What is Accessibility?
An often-overlooked aspect of software development is that of accessibility. At CollegeSource, we take accessibility very seriously and are always seeking out ways to improve our development practices to stay on top of this issue. If you have heard us discuss it in the past, you may have asked yourself, “What exactly do they mean by accessibility?”
When referencing the term accessibility, we are referring specifically to developing software that anyone can use, regardless of physical ability. It is a specific and dedicated focus to ensure users with disabilities can easily use our products without compromising loss of functionality. If that sounds like a big undertaking, it is!
How do we approach this? It starts with trying to understand various disabilities and the specific challenges people with those disabilities face as they navigate the web. How does someone who is blind navigate a web page? What challenges does a deaf or hard of hearing user face? If someone has a motor disability, what types of features or designs would be difficult, impossible, or downright painful for them to use? Although the considerations are so numerous, thankfully a number of accessibility guidelines are in place that we can follow to stay on track.
Several sets of accessibility standards are in use around the world. In the United States, federal agencies and many states follow Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (often referred to simply as “Section 508”). In Europe, EN 301 549 functions across European Member states in a way similar to Section 508 in the US. Internationally, the standard is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Because both Section 508 and EN 301 549 were recently revised to closely align with the international WCAG standards, CollegeSource develops against these WCAG 2.1 standards.
Accessibility at CollegeSource
Armed with this information, we design, develop, and test our software products with these standards in mind. When we fall short, issues are logged on a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, or VPAT, for each product: TES, Transferology, and each of the applications within the uAchieve suite. Once identified, accessibility issues are then prioritized on separate Accessibility Roadmaps, per product. We strive to include accessibility-specific issues in every release and occasionally dedicate an entire release to these issues. For example, two upcoming releases for Transferology (1.9.2 – Oct 27, 2020) and uAchieve (184.108.40.206 – Dec 15, 2020) are accessibility-focused releases.
While developing accessible products is a monumental task, it is one that we are incredibly passionate about. To this end, we continue to dedicate time and resources to test, identify, document, and reconcile accessibility issues across products to ensure a positive experience for end users, regardless of ability. If you have any questions, we would love to hear from you. Send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.