Resources and tools for making your website accessible for all

2 new tools for creating more accessible projects

Learn why it's paramount to align development practices with the revised Section 508 Standards.

2 new tools for creating more accessible projects
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Accessibility has been an afterthought in development for far too long. The result has been costly retrofitting, the risk of inaccessible solutions, and unhappy users.

We are where we are because developers often ignore accessibility in hopes that it will resolve on its own.

But solutions should be accessible by all—including the blind, deaf, those with cognitive disabilities and more. This is especially important considering the 1 billion people (including the aging population) with disabilities, the proliferation of new technology, and new industry standards. Further, it’s more than just the right thing to do. It is required by any organization working with the U.S. government, and increasingly, those in the private sector too.

As a result, new standards for accessibility have been introduced.

Published in the U.S. Federal Registry on January 18, the information and communication technology covered by the Section 508 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, increases the urgency to develop accessible web and mobile applications for all. Although the original amendment mandated that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, or used by the federal government be accessible, the standards failed to keep pace with technological advancements like the growth of the web and the proliferation of smart devices. In fact, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Accessible Rich Internet Applications 1.0 (WAI-ARIA) and HTML 5 have all surpassed the original standards.

Now, some of these newer standards have been used in the Section 508 revision process. As developers acclimate to the new standards, understanding the WCAG 2.0 standard will be key. The Revised 508 Standards apply WCAG 2.0 Level AA requirements to all content, including non-web software and electronic documentation. This may present difficulties for some but resources for guidance through the transition do exist and new tools are being created to help ensure the development process adheres to the new standards of inclusivity.

IBM, for one, recently released two new open source projects on the developerWorks/open community: AccProbe and Va11yS.

Together these projects reduce accessibility roadblocks during agile development, bolster the user experience while adhering to industry standards, and lower costs through effective accessibility features. The ultimate goal is to make it easier for developers to create accessible solutions and services for people with disabilities and the aging population.

AccProbe

AccProbe, short for Accessibility Probe, is an Eclipse-based accessibility inspection tool that aligns with the 508 revision. It's one, easy-to-use application that tests for accessibility and debugs when appropriate. It combines the functionality of several accessibility tools, including object inspection, event monitoring, and accessibility API execution. The open source tool enables access to the Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) and IAccessible2 APIs implemented by applications or rendered documents. Ultimately, the tools help in boosting speed and scale in the development of accessible and rich client applications. 

Va11ys

Va11ys, or Verified Accessibility Samples, is a repository of living, breathing code that designers and developers can access to vet assistive technologies. Any developer can interact with these samples using assistive technology like JAWS, VoiceOver, and NVDA screen readers. Additionally, by leveraging open source and the developerWorks community, the project lives in space where developers can access tools, forums, and code to meet the growing demands for accessibility and innovation. Currently, the team is expanding Va11yS code samples to include the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Sufficient Techniques and encourages others to submit new accessible code samples.

Democratizing access to the latest tools, applications, and technology is paramount. We must continue to facilitate the process and bolster the community that is working to make accessibility easy and effective for all those who need it.

About the author

Maureen (Moe) Kraft - Maureen (Moe) Kraft is a technical consultant and transformation lead for IBM Accessibility where she provides education, training and software development techniques to ensure IBM’s assets and products are accessible to people with disabilities and direction on how to incorporate accessibility into the continuous delivery development model. She is an active member of the W3C WCAG, Boston a11y group and recently began teaching programming to middle and high school girls as a member of Girls Who