Calls for accessibility and inclusion are a defining characteristic of current times. Persons with disabilities (PwD), including vision, hearing, cognitive and physical impairments and others, are demanding equal access to virtually all public services and forums they interact with, from transportation to banking and self-service terminals in airports—and increasingly, digital (web and mobile) services.
Ensuring accessibility can help enhance brands and is good business practice. The process can seem daunting but integrating accessibility into DevOps doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are several simple steps for getting started.
Understanding Your Organization’s Unique Accessibility Motivators
Knowing what accessibility elements you need to test for depends on numerous factors, including your industry and where you are located. For example, U.S. government organizations are subject to Section 508, while telecommunications providers must comply with the Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). Different scenarios require a nuanced approach to accessibility testing.
The risks of digital inaccessibility are growing far beyond government websites, with the number of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-based web accessibility lawsuits increasing 181% between 2017 and 2018. Since the beginning of this year alone, several well-known brands including Domino’s Pizza and Beyoncé have been sued for web accessibility breaches, bringing the issue to the forefront.
E-commerce sites are often more concerned with lost revenue opportunities, as the average blind person is known to abandon several companies per month due to web inaccessibility. For transaction-oriented sites, inaccessibility translates directly to lost business. Whatever the motivators, building empathy can be a great way to give this mission meaning for developers. Organizations can do this by staging and having developers participate in “empathy events” where simulations are offered and developers can experience first-hand what it’s like to interact with a given website using the same assistive technologies that people with disabilities rely on regularly.
Set Achievable Interim Milestones
Agile DevOps teams emphasize catching defects as early as possible in the software life cycle to ensure efficient, high-quality rollouts. Unfortunately, accessibility testing is often relegated to the end of the process or performed as user-acceptance or usability testing. This type of testing is often manual and can be resource-intensive and expensive.
Organizations only became aware of issues upon hearing from end users encountering problems—or, worse, taking legal action to gain equal access to web-based content and services.
Getting from a manual process to a fully automated and integrated process takes time. We recommend setting achievable, interim milestones that start small and build on early success. Organizations may not know what to tackle first, but some commonly shared examples of achievable first milestones are accompanying all digital videos with subtitles and/or sign language translation (for the hearing impaired) and ensuring that all new UIs are clear of any issues identified by automated tools. Experts and trainers can offer valuable advice on addressing the basics and then building on the success.
Today’s developers have easier access to more comprehensive accessibility testing tools than ever before. Currently there are tools available for all the major platforms (web, Windows, Android and iOS) and many of these have been open-sourced, making them richer every day. Interactive testing functionality can enable development teams to thoroughly assess the accessibility of products early on in the cycle, while libraries allow these tests to be run regularly as part of the development test automation. A good tool will provide developers with simple remediation guidance and allow them to embark on a learning journey to increase their knowledge and expertise.
Measure, Improve and Automate
Ongoing measurement is the key to understanding whether your accessibility transformation is taking hold. Leading metrics will focus on the change in development practices. These changes will give early indication of end user outcomes. An example of a leading metric is “percentage of new UI code that is clean from an automated testing perspective.”
End user outcomes, while lagging, are important to ensure that the activity is leading to real change. An example of an outcome might be the number and the change in the accessibility-related call center inquiries. A reduction would indicate that fewer accessibility issues are making their way into production. Metrics are strongest when they are presented in a manner that directly correlates to business outcomes (such as customer satisfaction), as these tend to resonate the most with business executives, which helps build the broadest internal support base.
Once you’ve had some early successes, it’s time to expand, and you can keep tackling issues incrementally. Organizations should also focus on continually shifting accessibility testing “further left” earlier in the development cycle to enhance quality while maintaining velocity. The sooner you detect and fix accessibility issues, the less likely these are to become more deeply baked into the software, making them more difficult and time-consuming to undo.
Organizations also should consider replacing interactive and manual accessibility tests with fully automated tests. While manual testing cannot be completely eliminated, automated unit testing and integration testing enable developers to test for accessibility as they code (not after the fact), while automated regression testing ensures live web content and applications stay accessible after changes are made. Automated regression testing is critical for organizations wishing to ship software often while maintaining quality—in some industries such as financial services, a disproportionate number of websites have experienced some level of accessibility regression.
DevOps teams are focused extensively on maintaining exceptionally high levels of software quality combined with velocity. We’ve become obsessed with minimizing the number of bugs that make it into production but may be overlooking one of the key attributes of high-quality software—accessibility.
In most cases, functional testing does not cover accessibility testing. While functional testing determines whether a system is working as expected (i.e., certain inputs generate certain outputs), accessibility focuses on ensuring usability for PwDs as a non-functional attribute. With estimates that the current number of PwDs in the U.S. nearly equals the total populations of California and New York combined, accessibility testing needs to be prioritized in the same way as functional testing. Otherwise, you are shutting these people out.
In summary, organizations that demonstrate a commitment to accessibility through their digital products and services will have a natural advantage in an increasingly competitive market space. Getting started can be relatively simple, and you should focus on motivating development teams to achieve and overachieve, emphasizing continual improvement rather than perfection from the get-go.