In the words of GAAD organizers, “The target audience of GAAD is the design, development, usability, and related communities who build, shape, fund and influence technology and its use. While people may be interested in the topic of making technology accessible and usable by persons with disabilities, the reality is that they often do not know how or where to start.”
Created by Joe Devon and Jennison Asuncion in 2011, GAAD is a day for each of us in the technology industry to take a closer look at a specific component of our system and evaluate it in terms of accessibility. As Joe pointed out, developers routinely test using Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer, but rarely test with JAWS or NVDA screen readers. Awareness comes first and is the goal of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, held every year on the third Thursday in May (May 17th in 2018).
As with any continuous improvement process, honest evaluation is critical. At DigitalChalk, we strive to offer the highest level of accessibility possible to all our users, so what we learn from the GAAD evaluation will be communicated throughout our organization to improve accessibility to our online learning platform in very concrete ways.
Accessibility has always been of paramount importance to all of us at DigitalChalk. Our President and CEO, Russ Stinehour, himself legally blind, actively works with organizations that help the visually impaired use technology. He currently serves as a member of the Advisory Board to the Industries for the Blind and was named to the North Carolina Commission for the Blind by Governor Mike Easley in 2004.
DigitalChalk first participated in GAAD in 2015. In succeeding years, we have maintained our commitment to accessibility through the intentional implementation of enhancements that directly improve accessibility to our platform. In that spirit, we are pleased to announce that over the past year, we’ve teamed up with IFB Solutions to help take our accessibility initiatives to the next level. IFB Solutions is the largest employer of people who are blind or visually impaired in the country.
At DigitalChalk we understand that Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA compliance is more of a baseline than a finish line. We begin scrutinizing accessibility at the core level of our internal development processes, and we follow that through to the end, verifying that what a screen reader reads aloud makes sense to the reader. The goal, after all, is not just to achieve compliance, but for our platform to >make sense when used by people who are blind or visually impaired.
A typical page in DigitalChalk, such as our LinkedIn Learning Library page, includes the following accessibility controls:
The red arrows show components on this page that we specifically designed and tested for accessibility. Using a screen reader, the page navigation must introduce itself, say what page you’re on and what other pages are available. The Advanced Search toggle has to announce whether is expanded or not when clicked. The “Difficulty”, “Language” and “Topic” dropdowns must speak the currently selected option, whether the dropdown is clicked or not, and announce all of the other options in the list. The “Sync All” button has a confirmation dialog that must read aloud (when it appears) and be keyboard navigable.
The structure of the page is another important consideration when we design for accessibility. With screen reader software, readers can quickly jump from one section to another using regions and landmarks. Landmarks help assistive technology (AT) users orient themselves to a page and helps them navigate easily to various sections of a page.
Our LinkedIn Learning page supports landmarks and other navigational aids. A reader can easily jump to the search field using landmarks. Here’s how regions and landmarks appear in VoiceOver:
DigitalChalk is committed to making learning available to everyone. The WCAG 2.0 AA compliance guidelines are a great starting point for creating accessible technology, but at DigitalChalk we can (and should) do more. DigitalChalk is proud to participate in Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and together with IFB Solutions, we are already looking forward to GAAD 2019 and encourage you to participate as well.
Written by: Jon Wilkinson
Jon has been a software engineer for DigitalChalk since 2014. He began coding in 1981 on TRS-80s and TI-994As and hasn’t stopped since.