Prioritizing Accessibility Defects for Remediation

You have run your favorite automation tool. You’ve sifted through the results, suppressing duplicates, false positives (there aren’t many tools that automatically detect ARIA and suppress reporting the underlying issue that the ARIA addresses) things that are not within your control to fix, then condensed down the patterns — who wants to file 827 independent “the alt text on this image is empty” defects?. Then you have carefully augmented those results with manual testing results.

Now what?

Sorting your excel spreadsheet by A vs. AA might be the way *most* people think defects should be prioritized. After all, Level A guidelines are the showstoppers and Level AA are the “nice to haves but still legally required”, right? But even not all As are created equally, so internal prioritization of “which A to fix first” is necessary. Seasoned accessibility managers know that prioritizing accessibility defect tickets isn’t as simple as an Excel sort on A/AA. Here are some things to think about when prioritizing assignment of accessibility tickets for remediation.

1) Are the accessibility defects in code currently scheduled for revision/updates/extensions?

Best case scenario, some of your defects may be in areas on an obsolescence path if the code is scheduled to be completely rewritten or retired in the near future. And even if that isn’t the case, it will be far easier and efficient in both time and $$ to fix defects in a code base that is being updated for non-accessibility reasons. Even less serious bugs such as double announcements or announcing of decorative objects should be fixed if the code is being updated for other reasons. Then accessibility regression testing only needs to be performed once.

2) Are the accessibility issues on the happy path?

The “happy path” is anything that a member of the public touches when doing an average transaction on a website or native mobile application. In the case of e-commerce, the happy path would include account registration, login, product selection and checking out. Even minor defects on the happy path should get bumped up in priority because every customer with a disability could potentially see them, and it could drive them away

3) Do the accessibility defects impact the user’s ability to navigate?

If the accessibility defects impact the ability of an assistive technology user to navigate, they are far more likely to give up and go to a competitor’s site. Heading structure, normally an AA defect, is a method of navigation. If the heading structure is just a little broken, it might be a lower priority defect. But if it is a LOT broken (i.e. not existent, skipping levels, containing entire paragraphs which is not useful navigation information) then it should be bumped up the list. Focus jumps (that is the focus moving in an unexpected way) should be towards the top of the list.

4) Do the accessibility defects impact the user’s ability to submit forms?

Variation on #3. Frustration on form submission will make a user go elsewhere. The inability to defect and correct errors is a frustrating experience for all AT users. Bad announcements on inline field validation or unhelpful error messages like “please enter correct data” should be higher on the remediation list because they are low effort and high impact.

5) Are the accessibility defects on a page where there are legal implications if the user can’t access something?

There are potential legal implications for any inaccessible behavior on privacy policies, GDPR pages, nutritional information, terms and conditions, contest rules, and promotion disclaimers just to name a few. The underlying question is: are any of these legal terms binding on a person with a disability if there are accessibility issues (even small ones) interfering with their ability to access the content? While I haven’t seen a court case directly addressing this issue, you don’t want to be the first to test that, especially with the penalties associated with not following GDPR rules. Even if a defect would normally be considered low impact, if it is on a page with some type of legal implication, make sure it’s towards the top of the list to be fixed.

6) Are the accessibility defects on a “Contact Us” or Survey / Feedback pages?

Nothing screams “I don’t care about people with disabilities” than having an inaccessible contact us form or inaccessible surveys. Many surveys are handled by third party companies, so you may have to work with them to get the survey to play nicely with assistive technology. Many surveys require receipt scans or information from paper receipts so think about ways to make that accessible also. And while you are at it, make sure your customer support reps are trained on handling relay calls.

7) Fix the closed captioning first !!!!!

Adding this one courtesy of my deaf daughter. Closed Captioning is a “checkbox engineering” problem. You write a check (in this case a small one it’s usually about $1 a minute) and the problem goes away without requiring much of any time or effort from your own staff or consultants. I am fond of both 3playmedia and Rev. Not getting paid for recommending them, just personal experience. Closed captioning is a curb cut, plenty of people use it who don’t have hearing loss — I mean who hasn’t watched a “cute pet” video with the sound turned off during a boring conference call and wondered what the humans were saying? Also, studies have shown that people who have CC turned on are “stickier” that is they watch the video longer, which in the case of commercial videos, means they are more likely to buy something.

Remember, YouTube automatic closed captioning is never, EVER an acceptable substitute for a customized script. It is crap at transcribing speech for a) people with accents; b) technical language; c) people who talk fast. Some videos have all three.

8) Are the defects on a page that gets a ton of traffic?

The more highly visible a defect is, the more likely it is to get detected, adversely impact someone’s experience, and correspondingly, increases the chances of getting a nasty letter or worse, sued. What is more important, a level AA defect on a login screen or a level A defect when you are trying to re-add an item to a shopping cart after deleting it? Trick question — they both need to be fixed, but all things being equal, if there is resource contention for fixing bugs (and there almost always is) the Level AA defect on the login screen should receive attention first. The Level A defect described here is probably an edge condition. While it is more serious in terms of user impact, not a lot of people are going to be triggering that behavior.

9) Can the defects be picked up by a free crawler?

This is a variation on item #8. There is nothing more noticeable than accessibility defects that can be picked up by an automated free crawler. Sad to say, but accessibility management strategies need have a segment focusing on lawsuit prevention. To understand prevention, you need to understand how digital accessibility lawsuits arise. At a high level, there are two kinds of digital accessibility lawsuits — those brought by people who are genuinely looking primarily to improve accessibility for people with disabilities, and those brought primarily by people (and firms) looking for a payday.

a) Lawsuits brought by people who are genuinely looking to improve accessibility typically are born from actual experiences of people with disabilities and their struggles accessing a site or app because of inaccessible programming choices made by the provider of those digital properties.

b) Lawsuits brought by people looking for a payday typically arise from plaintiffs’ law firms crawling the internet with free HTML accessibility checkers looking for WCAG violations that may or may not be reflective of an inaccessible experience.

Reduce the chances of getting on plaintiffs’ firm’s “naughty” list by prioritizing fixing accessibility issues that can be easily detected through automated testing.

10) Fix things that impact your customer base first

What do your analytics or studies say about your population of people with disabilities? If you know that your population of users who uses a keyboard is 1 %, and your magnification users are 5 %, then a keyboard focus issue which normally is in the bottom third of the list since it is an AA suddenly becomes more important. Don’t have analytics or studies on your user population? Most companies don’t, that will be the topic of a future article. If nothing else, you have customer complaints to work from. If your customers are complaining about duplicate announcements or too many tab stops, bump those up the priority list.

Conclusion

In the end, getting all WCAG 2.1 Level AA defects fixed is an important goal. However, the path you take to get there is up to you. Eating the elephant one spoonful at a time by careful and deliberate prioritization of accessibility defects into remediation sprints will help you achieve that goal

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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