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With more than one billion people around the world living with disabilities or impairmentsi, 16 May, Global Accessibility Awareness Day, is an opportune time to focus on digital access and inclusion.

At Compass, we’re focusing this week on digital accessibility, which means ensuring that the websites, applications, tools, and technologies that we design and develop can be independently used and interacted with by people with disabilities (e.g., visual or hearing impairment). It also means that we make language and branding accessible across different groups and use imagery that is culturally representative.

We spoke to Alan Carpilovsky (Senior Engineer, Full Stack) and Saki Ohashi (UI/UX designer), members of our Compass Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, about their work in digital accessibility.

 

1. How do we implement digital accessibility at Compass?

Saki – We focus on several things across all our apps and services. Some examples, include:

  • Colour and contrast: Colour usage and contrast allow people to see clearly what they’re reading. Some colours are harder to see; for example, people who are colour blind struggle to tell the difference between red and green, while others with low vision may need strong contrast between foreground and background colours.
  • Text: The size and type of text we use is important, as well as the language itself. Straightforward language is particularly helpful for those who speak English as a second language.
  • Multimedia: Different people consume information in different ways, so we use multimedia where possible. For example, we offer text-to-speech as an alternative to just text in our apps. Where there are images, we add alt text to describe what’s in the picture and for videos, we make sure they have subtitles. This can actually benefit everyone using digital platforms. How many of you watch Netflix with the subtitles on?

 

2. What sparked your interest in digital accessibility?

Saki – Aside from the use of more general accessibility tools such as subtitles, I wasn’t aware of the broader importance of digital accessibility until I read a blog on the subject. It was brought to life for me by a person who has paraplegia talking about how excited they were for the metaverse, and what this could mean for them to be able to engage with people in a virtual world. It really hit me that, of course, there are so many people out there who don’t interact with things the way I do. If you are a good designer, you should strive to make your designs as widely accessible as possible, so you create an experience that is inclusive of everyone that might want to see your content. And of course, the earlier you start this process, the easier and simpler it will be to follow best practice design principles to ensure this.

Alan – At the beginning of my career, I stumbled on the topics of digital accessibility and user experience (UX) and started asking myself how easily people can interact with the digital world and the things I build. I had lots of questions about how we could make applications more inclusive and accessible, but there was no one around me that could answer them, so I decided I wanted to become that person. While many considerations should be made during design and other earlier stages, engineering can still greatly improve accessibility, for example, by ensuring proper keyboard navigation and providing more context to screen readers. Ultimately, I aspire to build things that can be used by everyone and help others do the same.

 

3. Why is digital accessibility an important part of our approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?

Alan – Mental health is something that affects everyone and we need to ensure our mental health professional and patient facing apps and platforms are accessible to everyone that needs them. You should get the same level of care whether you need adaptations or not. That’s a core part of what we do here and is ingrained into the Compass value of inclusivity.

 

4. What projects are you most proud of?

Saki Too often companies launch products, then adapt them after to make them more accessible. At Compass, we do our user testing at the start. Before we deploy content, we’ll test things like language and review our designs with people who have different accessibility needs.

Alan – Many companies have a gap in knowledge when it comes to accessibility, and even if there is a desire to improve it, it’s not always clear what should be done. If you’re not trained in the subject, it can be hard to know if you’ve created something accessible or not. We’ve been committed to digital accessibility so it’s at the forefront of content creation and development. I believe we’re establishing a strong culture of inclusion and accessibility.

 

5. How do you plan to advance digital accessibility at Compass in the future?

Saki – We are working to bring our insight and knowledge to the whole Compass team, including the importance of testing early in the design process. Whether it’s posters at conferences or presentation design, there are things all of us can do when it comes to accessibility.

Alan – We are building out our design system so that all the components we use in our apps and websites are already designed with accessibility in mind. Not only will it help make our products more inclusive and accessible, but this can help the engineers and designers that work on them stay mindful of the importance of these topics.

Ultimately, we want to ensure individuals from all backgrounds have an empowering and satisfying experience when using our digital products.

 

1 https://accessibility.day/

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