The Buff Portal (formerly USE Project), is a massive student-centered university product, combining many different functions and features into one central hub, thus making it easier for students to fully immerse themselves into CU Boulder’s large digital environment. Along with all the other complexities that go with trying to make a “one-stop-shop” for students, the environment needed to be available and usable by all students; it needed to be accessible.

Luckily, one of the Buff Portal team’s earliest mandates was ensuring that the portal met CU’s established accessibility standards. It was the Buff Portal Team’s commitment to ensuring accessibility that led them to engage CU Boulder’s Digital Accessibility Office testing service (then called the Accessibility and Usability Lab, or AUL), to serve multiple roles in the project: subject matter experts, consultants, and testers. Thus, in 2018, the AUL was asked to be a part of the project.

How it Worked

Early Engagement

An essential factor in the success of this engagement was that both the Buff Portal team and the AUL began working on accessibility very early in the process.  Rather than waiting until the platform had been built to consider accessibility, the teams were engaged starting at the design stage and continued their engagement throughout the building and implementation.  In fact, the two teams are still working together to address any new issues or new implementations that may occur now and in the future.

UX and Dev Team Committed to Accessibility

Another big piece of the puzzle was the commitment to creating an accessible product by both the UX and design teams.  The teams devoted many hours to both understanding and implementing accessible design into the platform.

Iterative Accessibility Testing and Continuous Engagement

Initially, the AUL team (consisting of 4 individuals) participated in design sprints, where they provided accessibility insight to the group’s favored designs and approaches; explaining why certain features may be problematic or how other features could be best implemented to ensure the highest level of access and usability for potential users.  As this process matured and the Buff Portal team settled on a basic path for the Buff Portal, the AUL transitioned into a consultant role, reviewing proposed features and detailing how best to implement accessibility with those features.  Often this took the shape of weekly group meetings with the Buff Portal team and the AUL reviewing 3 to 5 different designs in each meeting.

End Result

Ultimately, the Buff Portal team was able to present a reasonably accessible experience for all users. Currently, the Buff Portal team continues to involve the AUL in all design and development phases to ensure that what they build will be usable by the campus community.

Additionally, from this engagement, the CU Boulder OIT Development team has forged a strong relationship with the AUL and has used the Buff Portal engagement as a blueprint for all future development efforts with respect to accessibility. The CU Boulder OIT Development team has increased their understanding of accessibility and is now using techniques they learned during this engagement in all their work