Triangulation approach to digital accessibility

Summary: A triangulation approach to digital accessibility must go beyond the limitations of checker tools or WCAG-only guidelines. Triangulation involves automated checkers, WCAG guideline review, and testing with users with disabilities. Experience Dynamics has spearheaded the method since 2003 with better results than traditional approaches.

Experience Dynamics triangulation approach to digital accessibility

A triangulation approach achieves inclusivity by supplementing traditional approaches by involving actual users with disabilities. By the industry’s admission, it provides shortcomings of automated checkers or developer checker tools. It also fills in the theoretical gaps that the W3 WCAG guidelines present.

The triangulation approach involving users provides a holistic perspective on discovering accessibility issues, with a higher success rate. A win for inclusion.

proven methodology for accessibility shows inadequacy of checkers and guidelines alone

By utilizing “mixed methods” for accessibility in tandem, designers and developers can identify and address a broader spectrum of accessibility barriers.

Why a triangulation approach for accessibility?

Digital accessibility is not just a moral imperative; it’s a legal requirement and a fundamental principle of good user experience. Sure, it is essential to gain accessibility compliance, but it is also important to elevate equity by addressing the quality of your accessibility experience.

See Advancing Accessibility Toward Quality and Equity

In UX, quality is first. But in accessibility efforts, compliance comes first; quality is rarely obsessed over except for Apple and, more recently, Microsoft.

See How Compliant is Good Enough for Web Accessibility

Creating digital products that are accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities, is a multifaceted challenge. The Triangulation Approach to digital accessibility offers a powerful solution by combining automated checkers, WCAG guideline review, and user testing (with users with disabilities). Why is this last part important?

Research (Law et. al 2006; Farmer & Macleod 2011) has shown that accessibility efforts are more likely to fail when designers do not include users or consider themselves the end-users…

Understanding the Triangulation Approach

The Triangulation Approach to digital accessibility is rooted in the fact that a single method cannot capture the full range of accessibility issues that users might face. -Experience Dynamics accessibility team

To triangulate means to use various methods to reduce errors and gaps. Our triangulation method involves converging three essential components: automated checkers, WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) guideline review, and user testing. We add a fourth component, an Accessibility Specialist familiar with disability (legally blind) and Assistive Technology experiences. Let’s review each in turn:

Automated Checkers: The starting point

Automated accessibility checkers and AI-based tools are indispensable tools in the quest for digital accessibility. These tools can quickly scan websites and applications for violations of accessibility guidelines, such as missing alternative text for images or improper heading structures. However, as powerful as they are, these tools have limitations. They can only detect a subset of issues and often struggle with identifying context-specific problems. Developer checkers like Deque “Axe” (one of the best) catch only between 15% to 57% of accessibility issues, by their own research. AI-based solutions are in the 20-30% or less accuracy level.

WCAG Guideline Review: Human by hand review

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide a comprehensive framework for creating accessible digital content. Conducting a thorough review against these guidelines adds a human perspective to the accessibility evaluation process. Designers and developers can identify issues that automated tools might miss, such as problems related to color contrast, keyboard navigation, and semantic HTML structure. However, this review process still doesn’t capture the full accessibility picture.

User Testing: The “Last Mile” Insights

While automated checkers and WCAG guideline review can identify many accessibility issues, user testing is the crucial step that brings everything together. Testing digital products with real users from all five disability types provides insights that no automated tool or guideline review can replicate. User testing uncovers the “last mile” issues that often arise with Assistive Technology(AT) when it hits your design. Users might struggle with tasks that seem straightforward to designers, revealing unexpected barriers that need to be addressed.

Why the Triangulation Approach Matters

  1. Comprehensive detection: The Triangulation Approach ensures a more comprehensive detection of accessibility issues by combining the strengths of automated tools, WCAG guideline reviews, and user testing. This comprehensive approach results in a more thorough identification of barriers.
  2. Addressing hidden issues: Automated tools can’t understand context, and guideline reviews might overlook certain issues. Triangulation helps uncover hidden issues that might not be apparent through individual methods.
  3. Real-world insight: User testing provides insight into the actual experiences of people with disabilities using their AT, leading to solutions that resonate with real users. This approach helps bridge the gap between theory and practice.
  4. Prioritizing fixes: The Triangulation Approach allows designers and developers to prioritize fixes based on real impact. User testing helps identify critical issues that should be addressed first, ensuring that the most pressing accessibility barriers are tackled.

Digital accessibility is a journey, not a destination. The Triangulation Approach provides a roadmap for this journey by combining the strengths of automated checkers, WCAG guideline reviews, and user testing. Each method contributes a unique perspective, ensuring that accessibility issues are identified from multiple angles. By embracing this holistic approach, designers and developers can create digital products that are truly inclusive, removing barriers and making technology accessible to everyone. Remember, the path to digital inclusivity requires a multidimensional perspective, and the Triangulation Approach offers a way to make accessibility efforts succeed.

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