6 Tenets of Accessibility Bug Reporting

24 Dec 2017

I’ve seen antagonism develop between Accessibility teams and other product teams. Sometimes we don’t have the tools to get accessibility issues prioritized without emotional appeals or the threat of a lawsuit. These arguments are a non-starter in conversations. Most people don’t want to actively deny access to disabled customers. More often, accessibility is seen as a low relative priority, compared to other projects and tasks. Presenting legal or emotional ultimatums may create initial movement, but they’re not sustainable motivators.

In my previous job, we took a different approach. We practiced a “Show don’t Tell” approach, and gave teams the information to determine relative priority themselves. I was impressed with the creativity and engagement we saw with this approach, so I’m capturing the approach here with some basic tenets, specific to reporting Accessibility issues.

Focus on Conversions

Focus on conversion funnel user journeys when doing accessibility remediation.

When you’re looking for issues, it’s tempting to go for lots of easy wins across different, unrelated parts of an application (e.g. alt text). Instead, focus on user journeys that lead to conversion. Your customers are there for a reason, and usually that reason aligns with your bottom line. For example, if your customer can’t complete a purchase, they’ll be more frustrated than (for a screen reader user) a poorly described image on the home page. You’re also more likely to get buy-in from product managers and leadership when you focus on conversion.

Describe Human Impact

Describe an issue’s impact in human terms. Include customer feedback if you can.

Standards and rules are useful for identifying issues and assessing solutions, but they don’t inspire. Teams care about people, either in emotional or in business terms (customers). Compliance also invokes the specter of lawsuits. I’ve found this to be a useful motivating tool, but not in the context of bug reports.

Describing impact also helps teams to decide on relative priority of the issue against other issues in their backlogs. This brings us to the next point.

Let Teams Prioritize

Give teams the information they need, then back off. Trust them to be professional and organized.

When you describe issues in terms of customer impact and severity, you then trust teams do their jobs to prioritize. It’s up to the Product or Engineering Manager to decide on relative priority of the issue. Have a conversation with the team’s PM before adding an issue to their backlog, and add it to the Icebox or bottom of the Backlog. Follow the ticket and keep an eye on activity. Set a reminder for yourself to followup if there’s no movement on the issue. Assume a team is professional and organized. If they’re not, that’s an issue beyond accessibility.

Recommend Solutions

Give technical guidance, but avoid prescribing solutions.

Trust engineers and designers to learn and ask questions. It’s their job, and also the best way for a team to grow their accessibility knowledge, and you may be surprised by the creativity and ingenuity of solutions.

Attention, not Assignment

Bring attention to an issue, then let teams decide how to assign.

When you let people self-assign accessibility issues, they’ll be more engaged (and accountable). You don’t know what other teams’ priorities are, or what an individual’s personal situation is. Instead of assigning, @ mention the owner of the backlog (PM or Engineering Manager) to get attention to the issue. Use this as an opportunity to communicate your opinions on priority and required expertise, then let them decide.

Celebrate Success

Focus on wins and celebrate success.

Accessibility remediation is a long-haul, and you’ll need to sustain motivation and investment. You can do this by mentioning a teams work in a monthly Accessibility Changelog, and where appropriate celebrate individuals (ask them first if they want to be publicly recognized).

In summary, document issues comprehensively and describe their impact and severity, then let teams do their jobs. Stay engaged, follow up, and answer questions when asked, but ultimately trust the professionalism and organization of your teammates.