When we think about accessibility, far too often we frame it around compliance. We think of interminable guidelines and checklists, legal requirements, automated tests, and difficult to understand audit results. Accessibility is about far more than these things. At its heart, accessibility is about the experience different types of users have when using websites and products. Everyone’s experience is unique. In order to achieve true and lasting accessibility, we need to move beyond compliance thinking, and start thinking about experiences. At Fable, we believe the best way to do this is by involving users with disabilities. In this article, we’ll cover a few reasons why.
Users Build Empathy
Ask any designer or developer who has had the opportunity to work with assistive technology users and they’ll tell you just how impactful it is watching an assistive technology user attempt to use their website. Actually putting a face to the users who benefit from the requirements is priceless. Watching the struggles someone experiences because of something as simple as a checkbox or button that can’t be activated by the keyboard, and seeing the frustration as this blocks them from using the website, can drive home just how impactful even simple changes in code can be for accessibility.
The first step in moving beyond checklists is to understand the experiences that people with disabilities are having on your website today. Once you understand that, and how your work can make these experiences better, you’ve taken the first step towards improving. If you haven’t yet had this opportunity, book a call with us at Fable, and we can help you get there.
Involving users can save on costly accessibility fixes
If you involve people with disabilities in ideation, researching, and prototyping, they will be able to alert you to potential issues long before you start releasing code. An automated test can’t collaborate with you on a product that doesn’t exist yet, or is only partially built. However, a person with a disability can help you understand what the experience might be like, point out where the pitfalls in your designs and ideas might be, and help you start off on the right foot. If you do that, you no longer have to engage in expensive accessibility catch-up, or spend time designing unsatisfactory retrofits to your inaccessible products. According to data from Corporate Compliance Insights, addressing a single accessibility flaw after the fact can cost their customers as much as $10,000; building websites that are accessible from the start is easier and cheaper.
Involving Users Can Help Prioritize
While we might wish that every product was built on an accessible foundation, that’s not the case. There are millions of websites today that have been built without thought to accessibility, and that now need to be fixed. Unfortunately, this exposes another one of the limitations of automated accessibility testing. After running an automated test, the result is a list of errors. Automated tests can’t tell you how these errors will effect the current experience of users with disabilities. Do the errors block someone from using the website entirely? Do they make tasks take longer? Or are they just small irritations.
When you test with users of assistive technology, you get insight into what it’s like for these folks to use your website, and that gives you the context you need to prioritize your accessibility efforts. You will find that some problems, like buttons that can’t be activated by the keyboard, links that can’t be focused, and checkboxes that are invisible to screen readers, will be complete show-stoppers. If you fix these problems first, you can make quick gains in accessibility; even if your website isn’t fully accessible yet, it may be at least possible for people with disabilities to accomplish the most important tasks. You can then begin to tackle problems that caused confusion, made assistive technology struggle, or made tasks more difficult than normal. Lastly, you can fix the errors that had the smallest impact on the experience of assistive technology users, and make your website fully accessible. When you have the context provided by understanding these experiences, you will be able to fix errors in the order that is most impactful, and thus most cost-effective.
Users Are The Only Way To Find All The Problems
Did you know that automated tests only detect 30 percent of accessibility errors? While it’s valuable to use automated tests to make sure those errors get flagged and fixed, unless you’re working with users with disabilities, you won’t be finding all of the accessibility problems on your website. As an example, automated tests can only tell you that alt-text exists, and that form fields are labeled. Is the alt text useful, and are the form labels easy to understand? Those are questions only people with disabilities can answer.
The only way to understand if your website works for people with disabilities, and if the experience is both accessible and usable, is to involve them in research, development, and testing. If these ideas are new to you, the most important thing you can do is recruit someone who uses assistive technology, and watch as they attempt to navigate and use your website. This is the first step towards understanding their actual needs, knowing their real experiences, and figuring out how to make changes that truly fix the problem. If you’d like to learn more about how Fable can help you involve people with disabilities in your organizations accessibility process, book a call with us!