Poornima Vijayashanker

Product Design: 3 Key Tips to Keep in Mind When Designing for Accessibility


Wasn’t last week’s episode on accessibility in product design enlightening? Well, get ready for more!

The goal of the last episode was to give you solid understanding of accessibility, and all the things you could think about when designing a product with accessibility in mind. But we understand it might be a lot to tackle, which is why in this episode, we’re going to boil it down into three key tips that are critical and will make a big impact.

Laura Allen is back to enlighten us. Laura is the Accessibility Program Manager at Google for Chrome and the Chrome operating system.

Here’s what you’ll learn as you watch today’s episode:

  • why thinking about accessibility is not just one person’s job, but a team effort;
  • how to integrate accessibility into your product development process; and
  • how to engage users and discover communities that are ready and willing to test products for you!

Here are some additional resources to checkout that Laura mentioned in the video:

Now, Laura and I want to know, have you tried one of these three tips when it comes to incorporating accessibility into your product, which of these did you try, and what was the impact it made? If you’ve got others, be sure to include them in the comments below.

Listen to the episode on iTunes!

Product Design: 3 Key Tips to Keep in Mind When Designing for Accessibility Transcript

Poornima Vijayashanker: In the previous Build episode, we talked about the importance of accessibility. If you missed that episode, I’ve included it below. Now, in that episode we talked about a number of things that you could do to improve your product. In today’s episode, we’re going to boil it down to the three main things that you want to think about when you’re designing and building your product, so stay tuned.

Welcome to Build, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I’m your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode, I invite innovators, and together we debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. We’re continuing our conversation today on accessibility with Laura Allen, who is the accessibility program manager at Google for Chrome and Chrome operating system. Thanks again for joining us, Laura.

Laura Allen: Absolutely. Thank you for having me again.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. Last time we talked about a number of things that our audience can do when they’re thinking about designing products or revisiting their products and incorporating more accessibility. In today’s episode, I want to focus solely on the top three things you think are super critical and will make a big impact in people’s products.

Laura Allen: Great.

Poornima Vijayashanker: So, let’s start with the first.

Laura Allen: First.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Laura Allen: OK, so I would say the first thing to do is to train your team.

Poornima Vijayashanker: OK.

Laura Allen: Thinking about accessibility, it’s not just one person’s job, and that’s something really important to keep in mind. This is a full team effort. There are different roles that different people have to play from design to research to development to just release processes, all of those different things. Everyone needs to play their individual part, to be totally honest with you. A lot of teams just will honestly benefit from just going through different trainings, leveraging resources that are out there. There are a lot of great things, like for example, I know a few of my colleagues actually have put together this awesome Udacity course just all about web accessibility. That’s a great resource. There are lots of videos out there. There’s this great YouTube series called The A11y Casts, it’s like A-11-Y, which is an abbreviation for accessibility. If you’ve seen that before, it’s A, 11 characters, Y, mean accessibility. So, lots of different things out there. We can definitely link some resources for sure.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Laura Allen: I would say, yes, training the team. Make sure everyone feels comfortable with the concepts of how to start building this in. That will go a really long way.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. So, it’s not just to put the onus on the designers of the team but really your PMs, your engineers.

Laura Allen: Exactly. Thinking about, for example, like the designers when you’re scoping out a project, let’s incorporate accessibility into design docs. Think about, “OK, well what should the keyboard model actually look like?” just as one example. “What should contrast? Am I thinking about contrast in my mocks?” So, bringing it in at the design phase, and then basically working with your engineers as you’re developing, testing for accessibility as you’re going along, having PMs to help make sure that that process is happening, it’s being managed all the way through. I think it’s really critical. Basically, having everyone ramped up on this, everyone understand the fundamentals is really key.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Wonderful. What’s tip number two?

Laura Allen: Yeah, so tip number two would be to integrate accessibility. Honestly, I understand why a lot of people might get to the end, be ready to release a product, maybe even release it, and then say, “Oh, shoot. We forgot about accessibility.”

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Laura Allen: Maybe they’ll get bugs filed against them. That’s not the situation that you want to be in. It’s also just not an inclusive way to be building your products. I think just working hard to integrate into each step of the way, and that’s what’s helpful to have each different role on your team understand accessibility, of course. So, integrating so that when you’re preparing to launch a product, that’s at the phase. When you’re actually designing and building it, that’s when you’re working on these concepts and implementing these principles instead of, “OK, we’re ready to go. We’re going to launch,” and then, “Uh-oh.”

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Laura Allen: So, integration.

Poornima Vijayashanker: What’s the third and final most important thing people should consider?

Laura Allen: Yeah. I would say to engage the users.

Poornima Vijayashanker: OK.

Laura Allen: This is something that’s really important, again. So, just understanding how…read a list of technology users or just users with any variety of accessibility needs are interacting with your product. One really simple step that I think is, if you’re going out and you’re conducting user research in the first place, why not add somebody who’s an assisted technology user right to that pool? Add someone who’s a screen reader user or someone who can only use the keyboard, for example, and can’t use a mouse. Try to diversify that pool, and make sure you’re collecting that user feedback, and understand how your product is working for a variety of different users.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Very nice. Yeah, keeping the user in mind. Are there places that you can try to recruit from? A lot of people might use something like user testing and there’s a few other services out there, but anything you would recommend to recruit people?

Laura Allen: Yeah. I mean, one thing that I know we’ve seen a lot of success with is partnering with organizations. Just as one example, we’re here in San Francisco today, the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, that’s just one example of a fantastic organization where they’re more than happy to partner with teams or with individual researchers just to give feedback. They want to be helping. They want to make these products even better and better. There are lots of different types of organizations that are similar to that, which maybe local for people who are not right here in San Francisco, also national organizations, international organizations. So, just thinking about how do you leverage different communities, and you’ll find that oftentimes if you just kind of approach different people and say, “Hey, we’d love your feedback on making this better and making it work better for you. Can you help us out?” It helps if you’re going to go and have one of those conversations if you’ve thought through some of these core concepts and some of the things that are mentioned in the WCAG Guidelines, and you’re not showing up without having even considered accessibility. Right? It goes a long way to bring real people in, real users in, and just make the products that much better.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Well, thank you so much, Laura, for boiling these down into three useful tips. I know our audience is going to get a lot of out this.

Laura Allen: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Now, Laura and I want to know, have you tried one of these three tips when it comes to incorporating accessibility into your product, which of these did you try, and what was the impact it made? If you’ve got others, be sure to include them in the comments below. That’s it for this week’s episode of Build. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode, where we’ll dive into incorporating accessibility into web versus mobile. Special thanks to our sponsor Pivotal Tracker for their help in producing this episode. Ciao for now.

This episode of Build is brought to you by our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker.

Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.