Web Accessibility Workshop with Fifth Freedom

Back in August of 2016, our team had the opportunity to host a Web Accessibility workshop through the Fifth Freedom Network of Fort Wayne, IN. Fifth Freedom is an organization empowering people with disabilities to make positive change. They are dedicated to removing physical and social barriers, however possible, in order to help enhance the quality of life for those suffering from various disabilities.

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Reusser Design asked Fifth Freedom to host a site meeting with people with disabilities who use a variety of assistive technology to use the internet.  Their team took the time to observe users with disabilities as they conducted a series of web-based tasks and asked them questions about how their disabilities and assistive technology affected their internet use.  This extraordinary concern for providing the best possible disability access for users with disabilities is one of the reasons we value the collaborative relationship we have with Reusser Design and plan to continue to work with them on our future projects.

– The Fifth Freedom Staff

As a web development agency, designing and developing websites and apps for several audiences, it is becoming essential to evolve our products to ensure people with disabilities have a great user experience. While our products are quickly moving in this direction, having hands-on experience and observation moments with disabled users was invaluable knowledge for our team.

Being able to host a workshop with the Fifth Freedom Network provided incredible insight and we are very grateful for the willing participants who allowed us to witness what they experience on a daily basis.

From the perspective of iOS, the Accessibility tools are phenomenal. Apple has done a wonderful job making sure their devices can be used by anyone. The workshop gave us a unique opportunity to specifically see how people with disabilities use technology to make their lives easier. As an app developer, I appreciate what Apple has done in giving developers the tools to create apps accessible to everyone. As a result, Apple has made it quite a bit easier than it is on the web; you just have to be aware of how the interface is designed, constructed, and implemented.  

– Austin Drummond, iOS App Developer

Our participants arrived with assistive technology such as screen readers, screen enlargement applications, voice recognition programs, a Tobii Dynavox, and more. The participants were gracious enough to share about their disabilities in order to give our team greater insight for future web development projects. Several of the workshop attendees suffered from vision impairment ranging from partially blind to totally blind, while others possessed various physical disabilities.

Accessibility Workshop 2

To prepare for the workshop, we compiled a list of various websites and apps we’ve produced in order to test out our own products. Each site/app had a few, seemingly basic, tasks for the user to complete. From our perspective, the tasks were simple and could be easily accomplished by any user. As the workshop went on, we realized how incorrect this mindset was.

The most revealing aspect for me was seeing just how much impact the smaller details actually had. For instance, using a generic container to toggle navigation on a mobile device meant that some accessibility software wasn’t able to detect it and therefore navigating the site became impossible. 

– Jarrod Nix, Lead Front-End Developer

In the coming weeks, Nate Reusser will be sharing a more detailed look at what it means for websites to be accessible. He’ll discuss ADA compliance, how our team is moving in that direction, and why it’s so important. For now, here’s a list of takeaways from the workshop that has since impacted our team and our web design process. We hope this provides helpful insight into what it’s like for users with disabilities to use technology and internet services.

  • Text magnification is essential – several of the visually impaired participants expressed that being able to magnify a website font is crucial if they want to read the screen. One user indicated that the font size has to be at least 44 pt.
  • Color contrast options are needed – whether the user is totally blind or just partially visually impaired, being able to toggle between full color mode and a black and white contrast mode significantly helps see the website content.
  • The internet doesn’t describe anything – when using a screen reader, the user is reliant on the alt text provided in the website code to describe the page. For example, if images and buttons on the page don’t have any descriptive text to explain what the image is or where the button leads to, the user is left to wonder.
  • Search results are a pain – for those using assistive technology, conducting a simple Google search can result in hours of listening to find the answer being searched for. The screen reader reads every hit and the user has no way to quickly parse through the results.
  • Online shopping can be dangerous – due to the lack of descriptive features, confirmation indicators, and more, online shopping can be a risky endeavor. Without clarification on what’s in the shopping cart, accidentally ordering the wrong product or quantity is likely.
  • Screen readers don’t read icons – several of our websites use icon-based descriptions instead of lengthy text paragraphs. The SVG icons are a fun way to add design elements and understanding to websites. However, if descriptions aren’t tied to the icons in the code, screen readers pass over them causing the user to miss content.
  • Simple tasks aren’t simple – what would typically take our team 5 minutes to accomplish online could take a user with disabilities 2-3 hours or more. This astronomical difference provided our team with a deeper understanding and greater sense of urgency to make our products accessible.

It was so wonderful to see the way the Reusser team members bonded with the workshop attendees and even went so far as to join them and help them at lunch etc. They all really learned from one another.

– Betty Beck, Fifth Freedom Network Assistant Director

As websites and apps move toward ADA compliance on a broader scale, users with disabilities should experience relief when it comes to some of these issues. In the meantime, our team is striving to make each website and app accessible to give a great user experience, no matter what your circumstances are. Again, we would like to extend our gratitude to the Fifth Freedom Network and all of the willing participants who so graciously let us in on their day-to-day struggles with technology.