Google’s Sangeetha Alagappan talks about making your docs inclusive, what accessibility means in the context of documentation, and common pitfalls you might encounter.
Accessible solution delights when it blends into the product ecosystem, and it provides the user with all that they need but is still personalized to their particular abilities.
You should be cognizant of how you create things. You should think outside the box.
Accessibility is all about being creative and being surprised and just being human.
Write style guides.
Where when you set up a style guide for how you want your documentation to be,
It’s not only a mission statement where you tell others what you want your documentation to be, but it’s also a roadmap to show people how to get there and hold them accountable.
Disabilities and docs
Colour vision deficiency
Lack of alternate text and or equivalents.
Unnavigable by keyboard
Let’s talk about accessibility and what that means for documentation. It might be a noble cause to invest in accessibility, but it’s also an incredibly selfish one because it’s an investment in your own future,
Because everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in their life, and that’s according to the World Health Organization, who are very sprightly people.
Accessibility Isn't a zero-sum game.
Everybody wins when you invest in accessibility.
If national well-being and prosperity and societal harmony is not enough for you, accessibility also reaps economic benefits.
Example - Over 15% of the world have a disability. 71% of them leave an inaccessible site immediately, and very recently it’s also been a great pot for lawsuits because there’s a lot of money in that.
Disabilities and docs
When we talk about documentation, we talk about a narrow scope of disabilities because it is a very particular interaction that users have with documentation and product interfaces.
Users with low vision, so moderate to severe impairments, colour vision deficiency, mostly red-green colour blindness.
Users with blindness, who are more likely to use screen readers.
But we also talk about temporary disabilities, like changes in the device, age, situation, technical infrastructure, and temporary situations, which are not necessarily disabilities,
You’re always one-handed and you’re trying to use a device with the other. And
On the rare sunny day in London, that one day where it’s too bright to see your screen.
What we see in the documentation that makes it inaccessible is the lack of alternate text or text equivalents.
If a user can’t depend on visual stimuli, you need to give them an alternate text, because it gives them context
Or alternatively, if you don’t use all text, you can prepend an image with all of this information so that it sets the context nicely.
Use correct colour contrasts.
Having every part of your documentation navigable by keyboard.
Everything has to be reachable with tabs.
Your left and right and bottom keys, your enter key. It’s always important to check if it can be navigated by the keyboard.
If this were an error message, you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was red or green if you had red-green colour blindness.
So, the idea is to not rely on just one visual cue.
You should have multiple different cues, like an image with alt text that tells you that’s an error or an error text message.
You also shouldn’t obscure information when you’re asking a user to input something.
Case study 1: Bbc iPlayer
A couple of years ago, BBC looked at their iPlayer, the home of all your favourite shows that everybody seems to have watched and can’t stop talking about.
They realized that there were a lot of accessibility problems with the current interface.
Mostly, that TV and radio are such broad categories, but that’s what’s on the top bar.
Anybody who’s navigating it by keyboard had to go through everything to get to that.
If you’ve ever actually used a screen reader, it’s incredibly infuriating because it reads out everything.
Unless the page is structured minimally and optimized for a user workflow, it’s going to read out every single thing on this page.
The keyboard behaviour was not intuitive, so just pressing right or left, you couldn’t tell predictably where the cursor would go.
So they took all of that information and all of the insights from their user studies, and they realized that users require three things.
They need to be able to search for what they’re looking for.
They made it easier to scan a page and they added search functionality.
Broader categories that people could go to the right on the top, like channels, categories, A to Z, TV guides, so you could format how you wanted to consume this information.
Case study 2: Trello
If you use any sort of project management tool, like Canva and all of these things, it’s essentially the ability to put things into to-do lists.
Trello realized that when you have coloured labels, it’s kind of hard to tell if you don’t have colour.
They added a colour-blind friendly mode
You can add patterns to the edges of your labels so that you can differentiate it even if there’s no colour.
The response to this on Twitter was actually incredibly positive, which if you’ve ever been on Twitter, is almost a miracle.
Case study 2: NPR
Public radio, NPR.
They’ve gone and looked at all of their podcasts, and they’ve transcribed all of them so that there’s a text equivalent for all of their podcasts.
And then they went and looked at their metrics as all good engineers and designers do, and they realized that their search traffic increased by 6.86%.
Their unique visitors increased by 7.23%.
There was an increase in inbound links and search visibility.
They had increased SEO and keyword visibility.
Visitors who were in sound-sensitive environments or noisy environments were able to still consume podcasts.
As a result, they had a wider reach.
They have a bigger market when you’re able to because now they can easily translate their content to other languages.
They were able to enable search on all of their podcasts.
You could search text and it would reference a specific section of the audio on a podcast.
How should you write?
How should that affect how you write and create documentation and products as a whole?
You should respect the semantics because of native HTML tags like image, caption, table.
Always prefer the native HTML tags over custom ones that you build yourself. Don’t bury context.
Be upfront, summarize your intent.
Have multiple cues, don’t rely just on one visual cue, like colour or geographical location.
Most importantly, write with empathy.
You should approach the experience as a user.
You should create personas.
You should test edge cases.
Quote “accessibility’s an incredibly human discipline. You should also approach it in an incredibly human way.”
Documentation, the architecture and the hierarchy
Navigation tree tells you what your journey is going to look like.
That’s very important for screen reader users because they just need to know where to go to get what they need.
Always make sure that the way you use headings is consistent because that also helps screen reader users because they don’t have the visual context.
You should always set rules like H1 should be top-level tags, H2 should be subheadings, and you should have a guide of how you use elements.
You should label with context and care.
You should label it in a way that is sufficiently descriptive.
Sometimes when you write alt text for images, it doesn’t sufficiently convey what the image is.
You should also test a common workflow because that’s the only way you know how a product works.
You should go and replicate the user workflow.
Advocate for UI improvements
If you see something, you should say something.
To iterate once again, you should write with empathy.