The good thing is that if you make your product accessible to blind users, that means that any device that is keyboard-operated (eg. switch devices for people with motor disabilities) will work out-of-the-box as well. Majority of other, custom accessibility devices, are either based on keyboard or mouse so you don’t need to test for each and every accessibility device but testing via mouse & keyboard is enough.

Tools

There are several tools helping you to get started with accessibility testing and education, including some free like WebAIM, Axe, Chrome Accessibility Tools, Pa11y as well as commercial like Tenon.io, WorldSpace suite, Accessibility Management Platform and Accessibility Resource Center (ARC).

Resources

One-stop-shop which reference many other resources is the open-source The A11Y Project. There are also A11y casts on YouTube and Udacity course on accessibility fundamentals.

Certifications

Although certifications are relatively new and in constant revisions, IAAP offers two certificates - CPACC (Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies) certification which is general, non-technical as well as WAS (Web Accessibility Specialist) certification which is technical - meaning you are familiar with HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

If you have both, then you are CPWA (Certified Professional in Web Accessibility) certified.

Both certificates go for around $700-$900 depending if you are an IAAP member or not. If you are from developing countries then both are $345.

If you would like to learn for a certificate, Deque University is your best option.

Laws

Most prominent is the ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act) within the US which is the basis of thousands of accessibility lawsuits, while EU has recently (September 23, 2018) passed EU Web Accessibility Directive which has yet to prove how enforceable it will be.

Equivalently, procurement laws (something you have to follow if you are the government or you sell to the government) in the US are defined under Section 508, and EN 301 549 in EU.

Other countries have various laws, but essentially almost all of them rely on WCAG guidelines (usually WCAG 2.0 level AA). Note that in June 2018 WCAG 2.1 was released, but laws will have to catch up, but as WCAG 2.1 is compatible with WCAG 2.0 it’s not that much big of a deal.

Next steps

While Udacity course has some pretty neat hands-on tasks, the goal is to perform accessibility audit (and propose fixes) to some of the sites I visit regularly to see how the accessibility (retro-)fits into real-world projects.

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Sven Kapuđija
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