7 things that turn good accessibility into great accessibility

“It’s easy to pick on people who do a crappy job at accessibility. Why don’t you write an article on how to get people good at accessibility to up their game?” I was asked in one PM. Challenge accepted.

Arial view of the grand canyon — flat topped mountains with striated sandstone in oranges and browns with a river
Arial view of the grand canyon — flat topped mountains with striated sandstone in oranges and browns with a river
Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash

The difference between good and great is a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon

— Rob Light, Creative Artists Agency (speaking about Dua Lipa)

This article is the other end of the spectrum from the article I wrote last week entitled “10 things that indicate designers have no clue about accessibility

Good accessibility is about compliance, GREAT accessibility is about empathy

People running great accessibility programs don’t stop when the desired WCAG standard is reached. Here are a few examples:

  • Has color contrast been evaluated exactly as required in WCAG 1.4.3? Or was color contrast made accessible for everyone, and in objects beyond just text. Great accessibility checks color contrast in unimpaired vision and color blindness modes, as well as checking the contrast of keyboard focus indicators and activatable icons?
  • Are the employee facing websites, docs and apps as accessible as the public facing websites, docs and apps?
  • Does the website copy use “premium language” like savor instead of taste, purchase instead of buy, conversation instead of talk?

Good accessibility looks at the product, GREAT accessibility looks at the entire user experience

Customers don’t buy products, customers buy experiences. How many times have you sworn you would never buy something from a company again because of of a bad sales or customer support experience? Accessibility to people with disabilities is generally as important (if not more so) than sales or support. However, if you don’t personally need accessibility or know someone who does, you may not realize how important it is.

  • Google/Fitbit does not do this well. I am giving them a pass for another 15 months since the accessibility issues were all Fitbit’s fault. Google only recently acquired the Fitbit accessibility mess.

Good products do user research, GREAT products incorporate accessibility feedback from people with disabilities

Every heard the phrase “Nothing about us, without us, is for us”? That phrase was coined as part of the protests that resulted in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Doing user research with people with disabilities is a sign of great accessibility.

Good accessibility has a well-defined QA process, GREAT accessibility executes that process using testers with disabilities

Testing is considered one of the most important software development phases, encompassing up to 40–70 percent of project schedules. Testing aims to verify whether software:

Child’s finger pointing to red Lego square
Child’s finger pointing to red Lego square
Legos. The O.G. accessible design system. Photo by Caleb Angel on Unsplash

GREAT accessibility uses accessible design systems

It is becoming more common for software to be built using a collection of reusable components known as design systems. Using a design system provides a quick start to website or mobile app development.

  • If you have chosen to use an open source design system that is NOT accessible, do the world a favor and contribute it back after you’ve made it accessible. Just like Paypal did with Bootstrap. That’s what companies with great accessibility do.

GREAT accessibility is included as a product release gate

“Release gates” are final checks that are reviewed as part of making a go/no-go release decision for a product. When accessibility is a release gate, it sets the expectation from the beginning that only accessible software will be released. Establishing release gates typically also involves establishing an exceptions process where a large number of people with a fair amount of power will be exposed to bad accessibility decisions if a product team requests a release without closing the accessibility release gate.

Good accessibility managers speak at accessibility events, GREAT accessibility managers speak at UI/UX/Design events

I still attend a couple of large, almost obligatory, annual accessibility conferences. However, I find at those, I am largely preaching to the choir. If I’m speaking about accessibility at a general UI/UX/design conference, I’m preaching accessibility to the heathens. Which do you think has a larger impact in building a more accessible world? Converting the heathens, of course.

  • the difference between full independence and partial (or full) dependence on others

Written by

Accessibility Architect @ VMware. W3C Silver, ITI & IAAP GLC committees. Degrees in CS, law, business. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter.

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