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Our Path to Building Accessible Software for All Users

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Illustration of a solid black circle representing the pupil of an eye with eight solid colorful lines placed in a spoke pattern around outside of the circle, which is padded with white space to represent the sclera — white part of the eye.

Empathy is central to Widen’s values and culture. It is reflected in our exceptional customer service, respect for our teammates, and commitment to employing people with developmental disabilities. In this TEDx Talk our CEO, Matthew Gonnering, speaks about the importance of empathy in business.

So our interest in building software that’s accessible to all users is a natural extension of our corporate culture and mindset around empathy and inclusion. With that, we’d like to share where we are in our effort to meet accessibility standards across our digital asset management (DAM) and product information management (PIM) platform, the Widen Collective®.

Who benefits from accessible software?

One in four American adults (or 61 million people) have some type of disability and accessible products and services — including software — aim to meet their needs. And what’s interesting is that things that are designed with accessibility in mind create a more positive experience for everyone. For example, curb cuts for wheelchairs also help people pushing strollers, rollerblading, or jogging. And glass doors that slide open when approached help anyone carrying bags of groceries or delivering packages. 

The same is true for accessible software. It can help people with a temporary impairment, such as a broken arm. Or account for situational limitations, like reduced access to light or sound. It also considers mobile responsiveness for people using a range of devices, screen sizes, and input modes. Ultimately, accessible software benefits people of all abilities.


A priority at Widen

A timeline from 1996 to 2020 and beyond showing the milestones of our accessibility work at Widen.

Widen’s commitment to designing accessible software began in earnest in 2016 with the formation of our User Experience (UX) team to develop research-based strategies that improve the usability of our products. One of our UX designers, Julia Edbrooke, observed, “Change happens when people who are passionate about something push it forward. Our work toward more accessible software over the past few years has been greater than all prior years combined.” These efforts span our software development and our professional development. 

Accessibility as part of our build process

In 2019, Widen formed a cross-functional committee — with representation from UX, product development, quality assurance, marketing, and customer support — to ensure accessibility standards are met in all updates to our current software and new development. They continually implement new processes across teams to support accessibility improvements. 

Testing. Accessibility progress and compliance are regularly measured using various audit tools, including axe, Siteimprove Accessibility Checker, and Google Lighthouse (all of our new software development meets a Google Lighthouse score of 100%). As our platform is actively updated the code across all applications will come into compliance with these standards, as well as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA.

Our testing process also includes the use of screen readers, like VoiceOver and NVDA; and hardware, like vision modifying glasses and various mobile devices. Our QA test engineers use all these tools — as well as automated, unit, and manual tests — to ensure any new development is accessible.

Patterns library. Our patterns library houses the building blocks of our product design system. It includes components that meet accessibility standards for teams across Widen to use. Anna Vo, our Lead Front-End Engineer, explained, “The components library has been a huge driving factor in accessibility across our teams because it allows us to share these components. As soon as a component is updated, other applications can update to the newer version.”

Recent audits of our patterns library resulted in updates to our platform’s checkboxes, date picker, and other patterns to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. We have added accessibility features across our website, such as closed captions for videos and more descriptive alternative text for images. Our accessibility statement speaks to Widen’s accessibility commitment and goals. 


Building empathy from the inside out

Although building accessible software relies on standards and tools, it really starts with a culture that embraces each other’s differences, empathizes with users, and prioritizes inclusivity. For new employees, this starts on day one with an onboarding program that includes hands-on accessibility exercises — using glasses or browser extensions that simulate vision impairment — to experience software through the eyes of users with different abilities. 

During accessibility sessions held every other month, any Widen employee can participate in these kinds of activities that include a variety of accommodations on the computer screen. These sessions show us where we can improve and where we’re successful.

Ongoing accessibility training is also offered through lunch and learn meetings and special programs like our campaign for Global Accessibility Awareness Day. This celebration included an “accessibility passport” with four interactive exercises designed to deepen our empathy for users with different abilities and a video shared on social media that explains how Widen recognizes the unique needs and skills of our users around the globe, every day.


Reaching AA compliance

Widen believes that accessibility is not about disability...but about usability. It's about future-proofing and staying feature-rich as technology becomes more touch-friendly and voice-driven. 

This mindset fuels our commitment to bringing the entire Widen Collective platform in full compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA standards. We will continue to build on our existing accessibility processes and programs to ensure we meet this goal, and make our software the best possible experience...for everyone.

Note: This article was originally published in December 2019 and has been updated to remain current.

Topics: Product Updates, Widen Collective

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