A reflection on my CPACC journey

Let me start by saying, Wow! What a whirlwind this second round of studying felt like. I think it’s because I dedicated only 45 days, rather than 100 days. Do I think I needed 100 days to study for this? Probably not. And yet, 100 days (or at least 70) would have let me spread out the material more. Most days I felt like I was cramming in a lot of information, and spending 2-3 hours each day walking through Deque coursework, Coursera videos and text, IAAP Body of Knowledge sections, and visiting recommended online resources. All the while trying to keep myself organized, stick to my self-imposed schedule, and output what I learned into concise blog posts about each topic covered in the CPACC Body of Knowledge. The exam showed me that I improved my understanding, but I still struggle in some areas.

It will be 4-6 weeks before I receive word of whether I am CPACC certified or not, but the following are my observations and feelings after I sat for the exam.

What I sailed through

WCAG and its POUR principles were, by far, the easiest thing for me to test well in. How could I not? I’d already (over)prepared for the WAS (Web Accessibility Specialist) exam and passed with a very satisfactory score. I wasn’t just trying to earn a certification; I was out to learn as much about web accessibility as I could. And I did. WCAG was a huge part of my learning earlier this year. To add to that, I work with those principles on a daily basis. I evaluate my own web design and development work by asking myself if my organization’s content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for people with disabilities. It’s a part of me now, so I knew going in that I didn’t have to spend much time studying that information. Again, I’m not saying I passed, but the POUR questions on the exam took me the least amount of time to mull over. Thank you, WAS Certification!

Universal design (UD). This one I worried over. The CPACC Content Outline gave me the first clue that these principles and concepts needed my attention and time. Did I want to spend a lot of time on them? Not really. And yet, I heeded the outline’s implications, and took the advice from a few other people who earned their certification already. It didn’t make sense to me at the beginning to be deeply familiar with UD, but by the end I was glad I was. Not only did it help me answer questions about the principles and application of the principles, but it motivated me to ask my own questions about the key differences between accessibility, universal design, and inclusive design. Thank you to everyone who contributed to a conversation on this topic, and verified what I was learning.

An honorable mention:

  • theoretical models of disability: not to say that I aced all of those questions, but I feel like I have a better grasp on these perspectives and have started adjusting my own attitudes and language accordingly (a whispered “thank you” to the person on Twitter that keeps ranting about ableism.. you know who you are, and I’m listening;

Looking back just now, I see that most of my strengths currently reside in the “Accessibility and Universal Design” section of the outline.

What I tripped over

Despite the time I put into learning and the advice I took, I still experienced several dreadful moments during the exam, when I would read a question repeatedly, and cringe, thinking, “I’ve made a mistake! I was not ready for this at all.” As a matter of fact, the first two questions were like that, which was not a good way for me to start the exam. I can’t remember exactly what they were, but I do recall some of the topics I found myself questioning my own answers on several occasions.

Universal design in learning. This one I studied for. I even sketched out my own matrix before realizing there was one online through CAST’s website. I think it was just the text-heavy content that I didn’t memorize. I understand the underlying thinking behind it, but I started doubting if I’d truly incorporated it into my thinking. I’m still certain I couldn’t rattle off most of that information, if it wasn’t presented to me in multiple choice format. Oddly enough, learning about UDL got me thinking a lot of how to teach my co-workers about it since some of them create online coursework and webinars.

Laws. Thanks to the warning of others, I made sure I spent time with this section. However, I still couldn’t quite manage to recall some of the names and details of some of the international laws (I won’t deny I’m American-centric). It’s something I’ll continue to struggle with when someone inquires about other countries and the standards and laws they’re following. On a positive note, knowledge about the UN Declaration of Human Rights, UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and their impact on legislation will forever stick with me.

Data trends. This one I knew I’d struggle with. Not because of numbers, but more due to my convoluted understanding of what I actually needed to know. How many people have a disability? I got this. You want more details and specifics. Umm… I know the perfect resource to direct you to! But, no, this information is not in my head. If I’m trying to build a case for accessibility, I’d like to be more confident in this area.

Types of disabilities. I thought for sure this was one I’d sail through. And I did with a several of those questions. However, there were a few that made me question my own competency about the people we’re doing this for. I thought I knew a lot about conditions and their causes, but I am now convinced I’m not paying enough attention to the what and why of disabilities. I may have focused too much on their challenges and how to solve them.

Organizational management and governance. This was another topic that I questioned myself on. I worried a little about this one because I didn’t get to that material until a few days prior to the exam. Additionally, I hadn’t finished my blog post about that section prior to the exam either, so I didn’t give myself the chance to internalize it well. I spent time changing and re-changing some of my answers about these, too, because the things I (thought) remembered well didn’t match the language that was used in the exam. On a positive note, I was grateful for this section because it gave me affirmation that my organization is on the right track to maturing its accessibility processes.

Reflecting over the areas I was uncertain about, I had already identified these same areas during my study time, and knew they could still trip me up during the exam. Thankfully, multiple choice questions gave me some leeway in identifying what I was familiar enough with. And taking time to review all my answers (maybe more than once), before submitting them, restored some confidence in that I had still learned quite a bit about accessibility. Enough to have (felt like) I answered most of the questions correctly

When my results come, I’ll know for sure how much I understood within the other CPACC Certification Outline sections: “Disabilities, Challenges, and Assistive Technologies” and “Declarations, Standards, Laws, and Management Strategies”.

This is still not the end (for me)

Throughout this process (CPACC, WAS, and even earlier), I’ve felt fortunate that I haven’t yet experienced burnout. Taking a break between certifications was a good choice on my part. Dedicating a lengthy amount of time to study and internalize was a good choice. Choosing to study accessibility with definitive goals to reach was a good choice. Meeting accessibility experts and champions, listening more to things people with disabilities have to say, and pushing along my organization’s progress… these were all unexpected bonuses along my journey.

But hear me when I say, I’m still learning. I’m still taking it all in. I still have stories to hear from people with disabilities. I am still addressing my own ableist thoughts and actions, despite living with my own impairment (disability) all my life. I still want to do better. More. I like being a web designer. I like taking accessibility head-on and making it a part of what I design and build. It’s not a burden or extra for me because I see it as an improvement to my craft. Web design is accessibility. Web design is usability. Web design is inclusive. The web is for everyone. For everyone.

As I say farewell, for now, my hope is that it’s not the end for you either. I’ll be back here when I have some results to share. In the meantime, I have a lot more learning and work to do. Talk to me on Twitter or LinkedIn about your own accessibility journey, learning, and successes (or fails). We’re all in this together. All of us.


Organizational Governance & Management

Organizations should develop a way to manage, govern, and enforce accessibility standards, best practices, and law. Remediation and retrofitting is not the answer. Processes organizations should establish and manage:

Integration Management

Accessibility is more than a technical challenge; it’s a process management challenge. Change starts with the establishment of a team of people, who express interest in accessibility, and represent several departments within the organization. Tasks include:

  • identifying the goals and objectives of implementing accessibility;
  • selecting internal standards, best practices, resources and tools needed to incorporate accessibility; and
  • specifying accessibility guidelines and policies for the entire organization.

Web Development Process

Plan. Create. Test. These are the 3 tasks to cycle through during the process of developing a new site/design, new feature, or remediation of a site. Accessibility experts and people with disabilities need to be part of these various stages to ensure quality and usability of the end product.

Plan and design phase includes:

  • research,
  • requirements, and
  • design of information architecture (IA) and user experience (UX).

Create content & components phase includes:

  • creating front-end markup & programming
  • creating text content
  • testing multimedia

Test content and components phase includes:

  • testing markup & programming
  • testing text content
  • testing multimedia

Scope Management

Set clear expectations and milestones for when your project is “done.” Accessibility review is always on-going, but there should be definitive policies about what is acceptable to be pushed to production and what is not. The general categories of accessibility scope are:

  • innovation (new technologies or techniques)
  • new design (new project)
  • retrofitting (fixing existing project by inventory, assess, and prioritize)
  • maintenance (testing updates of project with automation)

Time Management

Best-case scenario says that only 1-5% of development time will be for accessibility efforts. Worst-case scenario paints a more grim picture that accessibility efforts may cost a team 2-3x the usual development time. Sadly, the last scenario happens all-too-often because teams don’t know much about web accessibility, don’t have a process in place, and resort to trial-and-error along the way. Accessibility can cost the team even more time if there are no experts on any level of the organization. To ensure that time is reduced on the accessibility of a project, the following are a must:

  • accessibility expert on staff
  • all team members are educated about accessibility
  • accessibility is embedded in the process
  • accessible patterns and methods are available
  • a flexible development environment
  • automated testing tools

Cost Management

Most of the cost of accessibility will be due to time management decisions. However, there are a few additional items to keep in mind:

  • third-party consultation
  • enterprise-level accessibility software for testing (audits, AT)

Quality Management

During the planning phase, there should be:

  • tests written for accessibility requirements,
  • user stories generated,
  • acceptance criteria to determine achievement of design requirements,
  • bug reporting, and
  • manual testing performed by actual people with disabilities.

Human Resource Management

Not only should teams recruit people with disabilities for testing, but the organization should take it a step further and hire people with disabilities to be on the team. In addition to hiring people with disabilities, organizations should hire accessibility experts that have been trained and certified to evaluate with accessibility in mind. And, to make an even stronger accessibility-minded organization, it’s pivotal to train all team members about accessibility.

Communication Management

Speaking of training all team members, from product manager, to designer, to developer, HR management segues into communication management. Informing the entire team that accessibility is business as usual, and all members are required to have a degree of accessibility knowledge can increase the strength and maturity of the organization’s accessibility policies. Having an accessibility lead on staff, who has power to support continuing education for all staff, adds to that strength.

Risk Management

Risk management is the examination of the organization’s:

  • legal liability,
  • public relations (PR) status, and
  • accountability.

Legal liability is based off of how bad the accessibility issues (barriers and blocks) are for people with disabilities (see Day 84: Strategies and Techniques for Fixing A11y Issues). Each organization may have a higher risk of lawsuit if key actions for their site are not achievable.

Negative PR is worse than no PR. No organization one’s to be cast as a discriminating (implicit or explicit) business.

As for accountability, this is an internal process. Managers and supervisors need to hold staff accountable to accessibility efforts throughout each process.

Procurement Management

As I mentioned in The Many Laws of Accessibility, Part 2: Laws & Regulations, procurement is the process of purchasing goods and services from external sources. Each organization should “try before they buy”. In other words, when outsourcing for services and products, organizations should:

  • only buy accessible products, whether for internal or public use,
  • verify the accessibility claims from the vendor, including asking for and reviewing their VPAT (voluntary product accessibility templates),
  • write accessible outcomes into the contract,
  • verify contractor’s accessibility expertise, and
  • leverage procurement policies to motivate vendors to do better.

Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is as simple as considering all the people involved to make an accessible product happen. In best of times, stakeholders may be, but are not be limited to:

  • designers,
  • developers,
  • testers,
  • clients or users, including people with disabilities.

If your organization didn’t follow through with other management items mentioned earlier, then you may be adding lawyers, a person(s) who filed a complaint, and a judge. So, make a list, check it twice, and keep all these people involved throughout the plan, create, and test process.

The End

That’s all, folks! This is the end of my CPACC studying. By the time this has published, I’ll have completed the exam, for better or worse. Follow-up reflections soon to come.

Now it’s time for your journey. Get learning and start today with making the web more accessible!

The Many Laws of Accessibility, Part 2: Laws & Regulations

In this post, I’ll continue my learning about accessibility laws after covering conventions and treaties in Part 1: Conventions & Treaties. I’ll cover:

  • Civil rights laws,
  • Procurement laws, and
  • Technology laws (US & abroad).
2 people in wheelcharis & 2 standing people look on as a man signs a document.
President George Bush signing the Americans With Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Civil Rights Laws

Civil rights laws exist to secure equal rights for people with disabilities by requiring most public and private institutions to reduce or eliminate the conditions that disable people from participating independently in the workforce, public services, and digital arenas. Some civil rights laws sprouted from efforts of rehabilitation for disabled veterans. Several countries have moved past defining the generalized rights of humans to target more specific areas, like information and communication technologies (ICT). Civil rights laws provide guidelines on how to meet accessibility, but often they are not actively enforced or monitored. It falls on citizens to file a complaint.

Examples of civil rights laws for people with disabilities, by country:

Procurement Laws

Procurement refers to the process of government entities purchasing goods and services from external sources. Regulations are set into place on procurement, in order to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

Examples of procurement laws (specifically directed at technology purchases) that protect the rights of people with disabilities, by country:

Technology Laws

United States:

States within the US may have their own web accessibility laws, usually applied heavily to government (state, local) and education (K-12, universities).

Around the world

I’m much more familiar with U.S. law (probably because I’m American), but I want to do better and get acquainted with laws in other countries. I broke down the information I learned from Deque by country.

Country or Region Law Requirements Who must comply
Canada Web Standards for the Government of Canada Includes accessibility, usability, interoperability, and mobile devices Government of Canada
Quebec Standards sur l’accessibilité du Web [Web Accessibility Standards] Modified WCAG Level AA Quebec government
Country Law Requirements Who must comply
France Référentiel Général d’Accessibilité pour les Administrations (RGAA) [General Accessibility Reference for Administrations] WCAG Level AA Central government & public services
Germany Barrierefreie-Informationstechnik-Verordnung (BITV 2) [Accessible Information Technology Ordinance] Modified WCAG Government
Ireland The Disability Act of 2005 & Code of Practice on Accessibility of Public Services and Information provided by Public Bodies WCAG 1.0 Government
Italy Law 4/2004 (“Stanca” Law)

[Accessibilità siti web]

WCAG Public Sector, Government
Netherlands Aanbestedingswet 2012 [Procurement Act] WCAG Level AA Government
Spain Law 34/2002 [Information Society & E-Commerce Services Act]

Law 51/2003 [Non Discrimination Act]

WCAG 1.0 Level AA Government
South Pacific
Country Law Requirements Who must comply
Australia Disability Discrimination Act WCAG Level AA Government & non-government
New Zealand Human Rights Amendment Act 2001

Web Accessibility Standard 1.1

Web Usability Standard 1.3

WCAG Level AA Private and public for Human Rights;

Government (for web accessibility & usability standards)

Country/Region Law Requirements Who must comply
Hong Kong Guidelines on Dissemination of Information through Government Websites WCAG Level AA Government
India Indian Web Accessibility Guidelines WCAG Level AA Government
Japan Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) X 8341 Based on WCAG Central and local government

More lists of laws


There is a lot of material to digest here! As I mentioned, the US laws are familiar enough to me, thanks to the past trainings I’ve prepared for co-workers and others. The gist of several of these laws comes down to respecting human rights, and updating some language of these rights to include modern technologies, including the web. The web is for everyone, and we all should have the right to access services that are provided online.

The Many Laws of Accessibility, Part 1: Conventions & Treaties

Say the word “legislation” and my eyes immediately start to glaze over. When laws, preambles, and articles are mentioned, my mind starts to panic. How can I remember this stuff? What does it mean to me, anyway? In 2 posts, I’m going to try to cover some of the important laws that were created for people with disabilities, and a few conventions and treaties that set the groundwork for those laws.

B&W; Woman holds up a huge piece of paper entitled The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt, committee chair of the Commission on Human Rights, reads the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Photo from the UN Audiovisual Library.

UN Declaration (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

After the tragedies and loss of WWII, people wanted to do better for all humans across the globe. One instance of standing up for human rights was the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris, France on December 10, 1948. The writing of this declaration was tasked in 1946 to the Commission on Human Rights, led by committee chair Eleanor Roosevelt.

This declaration set the foundation of all other human rights laws. It is the most translated document in the world with over 500 translations. Currently, 192 member states of the United Nations (UN) have agreed to abide by the Declaration, and have found ways to incorporate it into their own law.

In 30 articles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares the fundamental rights of humanity are:

  • life,
  • liberty,
  • equality,
  • spiritual & political freedoms, and
  • social, cultural, economic rights.

Summary of Articles 1-30

  1. Everyone is born free and equal.
  2. Everyone is entitled to the rights listed in the document.
  3. Everyone has a right to life, freedom, and safety.
  4. No one has the right to enslave anyone.
  5. No one has the right to torture or abuse anyone.
  6. Everyone has rights no matter where he or she is.
  7. The law is the same for everyone and everyone is equal before the law.
  8. Everyone’s rights are protected by the law.
  9. No one has the right to place anyone in prison with no good reason or exile anyone from his or her country.
  10. Everyone is entitled to a fair and public trial by an independent party.
  11. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Everyone has a right to prove his or her innocence.
  12. Everyone has a right to privacy and protection of his or her name.
  13. Everyone has the right to move within his or her country and travel as he or she wishes.
  14. Everyone has the right to go to another country if he or she fears for safety in his or her own country.
  15. Everyone has the right to a nationality and no one should be deprived of his or her nationality or denied change of nationality.
  16. Everyone has the right to marry and build a family. Marriage should only be entered into with free and full consent of each spouse. Every family has the right to be protected by society and by the State.
  17. Everyone has the right to own property and share property. No one has to right to take or deprive another of his or her property.
  18. Everyone has the right to believe what he or she wants to believe in, the right to religion, and the right to change his or her religion.
  19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  20. Everyone has the right to assemble together in peace. No one has the right to force another into a group or association.
  21. Everyone has the right to democracy, to participate in his or her government, and the right to choose his or her leaders.
  22. Everyone has the right to social security: housing, education, childcare, medical assistance, and welfare.
  23. Everyone has the right to employment, the right to choose his or her employer, the right to equal compensation, and the right to join a trade union.
  24. Everyone has the right to vacation and holidays with pay from work.
  25. Everyone has the right to food and shelter to maintain a healthy way of living.
  26. Everyone has the right to an education.
  27. Everyone has the right to protect his or her artistic and intellectual creations. No one can copy one’s creations without his or her permission.
  28. Everyone is entitled to proper social order where these rights are fully realized and recognized.
  29. Everyone has a duty to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
  30. No one can take away anyone’s human rights.

Additional reading

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with Optional Protocol

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) is an international treaty that pushes and monitors national legislation to implement accessibility as a human right for people with disabilities. In other words, the UN CRPD is a binding human rights treaty and serves as a framework for legal advocacy. It was adopted in 2006, and has acquired 163 UN member states signatures and 181 ratifications/accessions. On an American-centric note, the US signed it in 2009, but never ratified it. ☹

In 2008 the Optional Protocol was launched, which implemented the competencies and rights of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to monitor and accept complaints. It strengthened the UN CRPD by giving people with disabilities an additional tool to fight discrimination and exclusion.

The UN CRPD’s 50 articles (not posted in detail here) instruct governments, in regard to people with disabilities, to address the following ideas:

  • communication about & with people with disabilities
  • health care, habilitation, & rehabilitation
  • reasonable accommodation and accessibility
  • assistive technologies
  • access to information and information technology
  • independent living and self-determined decisions
  • personal mobility (buildings, transports, public spaces)
  • social, economic, employment, educational, political, recreational, sport, cultural, and legal activities
  • monitoring and reporting the progress and claiming disrespect by national and international human rights institutions

Additionally, the UN CRPD includes ICT, AT, accessibility, and universal design in most of its articles. Those concepts proved to be a driving force for acceptance of the treaty.

A general overview of the 50 articles of the UN CRPD articles:

  1. Purpose
  2. Definitions
  3. General principles
  4. General obligations
  5. Equality and non-discrimination
  6. Women with disabilities
  7. Children with disabilities
  8. Awareness-raising
  9. Accessibility
  10. Right to life
  11. Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies
  12. Equal recognition before the law
  13. Access to justice
  14. Liberty and security of person
  15. Freedom of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  16. Freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse
  17. Protecting the integrity of the person
  18. Liberty of movement and nationality
  19. Living independently and being included in the community
  20. Personal mobility
  21. Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information
  22. Respect for privacy
  23. Respect for home and the family
  24. Education
  25. Health
  26. Habilitation and rehabilitation
  27. Work and employment
  28. Adequate standard of living and social protection
  29. Participation in political and public life
  30. Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport
  31. Statistics and data collection
  32. International cooperation
  33. National implementation and monitoring
  34. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  35. Reports by States Parties
  36. Consideration of reports
  37. Cooperation between States Parties and the Committee
  38. Relationship of the Committee with other bodies
  39. Report of the Committee
  40. Conference of States Parties
  41. Depository
  42. Signature
  43. Consent to be bound
  44. Regional integration organizations
  45. Entry into force
  46. Reservations
  47. Amendments
  48. Denunciation
  49. Accessible format
  50. Authentic texts

Marrakesh Treaty (MVT)

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (MVT) was created by WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) and adopted in 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco. It became legally binding in 2016. The U.S. joined the treaty in 2019 via the S.2559 Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act.

In short, the Marrakesh Treaty allows organizations to convert texts into an accessible and usable format (e.g. braille or audio) for blind, visually impaired, and print disabled without violating copyright.

I can remember when this one when it was first created. I was finishing up library school at the time. There was quite a bit of buzz in the library community about the possibility of an exemption that would widen the access of library materials. It’s amazing to me to see that the US finally joined the treaty this year.

Additional reading

In conclusion

A lot of groundwork has happened to get people talking, thinking, and enforcing the civil rights of people with disabilities. Efforts like these take many people, many perspectives, and time. It began with a global declaration, followed up by global treaties. Next, I’ll approach several civil rights, procurement, and industry-specific laws that have been established across the globe, thanks to the UN Declaration and UN Convention that paved the way toward a more inclusive world.

5 Accessibility Myths

During my preparation for the WAS exam I touched on the following myths about accessibility (Day 87: Guidelines, Laws, and Myths), but this time around I’ll go into greater detail from the Deque course I’m taking. You can also read Carie Fisher’s wonderfully written article (with great visuals!): 5 Digital Accessibility Myths Busted, which is also from Deque.

Accessibility only benefits a small minority

Misleading. As I stated in Benefits of Accessible Design, accessibility benefits more than just people with disabilities (note: they are a significant 20% of the population). Accessibility often makes sites and products more usable (see Usability and Accessibility), which is good for everyone. Other specific benefits for everyone:

  • improved mobile device experience
  • improved browsing experience for people who don’t use the latest and greatest browser, operating system, or computer
  • improved web indexing and search engine optimization (SEO) with increased findability
  • improved user experience for an aging population
  • consistent experience for people who acquire a temporary disability

Accessibility is a short-term project

Laughable! We would all love to have every aspect of our work be a short-term project. One-off and done, right? Accessibility is no exceptions. It’s an on-going design requirement that deserves just as much attention as security and performance each time a new roll-out happens. That means that accessibility needs to:

  • be part of the design process from start to finish (see Day 31: A11y throughout a Product’s Lifecycle, Waterfall vs. Agile)
  • be part of company culture (remember, an organization is only as strong as the weakest link in their chain)
  • have committed resources & jobs within an organization
  • involve actual people with disabilities, like adding people with disabilities to teams (nothing about us, without us)

Accessibility should be the last step

Oh myyy. I’ve spent the last couple years teaching co-workers how to remediate inaccessible documents and webpages. Please, please please… don’t save accessibility as the last step. Otherwise, you will have a lot of frustrated and angry people on your hands.

Accessibility may seem like it takes more time at the beginning, but really it’s the forethought that intimidates people. Users will thank you for that forethought, though. Bolting on accessibility at the end is what really costs you more time (and sometimes money) after you realize the late solution didn’t work (fit) and has to be fixed again (and again). Not to mention, accessibility often gets neglected more when it really does get hard during retrofitting, which then puts the organization at risk of facing a lawsuit.

Accessibility is hard & expensive

Speaking of hard (and expensive), let’s address that issue, which should be a non-issue. Accessibility isn’t free, but the cost of implementation is reasonable compared to the cost of its alternatives. Why?

  • Consistent maintenance is cost-effective (especially when including accessibility from the start).
  • Lawsuits are expensive.
  • Bad publicity and ruined reputation is costly.

Accessibility is ugly

Aesthetics versus accessibility seems like one of the most controversial points recently. I’ve definitely got some strong feelings about it, myself. In reality, inaccessible designs are a lack of creativity rather than a barrier due to accessibility. To further address this battle between design and accessibility, my experience is that people don’t fully understand what makes a site or app accessible when they argue for a “prettier” design. So much of accessibility is invisible to people who don’t use assistive technology or adaptive strategies as a way to use the internet. Text alternatives, semantic markup, keyboard operability, reading order, captions, audio description, label and input association, headers and captions for data tables, and defined page language are things that ask nothing at the expense of aesthetics. If all a designer cares about are rigid color palettes and hiding “ugly” functionality and content (e.g. skip to main content link, acronym expansion, or text & image balance), then the medium of the web may not be the best place to practice design. The web is for everyone.

Additional reading

Usability & Accessibility

In prior posts, I’ve described accessibility in many way. Accessibility boils down to giving equal services and independent access to people with disabilities. However, if a design process is led with universal design principles in mind, a website’s usefulness can go beyond WCAG success criteria and become usable by almost everyone. Usable websites create a design that:

  • provides an easy to use interface, whether intuitive or easy to learn, and
  • prioritizes functionality over design-for-the-sake-of-design.

Definitions of usability

ISO defines usability as the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.

Whitney Quesenbery went further to break this definition down into the “5 E’s of Usability”:

  • effective
  • efficient
  • easy to learn
  • error tolerant
  • engaging

Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think said that usability is about:
“…making something that works well – that is – that a person of average or even below average ability and experience can use it for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated.” Krug also stated: “…a website should be self-evident, obvious, and self-explanatory.”

Key components of usability assessment are:

  • How easy it is for users to learn the basic tasks of the interface;
  • If users can perform those tasks quickly;
  • If users can recall performing those tasks after time away from the interface;
  • The number of errors, the severity of errors, and recovery from errors in the interface; and
  • If the design satisfies users.


So, why am I learning about usability while I’m studying accessibility? Well, simply put:

accessibility increases usability for everyone, and usability increases accessibility for people with disabilities.

The key difference being that usability issues affect every user. As web designers and developers we can run across issues that may render a website or app unusable by everyone, but it shouldn’t be reported as an accessibility issue. Accessibility issues affect only people with disabilities, but, once corrected, may improve the usability of the site or app for everyone.

Additional reading

Universal Design for Learning

As we’ve learned in Accessibility Principles for ICT, we can apply universal design to fields outside of architecture and web products. CAST, a nonprofit education research and development organization, built up the field of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a educational framework of principles, guidelines, and checkpoints that works towards one goal: create expert learners who are:

  • purposeful,
  • motivated,
  • resourceful,
  • knowledgeable,
  • strategic, and
  • goal-directed.

What are the principles of universal design for learning?

There are 3 principles of UDL. Each principle has 3 guidelines. Each guideline has a list of checkpoints.

  1. Provide multiple means of representation: Recognition Networks, the “What” of learning.
    1. Perception:
      1. Offer ways of customizing the display of information.
      2. Offer alternatives for auditory information.
      3. Offer alternatives for visual information.
    2. Language & symbols:
      1. Clarify vocabulary and symbols.
      2. Clarify syntax and structure.
      3. Support decoding of text, mathematical notation, and symbols.
      4. Promote understanding across languages.
      5. Illustrate through multiple media.
    3. Comprehension:
      1. Activate or supply background knowledge.
      2. Highlight patterns, critical features, big ideas, and relationships.
      3. Guide information processing and visualization.
      4. Maximize transfer and generalization.
  2. Provide multiple means of action and expression: Strategic Networks, the “How” of learning.
    1. Physical action:
      1. Vary the methods for response and navigation.
      2. Optimize access to tools and assistive technologies.
    2. Expression & communication:
      1. Use multiple media for communication.
      2. Use multiple tools for construction and composition.
      3. Build fluencies with graduated levels of support for practice and performance.
    3. Executive function:
      1. Guide appropriate goal-setting.
      2. Support planning and strategy development.
      3. Facilitate managing information and resources.
      4. Enhance capacity for monitoring progress.
  3. Provide multiple means of engagement: Affective Networks, the “Why” of learning.
    1. Recruiting interest:
      1. Optimize individual choice and anatomy.
      2. Optimize relevance, value, and authenticity.
      3. Minimize threats and distractions.
    2. Sustaining effort & persistence:
      1. Heighten salience of goals and objectives.
      2. Vary demands and resources to optimize challenge.
      3. Foster collaboration and community.
      4. Increase mastery-oriented feedback.
    3. Self regulation:
      1. Promote expectations and beliefs that optimize motivation.
      2. Facilitate personal coping skills and strategies.
      3. Develop self-assessment and reflections.

The UDL principles, guidelines, and checkpoints can be easier to digest as a 3×3 matrix that CAST presents on its website:

3x3 matrix of principles and guidelines with checkpoints.
The UDL Guidelines matrix on the CAST website.


UDL puts a lot of focus on including learners with disabilities. In doing so, UDL acknowledges that by including people with disabilities, curriculum will naturally include more students by accepting each student’s own learning style, communication mode, and motivational carrot. Learning becomes more about strengthening learning techniques, and less about the thing learned or the rigid metrics desired by some educational systems. It’s people-first.


Accessibility Principles for the Physical World (Universal Design 2.0)

Universal design got its start in the physical world. As I noted in Accessibility Principles for ICT (WCAG), universal design principles can have an impact on the digital world, too. In the physical world, universal design focuses on making spaces available and welcoming to as many different types of people and abilities, as possible, without adaptation or specialized design. It aims for a one-size-fits-all design solution that embraces the social model of disability, which says that people only experience a disability when a design creates that barrier.

As a side note, I touched on the topic of universal design during Day 93: Designing an Accessible User Experience, Part 1 of my WAS certification journey. So many of these principles that revolve around access for all tend to overlap in ideas in order to make equitable access a reality.

The 7 principles of universal design are:

  1. equitable use
  2. flexibility in use
  3. simple and intuitive use
  4. perceptible information
  5. tolerance for error
  6. low physical effort
  7. size & space for approach & use

Equitable Use

The first principle’s design guidelines say that a design should be useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities by:

  • Providing the same means of use
  • Preventing segregation or stigmatization
  • Supplying privacy, security, and safety
  • Making an appealing design


  • automated sliding doors that open upon approach
  • public seating that is adaptable for a variety of people and abilities

Flexibility in Use

The second principle’s design guidelines say that a design should accommodate a wide range of preferences and abilities by:

  • Providing choices in methods of use
  • Accommodating right- or left-handed access and use
  • Facilitating the user’s accuracy and precision
  • Providing adaptability to the user’s pace


  • scissors that can be used by left- or right-handed people
  • ATM that has visual, tactile, and auditory feedback

Simple and Intuitive Use

The third principle’s design guidelines say that a design should be easy to understand how to use, regardless of a user’s past experiences, knowledge, language, or focus by:

  • Eliminating unnecessary complexity
  • Meeting user expectations and intuition
  • Accommodating a wide range of literacy and language skills
  • Arranging information by importance
  • Providing prompting and feedback throughout tasks


  • escalator
  • image-only instruction manual

Perceptible Information

The fourth principle’s design guidelines say that a design should communicate important information to a user, despite lighting conditions or user’s sensory abilities by:

  • Using multiple modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for presentation of essential information
  • Maximizing “legibility” (contrast, text) of essential information
  • Differentiating elements in ways that can be described
  • Providing compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations


  • thermostat with tactile, visual, and audible cues
  • airport announcements communicated via speaker and signage

Tolerance for Error

The fifth principle’s design guidelines say that a design should minimize hazards and consequences of accidental or unintended actions by:

  • Arranging elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded
  • Providing warnings of hazards and errors
  • Providing fail safe features
  • Discouraging unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance


  • an undo feature in a software program
  • a double-cut key that can be inserted either way it’s turned

Low Physical Effort

The sixth principle’s design guidelines say that a design should be made to be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue by:

  • Allowing a user to maintain a neutral body position
  • Using reasonable operating forces
  • Minimizing repetitive actions
  • Minimizing sustained physical effort


  • lever door handle
  • touch lamps

Size and Space for Approach and Use

The seventh principle’s design guidelines say that a design should provide space and size for approach, reach, manipulation, and use for all body sizes, postures, and means of mobility by:

  • Providing a clear line of sight to important elements (seated or standing)
  • Making reach to all components comfortable (seated or standing)
  • Accommodating variations in hand and grip size
  • Providing adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance


  • curb cuts and wide sidewalks
  • wide gates and entryways

Additional Reading

Accessibility Principles for ICT (WCAG)

Accessibility is the successful access that people with disabilities have to content and spaces. As I mentioned at the end of Accommodation versus Inclusive Design, I concluded that accessibility is a mismatch between the design and a user’s needs. On the web (or with ICT – information and communication technology) we can create that match by starting with W3C’s web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG). The 4 principles of WCAG are:

  • perceivable: broadening the sensory experiences to include sight, sound, and touch,
  • operable: all interactive components and navigation are navigable and usable,
  • understandable: content, component functionality, and design are easy to understand, and
  • robust: content & functionality is compatible with a variety of browsers, devices, and assistive technologies.

Challenges on the web

I won’t go into further detail about all its success criteria just because I’ve written quite a bit about them while studying for the WAS exam. However, I do want to mention some common challenges that people face when on the web, and how accessible design can help designers and developers be aware of how to address these barriers.

Problem area
  • Use alternative text or a visible caption/description
  • Supplement color-coding with other coding information (shapes, texture, etc.)
  • Foreground color should stand out (high contrast) against the background color
Video & audio
  • Include captions and transcripts with video and audio files
  • Include audio description with video
  • Use understandable text with intent, functionality, or destination of the hyperlink
  • Create a logical outline with the headings to make it well-structured and navigable
Keyboard access
  • Make each interactive component on the page reachable by the keyboard
  • All interactive components should create a logical tabbing order
  • Focus should be visible on interactive components
  • Assign headers to columns or rows
  • Explicitly assign a label to every form input
Dynamic JavaScript
  • Explicitly assign a name, role, state and/or properties
  • Assign point of focus when widgets are created
PDF documents
  • Create tags for all structures in a PDF

Universal design can help

Universal design creates products and environments that the vast majority of people can use, taking into account the natural physical diversity among people. Universal design doesn’t just think about people with disabilities, it thinks about a lot of people. By expanding our view from accessible design to universal design, we can make a more usable experience for a lot more people.

Stay tuned for my next post that will go further into universal design, its origins, and its solutions in the context of the physical world.

Additional reading

Accommodation versus Inclusive Design

While working through the “Universal Design for the Web” section of Deque’s CPACC prep course, I referred back to IAAP’s CPACC Body of Knowledge and felt like I was missing the beginning of their Part II: Accessibility and Universal Design section. I decided to follow some of their suggested resource links to find out more. Being the slightly over-studier that I am, I don’t want to overlook any part that may be on the exam. Not to mention, the topic of accommodating individuals versus designing with inclusion from the start is of interest to me anyhow. Should we be prepared to accommodate? Or should we start earlier in the design process to include more people, which expands beyond targeting just people with disabilities? Accessible design has its benefits, after all.

To fulfill my curiosity, I sought to answer some basic questions…

What is accommodation?

ADA.gov Title I says that a reasonable accommodation is “any modification or adjustment to a job, the job application process, or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process, perform the essential functions of the job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment.” Title I is meant to protect employees with disabilities against discrimination.

Title III of the ADA ensures that students with disabilities have equitable access. Specifically, accommodations for students:

  • are individualized to emphasize a person’s strengths and work around their weaknesses,
  • require documentation from a licensed clinician or professional who is trained to diagnose the disability,
  • cannot interfere with the skill or concept being taught, and
  • provide access to a learning environment to which all Americans are entitled.

Examples of accommodations in the workplace or at school:

  • conversion of formats, such as textbooks to e-texts
  • captioning and transcripts for videos
  • reading a test out loud for a student
  • large print or braille format
  • modifying the layout of a workspace

Accommodation is aimed at an individual, on demand, and often requires that a person disclose information about their disability to obtain assistance.

What is inclusive design?

The British Standards Institute (2005) defines inclusive design as:
“The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.”

According to the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) of OCAD University in Toronto, inclusive design is:
“design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.”

Inclusive design has no formal principles, but the IDRC does chunk inclusive design into 3 dimensions:

  1. Recognize diversity & uniqueness: personalization and flexible configurations are available to create a one-size-fits-one solution;
  2. Inclusive process and tools: diverse designers & consumers;
  3. Broader beneficial impact: curb-cut effect & benefits of accessibility and usability for everyone.

Is inclusive design synonymous to universal design?

The philosophies of inclusive design and universal design appear to be the same, in which the intent is to make an environment or product usable to as many people as possible. Universal design got its start from architectural and industrial design by people working to make public spaces accessible and usable to as many people as possible. Inclusive design got its start through a product design approach to extend the reach of mainstream products to a wider audience.

Unlike inclusive design, universal design has defined 7 principles to further its philosophy:

  1. Equitable use,
  2. Flexibility in use,
  3. Simple & intuitive use,
  4. Perceptible information,
  5. Tolerance for error,
  6. Low physical effort, and
  7. Size & space for approach and use.

In short, no… inclusive design and universal design are not synonymous. After throwing it out there on Twitter, a few people seemed to agree with this idea:

Screen capture of tweet; full description in caption to follow.
Amy Carney tweets (on Dec. 1, 2019), “This makes me wonder: #A11y and #DesignTwitter, do you consider ‘inclusive design’ and ‘universal design’ as interchangeable terminology? 100% of 4 voters replied “No” to my Twitter poll.


Looking back at the origins of each aforementioned design philosophy, it’s clear that physical spaces have to find a “universal” solution (one size fits all) once those spaces are built. In digital spaces, we have the flexibility of taking the “inclusive” approach to tailor our product so that one size fits one. With that flexibility, we, as designers and developers, can broaden our constrained view of disabilities and open up possibilities for anyone who may have a hard time accessing our product for whatever reason; no documentation of disability required. In essence, accessibility is a match between the design and an individual’s needs.

When it comes down to it, inclusive and universal design can save time and money. Accommodation as an afterthought is often more expensive, though sometimes a necessity in specific circumstances. There are so many flexible processes that can be part of the design process, like captioning and good web markup, that can remove the need for on-demand accommodation and benefit a wider-than-intended audience. As the famous line from A Field of Dreams says, “if you build it, they will come.” Find your balance between inclusive design and accommodation, and you’ll find that your audience will appear.

Additional Reading