Jeanette Head

Improving Accessibility in Pivotal Tracker


Last year at a conference, I attended an open spaces session on accessibility and it really caught my attention. Since then, I’ve been taking steps to help our team build an understanding and appreciation for accessibility and the ways that we can improve Tracker with accessibility in mind.

Accessibility is a combination of many requirements and features that work together to build a coherent experience for all users of the product.

Illustration by Moe Bonneau.

Why work on accessibility?

It’s the right thing to do

For me, this is the number one reason—we have a responsibility in the tech community to be inclusive and this is one facet of that responsibility. At Pivotal we say: “Do the right thing, do what works, and be kind.” However, if we aren’t accessible, our tool doesn’t work for everyone and we’re not being kind.

It’s the law

Section 508 outlines the U.S. laws for web accessibility, and other nations have their own laws. There have been an increasing number of lawsuits against companies that have not been compliant with accessibility laws.

It’s easy (and often overlooked)

Accessibility in and of itself is not that hard once you know what to do and how to check for it. It becomes harder when your product is several years old with many features and accessibility hasn’t been a priority (like with Tracker). This situation will feel familiar to many software teams that have grown their software without an awareness of accessibility.

What we missed

After getting back from the conference, I spent our next team hack day investigating accessibility in Tracker. I found that we were being inaccessible all over the place. I took a look at the page with the VoiceOver screen reader and with the AXE developer plugin.

Here are some of the things I found:

  • There are many inputs without labels, which provide no context to screen reader users.
  • Buttons are coded in HTML as divs and links. When buttons aren’t buttons, keyboard users can’t select them and screen reader users don’t know what they are.
  • There are no focus styles for keyboard users. As a keyboard user tabs through the page, there’s no way for them to track where they are without focus styles.

It turns out accessibility has been one of our broken windows for a long time.

What we’re doing now

One misconception about accessibility is that it’s an on-off switch. Accessibility is actually a combination of many requirements and features that work together to build a coherent experience for all users of the product. It takes a village.

Sharing knowledge

Although getting everyone up to speed is a work in progress, pairing has been a great way to share accessibility knowledge across the team. Pairing with designers, product owners, and testers—as well as developers—has helped carry the conversation about accessibility through our entire process. Having the conversation early and planning accessible ways to interact with new features is how we will do better going forward.

Picking a target

To improve the accessibility experience immediately, we decided to focus our initial work on the Project page (where you can see all your stories). This is where the majority of our features live and where our users spend most of their time. By narrowing our scope to the Project page, we focused our work on the features that make the biggest difference on that page. We started by getting all of our inputs labelled and then then shifted our focus to helping keyboards and screen readers navigate more effectively using focus styles and landmarks. Reaching for the low-hanging fruit on this page made accessibility easier to tackle.

Writing stories

When we write accessibility stories, we focus on one component of the page for one accessibility persona at a time. These are some of the stories we’ve completed:

  • As a keyboard user, I should be able to delete a task or blocker.
  • As a user, I can tab through collapsed stories and see a focus outline.
  • As a user who uses screen readers column titles should have H2 tags so screen readers can easily navigate them.
  • As a user who uses screen readers, I want to hear the relevant username when I focus on an avatar

Our goals

So far, we’ve made progress towards the following higher level goals:

  • Get everything labelled so that screen readers have context.
  • Have visible focus throughout the app.
  • Make all buttons keyboard accessible.
  • Improve color contrast.
  • Help keyboard users navigate the page better.
  • Help screen readers navigate the page better.

Blue focus ring around a story.

Blue focus ring around a story.

Skipping links in Tracker.

Skipping links in Tracker.

Creating and editing a blocker with keyboard actions.

Creating and editing a blocker with keyboard actions.

This is an overview of the steps we’re taking to address accessibility issues in Tracker. By building a shared understanding of where we are and where we want to be, we have been able to start making our product more inclusive. What has your team done to improve accessibility?

Further Reading