How we’re applying a11yTO conference takeaways to Loopio

Camille Pomponi
Feb 26, 2020 · 4 min read
Civil Rights Or Shakedowns: Ethics Of The Digital Accessibility Legal Space — Lainey Feingold

When we went to a11yTO in October, we thought we had a pretty good understanding of what accessibility means in the context of product design. We’ve been advocating for the company’s practice/approach to software development and design, informing teams and leadership of its importance, and we even conducted an accessibility lunch & learn for our engineering, product and design team. We read up on best practices, methods of design and development implementations, how to iteratively implement accessibility, etc… Even with what we thought we knew, we gained so much more knowledge and empathy after hearing the stories and experiences of users and wonderful speakers at a11yTO.

Here are some of our thoughts and our biggest takeaways.

Kevin: One thing I found really great throughout the conference was the ability to really connect with a variety of individuals during the breaks and have conversations about how we can do better in the area of design and development. From this, my biggest takeaway was hearing how some of the users we are trying to design a better experience to have such real stories that I never would have thought of. Not to mention the pain of always being a secondary thought in the world of product design. For example, one of the speakers discussed how video games play such a big role in her life and how important they are for her, yet so many companies don’t take real-world accessibility considerations into thought when building games. They think BAM, there’s a colour-blind mode, and then they are done. But there is so much more to consider than just that.

Camille: I walked away with similar thoughts. I gained so much more empathy for people with disabilities after hearing them talk about what it’s like to use basic tools, such as tabbing 99 times to get to their shopping cart. There are things I take for granted that affect others in different ways, such as ordering a product online, seeing flashing advertisements, or being in a noisy room. These experiences can cause discomfort for some people, and they could be fixed so easily — turning down the volume, minimizing flashing lights, increasing the font size, and so on. People with disabilities are often not considered and this tends to lead to a sub-par experience online. Why are they always the second class citizens that have sub-par experiences online? Why aren’t there more people with disabilities in the workplace to highlight different perspectives?

Kevin: Those are great questions that should be asked in all product design companies; I expect their answers will vary. If we want to start working towards a more equal and inclusive society, we really need to start thinking about everybody’s needs and how they differ. Having personas or mindsets that properly capture our audience is one way of doing this.

During the conference, there were also a lot of development-focused talks, whilst being super insightful, I found it hard to keep up when they started getting into the nitty-gritty of coding content. I would have loved for developers from our company to have attended and taken some of those development-focused learnings back with us.

Camille: Having some members of the development team there would have been very beneficial. Oftentimes, it’s the design team that is seen as the ones who have to implement accessibility and lead the momentum behind the change but walking away from this event, it’s clear that it’s a joint initiative. There are many things developers can do on their own to make a website more accessible where design doesn’t need to be involved. In the best-case scenario, designers and developers would work closely together to create the best experiences for all users. Two of the main resources we think we’ll be using heavily moving forward are:

CloudVision API — This API analyzes photos to detect emotion, understand the text, detect faces, etc. to quickly develop alt text for images

Hemingway — The app highlights lengthy, complex sentences and common errors to ensure text is easily digestible by the general audience.

Accessibility For Content Creators — Caitlin Cashin

As two Senior Product Designers, do we think this conference was worth going to?

Definitely. We think A11yTO was extremely valuable. However, it would have been beneficial to have a schedule of the talks upfront so we could have seen what content was on the docket. Seeing some of the more technical talks would have encouraged us to bring along members of the development team in order to round out our learnings and key takeaways from the conference.