Q&A: How Do You Implement Accessibility into Design?

Updated: June 3, 2019

In the webinar, Toolkit for Digital Accessibility, Jack Nicolai, Accessibility Product Manager at Adobe, shared tools, techniques, and best practices to integrate accessibility requirements into product design.

Below is an excerpt from the Q&A portion of the presentation.

Implementing accessibility into the design process sounds like more work for designers. How does one adjust for the time and effort needed during the design phase?

JACK NICOLAI: What I’ve seen occur, is there’s an initial investment up front, both where product managers and designers are, number one, getting educated about how to be thinking and how to be writing about accessibility requirements. But after a while, it becomes like anything else.

It’s not to say that this additional markup and design doesn’t necessarily take additional time. Typically, you’re designing a design system, you’re designing a set of UI elements that you’re going to use again and again and again, especially if you’re dealing with a web application or a corporate website or that sort of thing.

Really, I think it has to come down, as well, to an agreement and understanding with your product team and your product managers that this is work that needs to get done.

I mean, ultimately, if you were to ask the question, who shouldn’t be able to use your website or your product, you would probably say, well, there isn’t anybody that shouldn’t be able to use our product or website. So the question then becomes, “Do we take the time to define what is needed to be able to make our website work for someone who can only use a keyboard?”

Well, ultimately, the answer to that should be yes.

What is your workflow between the accessibility specialists and the designers?

JACK NICOLAI: Well, I do a lot of consulting. Typically, when you are sitting down and actually considering to take up new work, the assumption is that a product manager has written the user story to describe a certain set of functionality. Then, everybody sits down to talk about what this feature is so that he or she can ask questions and flesh out, if there’s something that they don’t understand, or they see as missing. Basically, that user story gets massaged into a feature description that everybody understands.

Then from that point, I will often sit down with designers as they’re beginning to wireframe out an interface. I ask them questions. “Well, how does the user get from point A to point B?” “When the user puts focus on a particular element, what gets announced to an assistive technology?”

It’s both the activity to educate them and the activity to uncover and make sure that these things are being thought of and addressed.

Then, often my next touchpoint is the engineer. I’ve had my influence on the user story. I’ve had my influence on the design specs. So when that handoff occurs to the engineer, I’ll often do technical consulting from an accessibility standpoint.

Are there any trends you are seeing for how to make things easier for designers to produce accessible products?

JACK NICOLAI: I think we’re trying to start one with this kind of documentation [featured in the presentation]. We’re trying to figure out how to express [our passion for accessibility] within our work.

Right now, the trend I feel like is growing is a desire [for accessibility] and seeing these requirements starting to show up within design specs from a software perspective. That’s something that we are really talking about and considering [at Adobe]. “How do we provide software-based solutions, like tooling, essentially, within our products that will make this process easier?”

In the meantime, it’s why I put this toolkit together so that you can just go download these assets and start to pull them immediately into the design work that you’re doing and find some value.

Watch the full webinar below!

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