Accessibility interview

Engineering practices for inclusive products

Katie Edwards
Published in
11 min readApr 12


A Red Hat software engineer with a passion for accessibility explains how to make inclusion a reality, realistically.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

The internet is no longer an optional convenience in today’s world; it has become an essential component of our daily lives. It impacts the way we learn, work, and carry out even the most basic of tasks. We use it to manage our finances, file taxes, work remotely, attend virtual school, and much more. While its influence is undeniable, we must also recognize the challenges it presents, as the Covid-19 pandemic has made clear. As we navigate this new reality, which highlights the essential role of technology in our lives, we must approach it with an open mind and a commitment to digital accessibility. Learning to navigate its complexities with grace, empathy, and adaptability, we can ensure that all individuals, including those with disabilities, can fully participate in the digital landscape.

Accessibility is a subject that has understandably taken off in recent years. As reliance on technology grows, we’ve begun to realize the importance of building accessible products. Failing to prioritize accessibility in product development isn’t just a poor business move, it’s exclusionary. How can we expect all people to use these ‘mandatory’ products when they weren’t built with all people in mind?

Agnieszka Gancarczyk, a leader in accessibility and a Senior Software Engineer at Red Hat, most recently engaged in accessibility for Keycloak and Red Hat OpenShift Data Science, is a firm believer that accessibility is “more than a legal requirement, and has a moral significance that can transform people’s lives”.

Agnieszka Gancarczyk, Senior Software Engineer at Red Hat

With an arsenal consisting of years of experience promoting and working towards accessible products, Agnieszka now strives to educate others about the importance of accessibility and the strategies teams can use to achieve it.

What sparked your interest in accessibility, and how do you contribute to it now?

“The year 2018 marked a significant turning point when a client approached my team to make their applications more accessible for users with disabilities. This sparked an instant interest within me. Although I lacked previous experience in accessibility, I accepted the challenge and committed myself to learn all that I could.

As I continued working on various accessibility projects, my understanding of the direct impact digital accessibility has on people’s lives grew. It was no longer a legal requirement that I had to meet, but a moral obligation that I was passionate about fulfilling. I personally witnessed how a well-designed and well-built website could provide individuals with disabilities the self-determination and empowerment they deserved. Each project fueled my passion for creating accessible user experiences.

As a leader in accessibility, my foremost priority is to foster inclusivity not only for its ethical and legal significance but also for the dedication it takes to make it a reality. To create truly accessible products and services, it takes a lot of effort, and we must equip all team members with the knowledge that accessibility goes far beyond checking off a box. That’s why it’s imperative that we provide them with the guidance and resources they need to grasp the full magnitude of digital accessibility.

As a passionate advocate, I am dedicated to using my voice through various platforms such as blog posts, articles, and forthcoming educational materials to emphasize the importance of digital inclusivity. One of my recent pieces, Accessibility Starts With Awareness And Builds With Empathy, serves as a testament to my efforts in promoting this crucial message and equipping developers and designers with the tools to create software products that cater to diverse audiences. I am driven by the desire to fuel inspiration, motivation, and guidance in the hearts of designers, developers, and accessibility enthusiasts alike.

I aspire to offer software professionals the necessary tools and constant encouragement to embark on their journey towards accessibility with confidence and achieve success. My objective is to encourage them to become vocal advocates, sharing their expertise and motivation with others, and thereby creating a positive ripple effect that perpetuates the legacy of accessibility.

To me, however, setting the vision and leading the charge in promoting a culture of digital accessibility in the software development landscape is not enough. It’s about making accessibility an ethical obligation, an essential aspect of our work that requires the dedication of everyone involved in the software development process. It’s about ensuring that every person can access the information equally, irrespective of their abilities. That’s why we must prioritize inclusivity throughout the software development cycle, integrate assistive technologies, and continue to challenge ourselves to create more inclusive and accessible experiences for all.”

What’s the difference between inclusivity and accessibility?

“While both concepts aim to promote equal participation and opportunities for everyone, they approach this goal from different angles.


Inclusivity is about ensuring that everyone, regardless of their race, gender, age, disability, or any other characteristic, feels welcome and valued in a particular setting. In the context of digital platforms, inclusivity means designing and creating online spaces that are accommodating to all users, regardless of their individual needs.


Digital accessibility, on the other hand, is a subset of inclusivity and is all about designing and developing digital products and services that can be used by people with disabilities. This means following specific guidelines and standards, like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), to ensure that digital content can be perceived, understood, and navigated by folks with a range of abilities.

Even though inclusivity and digital accessibility share some similarities, they’re not the same thing. Inclusivity is a more holistic idea that encompasses accessibility while going beyond it to make sure that everyone feels included and valued. Digital accessibility, on the other hand, is a set of guidelines that focuses specifically on making digital content accessible to people with disabilities.

At the end of the day, both inclusivity and digital accessibility are critical components of creating fair and inclusive experiences. When we design and develop products and services that are both accessible and inclusive, we can ensure that everyone has an equal chance to access information, resources, and opportunities.”

In your opinion, what’s the biggest misconception about accessibility?

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“Perhaps the biggest (misconception surrounding accessibility) is that accessibility only applies to a small subset of people with disabilities. In reality, accessibility is something that affects all of us.

It’s also common to hear people say that accessibility is too expensive or difficult to implement. While it’s true that it takes careful planning and consideration, there are many strategies that can make products and services more accessible without breaking the bank.

Another misconception is that accessibility only refers to accommodations for visual or hearing impairments, when in fact accessibility is about creating products and services that can be used by everyone, regardless of their abilities.

By debunking these misconceptions and building software products and services that are accessible to all, we can help ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in society and reach their full potential.”

What factors have contributed to the recent surge in interest in making products more accessible?

“First and foremost, I think there’s a growing recognition among businesses and organizations that accessibility is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business. As more and more people are living with disabilities or impairments, it’s becoming clear that there’s a significant market for products and services that are designed with accessibility in mind.

Another factor that I think has contributed to this trend is the increasing awareness and understanding of disability rights and advocacy. The disability community has been pushing for greater accessibility for decades, and I think their efforts have really helped to raise awareness of the importance of creating products and services that are accessible to all.

Advances in technology have also played a role in driving this trend. With more and more people relying on digital tools and services to work, learn, and connect with others, it’s become increasingly important to ensure that these tools are accessible to everyone, regardless of their individual needs or abilities.

Considering everything, I believe that a combination of these factors has fueled the current interest in accessibility, and I anticipate that this trend will continue to expand as more companies and organizations realize how critical it is to develop inclusive and accessible software products and services.”

What is missing from the typical workflow that would enable inclusive experiences?

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“In my opinion, it’s crucial to acknowledge that there are missing pieces within the conventional workflow that can impede our advancement. To move towards a future that is more fair, we must have the courage to confront the challenges in our experiences and existing norms head-on.

One of the things that’s frequently absent in the development of inclusive experiences is empathy and kindness. It’s insufficient to merely satisfy legal obligations or mark off items on an accessibility checklist. We must sincerely try to comprehend the perspective of those who have diverse abilities and backgrounds from our own.

This requires us to actively seek out and listen to the voices of people with disabilities and make their needs a priority in our design and development processes. Neglecting to include these voices, can result in the production of products and services that inadequately cater to the needs of our audience.

Another missing piece is collaboration. Creating inclusive experiences is not the job of a single person or team, but rather a collective effort that requires the input and expertise of individuals from various backgrounds and disciplines. We must break down silos and foster a culture of collaboration and inclusivity throughout the entire development cycle.

Moreover, I believe that we must also be willing to continuously learn and evolve. Accessibility guidelines and technologies are constantly changing, and we must stay up-to-date and adapt our workflows accordingly. We must be open to feedback and willing to make necessary changes to ensure that our digital experiences are truly inclusive.

Creating inclusive digital experiences requires empathy, collaboration, and a willingness to continuously learn and evolve. By working together to fill the gaps in our workflows, we can move towards a more accessible future for all.”

Which businesses do you look to for accessibility inspiration?

“As an accessibility leader, I have to stay up to date with the latest trends and technologies in digital accessibility. And one of the ways I do that is by drawing inspiration from companies that are doing great work in this area, like Google, IBM, and Microsoft.

I find it really inspiring to see these companies prioritizing accessibility and making it an integral part of their design and development process. They’re showing that accessibility doesn’t have to be an afterthought or a ‘nice to have’ feature — it’s a fundamental aspect of creating products and services that are truly inclusive.

For example, Microsoft has made accessibility a central focus of their design approach, incorporating it into their business strategy. Similarly, Google has implemented a number of accessibility features across their products, including closed captions on YouTube videos and Voice Access. And IBM has been a leader in developing accessible technologies, including screen readers and speech recognition software.

Of course, no company is perfect, and there’s always more work to be done. The technology landscape is constantly evolving, and new challenges will continue to emerge. As accessibility leaders, we must stay vigilant and continue pushing for progress. But by looking at these leaders in the field, we can learn a lot about what’s possible and what’s needed to create more accessible experiences.”

What is the most difficult part of achieving accessibility?

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Stakeholder buy-in

“Through my years of experience and successful accessibility implementations, I’ve come to learn that achieving true accessibility can be a daunting challenge. The most difficult part of this journey is often getting everyone on board and making accessibility a priority throughout the project lifecycle.

Unfortunately, many people are simply unaware of the transformative benefits of accessibility or view it as an added burden that takes up valuable time and resources. To overcome this obstacle, we must educate and enlighten all those involved in the project — not just developers, but designers, project managers, and stakeholders as well. We must share the importance of accessibility for people with disabilities, and the incredible value it can bring to our broader audience by improving user experience and meeting legal requirements.


Furthermore, planning the accessibility strategy for the team and the project and automating it from the very beginning of the project inception is paramount to ensure its success.

It’s so much easier to build accessibility into our design and development process from the start, rather than trying to retrofit it later. By incorporating accessibility into our project plan and defining clear roles and responsibilities for it, we can ensure that it’s given the priority it deserves.

Bugs and improvements

We must also acknowledge that fixing violations on an ongoing basis can be a significant challenge. Our teams may view it as yet another task to squeeze into an already jam-packed schedule.

To address this challenge, we must incorporate accessibility testing and remediation into our project lifecycle and make it a fundamental part of our development process. This can be accomplished through the use of automated accessibility testing tools, conducting manual and user accessibility testing, and incorporating accessibility checkpoints into code reviews.

Ultimately, achieving true accessibility is a collective effort that requires unwavering commitment and dedication from all involved. We must educate, involve, plan, automate, and integrate accessibility into our development process to ensure that it becomes a top priority. For it’s only then that we can truly say that we have accessible software products and services.”

Which resources and processes can teams use to get started in making their product accessible?

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“I strongly recommend that dev teams prioritize accessibility from the very beginning of their product development process. The earlier you start, the easier it is to build accessibility into your product and avoid timely and costly retrofits later on.

Getting started

To get started, I suggest that team members familiarize themselves with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which are widely recognized and adopted as the international standard for web accessibility. The guidelines are broken down into three levels (A, AA, and AAA) and provide specific recommendations for making websites and applications more accessible to people with disabilities. To help understand WCAG better, I created 2 blog posts, Deep Dive Into WCAG 2.1 (With HTML & CSS Examples), and Accessibility Best Practices.


In addition to WCAG, there are many resources available to help understand and implement accessibility. Some of my favorite resources include:


There are also many accessibility testing tools available to help developers and designers identify accessibility issues and prioritize their remediation efforts. Some popular tools include:

I discuss all of these resources, as well as others, in detail in my Accessibility Quick Start Guide.

I also encourage teams to involve people with disabilities in the testing and development process. By including people with disabilities as early as possible, you can get valuable feedback on how to improve accessibility and make your product more user-friendly for everyone.”

Have a story of your own? Write with us! Our community thrives on diverse voices — let’s hear yours.



Katie Edwards

Doodler, plant enthusiast, bird watcher, hobby collector, and UX content designer at Red Hat.