Assistive Technology and Accessibility — Findings from the CSUN Assistive Technology 2019 Conference

Library Resources | Sangeetha Sivaramakrishnan & Kyle Smith| April 23, 2019

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EBSCO software engineers Sangeetha (Geeth) Sivaramakrishnan and Kyle Smith uncover a few key findings from this year’s CSUN — California State University, Northridge - Assistive Technology Conference.

EBSCO resources cater to a diverse set of users; therefore accessibility is one of our prime directives that permeates almost every facet of product development. To deliver a leading software solution, which is also fully accessible, we are constantly evaluating, testing and learning. California State University, Northridge - Assistive Technology Conference (CSUN-AT) 2019, a prominent conference on accessibility (a11y) and assistive technologies, was a great opportunity to gather new ideas, hear success stories and learn about recent and upcoming initiatives and technologies.

What stood out for you from the conference?

Kyle: One of the most important lessons I took away from the conference was there needs to be a more active and conscious effort to build platforms that are inclusive for all users. One out of five individuals has a disability. We must prioritize accessibility in all phases of the design and development cycles, create products that provide value to all our users, and ensure our users with disabilities have an equivalent and pleasant experience when they interact with our products. 

Geeth: “One team to rule them all, one team to find them” is not the best approach. The key to making accessibility a success is to disperse the knowledge among all teams. Experts within each team then ensure that accessibility considerations are met throughout the development and they also contribute to a larger expert base. Having every team incorporate accessibility into development cycles avoids a reactive approach to accessibility, which involves fixing defects later in the software development lifecycle process and is also expensive. In other words, decentralization of accessibility experts from a single team paves way for the Shift-Left approach.

One of the most important lessons I took away from the conference was there needs to be a more active and conscious effort to build platforms that are inclusive for all users.

As a developer/software engineer and champion for accessibility, what would you want your peers to know about accessibility?

Kyle: By increasing awareness of accessibility issues, we can empathize with individuals with disabilities and develop products with their unique needs in mind. Accessibility is much more than verifying that images have alt tags and that pages have meaningful titles. It is ensuring that our products provide assistance and value to everyone regardless of their individual limitations. My favorite quote from CSUN was, “If you explicitly plan to not worry about accessibility, you implicitly plan to fail.”

Geeth: Shift-Left is a proactive approach to accessibility. It emphasizes building accessibility early in the development lifecycle and encourages repeated accessibility assessments. It is a cost-effective approach to identifying and resolving accessibility gaps throughout the design and development process. 

What are some of the things you learned from the conference?

Geeth: Software testing tools are not enough. There is no better learning experience than observing users using a product. Usability testing cannot be testing for people with disabilities only but testing for people with all abilities and must always follow automated testing. Users with disabilities tend to be ‘Extreme Users’ or users with amplified needs and they are the best people to test a functionality as they tend to cover all edge cases of a feature — putting business on a path to success with accessibility.
 
A small percentage of websites are currently fully accessible. In February 2019, WebAIM conducted an accessibility evaluation of the home pages for the top 1,000,000 web sites using the WAVE stand-alone API. The study found that 97.8 percent of these websites were not fully accessible. There were 782,481,056 distinct HTML elements that were analyzed with an average of 782 elements per home page. This results in approximately 7.6 percent of all home page elements having a detectable accessibility error. Users with disabilities would expect to encounter detectable errors on one in every 13 elements with which they engage. Greater than 60 percent of the errors found were issues that were easily fixable. Fixing only these 60 percent will make a huge impact.
 
There are new accessibility tools we could explore.

  • Accessibility Insights: Developed by Microsoft in collaboration with Deque, this is an open source tool that is available as a browser plugin for web applications and a Windows application to run accessibility testing on other Windows applications.
  • axe-core-3.2.0: This is the latest update to the axe-core library which is an accessibility testing engine for websites and other HTML-based user interfaces.
  • AXRL: Accessibility Reporting Language (AXRL) is a data format designed to describe accessibility tests for Web pages, Native apps and other software.
  • Axe for Android: Deque's Axe for Android Accessibility Service is an automated accessibility analysis tool kit available for analyzing the accessibility of android native and hybrid applications. It is available on Google Play store.
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Sangeetha Sivaramakrishnan & Kyle Smith

Sangeetha Sivaramakrishnan (also known as Geeth at EBSCO) is a Software Engineer with the Configuration Integration and APIs ART, developing micro-services to support the new EBSCO Platform. She has worked with various technology stacks across EBSCO family of products. She is an advocate for accessibility at EBSCO and is passionate about discovering the latest assistive technology and refining EBSCO’s continuous approach to accessibility of its products.

Kyle Smith is a software engineer for the Common Researcher/EBSCONext UX ART (Sumo development team in Durham, NC). Kyle has a passion for great user experiences and focuses on front-end development and accessibility.

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