This topic is the first in a blog series.
In 2018, I worked with a retail client as a Test Manager in IBM Consulting to create a new user experience commerce website. I was asked to add ADA Accessibility testing. The terminology was unique, and I had no experience.
During the discovery phase, I noticed a copy of the current website was provided to a third party specializing in ADA. The third-party company, UsableNet, maintained an alternative version of the existing website using the ADA guidelines for the accessibility community. However, the retail client's goal was to keep one version of the new website in-house with the ADA guidelines. Therefore, their development, test and UX teams learned what it meant to be ADA compliant. As I continued researching ADA, I found a new passion for a new way of testing. In this blog, I will provide an overview of ADA.
Let’s jump right in!
What is ADA?
ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (ADA) was signed, giving people with disabilities access to public spaces without being discriminated against. The act contains the following titles:
ADA's initial focus was on employment practices, access to public buildings, restrooms, restaurants, programs, activities, etc. Therefore, with the advancement of technology, especially the Internet. A segment of consumers could not utilize current technology due to neurodivergent disorders, blindness, and deafness. Since the Internet was a public space for everyone to use, in 1996, there was a discussion and reinterpretation of Title III as it relates to technology.
Brief History of ADA Title III
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (c. 1990) requires that “places of public accommodation” be accessible to the disabled. While the law is ambiguous as to whether websites and mobile apps are considered such places and lacking in a set standard as to what would make a website or mobile app ADA compliant, web/mobile accessibility has become accepted as a design and technology best practice. Additionally, many independent organizations have published their accessibility guidelines and provided tools and techniques for conducting accessibility testing.
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) was arguably the first major organization to create and maintain a set of accessibility guidelines for the web (c. 1996) and later mobile (c. 2015). However, many other organizations have since contributed to the conversation. WAI’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) categorize the guidelines into four categories: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. In a Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (SANPRM) released by the Department of Justice (c. 2016), it was proposed that WCAG 2.0 should be the standard for web content. In ADA, WAI’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) and User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) guidelines work together to strengthen digital accessibility for all people. Below is a brief description of the guidelines.
- Web content (WCAG) - refers to any part of a website, including text, images, forms, multimedia, and any markup code, scripts, applications, etc.
- User agents (UAAG) - software that people use to access web content, including desktop graphical browsers, voice browsers, mobile phone browsers, multimedia players, plug-ins, and some assistive technologies.
- Authoring tools (ATAG) - software or services that people use to produce web content, including code editors, document conversion tools, content management systems, blogs, database scripts, and other tools.
In addition to the guidelines, there is three-level of conformance to be ADA compliant. Depending on an organization's policies, their conformance could be level A, AA, or AAA.
- Level A conformance (the minimum level of conformance), the Web page satisfies all the Level A Success Criteria, or a conforming alternate version is provided.
- Level AA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A and Level AA Success Criteria, or a Level AA conforming alternate version is provided.
- Level AAA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A, Level AA and Level AAA Success Criteria, or a Level AAA conforming alternate version is provided.
Understanding Digital Accessibility
Digital Accessibility means websites, applications, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them to interact and contribute to digital platforms. Digital Accessibility encompasses auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disorders that affect access to digital media and devices.
Digital accessibility also benefits people without disabilities, for example:
- Mobile phones, smartwatches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc
- Changing abilities due to aging
- Temporary disabilities such as a broken arm or lost glasses
- Situational limitations such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio
- Slow Internet connection, or who have limited or expensive bandwidth
Lastly, as technology advances, people want to be engaged in social media, shopping, innovation, development, testing, providing solutions on various topics, etc. Since COVID-19 disrupted the entire world, the tools available for digital accessibility provided freedom for the ADA community to be self-sufficient. As I worked with seniors before and during the pandemic, I learned about their needs. In DevOps, we shift left with the business and test, collaborating with the development team to provide quality code for products and applications. Quality for the digital accessibility community begins with closing our eyes and using the tab key to navigate a website by sound only.
IBM has an extensive history with ADA, including tools and technology. IBM Rational Test is ADA compliant, and the conformance reports can be found here. The information includes the following Rational Tools:
- Rational Test Workbench - RTW
- (Rational Performance Tester – RPT, Rational Functional Tester – RFT and Rational Integration Tester – RIT)
- Rational Test Virtualization Server – RTVS
- Rational Test Automation Server – RTAS
- Rational Test RealTest
I would love to hear from you about these two questions or a question of your own.
- What is your organization doing to make your products or tools ADA compliant for employees and consumers?
- How have you benefited from this act yourself?
Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA)
Technical Information on Accessibility (W3C)
IBM Rational Test
Lettie Ar-Rahmaan, MSIS CTFL
Product Manager, Rational Test
IBM DevOps – Test Automation