Every year, Inclusive Design 24 makes it on my list of conferences I make an effort to attend live, or follow up with recordings. Being virtual and free, who wouldn't? This year, circumstances prevented me from attending as much as I liked to live (hello, baby ear infection), but I was still able to attend enough talks to make it worthwhile. I've also reached the threshold where I recognize talks given at other conferences past, repurposed, or repeated here. No matter, still plenty of fresh content to go around! Not to mention several talks to add to my backlog for future so-called legendary "free time."
Here's my breakdown of some of my favorites.
This is one that I wouldn't normally think of as worthy of a conference topic. After all, many websites fall into the "if it works for me (or the mouse), it works for everyone" trap. It seems like mouse accessibility would be accounted for by default, right? Wrong. There are still things we need to do to ensure that mouse accessibility is accounted for, such as the size of clickable areas. Another is making links and buttons look interactive. It's easy to accidentally change link styles so much that they no longer look like links, especially within a paragraph of text. Using only color is not enough, especially if it doesn't pass color contrast standards. We have to remember not to forget mouse accessibility while we're busy focusing on good keyboard navigation, screen reader capabilities, and more. It all fits together to make the most inclusive product possible!
How Project Management Empowers Accessibility
This was an interesting talk, considering our work culture doesn't have official project managers. With an operations lead and lean project teams, we often share project management responsibilities to make sure work gets completed on time and within scope. This talk provided some interesting statistics as well as ways to go about incorporating accessibility into project processes that should be helpful for anyone, project manager or not.
A tactic that I've had to employ before and, unfortunately, is sometimes the only one that client stakeholders will hear, is to approach accessibility from a practical or legal angle. The argument that it should be included in the process "because it's the right thing to do," often ends up rendering accessibility as a "nice to have" when stacked against important site features, budgetary constraints, etc. If it's approached from a practical angle, such as how good accessibility can improve search rankings and avoid potential lawsuits, it's more likely to get the attention it deserves within a project. Statistics can also help. The speaker brought up CDC resources such as the Disability and Health Data System to prove that the client's audience includes a higher percentage of people with disabilities than they may initially believe.
So what are ways we can incorporate it into project processes? It's certainly not efficient or conducive to have a big block of budget and project timeline labeled "accessibility." The best way is to incorporate it into all steps of the project process as part of the "definition of done." I liked this phrase since it implies that a layout, design, or functional widget isn't truly complete unless it's inclusive and accessible. A few ways to go about incorporating accessibility include asking questions at each step that expose potential gaps and keep track of accessibility building and remediation tasks to help improve budgeting accuracy. All in all, we work hard to make sure we incorporate accessibility into all of our processes so that, regardless of client expectations, the sites we build are as inclusive as we can make them.
Better quality of life through apps
I loved this talk because it showed some of the cool things that people can do to accommodate people with disabilities. The speaker's Netherlands-based company, Q42, did some research regarding mobile accessibility and discovered that nearly half of iPhone users had at least one accessibility feature turned on. This means that we're not just talking a small percentage, but a large portion of the population that benefits from good accessibility. Who wouldn't want to have good accessibility with those kinds of statistics?
He also pointed out that accessibility is a shared responsibility, from designers to developers to copywriters to clients. If the load is only on one member or a small percentage of a team, then it's too easy for it to fall by the wayside or get less priority. He had three ways to help keep projects accessible as well, which he called "RUM, Roasts, and Roger." In a nutshell, these involve "speed dating" between project team members and users to discover pain points, inviting experts to evaluate and criticize your work, and keeping real person testers involved in the process. I would love to try at least one of these in the near future.
Next, he went over a couple of apps that are targeted towards people with disabilities. The most unique and cool of these, in my opinion at least, is SenseMath. This app translates graphs into sounds so that blind people can hear and interpret the sounds into equations. Crazy, right! But so awesome. It has 90% of Dutch math books included, so it works with the majority of the curriculum in the Netherlands. I for one hope this app becomes globally available in the near future.
There are plenty of other talks from this conference that I intend to view in the near future, but the ones I was able to attend I really enjoyed. I learned a lot about some of the awesome things that are happening in the digital accessibility space. It's good to see all new initiatives as well as gaining new perspectives and ideas for how RDG can grow its own accessibility culture going forward.