The complexities of emerging technology, merging with the landscape of the legal realm has brought the shortfalls of digital accessibility to the forefront of the modern developer and designers minds. But in practice, as we boil the user away from our designs, we run in to the brutal reality of businesses. How will this affect my product? How is this going to move my company’s needle forward? What can I do?
Accessibility can often feel vague in conception and unclear on impact. So let’s get into it – how can we be impactful, profitable, and accessible while still pushing the boundaries of cutting edge design and technology?
In order to answer that question, we must acknowledge as authors/creators/architects of interactions on the web, that we are greater than the sum of our parts. In an attempt to practice what we preach, we wanted to take a moment and share with you the resources we regularly reference when trying to come up with unique solutions to our common accessibility hurdles. We also wanted to share updates from the legal realm to help you stay up to date on the current court cases currently in litigation for web focused accessibility compliance. These legal landscape shifts tell us not only what pitfalls to avoid, but which direction that judges in the future might lean towards when it comes to how site design truly affects user accessibility, rather than just black and white decisions of if things are compliant or not.
Let’s start with the compliance basics:
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Section 508 (of the Rehabilitation Act)
- Comparison Table of WCAG 2.0 to 508 Standards
Court cases shaping the space:
The dam is no longer just cracking and slowly letting water out folks – the floodgates are open. With well over 5000 cases in 2018 targeting digital properties that violated standards set forth by the ADA, it’s safe to say a plateau is nowhere in sight. Since (at risk of sounding cliché…), “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”, below I’ll highlight some cases that we’ve found particularly interesting due to their unique application to the web space:
National Federation of the Blind (NFB) v. Target
Conor v. Parkwood (Beyonce case)
Robles v. Dominos Pizza, LLC.
- Appeal Documents for Ninth Circuit Court
- Breakdown of Lawsuit / Opinion
- Check Here for Ongoing Updates
Department of Transportation (DoT) v. Scandinavian Airline System (SAS)
Although these are the more mainstream cases, it would very much be in your best interest to find a regularly updated news medium/blog written by experts that analyze the legislation at the state level. Since new federal regulations dictating accessibility compliance as it relates to the web aren’t going to be coming anytime soon, the state level is where you should look for trends starting to form, legal precedent moving the space in certain directions, which types of accessibility issues seem to take harder hits than others, etc.
Now this is a tricky one – the generally accepted reliability rating for most automated tools sits at around 30-40% accuracy. Automated tools like the ones listed below are great for catching some of the more big ticket items – skipped headings, missing form labels, missing alternative text on images, etc. – however be extremely weary of false positives while using these tools to audit your site. As an example, the tool could potentially tell you there is alternative text present for an image on a site, but will not be able to tell you the relevancy/accuracy of that alternative text – “toddler wearing red vest playing in the sandbox at a park” vs. “Alt2 href lang HTML” (Learn from Target’s mistakes).
AXE by Deque
The case for AXE: The largest benefit you’ll get from AXE is the ability to view the various accessibility errors through your browsers native Inspector. This makes it extremely easy to use the built in “highlight error” feature where you can navigate through each error on the page, which is then highlighted on the page, and simultaneously in the code located conveniently in the inspector. Axe is an all-around stable and reliable tool to start standardizing some of your high level audit processes project-wide. Please do remember these tools can only check one page at a time, and the Pass/Fail/Warnings you’re seeing in the results panel are specific only to the page you ran the scan on.
Wave by WebAIM
The case for WAVE: Wave is a bit more lightweight than AXE, portraying the results in a way that’s a bit easier to digest if you’re not as familiar with the Inspector feature in your browser (however this does come with a bit of sacrifice as far as detail on where specifically the issue is occurring on the page). In various tests, WAVE and AXE tend to get almost identical results when scanning a page, but some discrepancies might occur. One big plus about WAVE, is that it provides you with an extremely intuitive tool to check contrast ratios for various elements of the site. A bit of familiarity with your inspectors eye-dropper tool to pin-point specific colors on a page, makes WAVE an extremely powerful tool for analyzing a pages design compliance. Lastly – to echo the sentiment above from AXE – please do remember these tools can only check one page at a time, and the Pass/Fail/Warnings you’re seeing in the results panel are specific only to the page you ran the scan on.
The case for your Keyboard: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it 508 more times – there are few tools more powerful in your arsenal than your keyboard when it comes to auditing how accessible a site is. Whether it’s a quick check while you’re in the room with a client, or for your own baseline findings investigation, navigating through a site with your keyboard is a great indication of the level of effort a site has put into being accessible. A quick three-step test you can do with your keyboard is as follows:
- Using the TAB key, can I successfully navigate from the top of the page down to the bottom (and more importantly does the tabbing order make sense)?
a) Is there a FOCUS state associated with each element while navigating?
- Can I activate buttons and links on the page by using the ENTER or SPACE key?
- Does using the ESC key close an open dialog box/modal that is currently activated?
a) Upon closing the dialog box/modal, does your focus state return to the element that opened the dialog box/modal?
To reiterate, these tools are great when it comes to high level audits on specific pages. However if you’re serious about ensuring your site is accessible for users with disabilities, consult an expert to assess the damage and come up with a plan of attack to keep you in compliance even after the dust has settled.
One of the more touchy issues when it comes to auditing a site for accessibility is how to handle sites that house vast resource libraries for their userbase. Discussing PDF remediation is often a tricky conversation, leading to more complex issues from a strategy standpoint to figure out as a Project Manager / product partner of any sort. Frankly, these usually lead to some tough conversations where you have to decide whether remediation of current documents is the best move (generally acceptable when PDF’s or any documents range between a quantity of 1-50, but judged case by case), or complete redesign/recreation is the better move (50 documents or above, but also case by case). Like all things from a project perspective, it’s much better to do things right the first time around, rather than dig yourself into a hole that will be costly to remediate down the line. Below are some resources to set you up for success when publishing PDF’s on your site:
Assorted Great Reads:
Like most issues we come across while site-building, there’s often countless approaches to solve the same problem. In an attempt to save you a bit of “Google’ing” time, I’ll share some links below that have helped us solve some more specific issues for our clients, as well as some great thoughts from experts in the field that are helping to drive extraordinary and positive change for the users with disabilities community in the digital realm:
- Neurodiversity and the Digital Divide
- How My Brain-Damaged Mother Changed How I Look at Interface Design
- Microsoft Patent Imagines an Xbox Controller Customized for Gamers with Visual Impairment
- How the iPhone Helped a Blind Person See Color
- Google is Adding Wheelchair-Accessible Routes to Maps
- Instagram Adds New Features for Users with Visual Impairment
- Presentation from Law Office of Lainey Feingold at CSUN on Accessibility
- eLearning Accessibility: Best Practices, Tips, and Tricks
- Showcase for AriadneGPS – Map app for mobility resources
- ADA compliant map for the blind
- Sim Daltonism – App with a filter to simulate viewpoint of certain types of color-blindness
- S. Design System – Everything you need to design a 508 compliant site
- Designing for Accessibility is Not That Hard
- 508 Accessible Videos – How to Make Audio Descriptions
- Why the U.S. Government Just Made Its Own Font
For a more in depth analysis on some of the items outlined above, head on over to our previous blog where we further dissect the 3 major compliance standards, various court cases, and more – The QA Chronicles: What You Need to Know About Online Accessibility.