Incorporating Accessibility Into Your Software Engineering Projects

engineering accessiblity into softwareAre you missing out on reaching 25% of the US population with your current software engineering project?

Maybe the elderly, at 13% of the population, aren’t part of your target market, or maybe it’s the 12% of the US population who are disabled that you aren’t reaching. Many people will not be able to use your software or will become frustrated trying to do so if you haven’t included Software Accessibility Standards in your applications.

If this information convinces you it’s time to integrate accessibility into your current or next project, here are some guidelines to get you started:

Get Management Support

For the successful incorporation of accessibility into your applications, support needs to come from the highest level possible. If you’re at an engineering level, hopefully the information in this blog, and doing a little research on the W3C website, will give you the information you need to make the case to upper management and get the necessary support.

Designate or Hire an Accessibility Expert

If there’s someone on the team (usually a project manager, tester or developer) who has previous software accessibility experience, by all means, take advantage of his knowledge. If you don’t have anyone with such experience, hiring a consulting firm with this experience is a good alternative. However, developing an expert within the team should be the long-term goal.

Get Training

You can get training from companies that specialize in software accessibility or use the internet and books to train your people. The W3C is a good source of high-level information and detailed technical information, including a list of standards.

Include Accessibility from the Beginning

The best case scenario is to include Software Accessibility Standards from the beginning of the life of an application. This means incorporating the standards into your requirements documentation, technical specs, and test plans. If your project already has a few releases, you can incorporate the standards into the next phase/iteration of your product lifecycle.

Test for Accessibility

You should include a W3C-compliant tool as part of your test suite during your project’s stabilization phase. Since no one tool is perfect, it’s good to include some manual test cases to verify the accessibility features as part of your standard test suite.

If your software has already been released, there are a variety of accessibility test tools available on the market to validate the accessibility of your application. In the end, software engineering is about the rapid delivery of high-quality software; and if that includes an accessibility requirement, be sure to consider these guidelines.

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