Accessibility Technology

AccessU at CSUN 2014



Sharron Rush kicked off the event:  This is the second time we’ve brought AccessU to CSUN, we want to bring the excitement and education of our normal three-day event to you here.  We want to bring very specific and useful tools you can use.  We’ve broken this event into three tracks:   advocacy and usability (Sharron), responsive design (Derek), IT/program & project management (Elle).  Attendees are welcome to move between the three tracks as they like.

Elle:  We want to encourage collaboration and sharing of your experiences.  This is a participation sport!  There will be team exercises and things to work on together.  If there are topics you REALLY want to talk about, feel free to contribute to the conversation.

Derek:  as Elle said, we really do encourage collaboration.  Derek then reviewed housekeeping tasks and the day’s schedule; the schedule is at a web site the presenters set up here:  Copies and transcriptions of the question boards posted at the back of the room will be posted to the web site later on.

Just so you understand the rest of this post, you should know that I opted to follow the track Elle ran because a) her past presentations have been extremely coherent, useful, and focused on product management – which is something I care about – and b) I’m a bit of a fanboy.  Onward!


FIRST DEEP DIVE:  9:30 – 10:30 AM

SLIDE:  Key Points

  • Accessibility should pay for itself
  • Building the business case for accessibility is about relationships and trust
  • Building the business case for accessibility is also about being a change agent

Innovation and accessibility are closely related


SLIDE:  Discussion:  Biggest Challenges

  • What are the primary road blocks that you’ve experienced in your organization when trying to build the business case for accessibility?
  • Which departments or roles pose the greatest challenge to your success?
  • What one action could you take next to move this forward?

Comment:  executive buy-in is often a problem.  Lack of prioritization often means that accessibility gets lost in translation.


SLIDE:  How does Accessibility…

  1. Align with your company’s vision?
  2. Align with your company’s business goals?
  3. Position itself as a solution for other teams’ challenges?
  4. Align with your company’s methodologies?
  5. Support your company’s specific user groups?

Answering these five questions will help you orient yourself when discussing accessibility with everyone in your organization.  In many ways, you should be the expert in your organization about organizational objectives and processes.  This will buy you the credibility you need when having those key conversations.


SLIDE:  Team exercise:  company profile

At this point, Elle and Sharron’s groups were together.  We broke up into our constituent groups after going through the bullets below.  After that, “Elle’s group” worked on building a company profile.

  1. Organization type and size (government agency, non-profit, publicly traded corporation)
  2. Who are you?  What do you do?  What’s your company’s passion?
  3. Over-arching business philosophies (eg, Kaizen, Mobile First, Six Sigma, UCD-User Centered Design, ISO9000)
  4. Is there a single project that your whole company is focused on right now or in the near future?

It’s important for you to have as much information as possible about your company’s goals and the people you’re going to be talking to about accessibility.  Here are some key questions you should ask before getting started:

  • Do you have existing development standards at your company?  Can you point your web developers to a document that explains how to build – for example – a form?
  • Do you have a design pattern library?
  • Do you have an accessibility statement?  This is really helpful from a policy perspective.
  • How “established” is your organization’s digital governance?  Is it well-organized?
  • Describe your SDLC.  Does what you say you do bear any resemblance with what you actually do (the quote “we’re a fragile shop” drew a lot of laughs).
  • Get to know your users!  Do it with personas, channels, target markets, etc.  Does your company have regular contact with it’s customers?  What is the typical workflow for people to get their voice heard.
  • What is your organization’s background with accessibility?
  • Has your organization faced any legal action with accessibility?  Sometimes these conversations start based on legal action.

One of the attendees talked about the H&R Block lawsuit that was recently settled.  It entailed relatively minor punitive damages ($133K), but resulted in the institution of major changes in the company’s internal processes.  This included creation of a Chief Accessibility Officer, regular audits, and more.  It’s much better to be pro-active than be forced to do something as the result of legal action.  This has other negative results too, i.e. a tarnished brand image.

Another attendee wanted to talk more about building accessibility into project budgeting.  We did later on when talking about procurement…

What do you do to prevent legal Action?  Having a documented organizational intent with a policy, milestones, and a feedback mechanism often helps to prevent lawsuits.  Lainey Feingold has a great session on this topic later this week, which everyone should attend.

Especially important after talking about legal action:  don’t forget that this effort is about the users!

The Prioritization Matrix (the break out activity)

  • Y-Axis:  Level of Visibility (who could see this web site)
  • X-Axis Regulatory / Legal oversight
  • These axes results in four quadrants, which help you as an accessibility professional target the items that need the most attention in your organization.

As mentioned above, when building the prioritization matrix, you really do have to be more well-versed in organizational priorities than just about everyone else.  When you meet with the people you need to evangelize to, you should probably focus on those items that fit into the top right quadrant (high priority, high regulatory / legal oversight).

I built a matrix with a group of four higher education folks.  Here were the groups:

Government team:  everything is driven by some form of a regulatory requirement.  Some of the regulatory requirements are competing.  Agency home pages are highest priority.

For-profits:  we’re in all four quadrants.  For highly visible public sites where there’s no login or transactions, inaccessible sites will be passed over by our customers.  Internal customer sites are low visibility, but high oversight (i.e. – job postings).  Internal tools used by specific users are generally low visibility/low regulatory and legal oversight.

Higher Ed:  we’re closer to the government model, with a lot of items in the top-right quadrant.  Systems that are required include student information and HR systems, course management tools, and so on.  Items that fit into static web sites often include marketing content that may have high visibility but not a lot of regulatory oversight, i.e. campus tours, about us pages, etc.

Laying your company’s profile over this matrix will help you build your strategy and communicate your message to all stakeholders.

Build your “campaign speech” and include it in every meeting about accessibility you put on, i.e. roadshows, brown bag lunches.  Senior executives should NOT hear this evangelist language from you first, they should hear it from their close colleagues.  Share your wins and share the credit…this will help keep the momentum going.

Question to Elle from the group:  How to you make the roadshow sexy?  While this gets people’s attention, it may not be the very best thing to say…but historically, there are three things that drive online innovation:  gaming, pornography, and accessibility 🙂  It also helps to be a high energy person.  Hackathons help a lot by driving developer excitement.

The Five Ps:

  1. Planning
  2. Policy
  3. Procurement
  4. Process
  5. Professional Development


SLIDE:  Procurement & Compliance

“Cabbages and Oak Trees:”  what are we going to be when we grow up?  You need quick wins with fast turnaround times…but you also need to build something that’s lasting.  You need governance and metrics to be a part of the scaffolding, and you also need to consider whether your organization will fall under ADA Section 3, CVAA, and Section 508.

Process and integration of accessibility is cyclical.  That said, you need to be at the source, at the very beginning…BEFORE the project gets into the kickoff phase.  In other words, be a part of the procurement process!  “Procurement is the ingredients, and implementation is the cake you bake.”  Customers measure the cake, not the quality of the eggs.

Procurement toolkit:

  • Define standards – what are you obligated to meet?  Be comprehensive but not redundant.  Incorporate explicit advice for how you deal with specific things like UX and code standards.
  • Develop a public policy –  key features:  statement should be aligned with your brand promise.  Show the steps you’ve taken and the progress you’ve made.  Show an example of the accessibility features on your web site.  Be sure you have a feedback mechanism with someone minding the store…there’s no point in have a contact e-mail if nobody ever reads or responds to it.
  • Map out your objectives!  Align your initiatives with specific dates.
  • Take an inventory of your vendors.  The main difference between platforms and services is that a platform can snake it’s way into every crevice of your organization, so it’s important to get it right!

Pre-lunch questions:  how many services does your organization use?  For most large organizations, it’s probably in the hundreds.


AFTERNOON:  The Gist of What You Missed, 1:30 – 2:30 PM

Each group leader reviewed what their group talked about during their respective morning sessions.

Sharron:  We are all about the people that we serve,  and that includes both the people with and without disabilities in our organizations.  We define accessibility with respect to people, not standards.  In that vein, we use these concepts:  Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust.  Our group had representatives from government, corporations, and higher education.  We start our process by enlisting executive sponsors, internal and external stakeholders, launch a usability test.  When then talked about the process parts and implementation of a “game plan” over a “roadmap.”  Why do we call it a game plan and not a roadmap?  Because a game plan is more fluid/cyclical and a roadmap is linear.  We then thought through the players we need to involve in our game plan, and how to coach them to work to the best of their ability.  How do we cross-train them if necessary?   We did a quick look at EasyChecks as well.  W3C’s Education and Outreach Working Group is also working on a series of tutorials which will be rolled out over the next six months or so.


Elle:  We talked about building the business case, and then we split out into our “building the business case” groups.  Bold statement:  accessibility should pay for itself, because it builds so many benefits for your company.  It’s also about building relationships of trust.  It’s about being a change agent within your organization.  We talked about developing a company profile risk matrix so that you can map your organization’s risk profile to it.  You then have to be strategic and target those tasks that will have the biggest impact.  Once you have these elements, you take your show on the road and take every opportunity you have to communicate your message.  We also talked about the pillars of accessibility, the 5 Ps:  Planning, Policy, Procurement, Process, Professional Development.  We talked about developing a policy page that articulates your organization’s plan, your roadmap, and a place to highlight your “wins” so visitors can see what you’ve done.  Also be sure to have a mechanism in place that allows visitors to provide feedback, and then actively monitor it!  We finally talked about procurement as a key part of the process that you should bake your accessibility concerns into.


Derek:   two philosophies of responsive design.  One is the “old method” of fixed width, the other “new method” is building for resolution ranges.   Responsive design allows you to provide your customer with more than one way to accomplish a task.  Mobile devices use gestures that may have different meanings depending on the operational mode, i.e. a swipe down means something different when accessibility features are turned on.  Historically, designers have looked at design problems in a very constrained way.  We spent some time looking at mobile devices and how they work with accessible technology turned on.  We showed how the rotor control works on iOS.  We also reviewed a few key concepts, most notably how a change in layout / display may require a change in interaction, role (markup), source order, alt text, state or other property.  A good practical example of this would be a mega-menu.



Back with Elle again…

Procurement as a priority – how do you make it successful?

You can’t sit in on every single conversation where accessibility might be mentioned.  You’re best off getting your language into the boilerplate documentation used by your organization in their day-to-day business.  An example of this would be RFP & RFQ documents.  BUT…how do you make sure that the vendors you’re talking to fully understand what you need from their products with respect to accessibility?

  1. Boilerplate language needs to be in your documents
  2. Vendors need to demonstrate tool accessibility via testing, or a VPAT
  3. Have live discussions with your vendors; use open-ended questions i.e. “please describe your understanding of and commitment to open web standards and progressive enhancement” or “describe what POUR means to you” or “please describe your testing process with individuals, machines, etc.” “who will pay for accessibility deficiency fixes after purchase?”

Question to Elle from an attendee:  is there a list of vendors who are invested in making their products accessible?  Not exactly, but there are a number of vendors that do have excellent reputations.  Loop 11 is a good vendor for doing remote user testing.


Design Pattern Library

Standardization of designs wherever possible is extremely important for providing contextual meaning.  Yelp is one company that has published their design patterns and is worth looking at.  LinkedIn has an interesting way of dealing with developing design pattern standards:  they have a sort of “lab space” where things are being tested but vetted by their accessibility team.  Having a versioning system (SVN, github, mercurial) is important as well.


Role-Based Responsibility Requirements

Take all the roles in your organization that have contact with digital content and make a matrix of what their responsibilities are, and how their roles influence the organization’s response to accessibility.  Accessibility teams that operate as a stand-alone entity generally aren’t as effective.


Distributed Responsibility:  Long-Term Growth

(this description is a transcription of a graphical slide, so the translation may not make sense…my apologies)  Project Management Links directly to Accessibility, while accessibility itself is split between the following tasks:

  • Analysis
  • Architecture
  • Interaction design
  • Content Strategy
  • Graphic Design
  • Prototyping
  • Development
  • Quality Control

We broke up into five groups, each taking on a particular HTML control type.  My group took on the slider control.  We spent our time talking about the specific requirements that would be required to ensure the control is accessible, and who would be responsible for handling each slice of the responsibility pie.  We ended up having ten different roles (i.e. business analyst, marketing, content people, developers, designers, interaction designers, testers, UX researchers, and product managers) to handle each item.

Resources including slide decks, photos, resource links, transcriptions of items written on the easels, etc. will be available at sateach.ex/csun

I hope you find this – the first of many posts – helpful.

By Paul Schantz

CSUN Director of Web & Technology Services, Student Affairs. husband, father, gamer, part time aviator, fitness enthusiast, Apple fan, and iguana wrangler.

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