No doubt your organization has been impacted in some manner by accessibility. Whether you have been party to increasing number of lawsuits, mandated compliance due to receipt of federal funding, or casually onlooking as big corporations appear in the headlines due to accessibility concerns. With standards and laws changing and updating, how can you stay on top of them, and how can you make sure your organization is meeting the needs of your users and customers?
What Is Accessibility?
Accessibility is an umbrella term that we use to describe the rules, best practices, laws, and regulations for making sure your tools, content, and applications are able to be used by all sorts of people. When we think of accessibility, it is easy to think of common access needs such as people with low/no vision, or people who use assistive devices. But accessibility is broader than that. It can encompass, not only people with vision and hearing challenges, but also people who are not neurotypical or have cognitive needs, people with physical constraints or lack of fine motor control, or any number of divergent levels of ability. With that in mind, how are you supposed to account for every possible need a user or customer may have? In comes
What is Universal Design? There are several definitions and different meanings, but the principals laid out by North Carolina State University are a good start. What they boil down to is creating a mindset of opening access to as many people as possible through designs that allow for equitable use that do not require too much specific or intricate effort.
Accessibility doesn’t have to be a scary thing, and there are many things you can start doing to help make your own ITSM systems, customer portals, websites, publications, and more accessible!
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1. Caption or Describe Images
Contrary to the old adage, a picture isn’t worth a thousand words to someone who has trouble seeing it. While it may feel like you are helping by annotating a screenshot, or creating a really visually striking flyer for an upcoming event, you could be alienating your users and coworkers and making content that is difficult for others to access.
When providing images, it is important to make sure that you limit annotations or text on images because once that image is saved, the text contained within it is no longer accessible. Screen readers can’t access the text, users with low vision can’t customize the font or font-size, and users that speak another language can’t lookup words or translate the text.
To help make your image content more accessible to all, try to use any text captioning features such as alt tags in HTML, or caption options in your CMS or word processing programs. Beyond just having the captions present, a truly accessible caption should appropriately, and fully, describe the contents of a given image.
2. Choose Colors Purposefully
According to the NIH, color vision deficiency effects 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women globally. There are several different types of color deficiency. But for those people, it may mean not being able to distinguish elements or parts of your content that are distinguished with color. This doesn’t mean you need to wholly limit your color use. When choosing colors, there are tools that can help you emulate various color deficiencies, including some built right into the developer tools of popular web browsers like Chrome and Firefox. The goal of using these tools is to see how content may appear to people with various vision deficiencies and make sure your content is still usable. You may have chosen two colors you like to differentiate between two items, but with vision deficiencies those items may appear too similar.
3. Use Multiple Encodings
So, you really like your color choices, and they did not test well with the vision deficiency emulators? Not all is lost. A strategy for making your content as accessible as possible while still allowing some design is to use multiple encodings. What this means is to convey similar information in multiple ways.
Think of a common error message like “Error field cannot be blank.” The first encoding on this would be the text of the message. Because it is an error, you might choose to color it red. This would be a second encoding. Now because it stops the user from proceeding, you might also add an “x” icon next to the text as a third encoding. All three of these help to convey the similar message but do not rely on any one channel to do so. By using the message, color, and icons, you are using multiple encodings to help convey a message. A red block without the text, or just the x icon alone, would not be as helpful, but by combining the three you’ve unleashed an accessible and stronger message.
4. Check Your Contrast
Perhaps the most easily changeable and easy fix we can make with our content and in our applications is to consider our colors and themes and how they are used. The ratio between a foreground color and a background color is the contrast. For a lot of us this could be a white background with black text, this would be a contrast ratio of 21:1 which is acceptable compared to the 4.5:1 that guidelines like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (commonly referred to as WCAG or WCAG 2) specify.
For practical purposes, this means that when designing websites, documents, or theming applications there should be a sufficient contrast between any and all colors that we pick. This can mean trying not to use colors that are too close to each other.
5. Use the Right Tools for the Job
You don’t need to go into this alone or become an accessibility expert to contribute. These numbers and rules are not arbitrary and are not something you need to take out your calculator for. As mentioned, many web browsers include accessibility contrast checkers built into their developer tools. Beyond those tools, there are dedicated sites like WebAIM or their browser tool WAVE. Using the WAVE website or browser plugin you can run a quick check on any of your websites or web applications and see what issues arise. It will provide you with a comprehensive report of any issues or potential issues it encounters.
Remember the Goal
Accessibility can feel overwhelming especially with a looming threat of a lawsuit. But it is important to realize that the end goal of many of these laws and guidelines is not to punish us, or inhibit our creativity, but to enable as many people as possible to access our tools, websites, and content. This mentality of allowing universal access aligns well with our shift-left visions and extensive self-service portals, so keeping in mind some of these concepts when pushing out our content or application updates can be helpful in making sure we are delivering our service to all.
The end goal is to enable as many people as possible to access our tools, websites, and content.
Chris Chagnon is an ITSM application and web developer who designs, develops, and maintains award-winning experiences for managing and carrying out the ITSM process. Chris has a Master of Science in Information Technology, and a bachelor’s degree in Visual Communications. In addition, Chris is a PhD Candidate studying Information Systems with a focus on user and service experience. As one of HDI’s Top 25 Thought Leaders, Chris speaks nationally about the future of ITSM, practical applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning, gamification, continual service improvement, and customer service/experience. Follow Chris on Twitter