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Where Assistiv Labs fits into the W3C’s Accessibility Maturity Model

December 23, 2022 by Ryan Farley

Let’s start things off on a high note: managing digital accessibility just got a little bit easier. Because even as an early draft, the W3C’s Accessibility Maturity Model is already an invaluable roadmap for accessibility managers and champions. It takes a broad view of accessibility policies, processes, and outcomes across an entire organization to help you take a step back and see what’s working, what isn’t, and how you might be able to improve.

The draft model is based on the capability maturity model framework created by the “father of software quality,” Watts Humphrey, in the 1980s. His idea was to help companies clarify and focus on what actions were needed to reach the next stage of maturity in a given area. To grow one stage at a time, without trying to boil the ocean.

As it stands today, the W3C’s Accessibility Maturity Model is one of the most detailed and practical guides to growing a sustainable organizational accessibility program over the long term. Here’s a short summary of what’s included and the importance of easy access to assistive technology.

A brief overview of how the W3C Accessibility Maturity Model (AMM) works

At over 6,000 words and with a Flesch Reading Ease score of 10, the AMM’s first draft is considered “very difficult to read, best understood by university graduates.” But once you understand its basic structure and components, even this draft is fairly straightforward and easy to understand.

Before jumping in, a few things to keep in mind about how the AMM was designed:

  • It’s intended to work for organizations and government offices of virtually any size.
  • It is wholly independent of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (read our WCAG summary for more information).
  • It is an evolving draft with ongoing additions and edits from W3C staff and accessibility experts, so you may want to periodically check the AMM for new or updated language.

So how does it work? Organizations use the model to self assess their accessibility maturity across seven categories (referred to as Dimensions) ranging from Procurement to Culture. By determining your current maturity levels in each dimension, you can track progress over time and focus your efforts on dimensions where where your efforts will result in the biggest improvements.

Grading or scoring maturity in a given dimension is based on lists of Proof Points or tangible deliverables. Essentially, all you have to do is gauge how close your organization’s deliverables are to the ideals outlined in the model.

For example, your company might be assessing its accessibility efforts in the Information and Communication Technologies dimension. One of its proof points is “Documented steps for manual accessibility testing” (for websites, apps, etc.). If your company doesn’t have any documented steps for manually testing, that point would be marked “Inactive/No Evidence.” But as your company creates and updates manual testing documentation, the rating of that proof point would go up and the company’s overall maturity would improve.

So, going through dimensions one by one, self-assessing how much evidence you have of each proof point, is the basic idea! In practice, conducting self assessments, drafting recommendations, and implementing changes across an entire organization may require outside help or expertise. But it’s safe to say that the more opportunities your team has to use assistive technology, the more likely your accessibility efforts are to succeed.

How easier access to assistive technology can boost accessibility maturity

Training and documentation for assistive tools comes up several times throughout the current draft of the AMM. And with so many proof points relying on access to screen readers and other assistive technology, organizations stand to benefit a lot from a platform that simplifies accessing these tools. Here are some examples of how Assistiv Labs can fit into the AMM’s recommendations.

Train customer support and internal tech support on how to use assistive technology

One of the proof points under within the Support dimension is offering training that equips support agents to accommodate the needs of internal employees and customers with disabilities. Imagine, for instance, a screen reader user contacts your support team about an issue with your app. An agent who has been trained on how to use a screen reader will guide the customer to a resolution much faster and more empathetically than an agent without any hands-on experience.

Many organizations designate a laptop or workstation for this type of screen reader training. But especially in remote/hybrid companies, Assistiv Labs provides the option to give employees remote access to tools like NVDA and JAWS. That way, support agents can gain hands-on experience with screen readers whenever they like, on the hardware they already use, without installing anything or changing their workflow. No need to book a time slot on the training laptop. On top of that, the SaaS approach to screen readers enables trainers to easily generate reports on how much time trainees have spent using assistive tools.

Simplify exhaustive manual accessibility testing

Where support agents may only need access to screen readers for basic training, development and quality assurance teams typically need much more granular control. As a proof point under the ICT Development dimension, user research often reveals that organizations need to conduct manual accessibility testing that covers several combinations of screen readers and browsers (e.g., JAWS with Chrome, NVDA with Firefox, and Narrator with Edge).

In later stages of accessibility maturity, it may even be necessary to test different versions of screen readers and browsers (e.g., JAWS 2021 with Chrome 106 and Firefox 104). That’s hard to manage with physical hardware.

Local virtual machines are one way to quickly swap between manual testing configurations. However, they’re still not as convenient as in-browser testing environments, which let you select and launch version-specific combinations of assistive tools and browsers, quickly and easily from a single dashboard.

Speed up content reviews

While manual accessibility testing tends to be associated with product development, the current draft of the AMM is crystal clear that manual testing should cover far more than that. In fact, the Communications dimension includes a proof point stipulating that everything from social media content to internal websites are “accessible per regional regulatory requirements (e.g., conforms to WCAG).” The same goes for small updates to customer-facing websites.

If developers are the only ones equipped to handle content reviews with assistive technology, that could become a huge bottleneck. The AMM includes several proof points for developing dimension-specific training programs that could alleviate the burden on development and QA. “Accessible Communications Training” is one such proof point and could potentially include instructions for running content such as blogs and social media posts through a screen reader review.

A roadmap for accessibility training and documentation that sticks

W3C’s Accessibility Maturity Model is already shaping up to be a North Star for accessibility managers and champions. A marker of which direction to head in with signposts on how to get there. The model doesn’t prescribe many specific tools or procedures, but it does ask that your teams are familiar with and test with today’s most popular assistive technologies.

If you’re looking for a faster, easier, and more affordable way to access screen readers, screen magnifiers, and other accessibility tools, sign up for a free trial with Assistiv Labs today.