Leadership / 12.06.23
Tips, Tools and Free Resources to Measure the Accessibility Health of Your Brand and Digital Portfolio
People with disabilities are a huge consumer group. As the world’s largest minority, they have significant buying power, as do their families, friends and allies. Disability is also something that almost everyone will experience either temporarily or permanently at some point in their life.
In advance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3, Statistics Canada released data from the Canadian Survey on Disability. The national survey revealed that 27% of Canadians aged 15 years and older, or 8 million people, had at least one disability. This represents an increase of almost 5% from 2017. The stats are similar in the United States, with disability impacting approximately one in four (27%) or 61 million adults according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As part of its strategic long-range goals, INTIX is committed to accessibility equity. This includes raising awareness and providing education on accessibility issues in ticketing and live events. During the 5th Annual Art-Reach Conference hosted by our friends at Art-Reach in Philadelphia, members of Tamman’s accessibility team guided attendees on measuring the health of their websites, brands and digital portfolios. The information they presented is impactful and relevant across the entire live events industry. In this interview, Marty Molloy, President of Tamman, and Emma Wisniewski-Barker, Data and Research Team Lead, collaborated to share information, tools, tips and free resources that entertainment organizations can use to independently take action.
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Christine: In your Art-Reach Conference presentation, you said that a healthy brand delivers great experiences for customers, employees and everyone in between. You also said it is essential for some people, helpful for everyone, plus it’s the law and the right thing to do. Why did you begin your presentation with these messages?
Tamman: For most people, digital accessibility is a new concept. We like to level set with everyone about why this topic is so important. When we consider disability, it is important to note that it includes not only those with permanent and visible disabilities, but also disabilities that are temporary (like a broken arm), situational (like sitting in a restaurant with very dim lighting) and episodic (like recurring migraines). Taken together, and adding in those use constraints that also naturally come with aging, it is almost a guarantee that it touches on the people you want to engage with your brand.
It is not just the United States [where accessibility is covered by law]. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that is specific to the United States, there are many laws across the globe that also guarantee access to services and information to people with disabilities. From Tokyo to Ontario, it’s the law too.
Christine: How did you develop your digital accessibility definition (as shown below)?
Tamman: The definition as we presented it comes from a couple of places, but is most influenced by legislation that has been introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. John Sarbanes called the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act. We like it because it is succinct and written in language that most people can understand.
Tamman’s digital accessibility definition.
Christine: How do digital assets extend beyond an organization’s website, and can you give some examples?
Tamman: [We are] so glad you asked this question. Digital accessibility touches on so much more than just websites. Any collateral or content that is digital is also included. Marketing collateral, documents, PDFs, emails, videos and so much more make up the universe of digital assets — all of which should be accessible.
“Whether for business reasons or ethical reasons, we hope most people will decide that it is no longer acceptable to exclude consumers, clients, customers or constituents.”
Christine: Why do you recommend a proactive practice when it comes to the journey of digital accessibility?
Tamman: As anyone involved in design will tell you, when you thoughtfully consider all your personas and users at the beginning, better designs are created. And frankly, it is more affordable to implement earlier in the process. There’s a common misperception that digital accessibility is something to be tacked on to the end or that it is the purview of developers. This is misguided. It is everyone’s responsibility and when we consider content, concepts and designs that are accessible at the outset, it makes for more readable, usable and understood brands.
Christine: In your presentation, you shared starter steps for digital accessibility — how does it look, sound and feel, along with free resources for organizations to try. When this is new, it may seem overwhelming. How can organizations start on their digital accessibility journey?
Tamman: It may sound trite, but the best way to start is simply to start. Whether for business reasons or ethical reasons, we hope most people will decide that it is no longer acceptable to exclude consumers, clients, customers or constituents. However, there is quite a bit to learn in this space and it can feel overwhelming and expensive. That’s why we encourage our clients to prioritize changing the most important element(s) they have wherever they are currently with their brands. We are seeking progress over perfection. It also helps to simplify the messaging around all of this. Having a framework of look, sound and feel is an easy way to encourage those working with digital content to keep digital accessibility at the forefront of their work going forward.
Tamman recommends considering how your organization’s digital assets look, sound and feel, as illustrated in this PowerPoint slide.
Christine: How can organizations pick colors that contrast well but keep within their brand guidelines?
Tamman: The first thing to do is check which colors in their current brand guidelines work well together to meet color contrast requirements. There are a couple of free tools to analyze color contrast that we recommend — TPGi Color Analyzer and Eightshapes. If by using those tools they find that the colors in their brand are inaccessible, then it requires a potentially tough conversation with key stakeholders.
Christine: What is the TPGi Color Analyzer, and why do you recommend it?
Tamman: TPGi Color Analyzer lets you pick two colors, either by using an eyedropper tool or entering the hex code for the colors, and then it will show you which color contrast standards those colors meet and which they do not. We recommend it because it’s free, it’s simple to understand, and really easy to start using immediately.
Christine: What is the role of the color palette checker tool from Eightshapes?
Tamman: A limitation of the TPGi Colour Analyzer is that it only considers two colors, but most brands have many more colors in their palette. Eightshapes is a way to see how a bunch of colors interact with one another. It lets you quickly find the combinations of your brand colors that already meet contrast requirements.
Christine: In your presentation, you shared that writing in plain language at a grade seven to eight level is ideal for readability. Why do you recommend the Hemingway app?
Tamman: All the tools we’ve presented are recommended because they are free and really easy to use and are things we use every day. Hemingway is no different. The Hemingway app helps organizations start thinking about the cognitive needs of their potential visitors. Plain language is always preferred.
Christine: When it comes to how a website sounds, you discussed logical order for screen readers. Can you comment on what this means and why it is important?
Tamman: The next three questions all go together. Screen readers follow the flow of information no matter how it’s been placed in the design or code. For example, think about the drawers in a kitchen. One drawer might be precisely organized, and you’re able to easily find what you need. But we all have that junk drawer where we just throw any old stuff in there.
A screen reader is going to either read out an organized and thoughtful drawer with headings that are in a meaningful order, or it will force the user to dig through a randomly ordered junk drawer to hopefully find what they are seeking, making it difficult at best and impossible at worst. Put in the work upfront to present information simply and clearly so that it will be easier and more accessible for your audience. This is why we recommend thinking through the intended reading order of content on your website and in your digital documents.
Christine: Why are headings important?
Tamman: Headings are the underpinning of the logical order of things. Every user uses headings to scan for the organized information they are looking for. Sighted users scan headings visually, while non-sighted users rely on the document structure to provide headings that their screen reader can navigate. Screen readers don’t pay attention to size, color or boldness of font, so creating a visual heading by increasing font size or making it bold is not enough.
The first thing that anyone can focus on to be immediately better at digital accessibility is to start using headings in every document they create and on any webpage they design or develop. It’s easy and templatizable for reuse.
Christine: What is alt text and why is it important?
Tamman: Alt text, or alternative text, is simply a written description of an image or graphic. Without alt text, a non-sighted user would lose some potentially very important information that the image or graphic conveys to sighted users. It is important to keep alt text simple, concise and meaningful. You don’t have to describe everything in the image in long flowing sentences. Instead, target your description on what you intended a sighted user to take away from an image, graphic, chart or data visualization.
Christine: You talked about “feel” in terms of button size, keyboard navigation and keystrokes. Can you elaborate on this and why it is important?
Tamman: Disabilities manifest in so many different unique ways. Ensuring focus states [that let users know which element they are currently on] are clear for people to easily navigate a website using the tab button, or that buttons are clearly marked and big enough so that those with decreased fine motor function can use [them] are examples that impact the “feel” of a site. One of the best ways to immediately tell if a website has been created with accessibility in mind is to start off using the “tab” key on the keyboard. Is there a skip link? Are there navigable focus states [that identify which interactive element is currently selected]? What’s the order of things as a user is moved through the site? It’s a simple test that yields a good bit of information without needing to be a digital accessibility expert.
Christine: What is Wave powered by WebAIM at Utah State University, and why do you recommend it?
Tamman: Wave is a wonderful tool for identifying accessibility issues on websites, and WebAIM is doing very good work in the digital accessibility space. We recommend it for all the same reasons we recommend using other tools: It is free and easy to start using. However, it is important to note that automated tools like Wave are limited when it comes to finding accessibility barriers and issues on websites. Most studies have shown that automated tools can only identify between 40–60% of potential issues. Wave is a great tool for getting started, but for a full audit, it really should be paired with manual quality assurance done by a digital accessibility expert or team.
Christine: Why do you recommend progress over perfection?
Tamman: Ninety-six percent of all websites have accessibility issues! No one is going to be able to fix all accessibility issues at once. Companies and organizations live in a state of competing demands, priorities and resources. Like everything else, optimizing your organization's digital accessibility has a cost. But that investment should not deter people from making progress today. The goal is to be better today than yesterday and to get even better tomorrow.
Christine: Is there anything else on digital accessibility that you feel is important to share?
Tamman: Yes. Please do not get sucked in by the siren’s song of overlays. Overlays are tools that some companies are selling that promise to make your website ADA compliant using one line of code. If something sounds too good to be true, it is, and overlays are no different. Disability advocates and leaders across the spectrum have made their voices clear, do not use overlays. And if you’re still not convinced, overlays have been found to put companies at more risk, not less, in case law.
Editor’s Note: For those who want to learn more, Tamman’s website has a video showing a lived experience with website accessibility overlays.
INTIX is grateful to the Tamman team for sharing expertise on the important topic of digital accessibility health. To learn more about the organization’s accessibility services, visit tammaninc.com or email email@example.com.
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Tags: Accessibility , Leadership