In the transition to digital, the Government is automating routine workflow processes. Agencies are digitizing vast amounts of paper files, changing how analysts manage their daily workload. But consider that the shift to digital processes doubly impacts people with impairments. Studies1 show that 3.3% of workers have a visual impairment, and 8.2% have an impairment with lifting/grasping (i.e., difficulty with mouse control and reliance on keyboard commands).
The GSA’s Section 508 Government-wide IT Accessibility Program requires federal agencies to ensure their information and services are accessible to people with disabilities. The standards include but are not limited to:
- Smartphones and other types of communication devices
- Desktops, laptops, tablets, and websites
- Recorded presentations such as webinars and online training
- Digital documents such as user guides and PDFs
Our view on best practices
At NT Concepts, we developed best practices to assist agencies with 508 compliance requirements. We recognize the importance of having a clear understanding to assist in meeting their responsibilities for accessibility.
Have a certified Section 508 SME on the design team
Figure 1: WCAG Principles
The WCAG principles—Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust—are often referred to by the acronym "POUR." 2
- PERCEIVABLE: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- OPERABLE: User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- UNDERSTANDABLE: Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.
- ROBUST: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Follow a playbook
For each project, NT Concepts follows a DesignOps playbook to define the UI/UX style that will be used to create the user interfaces necessary for the application. We collaborate with our product owners, our UI/UX design team, and our certified 508 testers to develop a standardized style guide for each application. Figure 2 outlines the DesignOps process and how it applies to 508 compliance considerations.
Figure 2: DesignOps Delivery Process
- DISCOVER: Identify fallacies and faults in the application; outline targeted audience
- COLLABORATE: Work with customer to outline requirements
- DEFINE USABILITY: Design UI/UX geared to accommodate 508 compliance
- PROTOTYPE: Outline of established design
- TEST: Ensure all compliance is met, use screen readers to validate code
- DEPLOY/INTEGRATE: Move all work to dev and staging environments
Working as a team through the Discover, Collaborate, and Define phases ensures a robust and consistent style guide is created. The style guide is a proven successful road map to ensure 508 compliance within the UI/UX design.
Use automated tools for CI/CD
By factoring in UI/UX design upfront and building to Section 508 accessibility specifications, you will reduce the amount of technical debt and rework while ensuring the application meets the required WCAG guidelines.
Take, for example, our experience working with one of our government clients. The client knew the product needed to be 508 compliant at the AA level but initially focused on gathering and implementing the minimum functional requirements. As a result, code development started, and the 508 requirements were deprioritized in the backlog.
While this approach allowed for the development of a functional application, it was not 508 compliant. Upon completion of development, the 508 requirements were then “bolted on” to make the application 508 compliant at the AA level. The problem with this approach is that it resulted in technical debt because aspects of the system had to be redone and replaced to achieve compliance. This code included rework of the UI/UX design and items such as tables, graphs, and images. This approach ultimately increased cost and delayed deployment of a 508 compliant application.
When this client needed another application, we used lessons learned from the previous effort, and the development of the new requirements included the necessary elements to support 508 compliance. This approach supported user-centric design and involved utilizing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) certified trusted testers as part of the application’s initial design. The team created a standardized playbook and focused on the WCAG principles to ensure consistency and compliance across the application.
Have certified human testers
Accessibility is good for business
The GSA points out that aside from the legal requirements, “Creating products and information that everyone can use drives innovation, provides a better customer experience, and improves employee engagement. Accessibility helps you reach more stakeholders and, ultimately, achieve your agency’s mission.”
For more information, visit Section508.gov.
1Accessibility, Interactive. “Accessibility Statistics.” Accessibility Statistics | Interactive Accessibility, www.interactiveaccessibility.com/accessibility-statistics.
2“WCAG 2.0 Principles and Implementation.” WCAG 2.0 Principles, www.d.umn.edu/itss/news/2016/05/wcag_principles.html.
Director of Operations Todd Kobert is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and SAFe Agilist (SA) specializing in sensitive National Security projects. A tenured leader of complex technical projects supporting DoD and Federal Civilian customers, Todd manages a highly diverse contract portfolio and the skilled data science and technology teams that deliver mission-critical solutions.