After the Accessibility Audit

money box

Cheers for you and your company.  You’ve done the accessibility audit.

Accessibility Audit

Either you just heard about or know about the need to make all websites compliant for people with disabilities OR you got an unwelcome letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). You went ahead and hired a company to do an accessibility audit.

If the audit company was good they went through your website or other software and measured it against Section 508 (US Federal government standards) or WCAG 2.0 (International guidelines which are now partially included in Section 508).

In either case you got a report and are working with your development team to fix any flaws. That was a worthy use of $5k – $20k of your company money.

Done, right?  Not so fast.

More work to be done

The chances are really, really good that your company is still using inaccessible software and hardware that is also covered under Section 508 standards.

One way to minimize your risk is to stop purchasing Information and Communication Technology (ITC) which fails accessibility tests. That’s correct. Only you and your procurement department stand between inaccessible software and hardware and your employees, students, customers and whomever else you represent.

Procurement training

Get training for those procurement professionals NOW. Make sure the training includes how to ask for and analyze the latest VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template), which is a vendor-created document that tracks a specific product that you might buy to the Section 508 and/ or WCAG 2.0 standards and guidelines.

VPAT training

You should be asking for a VPAT in every RFP and every time you look to purchase any sort of ICT (phone systems, printers, software packages, computers, laptops or tablets, etc. etc).

An “average” company spends between 4 and 6% of their annual budget on ICT purchases. For a company with a $15 million budget that means annual expenditures of $600k to $900k. With that much money on the table the cost for high quality training and guidance at $6k to $10k is just a drop in the budget.

Seek out an accessibility specialist who can train your staff either onsite or remotely, help staff to learn how to analyze VPATs. This specialist should also be able and available to coach your staff on what questions to ask vendors AND what answers to accept.

VPATs – publish or perish

hard at work testing for VPAT

Help – what is a VPAT?

I still remember the first time I heard of a VPAT. I had just moved to the Boston area to work on the UX team at EBSCO Publishing. My new manager greeted me with “I am so glad you are here! We need to update our VPAT as soon as we can. You can get started on that right away.”

I didn’t have the heart or confidence to tell her I had no idea whatsoever what a VPAT was so I used my default which is to say, “Of course. I’ll get right on it.”

Fast track!

I immediately got a copy of their outdated VPAT, looked up the template on the ITIC site and figured out that there was an incredible amount (like weeks of testing) that should back up a VPAT. Oh, and along the way, I figured out that VPAT meant “Voluntary Product Accessibility Template”. Also that it is an industry standard way, courtesy of the ITIC (Information Technology Industry Council),  to tell your customers how well (or poorly) you have conformed to the accessibility standards for software or hardware set by the US Government.

I also learned that the reason the sales department had sent up an emergency “Get us a current VPAT!!” distress signal was because they were in the midst of sales negotiations where the library customer demanded a VPAT or they would not buy! This stance is likely to produce panic in any salesperson.

The race is on!

Luckily for them I had a very good history of prioritizing testing so that business critical needs would be met on time.  So, I decided what could and could not be tested on the EBSCOhost site in the immediate future. I set about doing that. EBSCOhost is a platform which allows a library to present databases of information, eBooks and other content to their customers. Using a subscription model approach a library can offer their customers an amazing amount of information at a set price.

From an accessibility point of view the content presents problems.  The content is produced by many, many publishers who have no uniform standard of producing content that meet the Section 508 or WCAG 2.0 guidelines. This means  there may or may not be alt text for images. There might not be captioning, if the content has videos. There may not be proper coding.  A person who cannot use a mouse might not be able to move through the pages using only a keyboard or similar device. The pragmatic truth of this situation is that, while the platform might be very compliant some of the content probably will not be.

My VPAT, produced in a couple of weeks, of the large and complex EBSCOhost platform helped save the deal and was used for a couple of years until the code had changed enough to merit a new VPAT, which someone else tested for and documented.

My takeaways

VPATs are largely used to facilitate sales when customers demand them as part of their RFP sales process.

VPATs are only as good as testers and evaluators make them.

VPATs are a moving target. They are not written in stone, but in digital bits, subject to updating as code and conditions change.

Amy Netzel, Accessibility Technologist

Amy Netzel

Amy NetzelAmy Netzel is amazingly cheery and positive; definitely the kind of person who evokes a feeling of well being. She is an Accessibility Technologist at Wake Technical Community College (WTCC) in Raleigh-Durham area for the past several years. It’s been a busy time as she works directly with faculty to create accessible documentation that can be used in class and online.

I interviewed her and asked some pointed questions about how she started out in accessibility. The path she traced started in education, went into instructional technology, currently works as co-lead on a large community college eLearning initiative. She will be seeking another Master’s Degree (Instructional Design + Media hybrid) soon even as she continues her work with Wake Tech.

“I started out as a classroom teacher in public school. Most of my accessibility knowledge was limited to the peripheral view that a person gets when they participate in IEP meetings. But, I always had a technical bent. People would ask me to help them with any new technology that we came across and I was happy to do that. When I decided to leave classroom work and work in tech I went to an educational website.”

Alt Text as a beginning

“Six months into that job we were working on alt text. The big push was to make the materials accessible for screen readers. As I dug deeper I realized that we didn’t even have an in-house copy of the screen reader software. By the time I figured out just what the alt text was supposed to do I was hooked, because we were doing this for people. Was it correct? What else did we have to do?”

Gradually, like any good puzzle solver, Amy put the pieces together to identify how to not only support the alt text, but also to caption videos and apply great UX concepts to her work.

Videos that explain “How to…”

When she moved on to Wake Tech she was pressed into service to train the faculty. This was often fun, sometimes frustrating, and resulted in some very exceptional videos which would be useful for anyone looking for simple, straightforward information on how to make materials, videos, PDFs, Word Docs accessible. To view them go to the YouTube playlist for Wake Technical Accessibility videos. Main takeaway is how to explain tricky accessibility concepts so simply that they are teachable to anyone, even those who were originally resistant or had no experience with accessibility whatsoever.

The video captioning program at Wake Tech has grown so large that another team member coordinates the work of multiple work-based learning students. Amy’s tasks in 2016 are focussed on co-leading a college-wide eLearning intro for students.

Amy has moved on (mostly) from directly creating the instructional materials herself to being a co-leader for the college wide program for eLearning for students. Of course the explanatory videos are captioned!

Faculty Training

Another part of her eLearning responsibilities is faculty training.  She uses the accessibility training materials. It gives Amy a chance to support faculty directly. The day we interviewed she had just received a PowerPoint that a faculty member was going to use for a classroom presentation. In this role Amy will sit down with the faculty person and show them what does and does not conform to the Wake Tech accessibility standards.

Amy has seen a shift in resistance over the years. “Wake Tech rolled out accessibility in 2009. At that time the resistance came from faculty members not wanting to do it or thinking it was just ‘too much work’.”
Both resistance trends continue with additional statements like “Why are we spending so many resources on this?” Because the college is very much behind the initiative to use Universal Design and make sure that all course offerings are accessible to all it means that Amy is on solid ground in answering these objections. Hard to argue with the top ranking officials!

Interestingly enough, the original impetus towards accessibility has been “a grassroots efforts. Each big accessibility change has come from a faculty member asking a publisher ‘Is this accessible?’ We do try to teach them that in eLearning support — to question the publishers. From there it bubbles up to a department head. Then I hear about it and try to get clarification on what the issue is.”

“Right now, at the top, the college is doing a risk assessment to see where we stand, where are some of our problem areas. There’s going to be a game plan laid out from there. They are our biggest supporters right now.”

NCCCS five year accessibility initiative

“North Carolina Community College Systems is smack dab in the middle of a five year initiative around accessibility. This started in early 2014.”

“At one time I was traveling around to provide training to other community colleges. It was a lot of fun! We have one of the three VLC (Virtual Learning Centers) at Wake Tech which is a central location for accessibility resources. One of my colleagues heads that up and with it, the traveling around.”

“We want a repository through the VLC of ‘How To’ documentation so all around the state faculty and staff can easily figure out how to make materials accessible. I’ve been asked to contribute to that. Someone else at Central North Carolina Community College has been asked for their input on web accessibility. This is going to be great if we can get this together!” Amy concludes with a lift in her voice.

Amy still does presentations. She mentions that “Four or five times lately I’ve finished the presentation and had someone quietly seek me out and say, ‘I’m so glad you mentioned color contrast and color vision deficiency. I can’t see green and I’m so glad you included it.’ This is a hidden disability. That’s why we talk about Universal Design so much. We create for everyone. It makes it easy. Teaching the faculty how to more easily use Word and PowerPoint makes them happy because it makes their own job easier and more efficient.”

The Future!

Next steps? Blogging. Further Education. Book.
Ambitious – nah!

Blogging: Amy has a lot of ideas for blog articles. One is how to roll accessibility into the planning process of the document, course, assessment instead of looking into it after the fact.

Further education: Part of her plan to help people design courses includes earning an ‘Instructional Design and Media’ hybrid Master’s Degree.

Book: She wants to write a book about accessibility which would cover a lot of practical topics gleaned from her years of experience. I want a first copy of that one!

Speaking: Engagement in October, 2016 at the North Carolina Community College Distance Learning Conference. Speaking about eLearning Intro, not accessibility. On her own time she is speaking at a local Girl Develop It – RDU local Meetup.

Famous People with Mental Health Challenges

Star Wars Lego robots fight

Star Wars Lego robots fightPresentation given at Boulder Chamber of Commerce, January 26, 2016. Panel discussion for local employers. Purpose was to de-mystify hiring people with mental health challenges.

When people see that famous people who have respect and admiration have contended with a mental health illness that knowledge alone can change the stigma attached to mental illness.

This slideshow was assembled from a WCVB (Boston) article (2013)


To recruiters: 5 myths about QA accessibility testing

woman recruiter reviewing work order

woman recruiter reviewing work orderA new flavor of QA job order is rolling into recruiters nationwide. This is a request for an immediate, experienced QA professional who does accessibility testing. Here are timely suggestions for what the recruiter needs to ask of:

  1. The employer at time of receiving the job order
  2. The candidate at time of initial screening/ interview


First: a short background and list of some terms the recruiter needs to get up to speed on the topic. What, homework!? Yes, homework, so you’ll do your job right.

Even though the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is 25 years old its application to software is still being defined. In short, this means that you are not going to find an exact definition anywhere of what the exact expectation of success is in this area.

With that said, gain some passing understanding of what these two terms mean: “Section 508” and “WCAG 2.0”.

Section 508 is a set of standards the US Federal Government has established to measure the Electronic and IT hardware and software it uses against. Please note that these standards were last updated in 2000 (which is a lifetime ago in internet terms.) A “refresh” of the standards is due soon.

This is where WCAG comes in. While the Section 508 has worked its way through the government process at a snail’s pace there are others in the world working on similar guidelines. Not a law, nevertheless most software companies look to align with these guidelines because they are more comprehensive and up to date. NOTE: Do not try to read most of WCAG. There are thousands of pages and as many ways to implement the guidelines as there are developers and planners.

5 myths:

Myth #1

Screen Reader (JAWS, NVDA) equals a “test tool”.

Reality Check:

Many employers will ask that the QA skill set includes “testing” with JAWS or NVDA.  Do not fall into the trap of thinking that these are test tools.

These software programs are Assistive Technology. They help people who have trouble accessing the internet or such programs as Microsoft Word convert the information encoded on the screen into audio or refreshable Braille outputs.

When testing for accessibility, qualified and aware QA professionals typically use screen readers to validate the end user experience of websites or software programs. This is hugely helpful, but is not the main method of testing.

Recruiter Question to Employer: Are there specific screen readers your users use? In the case of employee used software they probably have a preference. In cases where the software to be tested is for customers you will have to use best practices, which general means JAWS for US based companies. NVDA is also widely used.

Recruiter Question to prospective QA Employee:

What test tools do you use to validate the code against accessibility standards?

[Give points for answers such as WAT (IE toolbar from The Paciello Group or WAVE toolbar (Firefox and Chrome plugins from Webaim

Give points for answers which discuss evaluating the code for items like form labels, WAI-ARIA roles and properties]

If the QA person says they use JAWS, for instance, to test with, ask them how they do that.

Myth #2

User Experience is the same for all users.

Reality Check:

Even if a site is usable for the general public there is a need to do additional usability tests for people with disabilities (PWD)

Real example:  the code was properly designed to be read by a screen reader, but because the fields in the design of the screen were set up in a certain order the screen failed the usability test.

A resume upload page on a very common HR recruitment site had an input box below the Submit button. The sighted user could easily see the Comments box and choose to type something like “Portfolio” or “Cover letter”. The blind, screen reader user would not encounter that box until AFTER they had submitted their resume. At this point there was no chance to add the comment or go back.

The page passed the Section 508 and WCAG criteria but failed the simple usability test.

Recruiter Question to Employer: Will there be an opportunity in this role for the QA person to discuss the site with designers and/ or product managers?

[Give points whenever an employer understands that this discipline is a cross-functional, cross-team effort.]

Recruiter Question to prospective QA Employee: What experience do you have with creating/ testing against User personas? How much experience do you have working with people who need assistive technology (AT)?

[Give points for any recognition of what UX is, what personas are and, most of all, if the QA resource has worked with PWD.

Give points if the QA resource has had any experience explaining that websites/ other software may present challenges to those who are using AT. If they have done so, ask them to describe the outcomes. ]

Myth #3

You have to test all pages on a site to do an accurate accessibility test.

Reality Check:

Given that so many sites have hundreds, or even thousands of pages, it is impractical to comprehensively test them.

The usual method is to concentrate on the primary pages which handle the most user traffic. (Home, Search results, Contact us, main shopping and check out pages, etc.) If those pages reveal serious problems they must be fixed first. Only later should the testing go deeper. Additionally, newly coded and added pages should include accessibility testing as they are prepared for production.

Recruiter Question to Employer: Will the QA resource be presented with the core workflows so they can include them in the testing? Who has developed the initial test plans?

[Give points if Product Management is involved]

Recruiter Question to prospective QA Employee: How many scenarios do you usually test? What are the main paths? Do you find that pages deeper in a site present different challenges than the Home page?

[Give points for any answers that indicate that the QA resource is familiar with accessibility being disproportionately built into the Home page and ignored further into the site. Give points to a QA resource who mentions that some features, while not on every page would warrant special testing – forms, videos (for captioning and general keyboard accessibility of video player controls)

Myth #4

Anyone who has a degree in Computer Science would know how to test for Accessibility.

Reality Check:

Fact is that most of the computer science programs, boot camps, and assorted free and for-pay courses do not even touch on accessibility related coding. Most of the programmers who know how to prepare their code for consumption by assistive technology and people who use alternative methods of understanding the UI have learned it “on the job” or by doing research on their own.

Recruiter Question to Employer: What specific skills are you looking for in a QA resource to test your site/ software for accessibility?

[Give points for any answer that acknowledges that most resources will not have gained this knowledge in a common computer science program. Give points if the company already has some knowledgeable people on the ground who can help the new QA resource.]

Recruiter Question to prospective QA Employee: Where did you learn about accessibility and accessibility testing?

[Be prepared to hear a long and drawn out version of their discovery process. Be patient and take notes. Do not believe them if they say that they easily discovered it in a class or another job.]

Myth #5

There is no need to do manual testing, because all the tests can be automated

Reality Check:

While there is much merit to automating as many checks against clean and correct code bases, even the most progressive automated testing tools can only check code violations (HTML mis-matches, for instance).

None of them can accurately replicate either the user experience for a person using keyboard only approach or various assistive technologies: See Myths #1 and 2.

Recruiter Question to Employer: Are you expecting to have the QA resource convert some of their tests to an automated system? If so, which one are you using and are you aware of any necessary accessibility plug-ins that will be required?

(Give points if they already understand that there is a limit to the usefulness of applying automated testing across the board to this effort. Part of your role here is to help set expectations of what is possible in reality.)

Recruiter Question to prospective QA Employee: Have you ever committed your accessibility tests to an automated process? If so, which one? How effective has this been? What do you know about accessibility plug-ins for the major automated test systems?

(Give points for honesty when the tester has not been able to do much useful with automated tools. Give big points if they mention anything covered in this article by CogApp or this one where researchers in Norway examined the results of 12 automated accessibility checkers. Yes, done in Norway, but the checkers are global.)

Wrapping it all up:

QA can and should do testing re accessibility diligently, deliberately and determinately whenever a software project is undertaken in 2016. However, that QA is by default dramatically different from other areas of QA.

Get familiar with the ins and outs and prepare to make significant money for your recruiting firm and your QA resources. This is a niche that is not going away.  Think about placing QA security testers and prepare to reap the benefits in the same kinds of ways.






How many people have disabilities?

store signs

Statistics and the real story behind them

Census Bureau – 2012

shops-shopping-mall-signs“The U.S. Census Bureau released a report containing updated statistics on the population of people with disabilities in the U.S.  The Bureau reports that 56.7 million Americans (18.7% of the population) have some type of disability.

Some statistics from the report via Seyfarth Shaw’s very informative ADA Title III blog.

“The Bureau reports that among people age 15 and older:

8 million have a vision impairment

8 million have a hearing impairment

31 million have difficulty walking or climbing stairs, including 4 million people who use wheelchairs and 12 million people who use canes, crutches, or walkers

20 million have difficulty lifting or grasping.” 

Here’s another set of numbers to wrap your head around.

“More than 50 million Americans with disabilities – 18% of our population – are potential customers for businesses of all types across the United States.

“This group has $175 billion in discretionary spending power, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That figure is more than twice the spending power of American teenagers and almost 18 times the spending power of the American “tweens” market.”

Accessibility attracts not only people with disabilities but also their families and friends. Like others, these customers often visit stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and other businesses accompanied by family or friends. This expands the potential market exponentially!

This market is growing fast. By the year 2030, 71.5 million Baby Boomers will be over the age of 65 and demanding products, services, and environments that address their age-related physical changes.”

There’s a lot of money to be made in getting this right.

What retail stores can do

Tiffiny Carlson, The Mobility Resource writes via the Huffington Post about small retail shops and grocery stores. She includes tips like leaving room in the aisles so that people using a wheelchair can navigate through. There are good points discussing staff training so that employees know when and how to offer help.

She also emphasizes that the store will have a customer for life if they are treated well. Since most people who have a disability have family and friends those people will also want to sign on as loyal customers.

“There are over 48.9 million living with a disability in the U.S.

Taking notice and appreciating our buying-power can be one of the best business moves you’ve made all year. Our population just in the U.S. spends $150 billion annually.”

Mart Carts available

An article on Disabled World shows that even a temporary disability (like waiting for knee surgery can have a profound effect on one’s day to day ability to get around.)

This article brings very familiar stores and organizations into the conversation (Costco, Goodwill, Wal-Mart, Ace Hardware) into the conversation about which outlets in her area had mart carts available. The little observations about which stores had diligently plugged in the ones needing recharging and how helpful the staff was gives life to the conversation.

Staff training

Just in case you thought your staff had a full 7 seconds to make a good first impression, guess again. Most recent research reveals that a person makes a positive or negative judgement within 1/10 of a second — and they don’t usually change their first impression. Your staff, especially your front line staff, needs training and coaching to apply simple, practical standards when they encounter a person with a disability. Pret a Manger restaurants worked with the Equal Rights Center (ERC) in 2012 to make sure that their facilities were accessible and their staff trained in disability etiquette.

Depending on your business this might involve simple transactions, like offering to read a menu out loud to a customer with low vision or writing notes back and forth for a deaf customer. Your marketing and customer service department can also develop additional materials in Braille or audio which can be presented as options in a friendly and supportive manner.

We provide training materials to sensitize and support your support staff. Contact us for more information.

Accessibility requirements

Examples of requirements written for Taleo to fix accessibility issues.

#1 –

As a JAWS screen reader user I want to know about all mandatory fields when filling out a form. In the personal information page of the Taleo job application there is a two field mandatory entry to indicate where I learned about the job position.

When tabbing through the form user arrives at the first drop down box labeled “Source Type”. This permits the user to select, using up/ down arrows a general category, such as ‘Career Fair’ or ‘Magazine’. When pressing Enter the system opens a second, mandatory drop down box, where choices are available to further refine the source of learning about the job. This drop down box appears visually on the screen but is not announced. When user Tabs again they are taken to the Submit button, skipping over the second drop down box.

This causes an error on the page, which user has to discover and fix before moving on through the application.

Expectation: all mandatory fields on a page will be accessible to user when using keyboard only approach. All page elements will be announced via JAWS when they are available on screen.

Actual: the second drop down box is skipped when user first moves through the screen using Tabbing.

Fix: the second drop down box can be accessed using the Tab and JAWS reads the second label and user is able to complete the action without incurring a page error.

#2 –

As a JAWS screen reader user I want to hear all error messages announced when they occur so I can take corrective action.

When user enters a search term while looking for a job, if there are no results, a message appears on the page saying “There are no results for the search term used. Please try again.”

Expected: When an error is reached, focus will be placed on the error message and JAWS will read the error text.

Actual: The error is rendered silently, leaving the JAWS user unaware that it occurred.

Fix: When an error occurs on the search page JAWS now reads the text so user is informed and can re-enter a different query.

#3 –

As a JAWS screen reader user I expect to move through a page in a logical fashion through all screen elements.

On the login page for Taleo cursor is placed automatically in the username form field upon page arrival. When they fill out that information and Tab, they are moved to the password form field. One more tab brings them back up to the top of the page, not to the next page element, which is the ‘Forgot password?’ link.

Expected: On a login page, the user is most likely to want to enter username, then password and then Submit to move into the site.

Actual: The focus, when Tabbing, moves from the password field to the top of the page. Due to page design there are 8 Tabs that need to be moved through to get to the Submit button.

Fix: When user Tabs from password, they move to the two “help” questions, “Forgot password” and “Forgot username?”, then to Submit button. They are no longer taken to the top of the page and forced to make their way back through the whole page to finally Submit their credentials.