Highlights from A11y Bytes Melbourne 2017

A11y Bytes was back for its fifth year in Melbourne celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Five speakers and over fifty attendees, it was an evening of lightning talks about digital accessibility and the needs and preferences of differently abled people.

Adem opened the A11y Bytes evening by sharing the ‘Everyone is different! video produced by Accessibility Bytes in partnership with Sketch Videos. The video focused on various sensory and situational experiences that influence how people interact with your apps, websites or digital platforms — a great reminder to ensure your products should be inclusive.

Paul Collins, Senior Front End Engineer from Odecee, kicked off the evening with a talk on ‘Accessibility testing with Axe-core’. Axe-core is an open source framework that could be integrated into functional tests.

Paul Collins on accessibility testing with Axe-core

Accessibility testing used to be expensive, complicated and unreliable. By introducing a tool like axe-core with zero false positives, you can specify areas of code on the page to test within and your code to be more inclusive.

Front-end developer Rinchen Emma Ridley’s talk focused on educating an international team on web accessibility. Apart from detailing ‘how’ to implement the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, Emma emphasised the importance to sharing the ‘why’ with the team to empower them.

Rinchen Emma Ridley on accessibility in a remote team

The Web Accessibility by Google course offered by Udacity played a key role in helping her team to learn more about the implementation.

Here comes one of my favourite talks — Vedran Arnautovic, Senior UX Designer at SEEK. Vedran started his talk with a confession that in his years’ of experience as a UX designer, he hadn’t had chance to conduct usability testing until two months ago. In this talk, he was going to cover key lessons learnt while conducting usability testing with blind users.

Vedran Arnautovic on usability testing with blind users

Blind ≠JAWS expert

Being blind doesn’t mean that someone is an expert in screen readers like JAWS. Just how we have a vast range of people with different levels of proficiency with technology, the same range applies to blind people as well.

Key tip: When planning a usability session with blind users, allow more time as many websites are not optimised for screen readers.

Sticking to a single tool set

Vedran’s research shows that there is a tendency for blind people to stick with their favourite browser and screen reader. Since not all technologies developed with blind users in mind, the barrier to learning new technologies is higher for blind users.

Key tip: If you need to test different browsers, screen readers and devices, consider using a survey to pre-qualify your participants in detail.

Get comfortable — echo participants language

Vedran openly admitted that he was very nervous about his testing sessions with blind users and worried that his script was too long or short. He also feared that he would say something insensitive that might offend someone, but as the testing sessions progressed, Vedran realised that some of his worries were not at all a problem. So one of his biggest takeaways was to get comfortable with the language the participants use.

Key tip: Just relax. Really listen to your participants, hear how they speak and echo the language they are using.

Power of mental models

Vedran was amazed at the richness of the detail, with which blind participants the structure and the content of the pages they visited — they formed detailed mental models of the pages they interacted. However, these descriptions didn’t always match how the site was laid out. These observations gave new insights on how pages should be structured and better structure the page for sighted users as well.

Key tip: Understanding and leveraging the power of mental models will help you design better experiences, not just for screen reader users, but for all users.

Vedran Arnautovic has written a detailed article on these four lessons — you can check it out here https://medium.com/seek-user-experience/four-things-we-learnt-from-facilitating-usability-testing-sessions-with-blind-users-2298dac58ae2

Intopia’s very own Allison Ravenhall delivered a power-packed talk on why accessibility affects more people than we think.

Allison Ravenhall on how accessibility affects more people than you think

Allison’s talk covered how web accessibility is helping people with permanent disabilities like colour blindness, profound deafness and autism as well as people with temporary disabilities like cataracts, middle ear infections, broken arm and migraines.

Allison reminded us how accessibility benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities. You can find Allison’s slides here: https://www.slideshare.net/Intopia/accessibility-affects-more-people-than-you-think

The final presenter of the evening was Kayla J Heffernan, UX Designer at SEEK. Her talk focused on an extensive research SEEK recently conducted to study the online and search behaviours of blind users.

Kayla Heffernan on online and search behaviours of blind users

Kayla opened her talk with interesting but sobering facts on employment rates for those with a disability. It’s sad to hear that people with disabilities have lower participation (53% vs. 83%) and a higher unemployment rate (9.4% vs. 4.9%). On a positive note, companies like SEEK are taking a huge interest in addressing these employment gaps.

If you are interested in learning more in this topic, I highly recommend to check out Kayla J Heffernan’s research article on the same topic: https://medium.com/seek-user-experience/online-search-behaviours-of-blind-users-9da721949d3e

Remember: by addressing blind user’s frustrations you’re actually making your site better for everyone.

My favourite part of the night was Matthew Magain from Sketch Videos live sketchnoting the A11Y Bytes Melbourne program.

Matthew Magain live sketchnoting the A11Y Bytes program

I’m proud to see my colleague Shannon King following Matt’s footsteps and sharing her sketch note :)

If you’re interested in visual thinking and learning how to sketch note, check out Matt’s sketching workshop.

Lastly, I want to take this opportunity to thank all sponsors — Telstra, Ai-Media, Savv-e, Intopia Digital, and Sketch Videos for supporting Melbourne Web Accessibility & Inclusive Design community by sponsoring A11y Bytes 2017.

Congratulations Adem Cifcioglu and Sarah Pulis for another successful A11y Bytes event! I feel great to be an attendee for the fifth year in a row and supporting this fantastic event. :)