Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Web Accessibility in Mind Conference Coverage

The WebAIM Web Accessibility In Mind Conference on September 7 and 8, 2022, provided participants with sessions and information to help them advance in their use of digital accessibility. Following are highlights from a few of the presentations. Recordings of sessions from this virtual conference, presented in partnership with Pope Tech, will be available soon. Additional coverage will continue in next week’s Bulletin.

The Future of Accessibility in 2022

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

In the opening keynote address, Crystal Preston-Watson, Senior Digital Accessibility Analyst at Salesforce, made some predictions about trends in web accessibility ten years from now. She calls her framework “Accessfuturism,” based on Afrofuturism, a movement within black literature and historical studies that explores the intersection of the black experience with science and technology, notably through the lens of science fiction. Expanding this philosophy to the accessibility space, Preston-Watson presented ideas along with “potentials” (upsides and downsides) of various projected accessibility developments. One relevant point for the blind and visually impaired (BVI) community is that captions and transcripts will be embedded within media files, due partially to advances in artificial intelligence. This has the potential to make it easier for captions, transcripts, and alt text to be shared and even to be automatically created by devices. However, this would likely lead to errors when being converted to other formats (e.g., audio), which is already a factor in YouTube captions, for example. By 2032, Preston-Watson believes that these kinks will be worked out, although there may also be a risk of tampering with such files. Other interesting potential developments could include autogenerated code via artificial intelligence and the phasing out of problematic accessibility overlays on websites. You can find more of Preston-Watson’s content on her website, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Advocacy Through Relationships and Stories

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

Disability rights lawyer and author Lainey Feingold gave a presentation on how effective advocacy for systemic change is built on the power of “convincing” and “storytelling”. Through a process she calls “structured negotiation,” Feingold helped to secure the first web accessibility agreement in the United States between a group of blind people and Bank of America for their online banking service. She oversaw agreements for the first talking ATMs, also with Bank of America, as well as one for talking pill bottles as currently used by CVS. All these agreements were brought to fruition without a single lawsuit being filed. In this talk, she presented several “dos and don’ts” for advocates. Key among the “dos” was to build personal relationships within companies, as people want to help out those they know and can “put a face on,” and telling stories about relevant accessibility challenges. Emphasizing the need for companies to hire people with disabilities in all stages of the process is also a must. It is important to be patient and explain; as Feingold says, “many of us live and breathe this stuff, but most people don’t.” Advocates should speak about the law as a civil right, not as a foundation for fear and a compliance mindset. Feingold believes that motivations prompted by compliance result in companies doing the bare minimum to avoid a lawsuit, not creating an evolving accessibility infrastructure. Among the “don’ts” are not to shout, threaten, scare, or reduce accessibility to a checklist of present issues. Feingold puts it as “Don’t be a shark, always be a dolphin,” citing an experiment where two dolphins had to collaborate as a team in order to get a food reward. You can find out more about Feingold on her website and on Twitter.

Obtaining Accessible Solutions for Your Organization

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

Independent accessibility consultant Corbb O’Connor spoke about how organizations can work with software vendors to find accessible solutions and workarounds for their work environments. O’Connor believes that companies are forced to “buy inaccessible technology even with the best of intentions”. In light of this, he provided a six-step approach that anyone in an organization can take to prioritize procurement of accessible software and hardware. The first step is to ask those in the disability community about products they use or what they want and need in an accessible service. The second is to examine the voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT), which is a document that organizations release voluntarily regarding a product’s accessibility, of any technology being considered, keeping an eye out for key terms like “supports” or red flags such as “does not support,” “supports with exceptions,” or “fails.” Pricing is the third leg, and cost can also be a barrier to accessibility. Fourth and perhaps most important is remediation. In the case of inaccessible software, this could involve meeting with the accessibility, product, and/or legal teams for a software vendor, and if nothing else works, negotiations for alternative pricing plans can be tried with the understanding that full price will be paid once the software becomes accessible. Fifth is to consider usage alternatives, such as using mobile apps instead of desktop software, as apps can sometimes be more usable. Lastly is a “do-it-yourself” approach, which could involve either doing things in a somewhat slower, less efficient, or old-fashioned way if it means accessibility improves, or else creating an accessible system from scratch. You can find out more about O’Connor on LinkedIn and on Twitter.