Each year after John Slatin AccessU, Knowbility's annual web accessibility training conference, we sit down with stakeholders to debrief and suggest improvements. In 2015 the deep yearning was for an app. Attendees, instructors, and staff felt an AccessU app would help everyone stay in touch with general events, quickly communicate changes to the schedule, and provide overall support to the community-building that is a foundation of what makes AccessU the great event it is. And of course, the app had to be fully accessible.
We are so pleased and excited to be able to announce the new (almost) accessible AccessU app that we wanted to share with you a bit about our journey.
Building from scratch was quickly found to be outside the budget of a small non-profit org like Knowbility. And so the search began for an accessible, customizable conference app that we could subscribe to. We enlisted the brilliant Jon Gibbins to help with the search since we would work with him on the customization. Searching for "event apps" or "conference apps" yielded quite a few options. But you probably won't be surprised to learn that response to our inquiries about accessibility ranged from "Oh yeh, it is accessible to both iOS and Android devices" to "Accessible? what do you mean by that?"
So instead, we began asking "Does your app meet the BBC Guidelines for mobile accessibility?" Lots of "Let me get back to you on that" followed by resounding silence. After a few months of this, we were beginning to lose hope. But then - hallelujah - we got this from Alicia at Guidebook:
"Thanks for reaching out to Guidebook. I just doubled check with our support team, and they said they believe we do meet BBC's mobile guidelines..."
OK there are a few caution lights here such as "they believe we do..." but still, we were encouraged! A few quick calls to verify that we wanted to buy the subscription version, become paying customers, work with an assigned support rep, and we were off to a warm and friendly dialogue.
In the meantime, Jon discovered that Guidebook had actually published a VPAT - and they were the first conference app we found that did so. Jon began validating the VPAT while Board member Hiram Kuykendall did a quick informal check of the free Guidebook app. Hiram came back with not-so-good news. The app was not really very accessible at all - unlabeled buttons and form fields, images with no alt text, interminable navigation - the usual suspects. Hmmm, back to you, Jon - what about that VPAT?
Jon's more formal testing of the VPAT revealed that Guidebook had unfortunately misstated several accessibility features. Our experience is that often when VPATs are inaccurate, it is due to the fact that a company does not fully understand the requirements - and that seemed to be the case here. We offered to deconstruct the VPAT for them - at no charge - and help get the product aligned to their public claims. Guidebook said, "Sure thanks, we will work it into our development sprints" and voila, we were all singing in tune, had a common mission and shared understanding of what was possible within that timing. Wahooo, let's go!
Knowbility's John Sweet and Jon Gibbins worked with the Guidebook team over the next few weeks, pushed the accessibility improvements out to the app stores, and the result is the first ever AccessU app. Please download, use it and continue to give feedback. We are so pleased with the way we have been able to work with Guidebook to improve the accessibility of this handy tool. But we know it is not yet fully accessible - the class rating system is still wonky, for example - and so we want to hear from you about your own experience. We are hopeful to get the rating system accessible in time for the conference but will craft functional alternatives if that proves to be impractical. So, while it is not all rainbows and unicorns, we extend kudos to Guidebook for working with us, and are very excited to be able to offer this service.
We learned valuable lessons - if you hit an accessibility barrier, look for another way. If you are turned down in your accessibility requests, keep asking. Most people genuinely want to be inclusive and if you support them and make it clear where the path is, they are more likely to follow it. Since our AccessU theme in 2016 is teamwork, we found this to be a terrific experience to share and now we pass the ball your way.
Please reply here with any comments you have and/or send your experiences and suggestion to IT Director John Sweet who is simply john at knowbility dot org.
We sincerely thank our friends, the good people at Guidebook and can't wait to hear from you all. See you next month at St. Edward's University in Austin Texas!