When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 25% of adults in the US faced some kind of level of disability, IBM Accessibility created tools and guidelines to inspire and guide product teams to design and build accessible and inclusive websites and applications. An industry sample found more than 98% of homepages had detectable accessibility errors.

IBM led the study with the mission statement “Beyond compliant. Accessibility is not just a practice, it’s a culture and mindset.” The Equal Access Toolkit and checker, released on Monday, May 18, is free and timely coincides with Global Accessibility Awareness day on May 21.

The release is divided into two parts, the IBM Equal Access Toolkit, a public set of guidelines that deliver phase-based guidance about accessibility to all members of a team creating an enterprise offering, and the accessibility checker, which is part of an open suite of automation tools. It is a browser extension that allows developers or auditors to evaluate a web-based component or solution for accessibility issues.

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The IBM Equal Access Toolkit offers:

  • Clear guidance through each stage of development, from initial research through planning, design, development, verification and launch

  • A prioritized breakdown at each stage, of accessibility requirements

  • Test automation

  • Browser-based accessibility to follow-up with navigation and built-in help to support learning correct information, at precisely the right time

The toolkit, designed to make improving a product’s accessibility easier, includes five project phases and roles, explained as:

  1. Plan: ID project needs and inject accessibility into sprints and releases

  2. Design: Craft an inclusive user experience with accessible content and effective visual design

  3. Develop: Code to specifications and perform unit tests to build accessible interfaces.

  4. Verify: Confirm the results meet the accessible design requirements using both automated tools and manual testing

  5. Launch: Report on results and bring the accessible experience to market.

The guidelines, IBM ensures, strongly supports the federal government’s and industries’ use of accessibility as a criterion in the procurement of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Image: IBM

There are verification tools for Chrome, Firefox, Karma, and Node. The report tools are for accessibility conformance reports and the IBM accessibility checklist.

IBM designed the site to allow teams to adopt accessibility at the developer’s pace, and divides tasks and considerations into three levels of progression:

  1. Level 1: The most essential tasks to perform, normally with the least investment. Completing these tasks will address many of the top concerns of people with disabilities.

  2. Level 2: Tasks in addition to the first level to address the next-most important issues that may keep certain users from fully using your product.

  3. Level 3: Completes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) portion of the IBM accessibility checklist.

The toolkit offers design-specific direction on how to make a product more accessible, with tools that plug directly into the existing workflow, and “bite-sized” guidance for “quick consumption.”

IBM has also included a list with links and the ability to search IBM’s accessible products.

The checker can be accessed through GitHub or as a browser extension through the Google or Firefox stores. If you want to run the checker in a batch configuration, you can get the checker through the NPM repository, the report noted, “Because the toolkit is technology-agnostic, you can use it in a variety of Node.js-based environments for automated testing.”

The study concluded that IBM’s “history with diversity and accessibility has taught us that incorporating those aspects into our work creates better innovation and outcomes. We understand it is not always easy to find the best practices or guidance to fully understand or test accessibility solutions. This is why we wanted to establish an open-source platform that empowers offering teams to conceive, design, develop, ship, and report on their accessible offerings regardless of their accessibility expertise.”

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto