Accessibility Technology

CSUN 2014 Web Track Mega Post

As usual, I like to make a post that sums up my entire conference experience…I call this the “Mega Post.”  As you may have guessed from the titles of the sessions I attended, I’m interested in the web track.  If the web is your bag, you just might find all this helpful.



Friday, March 21


Thursday, March 20


Wednesday, March 19


Tuesday, March 18


Monday, March 17

Accessibility Technology

Oh, Canada? An Overview of Accessibility in the Great White North

This is my fourth session from the second day at the CSUN conference.  This description of this session from the event guide says that “When you combine developer attitudes with government legislation and online media, the results are uniquely Canadian perspectives on the state of digital accessibility.”  I wonder if this means that all their perspectives are extremely polite and amiable?  We shall see…oh wait, I just spied a picture of Justin Bieber in the slide deck.



Two perspectives:

  1. What’s happening in industry and broadcasting/publishing in general
  2. Legislative perspective


Legislative perspective in 2007/2008

We didn’t really have much.  At federal level, we had committed to WCAG1.0 until WCAG2.0 was adopted later.   The private sector’s timeline was a bit different, which Billy will talk about later.  Ontario largely led the charge, followed by Quebec in 2011.  Until recently, there wasn’t much happening that you’d hear about in the international media.

Patrick talked about the results of his 5 year media review (2009 – 2014) of about 15 major sites in Canada (including CTV, CBC, The Weather Network,, Toronto Star, etc.).  He reviewed top sites for accessibility on forms, multimedia, tables, structure, clear, focus.  2009 only 7.8% of all tests were satisfactory.


Billy talked about the development side of the equation.  In 2009, accessibility was mentioned, but rarely practiced.  WCAG2.0 was only recently published as a recommendation.  Developers were busy building carousels, modals, tabs, and other features that would grow to haunt them later.  The situation was bleak!


Denis then picked up and talked about his experience getting up-to-speed on legislation in 2009.  He contacted all of the provincial governments to find out what they were doing.  He asked the following 6 questions:

  1. Are there any specific web accessibility standards set for your country/province?  (Mostly no)
  2. Are these standards abased on existing W3C accessibility guidelines?  (Yes)
  3. What conformance level if any is expected for these standards?  (mostly level AA)
  4. Are there any implementation deadlines planned for compliance?  (Mostly no)
  5. Do these standards apply only to government web sites?  (Mostly government web sites)
  6. Are the standards enforced as mandatory policies or just as recommendations? (Mostly recommendations)

The responses allowed Denis to build a ranked grid of sites, with ratios of errors to pages.  This was interesting.  He also transcribed these ratios into a heat map of the actual map of Canada.  This was really interesting.


Patrick then took the mic to talk about the 2014 web sites assessment.  This time, 27% of all tests were satisfactory, based on the testing criteria.  The upshot is that ALL CRITERIA IMPROVED.  This is a big deal, but still a long way to go.  Patrick fielded a number of questions about the tests.  Denis answered a question regarding web accessibility for organizations that have a web presence in Ontario (those with a presence over 50 employees).


Billy then talked a little bit about today’s community.  Informal poll shows that accessibility is still overlooked by some agencies.  It’s not mentioned as a service, and is rarely mentioned in past work.  However, accessibility camp attendance is WAY up.  AODA is probably driving a lot of involvement.  Developer attitudes are very positive.  Meetup groups are gaining in popularity, and developers outside of the accessibility community are speaking about it.  Our camps and Meetups fill up immediately…and we have waiting lists!


Denis asked session attendees if they would share some ideas about what they think the future holds for web accessibility.  Elle Waters said that their company is seeing fewer requests from clients requesting assistance with compliance-related issues.   George talked about his concern that accessibility is still aimed at organizations and governments, not individuals.  A comment was made about the law in Canada not having too much wiggle room and “not enough teeth.”  Some municipalities are actually actively avoiding compliance with the law or putting it off.  In some cases, Canada is looking at litigation in the United States as actually being a good thing that can spur action.  Denis wrapped up by saying that our aging populations will likely be a driving force in adoption of and demand for accessibility.  By 2061, over 1/3 of the population will need accessibility.


Online Media Future

  • Room for improvement
  • Change is happening
  • awareness still needed
  • legislation is making an impact
  • improving development culture




Accessibility Technology

Building An Accessible California Online Voter Registration Web Application

This is my second session from the second day at the CSUN conference.  This session covers “”


  • Jennifer Bretschneider, Office of the CA Secretary of State
  • Chris Maio, Office of the CA Secretary of State
  • Cheryl Pruitt, CSU
  • Mark Turner, CSU
  • Susan Cullen, CSUN
  • Aminie Elsberry, Office of the Secretary of State
  • Lucia Greco


Cheryl described some of the collaborations between a number of different California government agencies.  They leverage


Lucia Greco talked about testing of the application by testers remotely across the state.  She then demonstrated the voter registration application itself, using a laptop with a screen reader.  The form follows best practices with respect to form controls.


A user in the audience commented that his group tried testing but found the form not completely satisfactory.  Lucy indicated that they found JAWS needs to be switched to beginner verbosity mode for it to work properly.  Jenny then addressed the comment, indicating that this was the very first project where they’ve had the CSU and community testing at the same time.  The communication itself was admittedly clunky and awkward at times.

Jenny then discussed converting the paper-based voter registration process into an automated online process.  The first version of the app was built with a federal grant and had a nine-month window to get the app done.  Over one million people applied using this app.  The second version of the app (which was demonstrated by Lucy) was built in consultation with the CSU.  Chris then talked a little bit about the cross-organizational team that built the app.


  • No more CAPTCHA
  • Eliminated a screen refresh issue
  • 19 pages reduced to jest 2 pages plus review
  • Added proper structure (headings, legends, labels)
  • Added ARIA and HTML5 tags
  • Grouped questions logically, rather than adhering to the printed form order
  • Added more help content (web site help and accessibility pages, 800 number in the footer of every page)
  • Made it easier to complete the form accurately (added more drop-downs, radio buttons and checkboxes).


Launch Dates

  • Voter info guide: Launching April 6
  • Election results:  June 2
  • Redesigned SOS web site – summer launch


Sue Cullen then talked about how they applied principles of Universal Design to Web Application Development.  UDC Evaluation Categories include the following:

  • Section 508 / WCAG2.0 / Common Sense
  • Alternative Descriptions, Multimedia, Structure, Comprehensive Visual Display, User Interface, Navigation


Mark Turner then talked about testing the PDF accessibility.  Defined accessibility standards as WCAG2.0.  They met with developers prior to document development.

Project Scope:  Two dynamically-generated documents provided to end-users

  • 1-page receipt (if DMV lookup is successful)
  • 3-page receipt plus registration (if DMV lookup is unsuccessful)


Evaluation Methods/Tools

  • Automated check using Adobe Acrobat XI, PDF Accessibility Checker
  • Manual review of content tags, and metadata
  • Assistive Technology (i.e. JAWS, Read Out Loud)
  • Summary reports to developers, including findings and recommendations


Lessons Learned

  • You must use multiple testing methods.
  • AT clarified what end-user experience would be
  • PDF generation libraries can’t automate accessible authoring
  • PDF remediation steps must consider the programming tool


Question:  how do you deal with forms that are “hemmed in” by legislation?  Some things you can change, but some you can’t.  We were able to do fairly simple things like change the order of a few things.  However, some language we simply cannot change.

Question:  can you increase the font size by 200% and have it still usable?  Yes.

Accessibility Technology

iOS vs. Android, a Web and Native Application Accessibility Comparison

This is my first session from the second day at the CSUN conference.  This session covers “a comparison of accessibility and WAI-ARIA support in Android and iOS.  Which ARIA features work in one, both, or neither of these mobile platforms.”  I met Paul at CSUN in 2013, and he’s both an enthusiastic and opinionated developer.  This makes his Twitter feed fun to watch at times 😉


  • Paul Adam, Accessibility Evangelist at Deque (@pauljadam)




Google has done a great job improving Android’s accessibility API, but is still a few years behind Apple.  Paul showed Apple’s UIKitFramework and some of the properties available when using XCode, including:

  • accessibilityViewIsModal()
  • accessibilityPerformMagicTap()
  • UIAccessibilityPostNotification()

Sending focus to items is much easier in native apps versus mobile web apps (web is not a nice controlled environment and still has a way to go).

Adding descriptions to images in Android:  androidcontentDescription

XCode allows you to add content descriptions via GUI or programatically.


WAI-ARIA Live Demos

There’s a WAI-ARIA attribute support matrix available from Paul’s presentation (see resources link above).  The matrix is not exhaustive, but let’s give Paul a break, eh?

ARIA is generally well-supported in current browsers.

Paul then opened up a web page made by Andrew Kirkpatrick that had some pictures with ARIA tags for people to test how different browsers handle the tags.

With Live Regions you can make the screen reader read entries on-the-fly.  However, you need to have a container painted on the page to receive updatable content.


Paul then demonstrated a couple simple forms with VoiceOver showing how aria-describedby, aria-required, aria-invalid and jQuery.focus().  Paul has an iOS WAI-ARIA “fail list” on his web site which is worth checking out:


Apple does not support HTML5 form validation, but Google does.   Using HTML5 form types are recognized, so context-appropriate keyboards are presented, i.e. numeric keypads in telephone fields, datepickers in date fields, etc.

All mobile browser default placeholders / control outlines fail contrast tests.


Paul then gave a demonstration of how captions work on both Android and iOS.  Interesting fact: in iOS, you can’t make an HTML5 button say whatever you want.


As a user, you probably want to use iOS.  As a developer, you probably want to play with Google.  I captured a few of the platform pros/cons Paul listed:

  • A big con for iOS developers:  Apple doesn’t do a very good job of documenting fixes to VoiceOver.
  • A con for Android users:  zoom level isn’t maintained between apps.
  • Facebook and Twitter are much more accessible on iOS


Q & A

Question:  what are the user stats for each platform…which gets used more?  Answer: iOS is far and away the most used, according to WebAIM’s screen reader survey.

Accessibility Technology

Scaling Web Accessibility at Facebook

This is my fourth session from the first day at the CSUN conference.  This session “…covers Facebook’s work over the past year to scale web/mobile accessibility across the company’s large engineering department.”  Description comes from the conference event guide.


  • Jeffrey Wieland
  • Ramya Sethuraman
  • George Zamfir (@good_wally)




BACKGROUND:  how to scale accessibility in a large engineering environment.

  • Complexity:  Each platform has different considerations
  • Awareness:  products need to know what do for accessibility
  • Speed:  need to integrate accessibility into the process



Accessibility team came into existence by recognizing that users were using AT to mediate their relationship with the product.  Jeffrey appealed to user interface engineering (UIE), which is the front-end team that builds all the core components of the product.  These components are similar to the design pattern library work that LinkedIn is doing.

Unfortunately, most Computer Science graduates do not have much exposure to accessibility.  So, accessibility has been integrated into the core training regimen at Facebook.  If it’s a part of the core training, then it sends a message to the developers that it’s important.

Testing matters, so we’ve invested in something called an “accessibility nub” which is essentially a flyout menu (built in-house) that allows developers to toggle looking for best practices.

Centralizing documentation and best practices has helped engineering review things “in-context.”  Contextual links to this resource have been embedded wherever needed.

These steps have give us the ability to “have more hands on deck” with respect to accessibility.  This has grow the number of developers working on accessibility fixes to over 80(!)

A number of ambassadors have been enlisted to help evangelize accessibility internally.  We also have channels by which we communicate with our users (see resources section above)



Ramya began her segment by describing the alt text issue she had posting a picture of her one year-old daughter trying yogurt for the first time (very cute!).

Caption generator:  takes bits of metadata about uploaded photos and auto-generates a caption for the user.  Ramya demonstrated how this sounds with VoiceOver, both before and after using the caption generator.  Addition of  metadata elements like location photo was taken was very effective!

Semantic Structure has been added via headings and landmarks.

The core components library contains controls like buttons, links, images, etc.  Accessibility is built directly into these components.  Dialogs now have keyboard enhancements, with appropriate labeling.  Focus cycles through dialogs.

Keyboard Shortcuts:

  • j/k keys are used for moving focus forward and backward, respectively.
  • “c” key is used to comment on a post
  • “s” key is used to share the post,
  • “o” key is used to open attachments like photos
  • “q” key to chat.

High contrast mode is also available now.

A lot of effort was put into making the desktop view accessible.



Quality Assurance:  all is done with scale in mind.  It all started with a spread sheet, and testing was done in an ad-hoc fashion by a very small accessibility team.  In order to scale it, it had to be spread to the entire team!

We now run standardized regression tests on a regular basis for each platform.  We also do user testing with people who have disabilities.

QA (test run) > ProdOps (triage & assignment) > Eng (improvements)

Where does the A11Y team fit into the above?  It fits in wherever it makes sense.  Across products & platforms, and runs on auto-pilot.

“If you build the product, accessibility is YOUR responsibility.” It’s just another form of code quality.



Mainstreaming accessibility is something that we want to pursue at all levels.  One of their front-end engineers was working on the web messenger product, and when asked if he’d tested with a screen reader, his response was “what’s a screen reader?”  This is not his fault, because he was not exposed to accessibility during his education.  So, Facebook is now partnering with PayPal, Stanford engineering to get students to think about accessibility.  This will help to build awareness.



Question:  how much of the data associated with the photo example presented earlier is auto-generated versus user-supplied?  Answer:  it has be user-entered content.

Question:  how are you testing for high-contrast mode?  Answer:  well, it’s complicated…(I didn’t catch all of the answer).

Question:  are the testing links you talked about generalizable for use by public testers?  Answer:  not really, but we’re working on it.

Question:  how do you track focus when using keyboard shortcuts?  Answer:  we return the currently active element.

Question:  have you been able to document whether or how the accessibility features have been implemented?  This is a big challenge, quantifying the impact your work has made.  We’re doing a lot around measurement, which helps improve where we focus our efforts.  We do read all of the feedback we receive, both positive and negative…please be candid with us!

Question:  where does the role of the engineer start and end?  Where does design fit in…how do you get accessibility baked in?  Answer:  we’re still defining how this works Facebook.  Some things engineers should absolutely be involved with, notably focus and readback.  Things get trickier when building more dynamic and collaborative tools.  George indicated that their designers were ready to roll straight into implementation and pretty much ate up everything he gave them.

Question:  do you need to activate keyboard shortcuts somewhere in the user preferences?  Answer:  no!

Comment:  I wanted to mention that I submitted a JavaScript-related accessibility bug recently and got a response THE SAME DAY.   Very great high-touch service (this got some applause).


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