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Customer Experience and Design

3 Days, 300+ Sessions: What I Discovered at CSUN Conference 2019

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In 2017 I wrote The Next Big Consumer Segment: People With Disabilities, predicting there would be a tremendous economic opportunity for those progressive, smart organizations serving digital accessibility.
Now, two years later, it has arrived in a big way, and I heard a lot about it from our largest tech companies and their leaders at the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in Los Angeles last March. This was my first CSUN – now one of the world’s largest events of its kind, attracting scientists, educators, practitioners, government leaders, tech industry execs, and users with disabilities. According to Gina Bhawalkar of Forrester (who attended), those of us who were there came because of one common goal – “to witness the latest and greatest innovation in assistive technologies and organizational practices to promote a more inclusive world.”
Here are two of my favorite takeaways from the event.

1: Scaling Digital Accessibility – How Amazon and Slack Do It

Scaling digital accessibility in large organizations is tough. People and skills come and go, and so do processes and best practices. Amazon’s scale is larger than most, said Joe Cronin,  Senior Project Manager Technical of Retail Accessibility at Amazon. And, Amazon has a “customer obsession” to make sure customers have the best user experience. They insist on the highest standards with a bias for action, and they’re results driven. With thousands of features and millions of images (uploaded by actual vendors), and a product created and maintained by globally distributed teams, it’s difficult to coordinate teams testing with “A11y” (accessibility) in mind. So how does Amazon scale accessibility? Cronin says teams plan and prioritize repairs on a routine schedule, create templates for developers, and standardize manual testing processes along with:

  • Completing evaluation checklists
  • Obsessing over customer feedback and fixing issues right away
  • Validating repairs using multiple screen readers
  • Providing office hours support
  • Training teams on a routine basis

Amazon designed and built its own evaluation tool, the A11y Evaluator. And, like mature-minded organizations, it measures issue-related metrics over time to improve performance, so it’s quantifiably managed.
Slack approaches scaling accessibility a bit differently than Amazon, with a focus on testing in three separate workstreams. The organization starts with “foundational testing” first, using manual and automated tools ranging from keyboard tabbing and screen reader validation to online-automated tools (typically browser plug-ins). Second, QA engineers run Slack-wide testing for color contrast and keyboard validation. Their third workstream uses “ultra testing” with software services to create bug reports and repair any issues. Slack’s three presenters said they take testing a step further, and “UI test” screens – a type of functional test mimicking actual users to discover if the user flow works as expected.

2: Ignoring Digital Accessibility Is a Losing Strategy – Act Now and Avoid a Lawsuit

Organizations investing in digital transformation without a plan for digital accessibility should be prepared for demand letters and lawsuits – and, to lose in court and in the court of public opinion. In 2018, there were 2,258 web accessibility lawsuits, nearly triple – up 177% from the prior year according to several sources, including Level Access. Avoid being the next Domino’s or Winn-Dixie – both were sued and in each case the courts ruled, in favor of the plaintiff, that websites and mobiles apps are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
From the Court of Appeals opinion in the Domino’s case:

Domino’s has received fair notice that its website and app must provide effective communication and facilitate “full and equal enjoyment” of Domino’s goods and services to its customers who are disabled. Our Constitution does not require that Congress or DOJ spell out exactly how Domino’s should fulfill this obligation.

These organizations will pay a big price for repairing their websites, mobile apps, and documents. If you’re reading this and wondering what to do, the smart strategy is prioritizing this underserved market, then designing for them with digital accessibility from the start. Take a look at the “Big Win for Web Accessibility in Domino’s Pizza Case” by Lainey Feingold. She advocates spending money on web access, not lawyers.

Going Forward – What to Do?

One thing was quite clear to me coming out of the CSUN Assistive Tech Conference, serving accessibility is an issue that will have a significant effect on both organizations who adopt accessibility in process, practice, and culture and those who choose to ignore it. The question for C-level executives is, what type of effect do you want – positive or negative? The largest tech companies have made huge investments in digital accessibility, and paved the way for all organizations to use their built-in services, such as Inclusive Office 365 and Adobe Accessibility Checker, to name a few.

What are you waiting for?

To learn about how Perficient Digital can help you assess and improve your digital accessibility, check out our Accessibility IQ audit.

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Lisa McMichael

Lisa McMichael is a Senior Manager Digital Accessibility, CPACC with the Detroit Business Unit.

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