January 28, 2021

Accessibility in Tool Development at CBI

At CBI, we want our applications to be usable for all people, and incorporating accessibility guidelines into our work is an ongoing learning process for the Development Team

Most of us can’t imagine life without easy access to the internet, but what if you couldn’t use a computer mouse, didn’t see color, or relied on screen reading software to interact with websites? What if you had to rely on others to engage on the internet?

One in four adults in the U.S. has a disability, although not all preclude internet engagement. Thankfully today, after decades of  advocacy, voices from disability communities are being heard with increasing frequency. Innovations – such as screen reader software, alternative keyboards, and eye-tracking software – allow many in the disability communities to interact independently with on-screen content. 

While accessibility guidelines have been around a relatively long time, the impacts on disability communities are only now being discussed more openly. Web content accessibility guidelines (also see here) have existed for some time now (the last major update was in 2008). Many states have policies and initiatives meant to adhere with the Americans for Disabilities Act (Section 508 references WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the standard to meet for web compliance), but California paved the way for stricter measures and more accountability. In 2017, California passed a law that legally requires website accessibility by 2019 for all state agencies’ websites and all organizations contracted with the state. Other states and the Federal government will likely follow in California’s foot-steps regarding internet accessibility. 

CBI is widely recognized for our scientifically-robust and cost-effective online tool development, and Esti Shay (software engineer) leads the charge on accessibility implementation for CBI’s Development Team.

Accessibility isn’t often considered the first step in design work, but CBI’s web designers now start their design process with a checklist of design principles and ‘tips’ focused on accessibility. The Development Team ensures that fonts and colors used contrast enough for those with visual impairments. 

Once the designs are reviewed and approved, the actual app development focuses around how people will interact with the content. Users of screen readers rely on clear semantics - code that corresponds to the meaning and purpose of the different app parts, as opposed to the presentation. For example, with navigation development, it’s critical to specify in the code that ‘this’ is part of the navigation. A site with poor semantics may look just fine to non-disabled people, but for those with visual impairments the site will come across as jumbled and confusing.

At CBI, we want our applications to be usable for all people, and incorporating accessibility guidelines into our work is an ongoing learning process for the Development Team. 

Please check out the resources below to learn more about making web applications more accessible for all people:

About the author:
Gwynne Corrigan, M.S.
Director of Communications
Gwynne is the Director of Communications with CBI, and is also involved with a variety of projects doing outreach, communications, research and writing. Her educational background is in ecology and biology with a particular interest in endangered species.
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