Over 55 million Americans have some type of disability that affects their ability to use software. This number is increasing as need, as well as the population, increase.
The recent lawsuit filed by the National Association of the Deaf against MIT and Harvard has brought attention back to the issue of accessibility of educational software for disabled individuals. The risk of lawsuit, along with the alienation of customers, is bringing this topic to top-of-mind for many companies. Despite best efforts to build products that accommodate disabled individuals, businesses and organizations are still trying to make sense of what makes software accessible. This confusion typically stems from a lack of guidelines and expertise around accessibility.
Despite public outcry regarding Section 508 Standards around accessibility, neither the US Department of Justice nor the American with Disabilities Act address accessibility requirement guidelines for websites and mobile applications. Organizations have typically relied on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the standard when building accessible products in the absence of guidelines.
As result of the lack of guidelines, many companies are awaiting a decision by the Department of Justice in 2015, which should hopefully clarify the issue. In the meantime, organizations covered under the ADA make software-build decisions based on suggestions from technology and legal experts to address accessibility requirements.
How We Can Help
We at MRCC believe that organizations should build accessibility into the entire development process, company-wide. Leading organizations, such as IBM, have been doing this for years. Though costly, software products that are flexible enough to meet different needs, preferences, and situations benefit all users.
The following are some items to review around accessibility:
* Navigation via keyboard: All software should be designed to work without the use of a mouse. Many individuals are unable to use a mouse for a variety of reasons. This design has applicability to the mobile interfaces where a user lacks a mouse and relies on touch.
* Tagging images and symbols: Screen readers are unable to read images or symbols. Alt tagging helps screen readers provide an audio description of images. However, we suggest avoiding the use of alt tags with mathematical symbols.
Note that Math Jax is replacing the commonly used MathML notation; this change is based on Google’s decision to drop support. This will require educational providers to transition from presenting math equations as images and using a markup language instead.
* Hyperlinks: All hyperlinks should be readable by a screen reader, so that the user can easily understand the materials.
* QA: Accessibility checks should be incorporated as part of the QA process. Finding any errors helps maintain a positive customer experience.
We have the expertise to assist companies and organizations that have accessibility challenges. If you provide MRCC with sample content to review, we will conduct an audit of your content at no cost. We will also provide suggestions on how you can improve your product to meet accessibility requirements. Please contact Chris Kelly at 978-771-1752 with any questions.