Getting Developers On Board with Accessibility
November 20, 2019

Dylan Barrell
Deque Systems

Digital accessibility — making sure your website, mobile site and apps are accessible to all users, including people with disabilities — is increasingly a DevOps requirement that can't be ignored.

First, there's the sheer market size to consider — approximately one in four Americans, or 61 million people, are living with a disability. This is a huge target market you may be missing if your site is inaccessible. Consider the example of ecommerce sites — according to a recent study from Nucleus Research, two-thirds of the top ten online retailers had serious accessibility issues, potentially leaving close to $6.9 billion in North American e-commerce revenues on the table.

Then there are the significant legal risks to consider, with accessibility-related lawsuits exploding by 181 percent from 2017 to 2018. Digital accessibility is clearly something that needs to be addressed, but how can you best get your DevOps team — who may feel under pressure from other priorities — on board? Here are a few guidelines:

Give them automated tools

Automation is understandably a favorite among DevOps teams. Automated testing, for example, enables developers to move quickly while making fewer mistakes and ensuring high functional quality. Unit, functional, integration and regression are all forms of testing that have been automated and now take place throughout the entire development process, not just at the end.

Today's accessibility tools have similarly evolved. They don't resemble the "scan and report" testing capabilities that were deployed only when a site or app was very near, or already in production. These older tools generated long lists of accessibility issues, which would then require a fundamental and often highly expensive reworking. The automated nature of today's accessibility testing means developers can test early and often, raising issues while they are coding and then enabling these tests in their CI pipelines and pulling request approvals. Catching defects early makes fixes much easier, efficient and cost-effective.

Empower developers to be accessibility experts

Automated accessibility testing tools can typically detect about 30-50 percent of accessibility defects. That's why many DevOps teams supplement automated testing with manual testing. Today there are guided-manual tools that empower developers to bring this detection level closer to 75 percent, without the need for additional expertise to be brought on board. Guided, or interactive manual tests enable many developers to learn extensively about accessibility in addition to expanding test coverage. This not only extends the overall power of accessibility tools, but also inspires and excites developers, encouraging their ongoing learning on the road to becoming proficient in accessibility.

Grant developers the advantage of first-hand experience

It is often said that experience is the best teacher, and this is especially true when it comes to digital accessibility. It's one thing, for example, for developers to be told how a poorly constructed home page lacking clear headers can make life difficult for someone using a screen reader. But it's another thing entirely for developers to experience this difficulty first-hand.

Organizations can have their developers participate in empathy labs, where they have the opportunity to use various assistive technologies themselves. Understanding how users of these technologies actually interact with a website can be an eye-opening experience. It can also be helpful to have these users actually present, interacting with digital properties in the presence of the developers who created them — so these developers can see how certain design aspects may be problematic. All of this makes the experience of an inaccessible digital application more real. These experiences serve as fuel for the learning development teams must do.

Conclusion

Software development is a high pressure job. Every day DevOps teams face tight deadlines, complex and changing requirements, large scale goals, insufficient resources and more. It's no wonder that when developers are told they also have to ensure digital accessibility, this can feel like an unachievable goal.

Digital accessibility, however, is an increasingly integral component of good software, and it cannot be overlooked. Getting developers on board — by offering them automated tools, empowering them to be experts and participate in the accessibility dialogue, and providing a bird's eye view into the experiences of those using assistive technologies — can go a long way in building and sustaining your accessibility initiative.

Dylan Barrell is CTO of Deque Systems
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