Adopting Accessible Software
Late in 2019, we finished a project to update our software, CaseWORKS, to meet web accessibility standards. This project included details like changing the colour scheme and contrast throughout the application to ensure everything is more visible. We also incorporated more behind the scenes details into the content of each screen to assist users accessing the software with screen readers. This was a big step forward for CaseWORKS and an eye-opening experience for our design and development teams. The process helped to reframe our development approach to think about user experience in a more holistic way – with the aim to make our software easier to read, navigate and use for all users.
The goal of our project was to meet W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to AA standards and in most cases we met or exceeded the AAA expectations. Our approach focused on the Four Principles of Accessibility, that sites/software should be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. Now that we’ve successfully completed the project we thought it would be helpful to walk you through what these changes mean and why they’re important.
The Perceivable Content principle relates to how users need to be able to perceive the content on the application. Accessible applications need to accommodate users who cannot always read and perceive all on-screen content. Approaches to meeting this standard includes providing text alternatives to any multi-media content and allowing alternative text formats, such as large fonts. In our case, it meant ensuring that increasing the zoom to 200% would still provide a readable, logical user experience with access to all menus and actions.
CaseWORKS also underwent a slight ‘makeover’ as we adjusted the colour scheme to create better contrast for menus, links and buttons. Accessibility standards set a minimum contrast within an application based on the size and purpose of text and user interface components – this means all content stands out more effectively. This is a key change for a lot of users because colours are often used to help convey information (e.g. red means alert), if the colours don’t stand out enough, some users may not perceive the information.
Beyond perceiving the content, it also needs to be functional in more accessible ways – not all users can navigate with a mouse. This was a big part of the accessibility project for our development team. We needed to ensure that CaseWORKS could be navigated entirely by keyboard. Doing this required details like incorporating a logical order for tabbing through each screen and making sure menus are always accessible at the right time. Shortcut keys are also important for allowing users to skip to specific menus without having to tab through everything.
Another functional component we needed to add was configurable time-out/session expiry warnings. Coyote takes data security very seriously, which is why our system has pre-set session timeouts for inactivity; this keeps data secure if a computer is accidentally left logged into CaseWORKS. However, users may need more time to read and interact with the system. Adding a warning before the session expires gives users an opportunity to keep working without needing to log-in again. Small enhancements like this make a huge difference for the usability for all users.
Users need to be able to understand the content on the screen and how to interact with it. A key way to accomplish this is by using labelling to provide additional information or context to specific fields – this is especially helpful for users accessing the page with a screen reader. The labelling can be in the back-end or can appear on screen when an item is selected or hovered over.
Another important piece for functional accessibility is that the application provide some form of validation when a user performs an action, for example, an error appears if information isn’t entered correctly or a warning appears if a user attempts to close without saving. CaseWORKS has always provided input validation, to help users understand the sequence for the workflows in the system and to avoid input errors.
Small enhancements make a huge difference for the usability for all users
The Robust Principle speaks to the application essentially being well made. Applications should operate in the way they are intended to and allow user interactions in accessible ways. This also means an application should be compatible with the systems and devices necessary to access it including assistive technology. For CaseWORKS this meant tidying up some of the backend elements to ensure all components are properly named and configured so that assistive technologies can function as intended with everything in the application (e.g. buttons, form elements, input fields).
This was an exciting project that has changed our approach to developing and design. Not only are we more aware of the different ways users need to be able to access software, we also have a better understanding of how the way we develop our software can impact all users. Keeping the four principles of accessible design in the forefront of planning as we move forward in any development project will ensure that all users benefit from our products.
Reduce the number of steps required to collect, store and share information.
Less time recording data means more time for your front-line staff to do what they do best – more and better service delivery.
Contact us for more information about CaseWORKS, or to book a demonstration for your agency.