Accessibility – Sharing knowledge between organisations

Reading Time: 8 minutes
Using Skyscanner and Scottish Enterprise brand colour palette to show the same visual explanation to a11y being used for short for accessibility
Accessibility can be written as a11y for short — 11 is the number of letters between the first and last letters

Heather Hepburn is the Accessibility Lead for Skyscanner and has been running their accessibility programme for just over a year.

Stéphanie Krus works as a Service Designer and is a member of the ‘Disability Positive’ group at Scottish Enterprise.

We ‘met’ virtually in October 2020 after a talk at the UCD Gathering from Heather Hepburn (Skyscanner) and Adi Latif (AbilityNet): “Digital Accessibility – How to get your organisation on the right track” 

Screenshot of a slide presenting Heather and Adi at the start of the talk
Slide from the talk during the UCD Gathering conference

We realised we had a lot we could share regarding how we address and improve accessibility in our organisations.  So we planned a knowledge sharing session which was held online on 27 January 2021 with about 20 people.

We are different…

Founded in 2003, Skyscanner is a leading travel marketplace dedicated to putting travellers first. Skyscanner helps millions of people in 52 countries and over 30 languages find the best travel options for flights, hotels and car hire every month. Skyscanner is available on desktop, mobile web and its highly rated app has 100 million downloads. Working with 1200 travel partners, Skyscanner’s mission is to lead the global transformation to modern and sustainable travel.     

Skyscanner has over 1,000 employees across the globe, with Heather leading on  accessibility as a full time role.

Scottish Enterprise is Scotland’s national economic development agency, committed to growing the Scottish economy for the benefit of all, helping create more quality jobs and a brighter future for every region.

Our digital team is smaller but has a dedicated QA team. We develop websites to support services but also design the non digital parts of these services. 

There is no dedicated team or person looking at accessibility (yet?).

… but we both want to keep improving our Accessibility practice

During the knowledge sharing session, we look at various topics:

  • How Accessibility fits in both organisations
  • Guidelines and resources
  • Training
  • Processes – Design, Content, Build, QA & Test
  • Auditing
  • Social Media – how we make it accessible
  • Champions Network – what it looks like, how we do it
  • How to embed into the culture – 5 top tips

How Accessibility fits in both organisations

Skyscanner

They have an Accessibility Guild. The members of this guild are called Accessibility Champions, and come from all areas of the business.
The objective of the Guild isTo support the company mission by making Skyscanner a flagship of inclusion, our products accessible to all, and travel better for everyone.

Scottish Enterprise

There is no accessibility guild or champions or other dedicated person. Within the Digital team, most people had accessibility training and this is everyone’s responsibility at every stage: Research, content, design, and development. Some people are more keen, and in particular the QA (Quality Assurance) team will make sure the code has been tested for accessibility.

Like all public sector organisations in Scotland, all the services we design are assessed by the Scottish Government and accessibility is a very important part of this assessment (more about this later).

Since last June, we have been looking at improving our practice for all employees via the “Disability Positive” group: Increase the awareness, provide resources so our meetings, events, communications and ways of working are more accessible.

Guidelines and resources

Skyscanner

Heather has been building great resources to support best practice and training which Skyscanner employees can find on their Accessibility Hub. There’s guidance to support different roles, with checklists for them to go through to make sure nothing is overlooked. She also provides training and is currently building a course for Skyscanner University (the company’s own training and development platform).

screenshot of the Skyscanner Accessibility hub homepage showing various guide per roles and other point of entries of the hub
Skyscanner: Accessibility Hub

They are also adding accessibility support to their Design System: Backpack

screenshot of the backpack.io developer accessibility guideline page with the table of contents

Scottish Enterprise

We are working on similar guidelines but they are not ready yet. Our new Design System will come with guidance and training sessions.  Accessibility has been considered all the way. We will have a showcase website built later in the year.  

Louise Spence and Katie Chambers really liked the checklists Heather showed us and are working on similar lists for our own guidelines. 

Checklists are a great way to make it easy for people to make sure they don’t overlook something that might impact accessibility.

screenshot of the Scottish Enterprise Design system showcase website showing the Accessibility guidelines
Showcase website for the Scottish Enterprise Design System (Work in progress)

We are also working on a website to offer a wider guidance around Diversity and Inclusion  in Scottish Enterprise, and Accessibility will be one part of it. The idea is to help everyone to improve their collaboration, events, meetings, documents and ways of working.

This website is just a prototype to test the content, format and more. The future resource will probably look really different with most of it being public but part of it being for our staff only.

Training

Skyscanner

Heather delivers a 2 hour training session to teams across the business, and is working on videos and more to keep improving on the training resources available in-house.

Among other things, their training addresses:

  • Accessibility: “What, Who and Why”
  • How people use tech
  • Specific guidance around colour, forms, navigation, motion, testing, labels, structure, text and more
screenshot of a slides stating that inclusive design is how we do it, by thinking about everyone. What we get as a result is accessibility: something that works for everyone and also results in great digital experiences for everyone
Slide from the presentation – Skyscanner

Scottish Enterprise

The service design team (which includes our user researchers and UX/UI designers), the developers, testers and content authors all had an Accessibility training in May 2019 (with Hassell Inclusion)

Darren McMillan – the QA team lead – gives a refresher training to all testers every 3 months.

We regularly exchange information on Slack and Yammer (Webinar, events, articles).

We are starting to be in a good place in the digital team. But we don’t design services in isolation. We need to take the wider business with us. So we are trying to communicate and educate more widely about accessibility. We’re starting a large transformation programme and accessibility is part of it.

We are looking at training associated with the design system for all the people who will use it but also wider training sources for anyone who is interested. This is a work in progress.

Processes:  Design, Content, Build, QA & Test

Skyscanner

The aim is for accessibility considerations to be present at every step of the process – planning, design, copy, build and test. They’re developing processes at the moment and know they have a way to go before accessibility best practices are adopted throughout the entire development cycle.

The principle they follow is “You build it, you run it”: Teams are responsible for building, maintaining, shipping and monitoring their own work. There is no QA department but they do internal testing using feature-flags, as they feel it’s more scalable and avoids bottlenecks.

They are working hard to build accessibility into their culture, so it just becomes part of what they do every day. 

Scottish Enterprise

We need to comply with the Digital Scotland Service Standard set by the Scottish Government and accessibility is part of it. We are assessed throughout the design from Discovery phase, to alpha, beta and live stage for all the services we work on.

Point 5. Make sure everyone can use the service

Provide a service that everyone can use. This includes disabled people and people who don’t have access to the internet or lack the skills or confidence to use it.”

To do that, we research with disabled customers, we make sure we look at accessibility in all we do: content, design, research and we test with disabled people too.

Our QA testers are very invested in our accessibility work.

They use Siteimprove which gives page by page reports on accessibility issues.

They add and write Test Acceptance Criteria (TAC) upfront for all our user stories which includes accessibility TAC where applicable.

We have an accessibility lab, but we currently can’t access it as we are all working from home.

They mostly do manual checks using dev tools, Colour Oracle, NVDA, mobile in built narrators.

They didn’t have time to implement any accessibility automation code wise themselves yet.

Photo of the Scottish Enterprise compatibility lab. The PC has a full suite of accessibility software on it. 

Auditing

Skyscanner

They carry out small audits in-house and also use a specialist agency to carry out larger audits for them. 

They’re looking into acquiring tooling to semi-automate the auditing processes, allowing them to measure and track accessibility across a number of their core user journeys more easily. They want to be able to give teams better visibility and understanding of accessibility issues and help them work towards creating more accessible products.

Scottish Enterprise

We’ve used private organisations to do in depth accessibility audits for us. But this was often frustrating. We had to book these well in advance and when the project to be tested got delayed, we could not change the audit test date. Which means quite often, a lot of the issues highlighted during the external audit were things Darren’s team had already picked up but still pending fixes. We are now doing these audits ourselves.

Getting the correct technical implementation is not all that matters. We are now trying to improve the way we test regularly with disabled people so they can uncover problems we might have missed.

Social Media – how we make it accessible

Skyscanner

They are working on it and have recently adopted a process for adding alt text (description of an image for screen readers) to all images in their social media posts.

They were very interested by the Scottish Enterprise work on this and were keen we shared our guidelines on how best to do it well.

Scottish Enterprise

There are various guidance sources which we will try to re-group. We keep improving: now adding Alt text for images, capitalising hashtags for our posts in various social media for example.

We have a blog post about making our social media accessible  and on some guidance on our prototype website.

Champions Network – what it looks like, how we do it

Skyscanner

Their Accessibility Champions Network was inspired by their existing Security Champions network. It’s made up of enthusiasts spread across business who provide advice to colleagues and are the voice of their disabled travellers. 

The network gives greater visibility of the accessibility efforts happening across the business, with a very active Accessibility Guild Slack channel and regular meetings, where progress is shared among the Champions.

Scottish Enterprise

We don’t have an Accessibility Champions Network, but we have an Equality Champions group we could use for support.

Also, last June, Miriam Oliphant started the  “MyCommunity groups”.  Disability Positive is one of these groups. We are looking at various ways to improve accessibility awareness across our organisation, a specific champions network for Accessibility might be a way to do this.

Accessibility Champions Network – initiated by the BBC 

Both Heather and Stéphanie are part of this initiative from the BBC trying to get people from various organisations world-wide sharing knowledge and supporting each other. 

If you want to learn more about this, check this video from Accessibility Manchester.

How to embed into the culture – 5 top tips

Skyscanner

Heather suggests these 5 elements are required in order to successfully embed accessibility into your culture:

  • Make it someone’s full time job
  • Build a network of Accessibility champions
  • Get leadership support
  • Educate everyone
  • Make it stick

Scottish Enterprise

For the digital team, the Digital Scotland Service Standard set by the Scottish Government is a constant reminder. For the wider business, it’s a bit harder.

  • Be open and talk about it
  • Give advice to improve when something is not right
  • Make guidance and checklists available
  • Make it safe to ask questions and provide training when needed
  • Hire disabled people!

More tips

You can learn a lot more in this video with Charlie Turrell (Change Manager, Accessibility Champions Network) and Gareth Ford Williams (Head of UX Design) from the BBC,  where they talk about their Accessibility Champions Network and embedding accessibility into the culture of an organisation.

Their top tips (43min in the video):

  1. Find out who is interested
  2. Be the voice of the users
  3. Training first
  4. Translate WCAG into something usable
  5. Beyond WCAG
  6. Communication channels
  7. Dialogue
  8. Celebrate their successes

It was a great session

We learned a lot from each other and it’s always great to be able to share tips and challenges with like-minded people. We will stay in touch!


Note: I appear as the author, but Heather helped me get it right for her parts in this post.

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