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Our Path to Building Accessible Software for All Users

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

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

Who benefits from accessible software?

Nearly 20% of Americans have some type of disability, and accessible products and services — including software — aim to meet their needs. In addition, accessible software can accomodate people with temporary disabilities, such as a broken arm; and accounts for situational limitations, such as reduced access to light or audio. 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. This is true with other accessible designs, such as curb cuts for wheelchairs, that also help people pushing strollers, rollerblading, or jogging. And glass doors that slide open when approached, which help anyone carrying bags of groceries or delivering packages.1 Accessible design can create a better experience for everyone.

A priority at Widen

Our focus on designing accessible software began in earnest in 2016 with the formation of our User Experience (UX) team, in order to research, design, and advise toward increasing user empathy and usability. 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 year has been greater than all prior years combined.” Our efforts have expanded across both our software development and professional development. 

Accessibility as part of our build process

We began auditing accessibility factors in our software with Google Lighthouse, an open-source tool for improving the quality of web pages. As of November of 2018 we have required all new software development to meet a Google Lighthouse score of 100%. As our platform is actively updated, the code in all applications will come into compliance.

And in April of 2019 we formed a cross-functional committee consisting of individuals in UX, product development, quality assurance, marketing, and customer support, to ensure accessibility is included in all of our new work. As a result, improvements across our development process have been made in these areas:

Patterns library: Our patterns library houses the building blocks of our product design system. It now includes components that meet accessibility standards, for reuse by other Widen teams. It also contains resources like a color palette guide that outlines compatible combinations (in the graphic below). 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.”

accessibility dark background

Testing: Our current accessibility testing protocols include using hardware such as vision modifying glasses and various mobile devices; as well as digital tools. In addition to Google Lighthouse we use Siteimprove Accessibility Checker and Axe accessibility, and we’ve started incorporating VoiceOver and NVDA screen readers into our practice. We’ve also created an accessibility checklist for our Quality Assurance team to follow.

Widen.com: We have begun updating resources on widen.com. We’re adding closed captioning and transcripts to videos and more meaningful alt text to images. We’ve also drafted an accessibility statement that speaks to our accessibility commitment and goals. 

Building empathy from the inside out

We are expanding on our existing culture of inclusiveness with professional development opportunities focused on accessibility. This includes bi-monthly workshops for new and current employees that aim to create awareness for the needs of users with different abilities. Participants engage in hands-on activities — such as using vision simulation glasses — to experience software as if they had a disability. These sessions help ensure that when we design, develop, and test features we are always considering accessibility.

A path towards AA compliance

All of these strategies are part of our plan to ultimately reach full compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA standards in all new applications (2.1 standards released in 2018). These guidelines include recommendations for making content accessible to people with disabilities. 

Because we believe that accessibility is not just about disability — but rather, usability — we are confident that achieving our goal of AA compliance will make the Collective a better experience for all users. And this is pretty powerful, because access to the right tools can help us all achieve our full potential.

Notes

  1. “What is the difference between accessible, usable, and universal design?” Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology, University of Washington, last modified March 30, 2019, https://www.washington.edu/doit/what-difference-between-accessible-usable-and-universal-design.

Topics: Product Updates, Widen Collective

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