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Accessibility matters

6 1 723

The importance

Approximately 80 million people live with some type of disability in the European Union. That is already a huge number. These people would like to use the same tools and equipment that we all do. They matter, not only because 80 million people is a huge business potential, but because they have the right to benefit from the technology, too. And this example is only the European Union—every country in the world has people who live with disabilities.

We at Instructure and in the Canvas mobile apps team, we care. We’re not primarily focusing on the profit (mobile apps are open source anyway), but we focus on making our tools accessible—and not just accessible, but making them fun to use. But I must emphasize that it is not only 80 million people in the EU—among others—who benefit from accessible features. From time to time, you and I (and I mean all of us) require accessibility features. Just think about yourself when you drive your car and don’t have hands to control the GPS: you’ll use voice commands. Breastfeeding moms holding their babies in their arms—how many hands they could use? Or just think about yourself keeping your morning coffee in one hand: how many more hands do you still have to use your phone or tablet? So by now, I hope you feel this topic is something important that interweaves with our everyday life. 

Accessibility is not only important for us but quite important for the regulators as well. For an example, reference this accessibility resource

The method

We use a few levels to ensure that accessibility guidelines are met. 

  • Level 1
    • Our precious app developers are trained to keep accessibility in focus.
    • Developers are trained and continuously self-trained to catch any anomalies as early as possible.
  • Level 2 
    • Automated tests focus only on accessibility checks
  • Level 3
    • Manual testing is performed by the mobile team
  • Level 4 
    • Manual testing is performed by the accessibility team
  • Level 5
    • An audit is performed by external resources

As you see the process is pretty solid, although I must admit that levels 4 and 5 might not happen all the time. This year we were focusing on publishing our Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) so we have involved an external auditor company called WebAIM.

The process was pretty straightforward. The whole project started during the autumn of 2020. WebAIM and our accessibility team tested the Canvas Student and the Canvas Parent apps first. Their results were registered into our backlog. Solving all the issues took us about 5 ½ months. During this time, our accessibility team was continuously checking the fixes, and WebAIM ran the external testing a few times too. 

The results

The whole project was not only important because of usability questions, but we are now meeting the legislations of the EU required to work with the public sector bodies. We consider this a win-win situation. Although accessibility reviews require more effort from the product teams, the benefits are even bigger. Please read our complete VPAT statement here:

Other resources to consider:

1 Comment
Community Champion

Thanks for this update @jozsefdavid - it is great to hear more about the work that is happening behind the scenes to make Canvas more accessible. Great to hear about your work with WebAIM as well and your work to address the issues that came up in their audit. Thanks!