Add Accessibility to Your Process the Easy-ish Way

SXSW Talk given by James Green. He is the Senior Director of UX, Research and Accessibility at Visa.

My notes:

This talk was really good. It gave a good definition of Accessibility as well as why we should use it in every product we design. He also gave some good tips on how to continue learning about Accessibility.

James starts his talk with how UX should be used to reduce efforts in terms of visual, mental, motor, and memory usability. It should also make interfaces more efficient, learn-able, easy, and pleasant (all of which should already be the goal of UX). He mentions using personas to understand users, (a common practice) but in his case he mentioned building out personas of people with disabilities in order to better incorporate them into our decisions. By creating that persona of someone with disabilities, you are typically learning more about them and their problems much more than you would just by thinking of including them. He stated that “Accessibility is usability just with more diverse personas.”

Accessibility reduces effort for users with potentially significant challenges. Usability often makes things easier, Accessibility often makes things possible. Design considerations and coding techniques make products inclusive.

User challenges are included in accessibility but they can also relate to everyone, James listed out just briefly the different kinds of challenges users can face. Visually: blindness, color blindness, low vision, screen glare/sunlight, shattered screens. Hearing: deafness, hearing loss, noisy environments, audio muted situations. Cognitively/Neurologically: Limited attention, memory loss, comprehension/language, epilepsy, cognitive overload, distracting environment. Physically: limited mobility, slow movement, limited dexterity, one handed mobile use, wearing gloves, no mouse.

When we design accessible products we improve the experience for everyone. Temporary disabilities can occur at any time.

James mentioned our aging population which mean more changes in ability. The 65+ age group will more than double over the next 40 years, rising from 15% of the US population today to nearly 24%. That shows how big the market is or will be for accessible products, so in creating these products you aren’t just helping others you are helping your business.

James also talked about assistive technology., which helps users interact with digital interfaces. There are a lot of these assistive devices that support many use cases. Screen readers, screen magnifications, voice dictation/control, refreshable braille displays, closed captioning, audio description, keyboard only, Input devices and switches. So not only should you design accessibly but you also need to include designs that would work with these devices.

So why do accessibility? James had four really good reasons to help convince you and others.

  1. It’s the right thing to do. James suggests taking corporate responsibility. He states that if you end up going to court over it, either way you would lose. You lose the court case, or you win and lose the respect of your customers. Essentially you become a jerk if you don’t respect people with disabilities.
  2. Market opportunity is huge. There are 2 billion people with disabilites (PWD) worldwide, 3 billion including their friends and families. 57 million PWD in the US alone, which is more than the entire population of countries like spain, canada and south korea. PWD and their friends and family control $8 trillion in disposable income. Only 24% of the largest US companies show any interest in accessibility, only 4% of which have shown measurable efforts. Now is the time to expand into this wide open market.
  3. Someone will eventually demand it. Don’t take financial and reputational risk. James had a huge list of people that present the potential of requesting it. Customers, Clients, Contracts, Leadership, Competition, Society, Media, Plaintiffs, Department of Justice. It is easier to incorporate it now, rather than later.
  4. Accessibility is the law. Don’t get fined and sued. Here James listed all the laws that reference accessibility. Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilites Act, European Accessibility Act, Other International Laws. The Web Content Accessibility Guide (WCAG) 2.0 AA conformance is the standard. He also mentioned that web accessibility lawsuits are on the rise.

WCAG 2.0 is the international accessibility standard. Technical standard was published in December 2008 by W3C. It states how to make web content more accessible to PWD. The WCAG 2.1 was published in June 2018. It is 78 success criteria broken down into 3 levels (A, AA, AAA). The goal is to meet needs of individuals, organizations and governments. It was written for governments to adopt as policy, not for developers to integrate though. So trying to read through it for normal developers/designers would be almost impossible to understand.

The WCAG is substantial, over 1200 pages printed out. It is very technology agnostic, and very open to interpretation. Organized with PWD in mind, not for the actual uses of it, i.e. designers and developers. Visa saw this as a problem and decided to come up with a solution.

Starting in 2006, trained by Knowability and working with the W3C while the standard was being written, Visa released the world’s first WCAG 2.0 AA major commercial website in 2007.

They started by understanding their staff and meeting their needs. They understood that length, difficulty, interpretation, would all impact the designers and developers comprehension of the WCAG. Therefore they created Visa’s Global Accessibility Requirements (VGAR). It contained Technical requirements for web, IOS, and android, 1:1 requirement to test scenarios with how to videos for every test, 90 minute training modules, FAQ’s. They organized it by “component” for designers and developers and by testing tool for QA. It is available at:

Things they learned from 5 years of VGAR on their intranet.

It really is a ton of unique and valuable knowledge. It helps with consistency within the company. It reduces unnecessary communication between Dev and QA. External stakeholders love it, but it does prevent back and forth after they audit products. Vendors would use it but lack access to the intranet. Colleges in the industry want it.

So they opened it up to others. Available at the link above.

James also provide a guide on your company’s own accessibility and the process of integrating it. That however is probably just as long as this post so it can be found here:

“Accessibility is not an extra or a burden or even hard. It’s a part of your job. Your job description was incomplete before. Now you get to do more and for lots of good reasons. Thank you for your valuable work.” -James Green

Written by

UX/UI Designer in Austin, TX.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store