In this project I was part of the team at the agency A&B One Digital tasked with building a new website for the Blindenstudienanstalt (institute for the blind) in Marburg. The result of our work from 2015 can still (at the beginning of 2023) be seen at www.blista.de.
Because people who have complete loss of eyesight are kind of the boss level customer when it comes to visual media, we brought in outside help from the excellent Michael Schwarz (htmlexperts.de) from whom I learned a lot during this project.
Blista is an institute that helps blind and partially blind people of all ages. They have a kindergarten, primary school, and gymnasium (high school), enabling societal participation through education and qualification. They also employ quite a few visually impaired people themselves, among them the administration and editorial staff for the website.
This translated into the requirement that the frontend and backend had to be accessible. The CMS would of course be used by people who could be trained in the use of the system.
Our goal was to reach at least 95 points in the BITV test.
Wordpress only really started to take accessibility serious in 2018, TYPO3 made its pagetree accessible in 2019. In 2015 the only real option was Drupal. The ability to hook into almost any part of the system, custom views for the editors, and the general form-based nature of Drupal allowed us to build a CMS that blista’s editors could become productive with in a few weeks.
An important thing I learned in this project is that accessibility is not only about one group of people, who have one kind of disability. There are plenty of people who have a partial disability, sometimes even temporary, who benefit greatly from us putting in the time to add affordances which make it easier to engage with the website.
So, of course screen reader software was one of the important tools in our testing, but we also made sure that the site worked when used only with a keyboard, and built in a font size control for those who can still see but struggle a little with hitting small click targets. Nowadays everyone has a dark mode, back then it was a little unusual to have a high-contrast inverted page style.
The tools for accessibility checking have greatly improved in the last decade. Firefox and Chrome devtools now have the ability to test for problems and provide inspection of the accessibility tree. But the best tools cannot help you if don’t put in the time to use them.
The first and best tool you have for producing accessible systems is your attitude. If you care, you will put in skip links, you will use the correct HTML tags, add appropriate ARIA roles, and describe your images.
Sadly, in the year 2023, many digital creators still don’t care. Accessibility is only an afterthought for a lot of projects, even though with the EU directives 2016/2102 (on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies) and 2019/882 (Accessibility of products and services) it has become law to produce accessible services.