At the beginning of November 2016, I had the pleasure of joining 75 other accessibility technologists and leaders from government, academia, industry, and private consulting firms. We descended on the National Federation for the Blind Headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland for three days to discuss trends in testing of Information Communication Technology (ICT) for accessibility at the 1st Annual ICT Accessibility Testing Symposium. The theme of the conference became quickly apparent. We all agreed that we need to strive for consistent and repeatable interpretation of web accessibility requirements and how to test for them to ensure that persons with disabilities have the same access to ICT that many of us take for granted.
The conference started with two workshops. The first workshop provided an overview of the Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Tester program. Based on the Interagency Trusted Tester Program, DHS hopes to develop the accessibility skills across the IT community through a repeatable set of accessibility evaluation activities and the adoption of unified testing procedures and a common set of test tools. So far, more than 600 professionals have participated in the Trusted Tester Program.
Jon Gunderson from the University of Illinois delivered the second workshop on Open Source Tools for Evaluating and Inspecting Web Accessibility. He demonstrated how these tools can be used to make the web more accessible. One tool was the Functional Accessibility Evaluator (FAE). FAE scans web pages for accessibility issues defined by the Open Ajax Accessibility rulesets and meeting the requirements of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and HTML.
Judy Brewer, Director of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, kicked off day two with a keynote address. Judy stressed that “the accelerator to move accessibility forward is testing.” Following Judy’s keynote address, I joined four other members of the WCAG Accessibility Conformance Testing task force to talk about our efforts to deliver a W3C recommendation, an open standard that defines a framework for testing for accessibility and producing a consistent set of validation results.
The conference continued with a presentation from Alistair Garrison, SSB Bart Group, who discussed the importance of following well-established testing best practices when testing for accessibility. He talked about how a test should be like “a card in a deck of cards and not a card in a house of cards.” Tests should be able to stand on their own.
Gian Wild, Accessibility Oz, discussed her accessibility testing of social media sites and stressed how important social media is to persons with disabilities. Social media provides us with personal communication, ordering of goods and services, entertainment, education, and employment. At times, social media can be life-saving by allowing folks to communicate emergencies, crowd-sourcing diagnoses, or keeping up to date with the impending weather.
But with this importance comes great pressure to ensure that how we interpret web accessibility requirements is standard, consistently interpreted by all parties, and open.
In 2016, IBM Accessibility released two open source projects on developerWorks Open, AccProbe, an Eclipse-based accessibility inspection tool that supports the impending U.S. Section 508 standards refresh, and Va11yS, a set of validated accessibility samples that provides developers and testers with working examples that demonstrate how to implement accessibility for web and mobile applications.
With open source, IBM wants to ensure that accessible technology is not only easier to use but is more available to designers and developers. This allows us to alleviate any roadblocks during the agile development process, especially with those who are less familiar with accessibility.
We look forward to 2017 to continue collaborations with the open tooling and accessibility standards community to provide a consistent, testable and repeatable interpretation of web accessibility requirements. These efforts will lead to a more accessible web experience for all.