How to Shift Left with Accessibility in Software Development

Shift Left with Accessibility in Software Development

Software accessibility involves creating and developing software for people with visual, auditory, cognitive, or movement disabilities. Accessibility ensures that software solutions can reach and serve a broader and more varied audience.

Accessibility is often neglected in software development, resulting in costly and time-consuming modifications, poor user experience, and legal problems. To avoid these pitfalls, software teams must adopt a shift-left approach to accessibility testing and development.

What is Shift-Left?

Shift-left is a strategy that integrates testing and quality assurance activities early and throughout the software development lifecycle (SDLC) rather than waiting until the end of the process. Shift-left aims to prevent defects, reduce rework, improve feedback loops, and deliver faster and better software products.

How to Shift-Left with Accessibility 

Shifting-left with accessibility means incorporating accessibility principles, standards, and best practices into every stage of the SDLC, from planning and design to development and deployment. It also means involving all stakeholders, such as product owners, developers, testers, designers, and users, in the accessibility process.

Accessibility at Different Stages of Development 

Here are some examples of how to shift-left with accessibility in different stages of development:

1. Planning:

Define the accessibility goals, scope, requirements, and success criteria for the software product. Identify the target user personas, scenarios, and assistive technologies. Conduct accessibility research and analysis to understand user needs and expectations. Establish accessibility guidelines and checklists for the project.

2. Design:

Apply accessibility principles and standards, such as WCAG 2.1 or 2.2, to create accessible user interfaces and interactions. Use color contrast tools, font size calculators, and other design tools to ensure readability and usability. Conduct accessibility audits and reviews to validate the design against the accessibility requirements. Incorporate feedback from users with disabilities into the design iterations.

3. Development:

Use accessible coding practices and frameworks to implement the design. Use code analysis tools, such as Lighthouse or Axe DevTools, to detect and fix accessibility issues in the code. Use automated testing tools like axe-core or Jest-axe to run accessibility tests as part of the continuous integration and delivery pipeline. Use manual testing tools, such as screen readers or keyboard navigation, to verify the functionality and behavior of the software.

4. Deployment:

Deploy the software product to a staging or production environment. Conduct end-to-end accessibility testing using a combination of automated and manual tools. Use real users with disabilities or experts to perform usability and user acceptance tests. Monitor and measure the accessibility performance and user feedback of the software product.

Shift-Left Success Through Collaborative Efforts and Open Communication

Shifting-left with accessibility requires collaboration and communication among all stakeholders involved in the software development process. Here are some tips for fostering a culture of collaboration and communication for accessibility:

  1. Educate: Provide training and awareness sessions on accessibility for all team members. Share resources and best practices on accessibility. Encourage learning from each other and external sources.
  1. Empathize: Promote empathy for users with disabilities by using personas, scenarios, simulations, or immersive experiences. Invite users with disabilities to share their stories and insights. Encourage team members to use assistive technologies or experience barriers themselves.
  1. Engage: Involve users with disabilities throughout the development process. Solicit feedback from users with disabilities on the software product’s design, functionality, usability, and satisfaction. Incorporate user feedback into the development iterations.
  1. Empower: Empower team members to take ownership and responsibility for accessibility. Assign roles and tasks for accessibility within the team. Provide tools and support for team members to perform accessibility activities.

Using Accessibility to Overcome Challenges in Shifting-Left

Shifting-left with accessibility may pose some challenges for software teams, such as:

  1. Lack of awareness or knowledge: Not everyone on the team may be up to speed on accessibility requirements. They might be unfamiliar with accessibility testing, fixing, or using assistive tools.
  1. Lack of time or resources: Some team members may perceive accessibility as a low priority or an extra burden that adds to their workload or delays their deadlines. They may lack time or resources to perform accessibility activities or learn new skills.
  1. Lack of buy-in or support: Some team members may not see the value or benefit of accessibility for their product or users. They may not have enough buy-in or support from their managers or leaders to invest in accessibility.

To overcome these challenges, software teams need to: 

  1. Build awareness and knowledge: Provide training and education on accessibility for all team members. Share resources and best practices on accessibility. Encourage learning from each other and external sources.
  1. Build time and resources: Plan and allocate resources for accessibility activities. Integrate accessibility into the existing development processes and tools. Automate and streamline accessibility testing and development as much as possible.
  1. Build buy-in and support: Demonstrate the value and benefit of accessibility for the product, the users, and the business. Showcase the success stories and best practices of accessibility. Communicate and celebrate the achievements and progress of accessibility.

The Advantages of Shifting-Left with Accessibility

Shifting-left with accessibility can bring many benefits for software teams, such as:

1. Improved quality:

By preventing and reducing accessibility defects, software teams can improve the quality and reliability of their software products. They can also avoid costly and time-consuming rework, fixes, or patches.

2. Improved user experience:

Software teams may have an improved task of making their consumers happy by making their products more accessible, usable, and inclusive in their design and development. Furthermore, they may cater to a more extensive and varied customer base.

3. Improved compliance:

By adhering to accessibility standards, guidelines, and regulations, software teams can improve compliance and avoid potential legal risks or penalties. They can also enhance their reputation and credibility in the market. 

Our Shift-Left Accessibility Implementation

At AEL Data Research, we take it upon ourselves to integrate the Shift-Left methodology, inspired by the software industry, to empower our clients with a comprehensive and inclusive approach to development. Embracing accessibility at every stage, we collaborate with accessibility experts who recognize the immense value of identifying potential issues from the outset. By imbibing accessibility considerations from the conceptualization stage, we ensure that accessibility becomes a fundamental aspect of our process, rather than an afterthought.

The culmination of our efforts materializes as we implement the Shift-Left approach, rigorously reviewing our templatized designs for accessibility. This undertaking has ushered in remarkable efficiency gains, dramatically reducing manual testing efforts. Our experience speaks volumes about the power of proactive accessibility integration, as it fosters enhanced user experiences and streamlines development processes. As champions of accessibility, we believe our practice underscores our dedication to creating solutions that meet industry standards and exemplify our unwavering commitment to inclusivity.

Key Takeaways

Accessibility is a crucial aspect of software development that should not be ignored or postponed. Software teams must shift-left with accessibility to ensure their products are accessible, usable, inclusive, compliant, and user-friendly. Shifting-left with accessibility requires collaboration and communication among all stakeholders involved in the software development process. It also requires using appropriate tools and techniques to incorporate accessibility into every development lifecycle stage.

By shifting-left to accessibility, software teams can reap many benefits, such as improved quality, user experience, compliance, reputation, and business outcomes.

Picture of Aditya Bikkani

Aditya Bikkani

Aditya is the COO of AELData, a growing technology company in the Digital Publishing and Education sectors. He is also an entrepreneur and founder of an accessibility tool called LERA. A W3C COGA (Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Accessibility) Community Member Aditya contributes to researching methodologies to improve web accessibility and usability for people with cognitive and learning disabilities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share on Social Media


Related Blogs

How Accessible Is Your Website?

Check your site’s accessibility in few seconds with our FREE accessibility checker. Ensure compliance with ADA & WCAG guidelines and improve user experience across the board.

Skip to content