At JRNI, we’re fully committed to delivering an inclusive platform that considers the needs of all users. Accessibility is not an afterthought, but a core part of our development process that is considered from ideation through to delivery.
How do we make sure we get this done? By following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), version 2.1 AA. WCAG 2.1 covers a wide range of recommendations for making content more accessible to a wider range of people, including those with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. To learn more about how JRNI incorporates WCAG 2.1 into our product, check out our datasheet.
JRNI is regularly tested by a third-party company, QualityLogic, to ensure that we’re adhering to WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines, and we sat down with two of their team members to have a chat about accessibility with the experts.
Clyde Valentine is a Client Engagement Lead at QualityLogic. He helps prospective clients understand how the company's services can help meet their needs as well onboard them with the QualityLogic team.
Paul Morris is the QA Engineering Manager and Test Lab Manager for QualityLogic. He is responsible for the quality assurance professionals and processes at the company’s Boise operation. Paul also developed and now leads QualityLogic’s accessibility testing program. He happens to be blind.
Why do you think accessibility is an important topic that all companies should consider?
Paul: Two reasons come immediately to mind. The first is the basic concept of compliance. There is increasing legal pressure to make digital assets accessible and compliant with WCAG standards. The second reason is based around the human element. Assistive technology allows many people to participate in the digital arena with a high level of competence and skill. In fact, the assistive technology experience can be so good, it may be impossible to tell if someone has a disability.
This remains true until someone using assistive technology comes across a digital property that simply does not work with their assistive technology. The level of effort to make a digital product that works well with assistive technology is not overly burdensome, and it is my opinion that making the effort is good for the populace as a whole. Enabling people to interact with products so that they can enjoy the same level of access as a non-disabled individual is simply good for the economy and good for the spirit.
What’s the low-hanging fruit when it comes to accessibility - the items that are fairly easy to fix but make a huge difference in achieving inclusive design?
Paul: The low-hanging fruit is to follow good coding practices, ensuring all controls are properly labeled and tagged. For website design, staying as close to basic HTML as possible is always the best option to make a product fully accessible. WAI ARIA (more on this below!) can complicate things, so if a control can be implemented in standard HTML, that is the preferred route.
What’s the biggest mistakes companies make when it comes to accessibility?
Paul: When you look at a website, a lot of the way a user is supposed to interact with the site is guided by visual queues. For example, many websites have a navigation bar that is visually indicated by a background color or a specific link or button style. Imagine if all of the coloration and styling were gone and the entire website was composed of a long list of links and elements that had no columns or visual layout. That is how websites appear when they are being read by assistive technology. All content is read from the top left, announcing each element until the bottom right of the content is reached. Developers and user interface designers often think in pure aesthetics rather than in functional terms, and this can create a great deal of ambiguity for the user who is interacting with assistive technology.
Many developers rely on font styling to indicate different areas of the page and text that they want to emphasize. Rather than just font styling, though, the assistive technology relies on developers specifying headings and regions using the appropriate HTML markup. By marking up HTML with headings and regions, assistive technology can allow a user to jump around to different sections of the page using a single key.
Clyde: I would say that one of the biggest mistakes is not so much technical as it is cultural. Having a company culture that does not value accessibility or views it as something to have a bandage slapped on and then disregarded is a company bound for failure in this area. Ideally, a company promotes inclusivity and taking time to do things the right way. They also view accessibility as the responsibility of everyone from business analysts to developers to QA and above. Accessibility, like any aspect of producing a high-quality product, can definitely be facilitated through techniques, but the overall effectiveness of the organization at achieving these goals is dependent upon the value of and mentality that accessibility is important and worth the time.
“Having a company culture that does not value accessibility or views it as something to have a bandage slapped on and then disregarded is a company bound for failure in this area.”
Clyde Valentine, Client Engagement Lead
Have you seen a change in focus on accessibility over time, and what do you attribute this to?
Paul: There has been a marked increase in this area. My best guess is tied back to why companies consider this to be an important topic. I think there is a blend of companies facing litigation because their products aren’t accessible, or individuals are becoming more aware of the subject and are making a conscious decision to be inclusive. My hope is that it is more the latter than the former.
What’s the top tip you would give a company that is just embarking on an accessibility journey?
Paul: Talk to a company that understands the problem and who has individuals with disabilities. At the end of the day, having some accessibility consulting prior to laying down code can make all the difference to a successful program. That way designers get to know their audience, and get to experience a little of just what needs to happen to make a design accessible.
Clyde: Get educated and get started. Like anything, success is a game of inches and not miles, so getting started and working to make improvements (even if it’s not perfect) is really important. Make an active effort. And beyond that, get informed about it. Take the time to understand what accessibility is all about, and like Paul suggested, try to get direct experience from people with disabilities so you’re not just understanding it conceptually but really understanding it from the user’s perspective.
“At the end of the day, having some accessibility consulting prior to laying down code can make all the difference to a successful program.”
Paul Morris, QA Engineering Manager and Test Lab Manager
What do you think is the biggest benefit companies get from inclusive design?
Clyde: I think the benefits span the board. While it depends on the product, there’s a financial incentive because enabling more users to access your product is just expanding your audience and the benefits that come with that user base. It’s also low-hanging fruit in many ways because you already have an audience potentially there, so, rather than having to go out and market, you’re really just making it accessible to people who would already be interested. But on the marketing front, having a product that is accessible and a pleasure to use is a great way to tap into this audience and differentiate yourself from your competitors. Beyond that, you can feel good about the effort that you’ve made to make your product inclusive, and you can avoid the headache of litigation.