High Impact Accessibility on a Budget

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Ceramic Pink Piggy bank, pig is wearing glasses and staring at a old fashioned manual calculator

It is easy to spend a lot of money on accessibility. Consulting companies that specialize in accessibility have a high hourly rate, and automated accessibility tools can run tens of thousands of dollars (or more) annually. Employees are typically expensive too, especially in the SF Bay Area where I am based.

At a Fortune 200 company where you are testing dozens of websites and apps in multiple languages where the code and content are both being continually being updated, there might not be any way around the expensive approach. But small companies, startups, non-profits, or companies who want to do accessibility even though it isn’t required are sometimes forced to work on extremely tight budgets.

Doing high impact accessibility at a low cost requires thinking creatively about where and how you spend the limited amount of money available. Here are a few ways you can get a good start at improving accessibility for not a lot of money.

Free Automated Accessibility Tools

There are so many automated accessibility tools available that I can’t even begin to list them all. In fact, you can find a massive list of tools here, and some of them are free. A partial list of my favorite freebies would include The Paciello Group Colour Contrast Analyser (not typos, UK spelling 😊 ), NVDA — they do ask for a donation, it is well worth it, VoiceOver, TalkBack, Google’s accessibility tools, WAVE, and aXe.

There are also checklists galore available on W3C, WebAIM, and most of the larger accessibility consulting companies. And in case that isn’t enough, Word and Adobe both have built in document accessibility checking tools.

Free tools are really bare-bones. Here is what you will NOT get.

· Impact analysis

· Automatic JIRA ticket creation

· Specific suggestions on how to fix the problem.

· Snazzy executive dashboard

· Any type of fancy reporting or data mining

· Help desk support

· The ability to do runs as deltas where you can rerun the same site and track improvement over time.

· A cohesive, extensible, and accessible on-line training program

If you can live without those things, then free tools might be a good start for you. This will give you basic information that you can use to start remedying super obvious defects that you don’t need pay $190 an hour or have a several thousand dollar tool to detect.

Remember, using a free accessibility testing tool is a good start and that’s all. Even the best, most expensive testing tool isn’t going to find more than one-third of the accessibility defects. That one-third are the ones that can be conclusively detected from code analysis, like skipping a heading level or missing a “skip to content” link. The other two-thirds require hands on manual testing. Free tools also won’t find responsive issues since you can’t run an automated testing tool on the site you are viewing on a mobile device.

EBay

Getting used devices on EBay to expand your assistive technology library is a good way to broaden your testing hardware stack without breaking the bank. Older devices (especially plus sized ones) better represent users with disabilities, because they tend to have older devices also. The iPhone 6+ is the most popular mobile device today for people who use magnification. There are plus-sized specific accessibility issues, and those can only be found on plus-sized devices, which is another important reason to make sure you are testing on those devices.

Closed Captioning

Closed Captioning is far and away going to be the biggest bang for your limited accessibility remediation buck. For $1 a minute and almost no internal effort required (other than uploading the video and uploading the resulting transcript to your video hosting provider) you will be able to eliminate the largest barrier to people with hearing loss — videos they can’t understand. This is especially important if any significant part of your audience is over 50, since the rate of individuals with hearing loss skyrockets correspondingly with age.

Closed captioning has the added benefit that it is a “curb-cut” (something intended for people with disabilities that benefits everyone). Many users who use closed captioning want it for reasons other than hearing loss. One study said this was up to 35 % of all users who turn on CC. Anywhere that wearing headphones is uncomfortable or required (and you forgot them) you will find people with no hearing loss using CC. Some of these places include gyms, in public transit, at doctor’s offices, at libraries, just to name a few. English Language Learners also benefit from closed captioning.

People who watch videos with CC turned on are more likely to watch longer, Longer viewing times may result in more completed transactions. In addition, adding closed captioning alone will drastically improve your SEO, which could potentially result in higher page rankings, which could lead to more clicks and more completed transactions.

Closed Captioning is a win for everyone, and not that expensive. As the mother of a deaf daughter, I recommend doing it everywhere — even on social media where it might not be legally required.

Hire people with disabilities to do your testing from creative sources

Yes, it’s nice to have testers who are certified. But if your testing candidates are legally blind or have cerebral palsy, do you really need a piece of paper that says they know everything there is to know about accessibility? Not really, because for those folks, assistive technology is their way of life. All accessibility testing programs should have people who are native users of assistive technology doing at least some of testing. I know how to use VoiceOver, but I don’t use it the same way someone who is legally blind uses it.

Certified accessibility testers in the US with a reasonable amount of experience are typically expensive. Companies looking to augment their in-house testing at a lower cost should think about reaching out to the following resources to locate unemployed or underemployed people with disabilities:

· Vocational Rehabilitation

· Lighthouse for the Blind

· Center for Independent Living

· School for the Blind

Overseas Accessibility Testers

IAAP has multiple accessibility certification programs available internationally and 508 has recently updated its Trusted Tested program to the harmonized WCAG standard. Therefore, anyone overseas with recent (June 2018 or later) TT certification or who is IAAP certified is going to be reasonably knowledgeable in accessibility, but at overseas salaries. This can be as low as $20 an hour in India, where the same level of expertise in SF would easily cost you 6 to 8 times that amount.

Using overseas testers has the added benefit of allowing you to leverage the time zone difference. Send something to them at the end of your business day, and you may have results sitting in your inbox the next morning when you log in.

Two agencies I have personally used overseas are BarrierBreak and AccessibilityOz. Both organizations were founded and continue to be run by passionate, brilliant women who employ primarily people with disabilities as testers.

Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is becoming an increasingly popular way to get a quick “surge” of testing resources. Several crowdsourcing companies have formal accessibility testing practices where they promise the can restrict the testers working on your product to native users of assistive technology. Applause and Bug Finders are the two that I am most familiar with. Because both are based in Europe, this is a good way to get extra Android testing performed which people in the US are less accustomed to doing because of the overwhelming preference for iOS in this country.

Conclusion

Accessibility isn’t always easy or cheap, but it does make a huge difference in the quality and usability of whatever you’re building. Also, the cost-benefit analysis of improving your product’s accessibility vs. wasting money on a lawsuit is a no-brainer. Accessibility is worth investing in, even if you only have a small amount of money. I hope the suggestions above help you make your product more accessible to people with disabilities.

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