Importance of Accessibility Consultants and Effective Collaboration
By: Cindy Ryan, Vice President and Chris Dizon, Section 508 PM
Global Accessibility Awareness Day, May 18th, was launched in 2021 to promote awareness for digital accessibility, access, and inclusion. As Accessibility Consultants, New Editions is focused on and passionate about improving digital accessibility. We partner with organizations to help them improve their digital products and we play an important role in the maturation of their accessibility programs. In a world of emerging technologies and new standards, we convert complex ideas to simple, implementable tasks.
Effective collaboration between consultants and client program and development teams is key to the successful implementation of accessibility standards and ultimately, developing accessible products. The knowledge sharing between developer and accessibility subject matter expert (SME) goes both ways. New Editions collaborates with our clients to learn more about their individual environments, level of accessibility knowledge and accessibility maturity to provide tailored accessibility expertise.
Accessibility testing, whether it is software, web, mobile or other ICT, is the pillar of determining accessibility conformance. There are suites of developer tools, including plug-ins (Drupal, Figma, browsers, etc.) and accessibility inspectors that provide developers access to live testing tools with simple user interfaces (UI) that can pinpoint defects during coding. We help organizations understand testing methodologies, tools to utilize throughout the software development and production lifecycle, accessible code, and accessibility standards. A good accessibility consultant helps developers bridge the gap in understanding the test tool results. They explain the standard, explain what fails, and engage with the developer to determine the best option(s) to remediate each defect. This is crucial in order to empower developers who may know how to code but may not be as familiar with how to code accessibly.
Our work with UiPath is a great example of effective communication between developers and consultants. We helped grow their accessibility program, educate development teams, and improve efficiencies in the assessment process. UiPath International is a company that specializes in automation services, using Artificial intelligence (AI) robots to streamline processes, uncover efficiencies and provide insights, making the path to digital transformation fast and cost-effective. UiPath’s applications are sophisticated and complex, but were not initially developed with accessibility in mind. The initial scope of WCAG 2.1 AAA testing was to baseline accessibility conformance across web and software applications. Each successive sprint schedule included testing new UI components and test cases that were not initially part of the baseline. Two years in, most of the intricate software and web application content has been tested for accessibility conformance, with thousands of defects remediated.
Flexibility and reevaluation are key in ensuring processes grow and continue to meet the needs of the client. When defects were reported initially, UiPath input each defect into JIRA. This matured to a more efficient process where New Editions testers input defects into a Bug template within JIRA, allowing them to be uploaded and routed in real time to the development team for questions and prioritization for remediation. The use of JIRA also offers several additional benefits:
- Implementation of a defect template, to capture all requisite inputs for defect tracking and remediation;
- Real-time discussion between development teams, IT Project Managers, and accessibility SMEs, increasing collaboration;
- Ability to share similar defects across development teams and UI components;
- Capability of uploading both images and videos of defects;
- Communication with teams across multiple time-zones;
- Ease of retesting defects and closing resolved tickets;
- Dashboards to track number of defects by product, WCAG Success Criteria, and conformance level;
- Use of UiPath AI robots to automate exporting JIRA defects to a VPAT template.
The cost of retrofitting code for accessibility is typically high; developing accessibly is always more cost effective, but may not be possible initially. Through our collaboration, UiPath, when developing new UI components, sends prototypes for accessibility testing. This ensures that at design accessibility issues are caught prior to implementation. Components within one application are typically present across numerous other applications. Because of this, we worked to help create accessible color palettes and code libraries for buttons, toggles, dropdown text/on focus shading, and text to ensure the color scheme was coherent while also accessible.
This work has been mutually beneficial; the JIRA reporting and tracking is sophisticated, allowing efficiencies for defect retesting and has also been revolutionary in VPAT generation. Using UiPath’s own software, AI robots extract defects and export them to the VPAT template, allowing quick VPAT creation. JIRA is also used to track sprints and test cases, allowing true collaboration at every step in the process. Confluence pages host set up instructions for software, known defects that cannot be fixed due to software limitations (e.g., WPF framework), and FAQs, allowing quick onboarding of new testers. Developers have dug in to the WCAG standards and over the years of collaborative efforts, have started having their own conversations (and arguments) about the standards and how to successfully meet them. The growth in the development team’s accessibility knowledge has been substantial.
New Editions offers a broad spectrum of accessibility services, including program maturation, assessments, training, and remediation assistance. However, we are particularly proud of the UiPath project, where effective collaboration resulted in efficiencies in the software/web application development lifecycles and accessibility program maturation that made a lasting impact for our clients and the future of accessibility.
Ms. Ryan has over 30 years of experience in various aspects of information technology, including telecommunications, information management, and technical writing. She oversees New Editions’ accessibility services. Mr. Dizon has over 8 years of experience in the accessibility field and manages New Editions’ Section 508 home office accessibility projects.