What We Learned at the World’s Largest Accessibility Conference

Everyone knows what a hamburger menu is, right? Wrong!

- 21. March 2023

Last week we listened to the incredible sessions at axe-con, the world’s largest digital accessibility conference. Axe-con is organized annually by Deque Systems, a company specializing in digital accessibility solutions.

The conference aims to bring together digital accessibility experts, practitioners, and enthusiasts to share their insights and best practices in designing an internet that is truly for everyone.

Here are some takeaways from the event:

1. Make saying YES easy

Eve Andersson, Senior Director of Product Inclusion, Equity and Accessibility at Google, kicked off the conference with a great talk about lessons she learned while leading Google’s Central Accessibility team.

After pitching a few ideas internally, Andersson noticed that the adoption of these accessibility best practices was slow. There were subject matter experts and passionate folks across the company, but Andersson and her team wanted to create a path for more teams to get recognition for what they're doing and to encourage more colleagues to adopt these accessibility checks.

  • “Incentive structures are important throughout this whole thing. How do people get recognition for what they're doing? How do we get people to want to work on accessibility? So we launched this accessibility champs program where people can go through the training and become champions.”

Watch, read or listen to Eve Andersson’s talk here.

2. Say It Twice

Alyssa Panetta, a designer/developer at University Library at University at Albany, gave a talk about redesigning websites for cognitive ease.

  • “Say it twice does not mean repeat your content. It means [providing] your users with multiple modes of understanding, said in a different way. This increases your chances that the user will understand what you mean.”

This can be a quick and effective upgrade. For example, you can use text and icons together. When you have a navigational link in the text, consider adding an icon. A user who speaks a different language may still be able to navigate since they recognice the icon. Although, icons alone are not enough. Alex Tait gave a talk on ageism (we mention it below!) and explained seniors don't always understand which icons are meaningful so you should say it twice.

Watch, read, or listen to Alyssa Panetta’s talk here

3. Think of seniors as partners

Alex Tait, Accessibility Consultant at AT Fresh Solutions gave a talk on ageism in interfaces.

The tech workforce is largely comprised of Millennial and Gen Z employees, people who grew up with the internet. There is a bias that comes with this digital immersion, and it’s led to interfaces full of exclusionary assumptions – everyone knows what a hamburger menu is, right? Wrong!

Tait pointed out that we tend to save usability testing for the end of a project. But bringing usability testers into the fold at the beginning can save a lot of pain later. 

  • “I would consider seniors as partners throughout the development process. Bring them in at the beginning, and keep them involved.”

Watch, read, or listen to Alex Tait’s full talk here.

4. Tech to make accessibility easy is HERE!

Dylan Barrell, Deque Systems’s CTO gave a talk on what’s new in accessibility technology and introduced us to axe Developer Hub, the first accessibility testing and reporting system designed with developers in mind. The hub combines with a zero code integration module to get you insights in seconds.

Watch, read, or listen to Dylan Barrell’s talk here.

5. Start with small concrete actions 

In one of the final panels of the conference, a group of accessibility experts gathered to offer advice to organizations getting started with accessibility programs.

Creating an accessibility program is a huge undertaking and requires several team members, but there are still way to keep accessibility top of mind as your organization grows to accommodate a dedicated accessibility team.

Chandra Carney an Accessibility Program Strategy Specialist explains:

  • “Start an accessibility office hour, you may be able to get some questions going, and that spreads awareness and really facilitates these grassroots change. You can start an accessibility channel and make it vibrant, post articles, pull people in that designer and developers, who have questions.”

Watch, read, or listen to this talk here.

We're already looking forward to next year's axe-con! You can sign up on Deque's site here to see the talks menioned here and so many more!

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