In May, we celebrated Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) at SAS with A11yRTP. (A11yRTP is the local accessibility meetup and if you’re not currently a member, we encourage you to join!) We kicked off the event with opening remarks, two great speakers, and a hand-ons lab for attendees to try simulations of impairments and assistive technology (AT). This recap includes a comprehensive list of accessibility resources.
When most hear about “accessibility” they’re not sure what it means exactly or it sounds complicated master or implement. Ed Summers from SAS and co-organizer of the A11yRTP meetup gave some opening remarks of why accessibility is important. He said think of it as an “absence of barriers” - with that individuals can get an education, diplomas, and jobs and maintain dignity and independence.
It’s not so much about checking off boxes to pass a standard, but it’s more about providing the same opportunities for everyone. Ed referenced the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Preamble, which also gives a good overview on the foundations of accessibility.
Accessibility in Today’s World
We had the pleasure of hosting two speakers for the event. Ryan Benson, the Lead Technical Subject Matter Expert for Section 508 and the Center for Disease Control and Liani Yirka, Accessibility and Inclusion Coordinator at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Ryan provided an overview of different aspects of accessibility and some introductory tips that we can all consider when designing websites or software. As part of his job, he consults colleagues on the accessibility of sites and software. He mentioned that it’s always best to proactively consult with accessibility experts early on in the process to avoid having costly and last-minute changes at the end.
Liani Yirka is the Accessibility & Inclusion Coordinator at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. It’s her job to ensure an equal visitor experience for all audiences. As most of us are UX designers in the digital realm, it was fascinating to hear what it’s like to consider accessibility from a museum’s perspective.
After our speakers, we had hands-on lab time that included several activity stations, where people could simulate different impairments (e.g., blindness, mobility issues) and try out assistive technology (screen readers, wheelchairs). The idea behind the lab was to gain empathy and understanding through first-hand experience.
Some of our stations included:
- Vision impairments - low vision, color blindness, no vision; how to use a cane to navigate your physical surrounding
- Screen readers - how people with vision impairments can navigate the web and apps
- Accessibility checkers - how these are used to check your site to for accessibility
- Motor skill impairments - simulation of low dexterity and tools you can use to navigate the web and apps
- Mobility - using a wheelchair to get around
It was a lot of fun trying the simulations, the tools used to assist people, and the tools which help test for accessibility.
As UX professionals, you can help design inclusively. By making your site or product accessible, you’re making it easier for everyone to use - including those who don’t rely on assistive technology.
To help everyone learn more about accessibility and the tools out there that can be used, we’ve compiled a huge list of resources. We recommend starting small and trying a tool from each section at a time or it can be overwhelming.
Why accessibility matters
General accessibility information
General accessibility checkers
Standards and laws
WCAG also has two companion standards:
People’s visual disabilities often fall into two categories. People who have low vision mainly (or at least often) use their eyes to interact with technology. People with no (functional) vision mainly use their ears and hands to interact with technology. People with no (functional) vision use screen readers.
Some common eye diseases/conditions include:
Screen readers are used by people with little to no functional vision. Screen readers let you use a computer, phone or tablet with your hands and ears, rather than with your eyes. They announce on-screen content and provide special ways of interacting with a device.
JAWS (Windows) - there’s a free trial
NVDA (Windows) - it’s free!
VoiceOver (Mac) - To get started with VoiceOver on Mac OS X, go to System Preferences > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Open VoiceOver Training, and go through the training exercises.
People with low vision sometimes use screen magnifiers to make content on screen easier to see.
Tools for simulating or checking
Some individuals might not have the ability to use a mouse and have to navigate with a keyboard. Some examples include those with temporary conditions (e.g., broken hand), those with arthritis, and those who are paralyzed. Keyboard shortcuts are also great for power users of your product or site.
Navigating web browsers
Using mobile devices
Some individuals might be fully hearing impaired or only have partial hearing. This can be permanent or temporary (e.g., ear infection, can’t hear the TV at a sports bar). In this case, videos and sound files can be transcribed.
Writing for Accessibility
Organizing Your Accessibility Work
At SAS we organize our accessibility work into five categories: Mobility, Low Vision, No (functional) Vision, Hearing / Multimedia, and Cognitive / other. These categories help us stay focused on the needs of users with a wide range of abilities during the agile development process.
Mobility – covers the needs of people with motor impairments that prevent them from using a mouse or touch interface.
No (functional) Vision – relates to vision impairments that prevent a person from using their eyes to interact with a computer or mobile device. People without functional vision use screen readers such as JAWS or VoiceOver.
Low vision – involves vision impairments that reduce a person’s ability to see clearly, distinguish colors, and so on. This category covers people who primarily use their eyes with a computer or mobile device, and who may need features like high contrast, zoom, etc.
Cognitive and other – relates to impairments that reduce a person’s: memory; problem-solving; attention, reading, or verbal comprehension; math comprehension; or visual comprehension (WebAIM). This category also includes considerations for people with photosensitive epilepsy.
Multimedia – covers auditory and visual impairments in relation to audio and video content. Note that multimedia content is typically created by a different group of people and processes outside of our R&D organization.
We break down the 39 success criteria we use during accessibility testing -- the 38 WCAG 2.0 level AA criteria plus one, 1.4.6 Contrast Enhanced, from level AAA -- using these five categories as well. The paper Accessibility and SAS® Visual Analytics Viewers: Which Report Viewer is Best for Your Users' Needs? is an example of a project where we used these five categories as a framework to organize our work.
Thanks to the volunteers from SAS, the Governor Moorehead School, and Duke Web Services for helping at the activity stations and making this event a success. Thanks to SAS for the event space and special thanks to Donna Faircloth for coordinating and Jesse Snooke for coordinating and helping with the list of resources.
We’re looking forward to next year’s GAAD!