June 3, 2022
This is a recorded conversation around prioritizing accessibility and centering the user experience in 2022 between the City of Oakland, Lighthouse, and Exygy that originally took place on May 10, 2022 in a conference hosted by Good Tech Fest.

It is no longer enough to just be user-centered. As the world continues to experience the aftermath of COVID-19, we are seeing record-breaking disparities worsened by the pandemic. At the same time, we’re also witnessing an increase in investment for organizations to increase accessibility for all users and prioritize communities with disabilities. Whether it’s cityofoakland.gov or our Bloom Housing platform, we are eager to share resources, learnings, and challenges we face as we work towards making all digital services accessible.

Jesse James:

Thanks everybody for joining! Really excited about our panel today: designing accessible websites for an inclusive and equitable future. My name's Jesse, I'm a Design Director here at Exygy. We are a digital agency and a B Corp, and we partner with nonprofits and government entities to design and build technology to improve lives. Exygy is the creator of the Bloom Housing platform, which is a web-based affordable housing platform that scales access to the affordable housing process in the Bay Area. We also work with our civic partners to bring social services and resources to users and residents, including the City of Oakland. Today I'm joined by some panelists who are gonna help us talk about how we all can champion accessibility in our digital services, our digital experiences and design, and I'm looking forward to a lively discussion, and we, we're gonna make sure to make room at the end of our time together for questions from y'all and feel free to post those questions in the chat.

Please use the Q and A feature on Zoom to ask questions in case we don't cover something you're interested in feel free to reach out to any of us. You can find me and the panelists on LinkedIn. You can connect Slack us in the Slack channel for this panel, and feel free to leave your email address with any questions and we'll make sure to get back to you. To get started, Nicole and Sean, I'll hand it off to you to introduce yourself: your name, pronouns, and organizations, and maybe include one thing that you're excited to talk about today.

Nicole Neditch:

Sure. I can go first. My name is Nicole Neditch. She, her, hers pronouns. I'm an Assistant to the City Administrator in the City of Oakland and excited to be doing this work focused mostly around design and digital service delivery in the City. I'm really excited to talk about design standards and how we incorporate accessibility into our values and principles.

Sean Dougherty:

Hey, everyone, I'm Sean Dougherty. I'm an Access Technology Specialist at Lighthouse San Francisco. I'm a low vision user of assistive technology. I go by he, him and I'm really excited that accessibility is kind of gaining a lot of traction lately, particularly during COVID and really seeing a lot of growth in the space and partnering with a lot of great organizations here in the Bay Area. So just really excited about those partnerships and having the discussion today around some best practices and strategies around web accessibility.

Jesse James:

Cool. And you touched on it there, Sean, but I think just sort of kick us off we've met once before, just sort of talk about what we had actually addressed today. And I think this is something that's been on my mind is, so we have a lot of our, our partners returning to us. We have a lot of our users asking us specifically about accessibility right now, and it feels like we've, you know, prioritized accessibility for a long time, but it feels like there's a ground swell and an excitement around addressing these issues right now. And I just wanted to start there as to like, why do we feel that that is, and use that to start this conversation.

Sean Dougherty:

Sure. I think that's a great place to start with the "why now?" question. It's a critical one. I think for those of us in the industry, as you mentioned, we've been working on it for quite a while. And it has been something that a lot of organizations have been thinking about maybe have been meeting, you know, a certain level of compliance or have been trying to make their products and services accessible to a certain degree. But that might have been just meeting some bare minimums and there's many organizations that haven't really thought much about it at all up until COVID. And you could argue that accessibility might be a positive outcome of COVID over the last couple of years or, or one of the positive, potentially positive outcomes that basically has forced companies to start to think about it more as their users have had to rely on products and services and have been increasingly utilizing more technology both mobile technology and websites.

This is something that people with disabilities tend to rely on to an even greater extent. But during COVID everyone has had to rely on technology more as we've been distanced and relying on Zoom and other platforms and productivity tools and, you know, services to order, our groceries and food remotely and things like that that we may have been using before, but during COVID we all started using those to an even greater extent. If you look at the global population, there's over a billion people that identify as having a disability. So this breaks down to about 20% of the global population, and it's a very large addressable market that basically if you don't optimize for you're missing out. So there's kind of this business use case and business opportunity, but I think a lot of the traction that's been gained has come out of COVID and the increasing use of digital technology and apps and tools.

Nicole Neditch:

First of all, I totally agree with all of what's been said, and I think we in the government space especially have seen everybody move into the online space in order to access government services for a long time. I've been working on and off on the City of Oakland's website for 12 or 13 years now, and the big push used to be, "how can we just get our services online?" They were all in-person services. People were coming into our offices. We told a narrative, we told a story about how that was more accessible to provide these in-person services because people couldn't access the web in the same way that they could access these in-person services or phone services.

A few things happened. One is that we've definitely progressed in the government space to getting more and more services online. I think that there is definitely a better acknowledgement even before COVID that you know, digital services are necessary in order to meet the needs of all of our residents and our community. But I think COVID just proved that even more as we no longer were showing up to the office, we didn't have the young person services available. And we're not a company where we can decide who we're gonna target or focus our services on. We really need to meet the needs of everybody. And so that means having an accessible website, having access accessible services, and we still have a long way to go to get there. But I think that finally there's this acknowledgement that that's a really important thing. We're not gonna go back to providing the same level of in person service that we did in the past. I think that it's also acknowledged that in-person services aren't as accessible as we maybe once you know, argued that they were. And so I think that's a lot of what's driving this increased interest especially in the government space.

Sean Dougherty:

Building off of that, we've seen that there has been an increased focus around government services and public services as a really good starting point for accessibility because you know, there, of course in an ideal world every product and service will be available to everyone. But certain circumstances and certain products and services are more critical than others. And so, you know, oftentimes things will start out within accessibility. There might be you know, litigation or a user that isn't able to access a product or service and they may take action as a result of that. And that might drive a company towards you know, focusing on accessibility, remediating those issues, doing more testing incorporating accessibility guidelines and standards, more so into their products.

But you know, it's one thing if someone with a disability has a challenge streaming media or accessing a video platform or something like that that is something that, you know, is important for you know, for their happiness and they, they are entitled to have access to that, but it's a whole other issue when that individual can't ride Bart or have access to public transportation, or be able to pay their taxes and things like that. So those critical government services are, are oftentimes where accessibility kind of begins and where in those organizations are often having to focus on it more regularly. During COVID, I think everyone has started focusing on it more. And I do think a lot of it has also been driven by a lot of the big tech companies that develop a lot of the devices that we use on a regular basis: laptop devices, mobile devices. Companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and all of those big tech companies for the last probably five to 10 plus years have really started to build in accessibility features into their apps and into their devices.

And so that's helped kind of drive the industry forward and they have also held their partners accountable in those ways as well, which we've then seen that kind of trickle down to a lot of app developers that are partnering with those big tech companies. And it kind of also encourages partners to think about their websites as well.

Jesse James:

So you bring up with the question of the legality of it, like what motivates people to even do this. And I guess my question there is like all these things we talk about, the guidelines of what WCAG guidelines, all that stuff, like that's the bare minimum we can do. Like, and so there's a lot of enforcement of "what do you legally have to do in order not to get sued?" So like, how do we change that motivation so that it becomes about reaching out to those people proactively or like providing everyone delightful experiences and not just like the bare minimum experiences so that we don't get in trouble. Does that make sense?

Sean Dougherty:

A lot of that comes down to creating a company culture around accessibility. I think it's creating kind of a shift and getting people not only familiar with what it means to be accessible from a technical standpoint — so getting the engineers and developers on board and getting them the right resources to adhere to those guidelines, adopt them understand how to either change their code or develop new code — that's kind of a starting place. But it's really around getting the entire company excited about accessibility and understanding the implications of it. And it really comes down to thinking about, you know, the product whether it's a service or, you know, a physical product and as well as the end user. And if you're really thinking about the greatest addressable market you'll want to consider all possible users for that product or service, which will include people with disabilities, people that need to use assistive technology tools to access that website or that product.

And so if you think about it in that end, instead of you know, trying to prevent litigation, if you think about it more as trying to increase access to more potential users basically those users are using different tools to access, but at the end of the day, they're still trying to achieve the same end goal which is use your product or service, and they just have to use it in a different way. So if you really create that shift culturally as well as provide the proper resources and partner with the right organizations, I think you can shift and create a culture that's really built around accessibility and really embraces it as opposed to just dealing with it with lawyers which aren't quite as fun and really not good for anyone <laugh>.

Nicole Neditch:

Yeah, we've definitely seen that in Oakland. And I think that that shift of the company culture is really, really important. We do a lot to make sure that we're in compliance with various different laws. And I feel like that's kind of the culture that government is right. Is, are we in compliance? Have we met the laws things like that. And so we've been working on accessibility on our City's website since the very beginning of having a city website. But it really has been about meeting those sort of baseline WCAG requirements. Right. and so part of what we've really been trying to do with our website and our digital team within Oakland is set sort of a new cultural norm in terms of what it is that we're trying to do.

We're all here. We're all doing this work because we think that everybody should have access to government and that we want everybody to be able to get the access that they need to, to government. And so when we start with that, and we actually bake that into the principles of why we're doing this work in Oakland, we've set our key principles around equity, simplicity, and trust and it's really removing barriers to access to government making things simple, easy to use, easy to find and providing reliable and trustworthy information to the end services to the public. And so we've rooted everything that we do in those, those three values, which one I think helps the organization get excited actually about the work that we're doing rather than just feeling like we're just trying to meet these minimum compliance rules. They see the bigger picture of what it is that we're trying to do, and they're excited to come on board. Also it helps us root the work that we're doing in these values and bring on the right partners in order to help us support this work.

We're never gonna be able to do it all within City Hall. And so by expressing those values by expressing the principles that we're working towards, we're able to attract great partners like Lighthouse and Exygy and others into this work because they see that vision as well and they wanna make it possible. And so I think that getting down to the basics we've talked about, like what are those core principles that can align people around the work that we're trying to do and move it from compliance to something that is a bigger vision that people can see.

Jesse James:

Awesome. So let's open this up a little bit. Like I think so for some folks, I'm not sure if everybody has visibility into this, but so when we talk about accessibility and doing all this work to make things accessible, that might seem cryptic to some people. So I wanted to spend a little bit of time trying to demystify what an engagement would actually look like. So I'd like to hear from both of you: When it comes to approaching accessibility or someone like engaging with a partner such as yourself, Sean, what does a typical engagement look like and what are some of the pieces and workflows that are sort of involved in an accessible audit?

Sean Dougherty:

Sure. Yeah, I think you both hit on this, that the web content accessibility guidelines and standards can be a little bit overwhelming, particularly for people that aren't familiar with them. There's a lot of pieces in there to really adhere to compliance and kind of meet all of those guidelines. And we kind of think of accessibility as being kind of an ongoing process. It's not necessarily about trying to be perfect and meeting every single guideline, but it's about kind of moving towards the end goal of being compliant. And oftentimes that requires kind of ongoing testing and basically trying to meet those guidelines to the best of your ability, but also moving closer to really getting full usability. And that requires a combination of a couple different things.

It requires really understanding those guidelines across your organization starting to basically socialize them out and then start to think about automated tools. That's really a good starting place after the organization has a good understanding of the web content accessibility guidelines and some of those key design principles. It's really best to start to test out some of your websites some of your pages on your own using an automated tool. So there's some good free checkers out there you could use such as like the Wave Checker from WebAIM. That's a pretty solid tool where you can start to run some of your pages through get a good understanding of you know, some of the potential issues that might exist and at least kind of wrap your head around what might be problematic.

And from there, it's usually best to lay out some of your user journeys. So like when we meet with partners we like to understand, "okay, what are the end goals?" What service is being provided? What is the product what are the key steps that someone is trying to take you know, when they visit that website, are they trying to fill out a form to register for a newsletter? Are they trying to sign up for a demo or enroll in a webinar? Are they trying to just download PDF resources to learn more about you know, maybe like a bus schedule or something, or maybe they wanna book transportation? All of those journeys are good to kind of document and think through, of how any user would go through step by step.

It's important to have those journeys outlined and really think about them. And then after you've done some initial testing on your own, just with like a free checker to get a sense of some of those issue areas, it's best to then involve an organization that can really help walk you through and do things like user testing and usability testing to really help you, you know, identify all of the issues and really move towards remediation. So there's a lot of steps involved, but those are the places where I would recommend starting.

Nicole Neditch:

That's great. Jesse, I would actually like push this back to you because you really helped design the whole workflow and process within the City of Oakland. So it would be great if we could share a little bit about your experience, and then I'm happy to share some of the things that I've seen as being the most helpful.

Jesse James:

We learned a lot when we kicked off the Bloom Housing project and initially it was in San Francisco. So we actually were given a mandate to include a wide swatch of communities in San Francisco. So we were introduced to Lighthouse at that time. And so there were a couple of things that really were successful for us. We had like really crude prototypes. We kind of had a thing that kind of worked. It was on a phone, and we just brought it to Lighthouse, and we were like, "does this work?" And before we had the design, before we had invested a lot of time, just to kind of generally get some initial feedback about devices — like what devices make sense and what types of interactions make sense?

So we got this really early feedback right away. And then from there, we set up some automated tools in our system that checked the things that we were doing on a code basis. And that helped keep everything minimally clean, technically clean. But then we stayed engaged with Lighthouse on an ongoing basis and then brought stuff to them and had folks there test. We had two levels of testing that we did. One was with experts, like people just know accessible technology and used this stuff professionally, and they knew the problems to look for, and that helped us a lot. And then we did a second round of testing that was just with people who themselves are learning how to use it because they need to use it in their lives. So they're not experts. They're just people that happen to interface with technology who were using assisted devices. That gave us both accessibility testing and a combination of UX. And then that informed the things that we built on at another level. And then that set us up for a greater amount of success going forward. So doing all four of those things in succession, like really early kind of scaffolding work with experts some automated tooling, just to make sure that we're catching the easy stuff, but then engaging again with experts and folks who just use assistive technology in their daily lives really helped us clean stuff up. And at this point we're reengaging a lot of those methods at the City of Oakland.

Sean Dougherty:

I think you raised a really important point there, Jesse, and that is definitely something we try to prioritize with basically our trusted tester groups is that as you mentioned. Internally, we can do a lot of testing ourselves, but a lot of our user testers meet a wide range of profiles. They use different technologies. Some of those users are fully relying on screen readers. Others are relying on magnification tools, and some are in between. And so I think that is really important to think about different user profiles and not always just work with an expert to work with people that maybe aren't as tech savvy, but are really familiar with the accessibility tools that they need to rely on and seeing how they approach your website and how the tools work for them is also really valuable. And it also helps you identify some gap areas that you might not have considered that the experts might take for granted, or, you know, might just be easy for them to complete. So it is important to have a wide range of user profiles in that testing is definitely something they consider in the process.

Jesse James:

And I'll just add the next level of that is to have Sean's team come in and actually upskill our engineers, who were using these tools on a regular basis, the same way they would use a code linter to check if the code is good. They could be even better if they had some one-on-one training with a partner, like Lighthouse, to come in and kind of bring their skill level up so that we, our engineers, act as proxies and can double check some of the automated tooling with some in-browser testing that they're doing themselves once they have more fine skill set.

Nicole Neditch:

I just want to emphasize the importance of user testing and taking it beyond the automated tools. And I think that the automated tools are a great baseline, and we certainly learned a lot as we did an audit across our website of the various different pages. And we were able to use that to help prioritize the quicker fixes or things that we could do right away to improve accessibility across the site. But I think when you sit down and actually watch somebody navigate your website using assistive technology, it really opens up all of the other things that are challenges. And sometimes it's not even you know, just based on assistive technology, but you realize how things are complicated or unnecessarily structured in ways that don't support people being able to navigate the site.

What we saw as we did some of that in-person user testing, were some things that never would've shown up in those automated tests but were so obvious when you sat down and watched somebody utilize the website. And so not only has that been an incredibly important piece for me to understand and help do some of the prioritization of where we should start, but it's also really important for others to see how people are using and interacting with our site. And some of the barriers that we're creating, and how we might be able to remove those, it becomes so much clearer. So I just wanna emphasize the user testing as being a really key component. I think that's the most important thing that we're doing: moving beyond the automated tools to doing that in-person user testing.

Jesse James:

Maybe we can expand this discussion a little bit more to the top. The panel itself is about inclusive design. So accessibility is a piece of that, and we're talking about equity and we're talking about supporting user needs. Can you both talk a little bit about how accessibility relates to the broader principles of inclusive or universal design a little bit?

Sean Dougherty:

What we often see, and Nicole was hitting on this a little bit as well, is that typically these accessibility principles really adhere to a lot of universal design principles and how you think about creating the best overall experience for users. And so a lot of times when you design with accessibility in mind, it ends up driving your design process forward and making your end experience better for everyone. And there's a lot of basic examples of incorporating things like closed captions into all of your video content. Of course that's really beneficial for deaf and hard of hearing users but it also makes your website accessible on mobile when people are on maybe public transportation or in a crowded room. They want to be able to understand some of your content that maybe you're distributing through your site, that's you know, video content and that allows them to consume it as well. In a lot of cases when there's something that meets a minimum accessibility, it isn't always the best experience and that checker like an accessibility checker might deem something to be accessible, but then when you test it as Nicole pointed out, it's actually not.

A lot of cases when you go back and make those changes, the end result is actually better. So, as an example a lot of a lot of blind users will navigate by links, like with screen readers, they'll use like first letter navigation and they'll go through links on a website. And so if your website, basically, if you have those links labeled with the word link in there, like if it says in the copy, "link to Facebook," "link to Instagram," "link to YouTube," "link to form," or something like that, "link to newsletter," if that's actually in the text it's gonna allow a user that has vision to be able to click through and access the link. They're gonna understand what it is and what it means. But for a user who's blind, that's using a screen reader. They're gonna try to rely on that link navigation to skip around and see what links are available. They're gonna maybe type in "F" looking for Facebook. And if "link" is at the start everything is gonna be labeled with link, and they're not gonna be able to basically use that first letter navigation.

And so they're gonna either become confused on where that link is, or they're gonna have to key through every single link that's there in order to find what they're trying to find. And so basically if you take that experience and you then redesign your site so that you remove that access copy and just label things how they should be labeled and just embed those links so that it just says "Facebook" or "YouTube," or "subscribe here," you know, without including that link in the text it's actually a more clean design and a better experience for all users, including users that are relying on screen readers in that first letter navigation. So that's just kind of a simple example. There's, there's many others, but these are things that lead to cleaner designs, better experiences really for everyone.

Nicole Neditch:

So, so much agree with that. When we talk about simplicity or simplifying content and information on our website, that's a lot of what we're talking about, as well. Not only do we do an accessibility audit of all of our pages, but we've also done an audit of the grade level in which all of our text is on our site and, you know, for a city like Oakland, where we have over a hundred languages, spoken language accessibility is a big piece of what we're doing, as well. And the simpler we make our language in our text in English, the simpler it is when it's translated into other languages, as well. The more accessible it is. And so I think that, you know, taking this beyond assistive technology, but thinking about the simplicity of our websites and, and what we're trying to communicate, and really having a focus on that helps make sure that everybody has access and can understand what's being asked of them or how they can utilize a service. When we did some of the user testing on the City's website, it was those pages that were really complicated and had lots and lots of texts that were the hardest for people to navigate. And so you know, when you're tapping through content it's really important that it's really clear and that you're using headers correctly and things like that. And that all becomes clear as you're doing this. But as we're doing that work, and we're making it simpler for those that may have some barriers to accessing these services, we're actually making it simpler for everybody else as well. And so I think that's really an important frame to put on it.

Sean Dougherty:

I think you raised a really good point there, Nicole, and I think to a point you also made earlier, that sometimes that usability testing can really drive that cleaner design. And I think sometimes that's important to in that testing to try to be involved in the process. Sit down with someone who is a screen reader user, for example, and see their direct experience. Because once you see how they're kind of navigating and what the navigation structure looks like to them as they're kind of tabbing through, and navigating through headers and links and areas of the website a lot of times you can understand through that navigation process how maybe that could be cleaner and that might better inform the overall navigation of the website. You might find that maybe things are just unclear overall, or there's too many tabs at the top with too many dropdowns and too many menu items that don't really make sense or unnecessary. And you might start to refine that design and remove some of those unnecessary headers that are kind of cluttering the top navigation of the site, and that's gonna improve the experience for everyone. But you might not realize it in some cases until you sit down with a screen reader user and really go through the website. So yeah, I think that can drive a better experience.

Jesse James:

So we talked about a lot today, and I think if somebody were to leave this panel and go Google "accessibility," they would be overwhelmed with the number of results that they got as far as how to get started. So do we wanna, like, I would like to wrap up before we get into the Q and A with your last piece of advice for anyone like working to advance accessibility practices of their job, or the organization, like where do you get started?

Sean Dougherty:

I understand how it can be overwhelming. And I think at the end of the day, you know, doing something is better than doing nothing. So even if you don't really know where to begin, just kind of taking an initial step is better than, you know, not, not doing anything related to accessibility. So I would recommend with starting with the W3C, the Worldwide Web Consortium. On their website they have the web accessibility initiative, which is the part of that organization that is responsible for creating the web content accessibility guidelines. They have a lot of great documentation and kind of step by step processes and definitions and resources on their website.

Basically the W3C is responsible globally for web standards. But the, the WAI, the Web Accessibility Initiative, is a subset of that organization that is focused specifically on accessibility. And they've done a lot of work to kind of lay out those principles, and break them down. There's a lot of modules on there that walk you through step by step. In addition, you can start to understand what WCAG really means, how it's organized around four key principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robustness of the site. Those four key principles where WCAG is organized around, and then broken into sub subsections. So I think that's a really great place to kind of start get your head around what some of this compliance means and what accessibility really is at the starting point. Companies like Deque, for example, and LevelAccess — they have university pages with a lot of great resources and tutorials where you can, you can even sign up for some courses and really start to understand accessibility. So I think those are great starting places, and then look to engage an organization or a partner that can really help you through the end to end process, including the user testing, usability assessments, and walkthroughs of your site to really ensure that you can get to a place where you're being compliant, you're having a great user experience for everyone, and you're able to remediate a lot of those issues that your site might have.

Nicole Neditch:

Yeah, I think those are great starting points. I think for a larger organization like ours, we have over 10,000 pages on the City of Oakland website, it can feel incredibly daunting to get started. Especially after you run some automated tools and see how many issues there are to address. But I think that a lot of it is about prioritization and just getting started somewhere. And so Exygy has been really helpful with Oakland and just helping us set up those priorities and, and think through what's gonna be something that we can do right away. And where, where do we have longer term goals that we need to start, you know, start working towards? Again, partnerships I think are key. And so, you know, we've partnered in the City with the Center for Accessible Technology and Lighthouse to provide some of that, that guidance and support and and structure and, you know, process and all of those things to our work, which I think is incredibly helpful.

We also a number of, you know, people who are really invested in this, within our own community here in Oakland. We have the Mayor's Commission for Persons with Disabilities who actively looks at our website and helps provide guidance and feedback and, and, you know, holds us accountable in some ways too to ensuring accessibility. And so I like to think that we wanna bring those people in who care a lot and are passionate about this work into the process and help us support our work and move it forward. And so you know, just always looking for partners in this work and prioritization, I would say, are the two key things.

Jesse James:

Since you both focused on people and partnerships, I'll skip to the tools. WebAIM has a tool called Wave, which is a web accessibility evaluation tool. That's both a Chrome extension and a website that you can just take any URL, put it in the browser, and it just gives you a report. And it's, it's very legible. It's very usable. It's very approachable as far as educating you about the very specific things that are happening on your website now. It puts pins in your website, so you can see exactly like where the website is breaking. So like, as far as like an on-ramp or education, it's for how your website is breaking and how it kind of relates to the guidelines. I find that tool to be a really easy to use, low barrier to adoption, free kind of thing.

We have a couple questions, so I wanna like transition to the Q and A. And then we'll come back. And the first question is from Noah. They ask: they themselves have multiple disabilities. And they sometimes are at risk of being asked: "what do you think from your perspective, like, from the perspective of someone with multiple disabilities, like about something on the website?" So how do you balance embracing this welcomeness around accessibility and not always wanting to be the expert or the only person with a lived experience who's asked these questions.

Sean Dougherty:

Wow. That's a great question. One thought I had, if it's within the context of your own organization I would encourage people at your organization to — I mean, it's great that you're there and able to offer a direct perspective, but I understand not wanting to always be the person that people are going to for that perspective. And I think that is where you can get your organization on board to thinking about some outside user testing and user perspectives with users with other types of disabilities that are using other technologies and also who maybe don't have direct experience with your products and services because it could be easier to have someone internally, but an internal person has inherent biases with the product or tool and is also very close to it. So maybe that's a way to kind of create a shift is to say, you know, "I don't mind to provide guidance to a certain extent, but we need to really think about looking outside and incorporating other users that maybe are current customers and as well as users with disabilities that haven't even used your product or service at all."

Jesse James:

Cool. Thank you. Next up another question from Noah: is it more valuable for an organization to engage with users of accessible technologies who are familiar with that organization's mission, or is it more advantageous to seek consultations from someone completely outside your organization's scope?

Nicole Neditch:

I mean, I can speak from the City of Oakland. We have a large community of people who utilize our website and for very different purposes, right? So I think, you know, working within our community there are gonna be a lot of people who either have direct experience in navigating our website or don't, but that have value in being able to find services and information on the City's website. I'm always a big proponent of finding people in our local community to work with if we can. I also think that the external perspective and in bringing in additional partners that may be able to identify users who we're able to bring in through our organization is also helpful. But so I think it depends on sort of the industry, if you have a very niche industry, that might be a different answer. I don't know. <Laugh>

Sean Dougherty:

Yeah, I know for us, when we engage with partners, we'll develop kind of a user profile of what they're typically looking for. And we will look for different parts of our user tester database for different types of users that match that profile. But oftentimes we do try to look for pretty diverse group of users. Some users that have familiarity with the product have used it to a certain extent as well as other users that haven't used it at all. And then we also look at different types of assistive technologies. So users that might have multiple disabilities, users that are relying on screen reader, technology users that are using magnification tools, as well as we look at different age ranges, different backgrounds, different levels of kind of tech savviness. So there's a lot to consider. And I do think all of those wide range of profiles and perspectives are really useful and will ultimately drive the experience forward because oftentimes, you know, we don't really dictate who our end customer is. As long as they're interested in using our product or service, we wanna make it available to them, even if they don't really have any prior experience with it. So I think it's valuable to kind of do both.

Jesse James:

Awesome. Thank you. Our next question is from Skylar and they ask: I appreciated the emphasis on user testing as a step beyond automated checks, but do you have any advice for smaller companies that might not have the resources — financial or otherwise — to run that caliber of testing? That's a good question.

Sean Dougherty:

Well, I think, you know, <laugh>, we kind of addressed this in an earlier question, but you know, if you do have someone within your organization that does use the assist of technology you know, of course they are gonna have some inherent biases, but if they're willing to provide a perspective that can be at least a really good starting point. And, you know, if they're within a particular community like myself, for example, being low vision, like I'm pretty in touch with kind of low vision blindness community and do a lot of work in that community. So if someone had asked me about a product or service I would have other contacts, you know, within my network that I could also tap and you might be able to at least get in touch with a handful of people that are willing to support at a maybe a lower cost or even give a free perspective. So I would say kind of networking that way, maybe start with someone within your organization, if possible.

Nicole Neditch:

Sean, can I ask you a question actually around this, because you might actually have a good per perspective or knowledge of specific tools. I think one, I'll start by sort of answering one, you know, idea or one thought as well is to just test your website yourself a bit as well. So one of the things that Jessie has done a lot of on the City site and and we've done is tab through your content and make sure that you can access everything yourself. I know a long time ago when I was just getting started with this, there were some tools and things like that that would allow you to simulate a screen reader experience and be able to have that experience on your own website. Are there still tools like that available, and is that actually a recommendation for something that you would say to do or not is, is test out some of those tools yourself?

Sean Dougherty:

Yeah, I have seen some of those in the past as well. I think it's an interesting concept and it can kind of give you the feel of what it's like to use a screen reader, but I think the best option is to really try turning on a screen reader yourself which you know, whether you're using and back to a point I made earlier about big tech developer is really emphasizing, you know, built-in accessibility. One of the benefits of that is that whether or not your device is a Mac, a PC, or a Chromebook, as a laptop all of those devices have a built-in screen reader that's pretty accessible to everyone to turn on. And you know, with a couple just quick Google searches or even using the tutorial that's there within the settings you can usually start to get an understanding of just kind of the basic navigation, like you said, how to tab how to kind of navigate different elements. You can start to try it out yourself and get a feel for what it would be like to use that tool. And I would say that's probably the best route given that those are the tools that a blinder or low vision user is directly gonna be using. As well as if they're on an iPhone, they're gonna be using voiceover on iPhone. Or if they're on Android they might be using talk back as well as some of the magnification tools. So I would recommend if you're gonna test on your own, I would try to use those built in tools to the best that you can, as opposed to maybe like a third party that kind of simulates that experience.

Jesse James:

I would also put a plug in for networking. From my experience, there are lots of people who do this as singular individuals that offer these services, and they are findable. And so, yeah, if going to a larger entity is daunting that is a valid path forward. I also posted a link — Exygy is working on its own checklist and guidelines for how anybody can do accessibility testing. As we kind of put that together, I always send people the 18F checklist which is a government agency that offers some guidelines and best practices. And they have a really legible way they talk you through how to do keyboard testing, what all the keys do, and what to expect when you hit enter or down or over space. And I've just really found it like a really boiler plate, like simple introduction to some of these things that can be daunting. So I've posted that link in the chat, and Apple's documentation on voiceover is also very easy to get a sense of. And I do agree even if you're not really utilizing it to its extent, having empathy for someone's experience who are using these things on a daily basis, really using a screen reader, there's really nothing else like it. So I would encourage everybody to sort of like use those tools, become familiar with those tools, just to sort of like generally understand how folks experiences are different on devices. Cool. I don't see any other questions in the chat, if anybody else has any questions, please add them. Sean, Nicole, if either of you just have anything else you wanna end with, we're happy to go out on that as well.

Nicole Neditch:

I feel like we've covered a lot. <Laugh>

Jesse James:

Yeah, that was a lot of stuff today. Really, really appreciate you both bringing your expertise today to the group. So Oakland, Exygy, and Lighthouse will be working on an ongoing basis in the future to kind of do a series of accessibility workflows. To sort of let everybody know, the workflow we've engaged in now is that Lighthouse is gonna come in and check our work to date. We're gonna do the expert path first. They're gonna check everything. And then we're gonna bring in the usability round and we're gonna have folks just sort of like, user test everything, and we're gonna create a bunch of tickets. We're gonna hand those tickets off to our engineers. Our engineers are gonna do their best to resolve all those issues. And then we're gonna bring Lighthouse back and they're gonna check our work. Like, how did we do? Did we actually do that right? Do we miss something? And they're gonna basically help us catch anything that we missed. And then again, and it'll go back into that next iteration. And I think the lesson there is like: you're not done, you know? So like right behind the new WCAG, there's like another WCAG, there's two after 2.0 there's 2.1, and this stuff gets more complex. As our devices become more complex, as the interactions themselves become more complex, the rules change. And so it's an ongoing thing. And I would encourage everybody as they're doing this stuff — we're doing this with Oakland now — to publish an accessibility statement, just so you let everybody know the current state of things. We're not perfect. We have not answered all these questions. This is an ongoing process. And I think set aligning not only your expectations of the team, but the community's expectations of what they can expect from your services, I think helps everybody. Cause what we heard from folks is like not saying anything and having ambiguity is more harmful than anything else.

Sean Dougherty:

I completely agree. I think making progress is an ongoing thing, and it's not about being perfect, but it's about trying to be better and move things forward and really try to build for everyone. And at the end of the day, a lot of this accessibility does benefit all users and it helps drive a more usable design and a universal design.

Nicole Neditch:

I was just gonna tell a quick story about how I was doing some training recently within the organization, and gave some bad advice that was outdated. And I didn't realize it, you know, like I hadn't kept up with my documentation. And so I would just say: yes, never done, always keep learning. There's always new advice and new guidance out there. And so we just have to keep going and make progress.

Jesse James:

I was gonna say thank you, Nicole, for being an example of someone who's prioritized this stuff and allowed us to have this space to do this work. And always, thank you, Sean, for bringing your expertise and reminding us that there's a wide range of people to talk to and multiple experiences that we need to kind of like consider or to create solutions. Please use the Slack channel for any follow up questions for Nicole or Sean, if you need direct links to folks LinkedIns, or if you have follow up questions, happy to answer them there. Thank you everybody for coming today.

What’s a Rich Text element?

H1 example

H3 example

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Jesse James
Director of Design

Want to work together?

We are always looking to get in touch with partners to help build healthy and resilient communities together
contact us