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InfoQ Homepage News A Collaborative Approach to Web Applications Accessibility

A Collaborative Approach to Web Applications Accessibility

Developers and designers can work together to share knowledge and experience when working on creating accessible applications. Accessibility issues can be treated as any other bug, something that needs to be solved first. Accessibility should be embraced as something very serious and important to society, and approached as a business opportunity.

Kjersti Krokmogen and Frank Dahle spoke about a collaborative approach to accessibility at NDC Oslo 2023.

Accessibility tends not to be as highly prioritised as it should be, Dahle said. Backlogs are endless and sales departments push other feature requests in order to be competitive:

As long as the accessibility requirements are the same for all vendors, and that accessibility is rewarded somehow, I believe the industry will adapt and deliver what’s expected of them.

At the Norwegian labor inspection authority, accessibility issues are treated as any other bug, Krokmogen said. This implies that it’s a higher priority than if it is a feature, user story, or any other task:

After bugs are revealed, we stop production of new features until all the bugs are cleared. A bug could be that the semantics of the header tags didn’t follow the right order.

Krokmogen mentioned that they learned to use screen readers and how to navigate the platform using a keyboard only. They also used the Chrome extension Wave, which gave visual feedback and indications of what their issues were.

Using these tools made it much easier to both reveal the bugs and figure out how to prioritise them, Krokmogen explained:

For example, Wave automatically sorts the findings into different categories - including errors, alerts, contrasts, and so on. To get you started, start with the error category, then continue with the alerts, and systematically work your way through those findings.

Communication and knowledge sharing is key, Krokmogen said. Working on accessibility has challenged her team to learn more about each other’s domains:

I as a developer learned the workflow and tools that the designers use, and how to use them to benefit me as a developer. The designer learned to read my html and CSS to create a more clear bug report for me as a developer. This forced us to find a common language that everyone understands.

They realised that, if we focus on accessibility when we create something new, that’s a better and more efficient approach than focusing on it "when we have time", Krokmogen said.

Dahle suggested that software organizations should embrace accessibility as something very serious and important to society, and approach it as a business opportunity. Integrate accessibility in the whole value chain, beginning with recruitment and all the way to testing and marketing. And then, make time for the people to practice. Theory alone is not enough, Dahle said.

InfoQ interviewed Kjersti Krokmogen and Frank Dahle about accessibility.

InfoQ: What challenges do companies face when their software systems need to be accessible?

Frank Dahle: The customer market needs to realize that, when purchasing software that is required to be accessible, they always bear the responsibility, towards their users and the authorities. So, they need to ensure that all the necessary requirements are properly included in the contract, before they sign it. The software company does not bear any responsibility regarding accessibility, if it’s not stated in the contract.

When hiring consultants it’s about competence and experience. But again, customers need to be clear on their expectations upfront, before hiring. Some larger actors with in-house environments do a lot of educating themselves. That’s excellent, but still, they should require a certain level of competence from consultants.

On our side, the consultancy companies, we need to embrace this as both necessary and an opportunity. We should encourage our customers to put the bar higher and raise their expectations. And, we should follow up by educating our consultants to be experts and advocates of accessibility.

InfoQ: How did the approach that you took for accessibility work out?

Kjersti Krokmogen: It definitely helped to change my mindset. Not considering an accessibility issue as something we do if we have time, but as an actual bug. That makes it much easier to prioritise.

As for my daily routine, it’s still a journey. I have to actively remind myself that new features are not allowed to go to production until they’re tested and approved as accessible. And I hope that one day this will just be an integrated part of my daily routine.

InfoQ: What skills are needed and how can we develop them?

Dahle: It’s very much about practicing solving problems. That’s much more important than memorizing WCAG criteria, methods and theories. Designers and developers should practice together. Accessibility demands a highly interdisciplinary approach.

The technical requirements only get you half the way to an accessible system. The other half is about the human factor. Layout, icons, fonts, and language are some of the "soft" parts which are equally critical to an accessible system, and need to be assessed manually, by expert eyes.

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