Accessible Pizza And Other Highlights From CSUN 2019
Domino’s Pizza suffered a major blow recently: A federal appeals court reversed a lower court ruling* and affirmed that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does cover the Domino’s websites and mobile apps — and yours, too. The lower court will now examine the extent to which the pizza maker’s digital properties are inaccessible and then compel Domino’s to fix the flaws that the court finds.
Tough news for Domino’s? Yes, as instead of getting its case thrown out as it had hoped, it now faces more attorneys’ fees and then a likely expensive scramble for its design and development teams to fix the problems.
But more people get to buy more pizza if Domino’s sites and apps are accessible. That means more profits (dough?) once the resulting revenue uptick covers the initial outlays. So any accessibility improvements it’s compelled to make are ultimately good news for Domino’s — not just for potential customers struggling to use its site and apps.
Last week, I participated in talks about this and many other issues related to my research coverage of the getting-hotter-every-day domain of inclusive design, at the mecca for accessibility professionals: the annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in Los Angeles. It’s one of the world’s largest events of this kind, bringing together scientists, educators, practitioners, government leaders, tech industry execs, and users with disabilities who all have one common goal: innovation in assistive technologies and organizational practices to promote a more inclusive world.
This was not my first time at the event, and I was struck by how much it’s grown: to over 350 sessions and more than 120 exhibitors — it’s clear that more and more leaders are focused on what I call “The Billion-Customer Opportunity: Digital Accessibility.”
Why do I say this? Well, in speaking to the presenters, attendees, and exhibitors, I noticed that the focus of the event, which used to be all about technology (such as how to write code that meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and the latest innovations in assistive technologies like screen readers), has “shifted left” to illuminating: 1) the business benefits of a proactive approach to accessibility; 2) the responsibility of developers to spot and stop exclusion; and 3) the role experience design (XD) pros have to play in leading this change.
Here are my three major highlights from the event.
Highlight No. 1: Don’t Skimp Anymore On Digital Accessibility — Act Now, Or Expect A Lawsuit You’ll Lose
No industry is spared, as Lainey Feingold’s standing-room-only digital accessibility legal update session made clear. In 2018 alone, there were 2,258 web accessibility lawsuits — up 177% from the prior year. If fear of being the next Domino’s is not enough to launch your organization into action, consider the money you’re probably spending on handling complaints from customers with disabilities who can’t use your website or app. Deque, an accessibility software and services provider, presented its analysis of those costs using data from Fortune 50 companies. The finding? Companies are spending nearly $1 million per year for every 100 complaints received when you factor in the time spent by all the roles involved in documenting the complaint; determining a solution to address it; designing, coding, and testing the solution; following up with the customer, etc. Wouldn’t you rather spend that money on auditing your digital experiences, training up your teams in accessibility, and fixing the highest-priority problems so you don’t receive such complaints in the first place?
Highlight No. 2: Accessibility Is Moving Upstream — New Tools Help Developers Spot And Stop Exclusion
Microsoft launched its new open source accessibility testing tool, Accessibility Insights, developed in partnership with Deque and built on Deque’s open source axe technology. The aim: to “shift left” the responsibility for catching accessibility problems to the shoulders of developers before the problems make it to QA or, worse, to your customers. Available for Windows and the web (as a Google Chrome extension), Accessibility Insights includes features such as FastPass, which helps developers identify common, high-impact accessibility problems in less than 5 minutes.
I was skeptical, but the demo left me impressed, as a Microsoft engineer ran 40 automated checks, filed a bug, and generated a report outlining the problems — code snippets and all. The “tab stops” feature alone — a real crowd pleaser at the conference — is reason enough to download the Accessibility Insights Chrome extension and try it out on your site right now — this cool visualization helps you easily spot keyboard accessibility errors like incorrect tab order and keyboard traps.
Highlight No. 3: XD Pros Have The Power To Lead Their Organization’s Inclusive Design Voyage
Most of the “shift left” talk at CSUN focused on putting more onus on developers to catch accessibility defects upstream — but that’s not going far enough: The shift should extend into the design phase. It’s clear some speakers agreed. AT&T’s John Herzog (lead accessibility engineer for DIRECTV NOW) stressed the responsibility of designers to specify how much of the content on an iOS app screen should be coded to be read aloud by VoiceOver (the screen reader built into iOS) to avoid overwhelming users when the content is very dense.
In her talk on cognitive accessibility, Deque’s Glenda Sims challenged designers and content authors to put their work through the “mental efficiency test” — that is, to ask yourself whether you’re designing an experience that requires every customer to use more mental energy than necessary.
And Level Access’ Derek Featherstone pointed out how to use your design system to lay a strong foundation for accessibility: “If design systems are the new hotness, you find a way to work accessibility into the design system; it’s like sneaking vegetables into the lasagna — you slip those vegetables into the lasagna every single time!” I heard attendees echo this line again and again throughout the conference.
We Can Do This
My sense is that many attendees after events like this feel inspired, determined, yet also daunted by the uphill road they face in establishing an accessibility program; as one speaker put it, “It can feel like turning the Titanic.”
I’ve got some resources to help:
- Check out “The Billion-Customer Opportunity: Digital Accessibility” report — I packed it with tons of data to help you make the business case.
- Catch my webinar coming up April 29 — Modernize Your Design Organization For Scale And Inclusion.
- Stay tuned for my new research, “The Inclusive Design Imperative,” coming in a few weeks.
Whether you’re just getting started on the road to accessibility or well on your way with a good story to tell, I’d love to hear about your successes and challenges! And if you’re a Forrester client, feel free to connect with us for guidance or to participate in future research about this topic.
* For details about the Domino’s case, see the “Big Win For Web Accessibility In Domino’s Pizza Case” write-up on the website of the Law Office Of Lainey Feingold.