Narrative Changes on Disability
Speaker: Imani Barbarin - Disability Rights and Inclusion Activist and Speaker
This was a heavy talk but so motivating and impactful. I really enjoyed getting to hear the passion that Imani has for accessibility and the importance for providing accommodations for everyone. Imani talked about the exclusionary culture around accessibility and how accessibility is seen as something that is only for disabled people. This of course isn't true since many tools and resources can help everyone.
She went on to talk about the workplace environment and how the culture around accessibility has changed since the pandemic. Many people have become used to working in their own spaces with their own tools, and going back to the way things were before the pandemic is taking away those tools. Instead of demanding that we return to the way things were, we should be opening up the conversation around accessibility and start to normalize it. Asking others if there are any tools or solutions that would be helpful for them is a great way to start.
We shouldn't live in a world where others make fun of or react negatively to accommodations. They should be the standard in every space so that everyone can join the conversation. The idea of a one size fits all approach simply doesn't work. There are laws in place for accessibility that aren't being followed and are treated as more of an afterthought when they should be thought about from the start in the ideation process.
This was one of my favorite presentations from the entire conference and I would definitely recommend taking the time to watch the full presentation.
Essential Accessibility Annotations for a Smoother Design-to-Development Handoff
Speaker: Carie Fisher - Testlio, Director of Digital Accessibility
Here at RDG we don't typically hand off designs to developers, but I think it's important for us to open up these conversations between front-end and back-end developers. Many of the things that Carie talked about were things that can easily be added into the design process and can be checked during development using accessibility evaluation tools. I don't necessarily see myself annotating mockups but I think this will help me be more mindful in the design process for how to make websites more accessible.
Color contrast: This is the most commonly detected accessibility issue, and is such an easy issue to fix. Carie mentioned several contrast checker tools that can be used to ensure that colors pass WCAG standards. There are even plugins that can be added to prototyping tools like Figma.
Links and buttons: Links and buttons should be identified as focusable elements with different interactive states. Telling people whether a link is internal or external is also helpful so that they can determine where a link is going to go.
Missing alternative text: This is something that I run into a lot with clients. Using questionable or repeated alt text isn't helpful for screen readers. It should be meaningful and added to all essential images and icons. One thing that Carie mentioned was that screen reader users can decide to skip over information, but they can't make up information that is hidden for them.
Skipped and missing headings: Should include programmatic levels that pay attention to reading order. Carie talked about how we should think about the structure without applying styles which I thought was interesting.
Missing form labels: Outline relationship between label and the input. Helper text, error and success messages are also helpful to include.
All of the topics that Carie covered were great but they are the bare minimum things that designers and developers should be checking to make sure that a website is accessible.
Enhancing Accessibility with AI and ML
Speaker: Noé Barrell - Deque Systems, Machine Learning Engineer
I'm very new to the AI/ML world but I thought it was really interesting to see how machine learning tools can be used in accessibility testing. Using this tool they can analyze the visual appearance of web pages to determine what role objects play instead of relying on incorrect markup. This is especially helpful for interactive elements like forms, menus, links and buttons. The tool then asks clarifying questions to make sure that the current markup is correct. This test can be compared to the current markup to make sure that the role makes sense for UI interpretation. I'm interested to see how this tool progresses in the future for accessibility testing.
Hijacking Screenreaders with CSS
Speaker: Ben Myers - Microsoft, Software Engineer
I haven't been using screen readers for very long but I was under the impression that they aided users with vision impairments in navigating websites by speaking the information out loud. I had no idea that CSS could have such a big impact on them. Ben went through a few different examples where CSS changes the way that screen readers present information on the page.
Example 1: In this example, he had three divs, each with a line of text inside. Setting the second div to
display:none; made it so that the screen reader skipped over the element completely even though it's still presented in the markup.
Example 2: For this example, he added a pseudo element to display and icon before button text. Using the screen reader it still announced the icon and then the button text.
Example 3: Starting out with a simple button with the label 'Add', Ben updated the CSS to use uppercase text on the button. Instead of pronouncing the word ‘add’ it pronounced each individual letter.
Example 4: In this last example he had a basic table with rows and cells. Using the screen reader we are not told that it is a table and are not given any indication to where we are within it. Table cells are instead treated like divs. Adding a striping attribute to the table rows makes it so that the screen reader announces the table and lets the user know where they are in the table.
These examples help point out the need to constantly test screen readers to make sure that information is being presented as expected. For an in-depth look at these examples check out Ben's website.
User Research and Personas for BARD Mobile
Willa Armstrong - Library of Congress, Digital Accessibility Specialist
Wendy Stengel - Library of Congress, Acting Division Chief, Design
Julia Kim - Library of Congress, National Library for the Blind and Print Disabled, Product Manager
While I wasn't very familiar with BARD Mobile before this talk, I am an avid audiobook user and very familiar with creating user personas. User personas are a great way to learn more about your users and identify pain points in the research phase of a project. In the past, I fell into the trap of creating users that felt very flat and stereotypical. Like they discussed in this presentation, personas are a tool that keep different user groups and needs in mind. They are more meaningful user types that provide insight into the users and are not based on personal bias or stereotypes.
Working from Within: Having a Disability and Working in Digital Accessibility
Justin Yarbrough - Deque Systems, Accessibility Consultant
Steve Lowe - Deque Systems, Senior Accessibility Consultant and Accessibility Coach
Trudy Harrington Karl - Deque Systems, Senior Accessibility Consultant
Listening to this panel was a great way to end the day. Here are a few questions that were asked during the panel that really stuck out to me.
- Does having a disability help you relate to the people you work with? Working remotely people may have unseen disabilities that we don’t know about. We should have empathy for people and approach everyone we interact with as possibly having a unique need without making any assumptions about people. Another thing that was mentioned by Trudy was that having a disability is not a requirement for having a passion for accessibility work.
- Do you feel obligated to advocate for accessibility? Justin mentioned being asked to help with a class reunion and make it more welcoming to anyone with any type of disability. Steve talked about an instance during a fire drill where two staff members had disabilities that would not allow them to go down several flights of stairs. He ended up advocating for these coworkers and asked for evacuation wheelchairs that allow for easy movement down the stairs.
- What does inclusion look like where you work? Steve mentioned that inclusion is recognizing and respecting the talent and ability of everyone in the workplace, whether it's in person or remotely. Allowing people time to think and answer questions, because allowing ability for more time to digest information before requesting a decision can help everyone. Being aware of the way that people learn or take in information is also important and whether someone is a visual or auditory learner.