Accessibility Technology

Be the Fireman, Not the Cop

John Foliot @johnfoliot /

Laying the groundwork for online accessibility success in a large environment. ¬†Boy, this is something I can relate to ūüôā

QUOTABLE QUOTE: ¬†“Close only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades. ¬†Perhaps web accessibility compliance should be added to that old saw.”


  • Lack of accessibility planning / pre-planning
  • Stakeholders already on the defensive
  • Tight deadlines
  • How much does it cost? ¬†No budget allotted
  • Content being developed for the web was never designed with web accessibility in mind
  • Sum Total = Resistance


How does it manifest? ¬†Confrontation, rejection (doesn’t apply to my content), avoidance, insincerity.


Takes a cultural shift, and requires good communication and communicators. ¬†He read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. ¬†From this, he¬†realized that you need to find the “Connectors.” ¬†They know everyone, have done everything, and have the institutional knowledge. ¬†Also need to identify the “Mavens,” who in our case are the hard-core geeks who do the implementation; they’re the early adopters. ¬†Also need “Salesmen” as well, provide boosters, promoters, persuader, helper (enthusiasm).

COMMUNICATION SKILLS (directly from slide)

  • Be likable, and stay positive
  • Connect – find mutual points of interest (be sincere)
  • Solve problems and build trust. ¬†Teamwork starts with you.
  • Create positive experiences and make learning fun! (i.e. – things are challenges, not problems)
  • ID and work with the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen
  • Tackling technical challenges, such as using a publishing and tracking system like Drupal, CQ5, etc.
  • Select a tool to track bugs like Bugzilla, Mantis, Trak
  • Use frameworks like jQuery and Dojo
  • Consider custom tools (when necessary). ¬†Example given was Stanford’s caption tool.
  • Look for ways to automate processes to make user’s lives easier
  • Evaluation tools (Deque Worldspace, SSB BartAMP, IBM Rational Checker, WAVE). ¬†The reports these tools are kind of like a report card.
  • Provide detailed expectations of outcomes, not process (don’t tell them HOW it’s going to be done).
  • Set realistic goals
  • Encourage creativity (your users will have some great ideas)
  • Lay out the efforts as challenges, not consequences (tell an engineer you can’t figure out a problem and then walk away)
  • Pursuit of quality: ¬†don’t let perfect be the enemy of good
  • Set timelines and milestones
  • Celebrate successes!
  • Foster empathy and understanding (brown bag events – invite actual users with disabilities)
  • It will cost money (you can pay me now, or you can pay me later. ¬†Eventually, you have to pay me)
  • Be honest about what it’ll take
  • Scaled question – the longer you delay, the more it costs
  • Transition towards a team based approach (PM, tech team, Design and UX, Marketing / Content Department
  • Identify bottlenecks for each group independently
  • Establish training and internal resources
  • Motivation (internal awards, recognition, etc.
  • Document knowledge internally with a wiki or Knowledge Base
  • Be consistent in your implementation
  • Accessibility is a governance issue and a shared responsibility
  • Appeal to pride versus fear (your efforts matter and reflect well on the institution, we’re the best, that sort of thing). ¬†Audience members commented on tying accessibility to something that matters to the organization. ¬†An example of this might be brand.
  • Get some policies in place: ¬†work with existing standards; avoid re-inventing the wheel. ¬†Again, there is no such thing as perfect.
  • Legal threat is heavy-handed and should only be used as a last resort
  • There was some discussion regarding the involvement of lawyers. ¬†My own¬†commentary (not voiced) is that people only hate the lawyers because they make the rules and know ’em well.
  • Avoid the checklist mentality
  • Avoid appearances of concessions and sacrifices
  • Avoid the brick! ¬†(Giant report)
  • More than just a QA process, multiple rounds of accessibility testing
  • Work with milestones, test early, test often
  • Be specific in what you ask for, generous in what you accept
  • Celebrate successes and recognize efforts great and small (this does matter)


Accessibility Technology

Creating an Accessibility Community


  • Jennison Asuncion @Jennison
  • Bob Bosken @bbosken
  • John Croston @jfc3
  • Char James-Tanny @CharJTF
  • Kathy Wahlbin @wahlbin

CHAR: ¬†talked a bit about the Boston Accessibility Group. ¬†Creating a community is a lot of voluntary work, so balance and “me time” is important. ¬†Need a team to help out with normal day-to-day operations like updating web site, ordering pizzas, getting guest speakers, etc.

KATHY: ¬†having consistency in when and where meetings occur is important to developing a routine that member / volunteers can get into. ¬†We do monthly meetings on a day that varies, with time constant from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm. ¬†Restaurants tend to be pretty hard, because they’re often very NOISY. ¬†Microsoft “Nerd Center” offers free space, it’s centrally located and next to metro stop and other public transportation. ¬†Our topics tend to vary; ask the group for topics and bring in speakers. ¬†Provide hand-on sessions for key topics such as mobile.

Advertising is important! ¬†Some of the things we’ve done: ¬†Meetup, Nerd Center, Social Media, LinkedIn, collaboration with other groups, and referrals.

JENNISON:  power of meetup are keywords (usability, mobile web, etc) are powerful way to generate interest.

BOB: ¬†we started a Meetup group in February, leveraged an existing network of his and his wife’s (an employee of Nationwide Insurance) in Ohio. ¬†“Any warm body I can get in the room” is a goal. ¬†Used EventBrite to send out notifications. ¬†FB and Twitter generally didn’t generate a lot of local interest; it does lend legitimacy to the event though because it gives people a place to go. ¬†Never underestimate the power of food and refreshments. ¬†Everyone is welcome and has something of value to share…giving a platform to people to share ideas and talk about what they’re doing is a great thing. ¬†We were able to do this on a two-week notice, but providing at least a month is much better to ensure attendance.

JENNISON: ¬†We do this in Toronto area. ¬†We¬†use Twitter and encourage everyone to USE DEM HASHTAGS! ¬†(in particular #a11y). ¬†Hashtags often represent communities, so we’ll use hashtags like #webdevelopment, #webdesign, and so on. ¬†This often results in people accidentally stumbling onto your group…this is a good thing. ¬†LinkedIn is synonymous with “your professional presence online.” ¬†LinkedIn groups provide a good way to have longer focused discussions. ¬†We alternate locations each month, one at a design firm, the other is a networking event held in a restaurant. ¬†We have over 200 members, many of whom are students in CS and usability majors.

Build community where you are. ¬†Be visible in as much as the “mainstream stuff” as you can.

I’m involved in the WAI engage group, which is trying to get design / development community engaged with the WAI.

There’s a danger in using social media: ¬†these people tend to be advanced users and geeks. ¬†Don’t forget the other means of communications: list serves, forums and discussion groups, face-to-face meetings, etc. ¬†We need to go to where the high-tech and mainstream communities live; cross-promote wherever possible. ¬†DON’T SCARE OFF PEOPLE WHO WANT TO GET INVOLVED BY BEING OVERLY CRITICAL.

JOHN: ¬†attends WordPress meetups. ¬†Asks people who attend his meetups “what other groups are you involved with?” ¬†He talked briefly about a group he’s been involved with called “DC Night Owls.” ¬†He often provides practical advice about how to do things like make a web form accessible. ¬†Jennison gave a talk at one about how he buys tickets on AirCanada; once had folks give demos of JAWS and Dragon (in the same room, << gasp >>); how to improve WordPress.

Organize annual events!  Have a team to share the work, have flexible dates until the location is confirmed, work on publicity, have a theme, what structure will the event take (full unconference, partial unconference, no unconference).  JENNISON mentioned that his primary audiences are locals and beginners.

CHAR and KATHY on unconferences: ¬†it’s very important to have specific topics. ¬†This helps generate commitment to attend among your people. ¬†Some mechanisms to generate topics:

  • Create a Wiki
  • Use a poll
  • “Winging it” works sometimes
  • Have a misc theme, just in case your primary topics don’t resonate with some

Sometimes it helps to institute a small charge to ensure attendance, think about dietary considerations, but don’t overdo the food angle (can be over thought). ¬†For food, leverage your team, it’s often the forte of someone already on the team.