Ahead of the Users, Data & UX: How to Maximize Audience Reach Webinar with Gareth Ford Williams on June 23rd. Digita11y Accessible Founder Juan Olarte talks with Gareth Ford Williams & Charlie Turrell of Ab11y.com about some of the challenges for organizations that wants to deliver accessibility in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Accessibility 101:
with Gareth Ford Williams & Charlie Turrell of Ab11y.com


[Juan:] Hi, this is Juan Olarte from Digita11y Accessible. Welcome to our Accessibility 101 podcast series. We hope you enjoy today’s episode. Today I have Gareth Ford Williams and Charlie Turrel, join us to talk about usability and user experience. Charlie and Gareth, welcome.

[Charlie and Gareth:] Thank you, Thank you very much.

[Juan:] Can you guys tell us a little bit about you.

[Gareth:] Charlie, you go first.

[Charlie:] Happily, so currently I work as Accessibility Champions manager at the BBC. I’ve been there for a few years now. The Champions Program has about 250 people in it, so it allows us and the accessibility team currently to have a wider reach across the organization. So I manage that group of people. We look after testing and research, and on the side I also run the Champions of Accessibility Group, which allows companies from all across the world to discuss Champions Network, accessibility and how we can improve all of our services for any audience that we serve.

[Gareth:] Excellent. Right. Myself. Gareth Ford Williams, if you’re not, if you’re not familiar
with me and what I do so I set up the accessibility team back in the BBC, back in 2005, which was the start of my accessibility journey. But currently, I’ve done, I write a lot about accessibility, talk-al… love talking about it, which I’m going to do quite a bit in a minute. And currently I’m a director along with Charlie at Ab11y.com and we are a inclusive design and accessibility data company.

Challenges Integrating Accessibility Into A Project

[Juan:] Thank you so much. I really appreciate the introductions and we’re going to get to Ab11y in a minute. But maybe to both of you, if you guys can tell me a little bit some of the challenges that you have experienced in the past with those organizations when it comes to integrating accessibility into a project, it would be great. And maybe we can put it a little bit in terms of our gateway to what you’re doing with Ab11y right now. So maybe some of those challenges, what do you have to do to overcome the and why it’s important to make sure that things are accessible for, for people with disabilities?

[Charlie:] Yeah, I’m happy to go first with that one if you want Gareth for me, in the BBC at the minute, I think the the challenges I face personally is trying to explain the lenses that we use, especially on the accessibility team. So we try and kind of move away from the medical model and look at the social model of disability. So we kind of look at it from you say uses everybody’s barriers and environments rather than looking at it from a specific group of people. And so having to kind of explain that to people and get them to really think about it from a different point of view.

[Gareth:] It’s not about putting responsibility on people or saying that and saying, you’re a champion, you’re now responsible for delivery. It’s just making sure it’s never off the table. And that that’s that’s the main thing. I think I you know, I’ve always taken from this kind of thing and and having keeping those channels going, keeping that conversation alive. And you find that parts of the organization start helping others and it gets the silos, that our organizations all have.

[Charlie:] I was going to say it’s- you start to see these little groups of people that all of a sudden they’re going, oh yeah, we’ve got our meeting at 10:00 on Monday. Were we talking about testing or we’re looking at Android users for this particular app and they’ve made a little iPlayer group where everyone starts to discuss really in the detail things that they’re really enjoying and that, being able to make accessibility fun especially the fact that it’s such a huge topic and things change all the time. You know, doing that I think takes the pressure off. You have to know everything and actually goes, this is a really unusual and interesting topic. How can we all talk about it and improve the user’s experience?

[Juan:] I completely agree and I can attest of that. I have work with big organizations that don’t do much about accessibility and it’s difficult for somebody who was just that only one person to make. like you mentioned Charlie, just having the small team to try to support accessibility enterprise-wide. Meanwhile, you have like thousands, tens of thousand employees. But I have been in those other organizations, where you may have a smaller accessibility team between five to ten, but you still, there creating that type of network within the same organization so you’re creating allies. It’s not going to be that just one group, always talking of accessibility and as Gareth’s saying: Oh, putting the blame on of another team, but rather, hey, how can we include accessibility early on within the development cycle so everybody can benefit and talk about a few great things, which are the lenses for accessibility. But I want to I want to touch on that, but I think what I want to do is maybe first if you can talk to us a little bit about Ab11y what you do and how you help organizations in terms of data, because I want to bring that conversation back to…the different lenses of accessibility and how we can utilize that data. But I’ll let you guys go and talk to us a little bit about it.


[Gareth:] Ab11y is pretty much one of those…the-, it’s the reason I left the BBC. You know, there were a few things that I wanted to find out. It was kind of a weird experiment, me going in. I’d been there 17 years and you know, we built the guidelines, we built, you know, documentation driven, the development system around it, so people didn’t have to use guidelines. Everything was component on the component level. We were doing tons of stuff in gaming and all sorts of stuff and ah, and with the Champions Network. And, you know, I always wondered whether, whether it would all survive if I went, you know, when you’re there for a while and the best…the only way you’re gonna find out is, is, by leaving. The ultimate experiment and and it’s amazing. I mean, the culture is it’s an extraordinary organization, and the culture will mean it will never stop and the people will mean it will never stop. And, you know, and the conversation is never based on, on why, why do we do this? It’s always about how and it’s always about improvement. And I think that’s that’s that’s always that kind of thing where you think, kind of my work here is done because no one is ever selling it again. They’re constantly exploring it and, and trying to, you know, to improve it. But there was this one big thing that we I set up the accessibility team. I set up the design research team but there was one, you know, we could do all sorts of stuff. So we had our guidelines and guidance documentation, tons of training and you know, and, you know, we were embedding inclusion into, into, you know, design, research practices and all of the qualitative work. But the one big problem that we had was evaluating the impact. You know, here is an enormous organization. It’s this its reach in the UK, it’s its share of the market. Whatever is it’s the same size as Facebook in the UK, it’s enormous. And internationally about a billion users in 44 languages, which is the international news service plus commercial subsidiaries, masses of applications etc. and so the estate is enormous. It’s absolutely enormous. I know up to up to a few years ago it was still the largest original content producer outside of China. And because it produces everything itself, you know it’s, it’s so all of that because the breadth of it, they may be bigger now, but I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure it must be still up there in the top five in the world. But, so keeping tabs on this is a real nightmare thing to do. And when the senior management would ask me, how is it going? I always found that it’s a very difficult question [laughs] and I could say, well, we’re doing this, and we’d show them activities. And I could say, well, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re delivering against our guidelines. And the BBC’s guidelines are slightly different to WCAG you know, they’re very much more specific to the types of products it does. It fills in a lot of gaps, has stuff that is not included in WCAG at all because of the nature of what the BBC does and, and it’s also that, it’s ah there’s no A, double A or triple A it’s just a these are all the guidelines and we never fall below them. They are a minimum standard that is a reflection of what is already delivered. So when something new is delivered and it becomes, you know, standard across what’s doing is captured in the standards and guidelines. So it’s never lost. And and so it becomes that’s the flaw. But that’s not what we settle for. We settle for, you know, design, research, led thinking, led work but I could always turn around and say the biggest problem we had, was that evaluation, is never having any empirical data that said, actually is everyone having a comparative experience? Is there equivalence within this? Are we are we delivering stuff that where it should be fun? It’s fun for everyone. Or is it just… access- fun for some and accessible for others? And accessible doesn’t equal fun. You know, it’s always that thing about WCAG you know, we’ve got perceivable operable, understandable, robust, but it doesn’t say enjoyable anywhere in it. And yet these days we have social networks, collaborative platforms, live events. We have long-Form streaming online games. It’s all got to be enjoyable. And for a large, you know, sort of entertainment organization like the BBC, it’s not just news it’s a big entertainment provider, you know, that has to be there. And we just didn’t know and we didn’t have a way of evaluating it. I never had the bandwidth, to tackle the problem. And, and that was one of those things that… unanswered questions and talking to lots of other people who are running accessibility programs at scale it seems like nobody else has that data, right? That nobody else has that kind of evaluation where they can turn around and say, yeah, it, it is inclusive and um, and so, you know, I contacted initially Michael Matthews. Who’s one of the directors and we started talking about this and there was another study that we were doing with another group, wonderful people called Readability Group. And we were doing a study last year around, around font accessibility. And then we started asking the question, can we use the same kind of tools that we do and can we redesign them for the websites and for mobile applications and games and enterprise systems? And so then Charlie involved, I brought Ian Pouncey in who’s you know, and, and, Michael Southgate who’s the ex-director of compliance from Google. And ‘cause it’s always good when you’re dealing with data is to have a really good lawyer who understands data law- lawyer and all. And he was like, can we fix this? Can we, can we design this? And so we built algorithms. We built a way of segmentation by human needs and preferences and started realizing that this is doable. It’s just, we just needed time to be able to sort of sit down and actually explore it. And and that’s what Ab11y’s it’s become. It’s it’s you know, the idea is, is to provide data to organizations that provide services around accessibility, that enable their clients to be able to evaluate and monitor the impacts of the work that they’re doing from a sort of accessibility and inclusive design lens. Perspective, yeah.

[Juan:] So using those accessible and an inclusive design lens and in terms of getting the data, what are some of the things that organizations are able to do or how they’re going to be able to improve the different products or digital assets? I don’t know if you have some examples on that.

[Gareth:] I’ve got well, we’ve had a lot of interesting, very interesting conversations that have gone from because this is this thing is this type of data just simply hasn’t existed before, simply because there’s a lot of, there are some this is again why, you know, having a having a having a lawyer help you design something you understand, you know, sort of what the what you need to consider around GDPR and personal data, etcetera. You need to make sure that you’re not collecting personal data and making sure it’s it’s, you know, the separation. Is there an anonymity? And people cannot cannot be reverse engineer, but their identities can’t be. But the thing is the kind of data that then this gives you it enables it enables you to understand when you do deliver something, you know, when you are making changes is how is that impacting on… the needs of different segments within, within your audience. So for instance, a need would could be around language accessibility. So the need for human centric, plain English or whatever language that is delivered in that is usable and understandable by, by, you know, everybody. And when you look at that as a need when it comes to, you know, potentially presenting barriers to people, you can then, you know, it’s a massively shared need from people who may if it’s an English language, a product or service you know, people who speak English as a second language, people who are dyslexic, people have got other cognitive conditions. People may have learning disabilities, age related cognitive disabilities. They may have lower literacy levels because of, you know, socioeconomic opportunity. You know, you’re talking a third particularly, you know, if the UK are the statistics, you add all of these groups together and a third of the population have that as a need. And if it’s not met, that could present as a barrier which could stop them being your customers. They will go elsewhere if they cannot understand how, how to use it because the language is obtuse or difficult or they can’t navigate or whatever you need the information. And so and it’s understanding, you know, sort of what we do is being able to evaluate needs groups and and there are many needs groups that are intersectional in that way and then understand whether the UX is delivering what those needs groups hear. Are people having good experiences or are they struggling if use-, if customers struggle? They have, they don’t tend to be very loyal. You know, this is, this is one of those things if people have good experiences, they tend to come back and we all have needs. And that’s the thing is, you know, this is, this is the thing around inclusion. You know, it’s we all have various different needs. And and it’s getting to that kind of understanding of that within your audience, is so important.

[Charlie:] Yeah. I think from when we when we’re looking at accessibility as a whole, it’s having a needle in a haystack moment, isn’t it? You know, when you’re looking at, you know, is my website accessible? Where do you start? You know, what what area do you look at? How do you know if something’s working for your customers or if it’s not? So having this data just helps you be able to point in the right direction. What is it that we can start working on at the beginning? Where can we start learning and just being able to focus on that and then go right, did we do it? You know, is it is actually improving the service? before that you do it with a couple of people, you test it out. But again, when you’re talking about the social model of disability, like it’s it’s everybody. So for me personally, you know, I’m a sub title user. I’m not hard of hearing, I’m not deaf but I use it because I’ve got ADHD and I find it easier to read the words and hear what’s going on, at the same time. But if you were doing testing with subtitles, you wouldn’t necessarily include me in that group, of people that you were testing with. Whereas in this way, you’re testing with all these different kinds of people and people that are using the service in a particular way that you might not even realize that is how they’re using it. So again, having this data, having Ab11y have a look at your website, you can have a look at that and go, Right, okay. So for this particular group of users who they might be crossovers there that you know, they’re not particularly enjoying the area of the site, but this way, you know, we’re obviously really good in this particular area and that’s wonderful. And it just gives you that starting point with accessibility.

[Gareth:] Well, I mean, qualitative research and auditing etcetera always become one of those
interesting things when you start, because you don’t know where to start, particularly on a larger state or within a product. So what do you pick? You can’t do everything and and if you’re going do a deep dive and if you have this kind of data, it will tell you where things are going wrong and for whom potentially around the UX and it’ll say, right, you need to go there’s obviously something going on. came from from the finance industry. Interestingly enough, it’s kind of, you know, the way that they look at transactional data. You know, you can’t have an accountant look at every transaction that’s going on within a bank because there are billions of them happening all the time. So you have algorithms, which is like the algorithms we built around need to evaluate, you know, sort of different sort of transactional patterns and bank accounts and it kind of then focuses it down and says, look, there’s you know, there’s something over here that needs a person to look at. There’s something going wrong here. And and we need to go and have a look at that and investigate that. They get so much more value out of what they’re investing in the other kind of processes because it helps them, targets it, and it helps them, you know, deliver. Whereas if you just pick, you know, a dozen random pages, even if it’s that many across your estate and all of it, which takes weeks, how do you know that the right dozen? You know, you know what the things that where actually that’s the stuff that we need to be focusing on because something’s going wrong there. Or this is the team that seems to be struggling against this other team because you’re running, you know, two studies on two comparative products and so do they need training because this one seems to be getting well and that one doesn’t and there’s so many different ways you can utilize data bring more value out of the services that you’re already investing in.

[Juan:] Yeah, I think that’s fascinating. One of the things I’ve come across, while accessibility is both a science and an art. I believe that when done well, it helps everybody. But when you don’t do it well, it actually affects people with disabilities by creating barriers. You mentioned one thing that I think is super important and also as the data becomes more usable, I think organizations are going to be able to use it properly. One thing is, especially in North America, accessibility is very reactive rather than proactive. And we all know that including accessibility early in the development lifecycle, is not only going to help people with disabilities. But it’s going to help everybody, by insuring your projects are, your pro-, your projects run smoothly. The… many times they hit targets because you have more information on when creating requirements. However, people don’t see it like that unfortunately it is driven by legislation but having a company like yours where we’re going to actually be able to deliver data and what is the power of that data? How can we actually utilize it to say listen, people with disabilities people with disabilities are using your products, but your products are not considering those people with disabilities. In fact, they’re excluding so many users. I think that’s really, really powerful.

[Gareth:] Yeah, I think it’s very, very useful when you can deliver this around compliance. You still need to know if you’re a bank, for instance, that people were still able to, be able to set up an account, they were able to log in, they were able to navigate. Because compliance does not give you usability. And then still you have an, you know, American with Disabilities Act issue. If someone you can, you can build a completely compliant site and someone can still not be able to perform the functions. So you need the two pieces of data together. I mean, you’ve got something that’s so solid because you can not only prove that you’re compliant, you can prove that you’ve done it effectively and then stops the, you know, so that that becomes kind of rock solid. And it’s the same with section 508 I find fascinating as a, you know, for American government sites, particularly because it has the word usable in it. And so it doesn’t just deal with compliance. It says within the act itself that it should always be usable. And evidencing that up to now has been pretty much, you know, I’ve not come across anyone that’s being able to actually provide any, any concrete evidence against that word. And so they fall back on compliance and I think this is an opportunity now to explore whether we can actually deliver against that word within.

[Charlie:] Well we said, didn’t we, at the BBC, we were asked once when we were doing a webinar
and they said, you know, how do you know that everything’s working? How do you know that, you know,
the Champions Program’s actually great? We kind of looked to each other and said, well, you know,
it’s the level of complaints we get. And that was literally the only way that we can manage to go, Oh, this is how we know if it working or not, where as if we run this against all the BBC systems. And it came back and they said, Oh, they’re actually having a problem with this particular site in this area. And I noticed then that let’s say there’s no champions in that area. I’d done no meet ups about that particular topic. You know, there’s not an awful lot of resources around that, I can kind of see that straight away and go, right. I know where to focus my efforts now for a couple of months. And even though in that particular area I might never have received complaints, you know, it doesn’t really matter there’s other services out there. You know, I could go to Netflix, I can go to all these different areas and I’ll just not use that particular thing at the BBC. So the compliance, you know, we could be ticking all the boxes, but we’re not particularly usable. So having this data just helps not only and whoever’s one in the Champions Network or if you start in one to be able to direct their efforts. It helps people that are actually, you know, promoting the product at work and on the product, doing a level of testing, you know, it helps all these different areas, improves to have all the additional information.

[Gareth:] Yeah, I mean, testing is a really important thing that Charlie, you know, you can use this data in multivariate testing you can use it in regression testing. You know, this is exactly the same kind of profiling. And surveys can be used in, in a multitude of ways to make sure and I think, you know, we’re moving into an agile world as well. You know, more and more organizations are becoming agile. But, you know, even when they’re in that kind of situation, it it’s very, very you know, you need you need data. You need the data about what, but you know what what the UX is now, not the history of it. You know, we don’t want to know what it was like six weeks ago. We need to know what it was like is like, you know, this… yesterday because, you know, because we’re releasing code all the time and every time you release code, you chan-… You potentially change the UX. You impact the UX some way because the UX is code-code is UX. The two things are inextricably linked. And so if you can run things on a regular basis and when something changes within the user data and which is what the point of Ab11y is, you can then turn and say, what do we do? Where did that change? Did it go better? Did it go worse? Can we go? Can we see what happened? And it just gives you this kind of ongoing way of evaluating the impact of the work that you’re outputting. And what you want to see is those numbers improving. And I think this is that whole thing is it shifts more into the worth… Into the worthwhile-ness of accessibility, and I think, you know, it will finally give us the kind of the numbers and the data that will actually sit around saying doing this work positively impacts on and, and, you can, you can show it. You can, you can evaluate.


[Juan:] I think it’s great and it’s going to be able to provide, especially when we’re providing a service to an organization, real hard evidence in terms of this is why you should be accessible. And this is your bottom, bottom line, it’s actually going to help each and generate revenue. Not only that, you’re going to be doing the right thing it’s actually going to help your business. Charlie and Garrett, I want to really thank you so much for being here with us today. It was a fantastic talk, I think we can keep talking forever. And for sure, we’re going to invite you for our next talk. But I really appreciate you being part of Accessibility 101 today.