Accessibility is an important area in non-functional engineering today. Software development efforts have acknowledged this and started accommodating accessibility in design, implementation, testing and marketing efforts. However, what about what has already been implemented? There is so much back log that exists, that even enforcing standards and mandates is not going to be any quick or easy in embracing accessibility. Section 508 herein continues to be a great go to resource be it for designers, developers or testers. Checklists such as VPAT that are built off of Section 508, have been greatly helping testers in their accessibility testing efforts. Despite all of this awareness and attempt to implement, the gap between where we ideally need to get it and the where we are today is huge. Why is it so?
Organizations are engineering products within very short time and cost budgets. There is no room to look at backlogs. Accessibility issues that need to now be incorporated retro-actively, are not small fixes. They often need design level changes. Certain organizations such as Amazon, have engineering a completely new solution solely focused on accessibility asking screen reader users to navigate to a separate site. While this is a thoughtful solution to include them, the question is whether this is a very scalable solution. It becomes a duplicate effort to maintain two versions of the site – let alone the time and cost in maintaining it and the number of discrepancies that may potentially arise between the two versions. Also, it is not very clear whether this includes just the screen reader users or if it would accommodate other disabled users too.
To ensure this gap between the ideal and real world does not expand further, it is very important for organizations to take a conscious call today – a call to define their priorities, a call where they understand that the situation is not going to change overnight, a call where what they choose to implement is done both for newer engineering efforts and critical past efforts that are still end user facing, a call to put together a focus group to implement this plan and bridge the gap. This focus group will have a very important charter to continue to dynamically help the engineering teams come up to speed on accessibility and will incorporate the latest and greatest in the field, until they reach the required level of maturity to operate independently in building accessible applications. To be able to accomplish this, mandates such as Section 508 are a great start, regardless of the size, scale, domain and technology that you organization fits into.