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December Guest Blog: Accessibility Hackathon - Emphasizing The Importance of Digital Accessibility

Bob Osmond

NC TECH partner and member, Racepoint Global, provides a summary of our recent hackathon.

In October, our company Ablr had the opportunity to work with the North Carolina Technology Association (NC TECH) to shine a spotlight on digital accessibility. Together, we brainstormed to figure out how to engage NC Tech’s members in this effort. The big idea? Host an Accessibility Hackathon during the month of October, which coincided with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Typically, a hackathon is an event in which developers or other IT professionals band together and, over the course of a short time period, set out to uncover bugs in a software project. In the case of the Accessibility Hackathon, we offered a website audit worth $5,000 to three randomly chosen NC Tech members. These website audits uncovered accessibility violations and identified barriers that would make it difficult for users with disabilities to fully utilize the site.

Our accessibility team consists of both visually impaired and sighted testers, and together, they provided a comprehensive analysis of winners’ websites. During this process, we provided live updates through social media. These updates included video demonstrations to illustrate accessibility issues that Ablr’s testers uncovered. These live updates showed followers what an accessibility audit involves and how it is conducted. The three winners also received detailed reports of accessibility violations the Ablr team found, which included recommendations on how to remediate them so the websites can be consumed by people of all abilities.

The Accessibility Hackathon was a success for everyone who participated – the companies involved received valuable insights on how to make their websites more accessible, and Ablr’s audit team was rewarded with an engaging, team building experience. However, this event is just the start. In the United States alone, 66 million people live with a disability. Many of these people find it difficult to access content on the web for a variety of reasons – some people might not be able to see or hear it,  are unable to operate a keyboard or a mouse, or may be confused and distracted by the layout of certain websites.. All these people rely on the concept of digital accessibility: the effort of making the internet accessible to everyone, regardless of ability or disability. In fact, accessibility is required by law; The Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA, stipulates numerous ways in which websites must eliminate potential accessibility barriers. Nevertheless, accessibility standards are frequently ignored. While this is sometimes done knowingly, most websites fall short of accessibility because their owners and web developers aren’t sufficiently aware of accessibility requirements, and fail to incorporate them into their products. When this happens, an accessibility audit is necessary to uncover the accessibility violations.

The three winning companies were Celito, Flexential and North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities. In all three cases, our auditors found that the websites were relatively compliant with accessibility requirements, as outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.1, or WCAG 2.1. Clearly, each site had been developed by professional web developers who were good at their craft. However, each site contained accessibility violations of which their owners were presumably unaware of. In one case, a visual indicator (specifically, an asterisk) did not have an associated meaning that was discoverable using a screen reader. In another case, a form did not generate a message when a form field was missed or filled in invalidly. In the most serious case, a form on one website couldn’t be navigated by keystrokes alone but required input by a mouse or trackpad. Since many people with visual or mobility impairments can’t operate these, the form fails accessibility requirements.

These problems might seem minor in the grand scheme of website design, but for a user with a disability, it means much more. For example, if a screen reader user can’t tab through a page using keystrokes alone, the user can’t independently complete tasks on the website. Since studies have shown that many users simply abandon websites that aren’t accessible to them, even relatively minor accessibility violations on otherwise compliant websites can result in a significant loss of traffic – especially when you take into account the significant number of potential consumers who have a disability.

The only way to remedy these oversights is to have a website tested – and then continuously monitored as new content is incorporated – by an accessibility team such as Ablr’s. Our team combines automated tools, manual examination and testing with assistive technology to provide a comprehensive analysis of a website.

While the contest to win a free accessibility audit drew attention to the importance of accessibility as part of an effort of disability inclusion in the workforce, the results of the Accessibility Hackathon also reinforce the importance of digital accessibility, and highlight the need for comprehensive expertise to guarantee that all accessibility requirements are met, with nothing slipping  through the cracks.

 

 


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