Welcome to our May issue of the Accessibility Minute Newsletter! This newsletter is produced by the CU Boulder Digital Accessibility Office and covers one accessibility skill or topic per month. Please visit the DAO website to access past newsletters. As always, thank you for taking a minute (or two!) to read.

Reliability of Accessibility Findings: How Accessible is This Product?

When working with a vendor, you may ask about the accessibility of their products or read about it online, but how do you know if it’s truly accessible? The short answer is that you don't unless you’re conducting systematic manual testing. The CU Boulder Digital Accessibility Office’s (DAO) stance is that the only way to get a complete picture of a product's accessibility is to have it manually tested.

Accessibility testing is when a digital product (software, platform, tool, etc.) is examined for issues or barriers that would negatively impact users with disabilities or those who use assistive technology. The DAO breaks accessibility testing into two main components: manual accessibility testing, which looks for specific accessibility issues, and usability testing, which focuses on the overall usability of the software, platform, tool, etc. Both testing processes are incredibly valuable, and at the Digital Accessibility Office, we care about both! By testing for accessibility and usability, we can make improvements that will benefit all users.

An example of an inaccessible product could be a webpage that only functions when using a mouse, making it impossible for keyboard-only users to access. An accessibility test would identify this barrier (keyboard access is missing), enabling the developers to know that an issue exists and needs to be remedied.

Reviewing Accessibility Documentation

If you do not have access to internal or third-party manual accessibility testing, additional options could be used to assess the accessibility of digital technology. When you engage with a vendor, they may provide a document called a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). A VPAT is intended to explain how accessible a product is while using the standards of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. In this report, different categories of accessibility are listed, and the vendor will note if those categories are supported, not supported, or not applicable.

While a VPAT may be helpful, it is vital to remember that the “V” in VPAT stands for voluntary – a company is volunteering to share information about their product, so they can choose to share or withhold any information. Anyone in an organization can potentially complete a VPAT for a product; there isn’t a general requirement for who is allowed to complete these documents. Additionally, VPATs don’t account for usability testing, and some vendors do not elaborate on what is or isn't supported. For example, if there is an error noted in the VPAT, it typically will not explain if that error applies to a small user setting or to something functional to the product. For these reasons, VPATs should never be used as the sole measure of the accessibility of a digital technology.

Again, while a VPAT may be helpful in some instances, asking the vendor for an accessibility roadmap is a great step to understanding when and how accessibility issues found in the VPAT, or through internal testing, will be resolved. Details and timelines included in a roadmap can help you understand how invested the vendor is in accessibility. If a vendor is unable or unwilling to supply a roadmap, it may be in your and the end users' best interest to look for another product that is accessible and meets the needs of your audience.

May Challenge

DAO News

Follow the DAO on LinkedIn! By following us, you'll get access to behind-the-scenes insight into our office, information about our services, applicable accessibility tips posted every Tuesday, resources, upcoming event information, and more.

DAO Office Hours are now the 4th Tuesday of every month from 1 to 2 PM MT. Our next office hours will be held on Tuesday, June 25th, 2024.