Why and how we are developing an accessibility practice at Pocket

Gloria Suzie Kim
Dec 21, 2019 · 7 min read
Pink wheelchair access sign on a bright green lawn
Pink wheelchair access sign on a bright green lawn
Photo by Yomex Owo on Unsplash

We are beginning to develop an accessibility practice at Pocket that goes beyond the basics of a design system of colors and type sizes. In researching accessibility we’ve discovered that the rationales for investing in accessibility fall into the following major buckets: appeals to ethics (philosophy, empathy, or charity), innovation, and to extend market reach. Accessibility is also a part of Mozilla’s manifesto which lays out in principle 2 that the “internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible” and that “a person’s demographic characteristics do not determine their online access, opportunities, or quality of experience.”

In addition to considering these rationales, we are concurrently experimenting with ways to better integrate accessibility into our product development process at Pocket.

But first, let’s go over the rationales, shall we?

Ethics

The inclusive design movement has philosophical roots in the political theory of utilitarianism, which was popularized in the 19th century amidst the industrial revolution when an industrial society witnessed the rise of mass-produced goods, assembly lines, and automation. Mass consumer society had to contend with the needs and satisfaction of the many and not just the few. Utilitarianism is best known from Jeremy Bentham’s dictum: “The greatest happiness for the greatest number of people,” with the modern day version echoed by Satya Nadella’s call “to build great products for the greatest number of people.” At its core is the principle of ‘reducing suffering’ or ‘increasing happiness’. Inclusive design shares this principle as a motivation for improving quality of life and access as an important part of a more free and open society.

Innovation

Designing for accessibility can also lead to new ideas and sometimes even new markets. The remote control was originally designed for people who couldn’t walk or had mobility impairment — that is until this tool turned out to be useful for many other people, including couch potatoes around the world. And another example of this type of innovation can be found in urban design where curb cut-outs, which started with wheelchair users in mind, but also proved to be useful for strollers and carts on wheels. This type of innovation is also found in voice-activated technology, which was originally designed for individuals who have limited mobility and/or sight, but could use their voice to activate and control digital interfaces. This is an example of a technical solution originally intended for a specific audience, but is now projected to become increasingly adopted by those who might not have originally required it (see: The Future of Voice Search by 2020).

Extend market reach

Another rationale for product accessibility would be with the objective of extending your market reach (which the quote from Satya Nadella also encapsulates). According to the CDC, approximately 26% of Americans have some type of disability. 1 in 4 have a type of disability and “at some point in their lives, most people will either have a disability or know someone who has a one,” according to Coleen Boyle of the CDC. Many of the largest tech utilities have been investing in accessibility (see: How tech firms are increasing accessibility for disabled users), ostensibly in order to capture more of this, arguably, growing market share.

Other rationales: Lawsuits and brand recognition

There are other themes as well, such as legal liability, that are motivated by wanting to avoid hefty fines and the prospect of facing a lawsuit (see: Lawsuit against the University of Arizona over Kindle) or simply enhancing your brand, such as with Barclay’s accessibility initiative (see: Barclays Bank Case Study).

Pick the rationale that resonates the most with your stakeholders

Different parts of your organization or company are motivated by different objectives and goals. Keep this in mind when you pitch your team to invest more in accessibility. Perhaps ethics might be more persuasive to your product team, innovation more relevant to R&D, and for sales, the potential to extend market reach. Whichever themes you choose to focus on, find out which rationale resonates most with your stakeholders.

How: Implementing accessibility at Pocket

At Pocket we are getting started by taking a three-pronged approach that can be summed up as audit, discover, and internal process changes.

  1. Audit: We use automated auditing toolkits like Google Accessibility Audit, Dynomapper, Deque, in order to generate a list of areas where we were falling short in our product, according to WCAG standards.
Blind man gesturing over a Humanware electronic braille keyboard
Blind man gesturing over a Humanware electronic braille keyboard
One of our field research participants during a usability session

2. Discover: Conduct field research and combine it with manual testing. Automated testing can catch many errors, but in order to gain a better sense of contextual needs, we talk to our users in order to better understand the level of inconvenience and discomfort that an error may be causing. This helps us prioritize the issues generated from the automated audits. In addition, field visits can capture contexts that go undetected otherwise.

3. Internal process changes: There is evidence behind the psychology of habit formation, where it’s easier to create change by creating an environment or process that facilitates the change, instead of through simply enforcing ‘will power’. ‘Atomic habits’ are small habits and changes that eventually gain momentum over time and work to produce outcomes that are larger than the sum of its parts. We’re working on changing habits in our development process to make accessibility an integral part of making our products and here are some of the tactics:

  • Habit 1: Your team could make it a habit to solve or push into production one or two tickets related to accessibility every other sprint, or even once a month, within one year, you would have made 12–24 improvements in your product.
  • Habit 2: Use a standard checklist guide for key accessibility issues that Designers and Engineers can keep in mind whenever they kick off a new project
  • Habit 3: Design specs that include a view for accessibility specs and annotations

Once you level up to a more mature strategy from a less mature reactive strategy, you could also bake accessibility feedback earlier in the product development process as a habit. You can accomplish this by making it easier to get feedback quickly for your teams by setting up an internal panel of users or consultant to communicate with frequently, or working with a vendor that makes it easy for product teams to get feedback on their own, including conducting constant exploratory research on a rolling basis.

The best possible side-effects of this three-pronged strategy would be that accessibility:

a) Accessibility becomes the norm or expected: Accessibility becomes a default setting at Pocket: Designers and product managers/owners would be able to ‘think with an accessibility hat on’ more reflexively by simply being more informed about the varieties of accessibility issues. This lessens the chance for poor unintended consequences in design.

b) Accountability for accessibility happens earlier in the product development process: Accessibility becomes baked earlier into the product development process at Pocket: Time and effort are saved by having accessibility in earlier rather than later, requiring less costly retro-fitting efforts. THUS: Pocket grows in process maturity and are equipped to move from retroactive (Fixing) to proactive (Fixing and proactive discovery and exploring edge cases).

We are here (Fixing retroactively)

Mature product development process flow chart, showing where Accessibility starts
Mature product development process flow chart, showing where Accessibility starts
Status quo: Audit + Discover; Sprint Habit

We want to be here (proactively addressing)

Mature: Proactive Discovery, Audit + Discover and Sprint Habit

In Conclusion

Investing in accessibility is a long-term initiative that may take more than a couple of sprints or even a business quarter or two. It requires significant buy-in from stakeholders and a shift in priorities and processes. These shifts need not be monumental: rather there are ways we can simply frame our intentions for accessibility as well as introduce concepts and methods into the product development process in order to become a more accessible product for users. In addition, making small achievable steps and quick wins can help boost both visibility of the issues in the first place, and over time affect a large and lasting change. We are also open to hearing stories from other companies about what’s worked for them, so if you are inclined to share, please reach out to us!


Resources and tools

We recommend that you avail yourself of the following resources and start talking to your users, subject matter experts, consultants, friends and family, and local resources in order to tap into local participants

Online resources

Examples of existing guidelines

  • WCAG 2.0 and 2.1: WCAG Document has three levels of success criteria: A, AA, and AAA, with conformance at higher levels indicating conformance at lower levels with A (lowest), AA (mid range), and AAA (highest)

Outlined in WCAG are the POUR principles

  • Perceivable: This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can’t be invisible to all of their senses)
  • Operable: Mostly for engineers historically because they are programming standards. This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform)
  • Usable: This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding)
  • Robust: This means that users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible)

Non-profit community resources

Tools

Vendors

If you would like more recommendations, please feel free to contact us at research@getpocket.com.

Pocket Design

Tales from the Pocket Design Team

Gloria Suzie Kim

Written by

🌏 Senior User Experience Researcher at Pocket/Mozilla. https://www.pinterest.com/gloriasuziekim/

Pocket Design

Tales from the Pocket Design Team

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade