I evaluated the accessibility of clients' digital products through specialised accessibility research at Centre for Inclusive Design.
Date: May 2016 - July 2017
Methodologies: heuristic evaluation, WCAG audits, usability testing focusing on people with disability
I used a combination of methodologies based on two main mindsets of accessibility evaluation.
I audited websites using WCAG 2.0 AA to find fundamental accessibility issues in design, semantics, front-end code, and content. Auditing involved a tasks such as going through pages using different assistive technologies and reviewing front end code and designs.
I completed and evaluated several tasks within a product, focusing on the holistic experience and not just compliance. This uncovered issues that could not be uncovered during a more detached "checkbox" approach that auditing provides.
To scope these evaluations, I identified critical user tasks for each product as well as tasks that contained notoriously inaccessible elements such as carousels and instruction videos.
Usability testing is a non-negotiable step to include in accessibility research. Testing with real people often identified issues that audits could not find - this is because the way people use assistive technologies and other techniques to overcome access barriers is highly personal to the individual. For example, there are many browser + screen reader combinations that will output very different things.
I reported actionable findings to product and digital teams. This involved not only identifying the accessibility issues, but providing recommendations to improve different aspects of the product. This also involved creating video reels of usability studies to help teams truly understand how their product hinders people.
Accessibility reports are often daunting and very long so I sometimes also presented to stakeholders to walk through different issues together - much easier and more impactful than handing them an 80 page PDF! The type of situation I was avoiding
All aspects of a digital product contribute to an accessible experience. Just a few examples: Content creators can focus on semantic content structure and simple information hierarchy. Engineers can focus on semantic code and correctly marked up labels and titles. Designers can focus on colour contrast and conveying information in ways other than colour.
On a holistic level, it's the organisation's responsibility to make sure that their teams are more diverse and inclusive, to ensure that there are multiple perspectives and voices at every discussion, particularly those voices that aren't often heard. I personally learned this while working at C4ID because it was one of the most diverse teams I ever worked in.
Many findings I had for different clients looked like technical and design debt from not considering all users from the beginning. The majority of my work involved sites and apps that were already launched. Imagine trying to make a whole digital product accessible, after already building 50 webpages with intricate forms and menus.
To prevent the whole retrospective-band-aid-fix approach, accessibility should be considered and evaluated frequently throughout several iterations in the development process. One client I had with the best results went through three rounds of auditing and testing!
In an ideal world, users living with various impairments should actively be included in generative and exploratory research to increase the diversity of insights brought to the table in initial discussions about a product or experience. Actively doing this leads to all sorts of inclusive innovation.
Prevent any technical and design debt by doing things semantically and properly. Bad shortcuts in crafting the skeleton of a page and designing will accumulate and create tedious access requirements for people who have to navigate through it.
A common example I can think of is headings. Many clients I consulted did not implement headings correctly resulting in confusing page structure for people who use screen readers.
Compliance will never replace doing usability testing with people with disability. Accessibility is not a black and white picture that can be reduced to a checkbox. It is always important to involve real people, and ensuring that you are covering a range of user groups who use different combinations of techniques and technologies to navigate the web.
This lesson is one that is still fully forming in my head as I continue growing in my career.
People who make technology and products are responsible for the way people interact with it, and its impact on the world. Every decision we make as researchers, designers, and developers affects real people. Now I always ask myself: when we build a product or service that benefits many people, what does it mean when we deprive some people of access to them? Why am I only considering people without disability?
During my time at Centre for Inclusive Design, I participated in a few side projects to learn from other teams and people abofut how to approach inclusivity in tech.