Accessibility by Default in Authoring Tools

Talk by Susanna Laurin

This presentation will describe ongoing research in built-in accessibility by default in authoring tools with the goal of disrupting the market. It will inspire developers and designers by showing what is possible to achieve when providing accessibility support and teach content creators and website owners what to require from their suppliers. More than 50% of accessibility fails are created by web authors. Most of them have limited experience in accessibility.

With increasing accessibility regulations in Europe, hundreds of thousands of web authors need training. There is no chance the market can meet that training demand. But what if authoring tools could provide built-in accessibility by default? In an EU-funded research project called WE4Authors Cluster, a consortium of some of the most used authoring tools in public sector in Europe (Drupal, Plone, Joomla, SiteVision and Tiny MCE) are working together to provide better accessibility support for web authors, lead by market leading accessibility consultancy Funka.

In the project, accessibility features are prototyped and tested with web authors, to prioritise and agree on best practice to help content creators publish accessible content. The results will be shared with the whole community.

Watch Susanna’s Presentation


Well, um, are we live?

Hello everyone! Welcome to the WordPress Accessibility Day 2020. My name is Roberto Remedios.

I’m, I’m user experience, user interface designer. I live in San Jose, Costa Rica I als, I’m also an accessibility advocate. I’ve been working on Latin America with accessibility with different groups of people – deaf people, blind people and um, I mean, I love to share with all you guys tonight.

I forgot to do thanks on the last talk uh to our sponsors, to to our organizers and to my moderator, Kevin who is pasting the the questions that you guys had on YouTube into the page. Please, remember if you have any questions, just put the questions on the YouTube chat.
Uh, our next speaker is Susanna Laurin and she will be talking about accessibility by default
in authoring tools. She is chief research and Innovation Innovation officer at Funka. She have more than 20 years of experience in working with uh accessibility at the senior management level, she is an internationally expert on the European Union accessibility policy and regulations and she have did several workshops and write some books about the specific EN standard.

So, you have the control right now so sign up thank you for joining us, uh, you can share your screen.

Susanna: Okay. Thank you, Roberto! I think I’m now sharing my screen and hopefully I also have my microphone on.

Is this working?

You can nod, at least.

Roberto: Yes, it’s working.

Susanna: Okay, perfect thank you. So good morning, everyone! I’m doing this from Sweden, Europe, so it’s very early Saturday morning and I want to tell you straight away that I’m not a developer. So if you have technical questions around my presentation I would be happy to forward them to our developers.

I can’t get them to wake up this early in the morning on a Saturday, so unfortunately you will have to, um, to live just with me but thank you for having me on this Marathon accessibility event.

It’s exciting. So, I can’t make this work, why, yeah.

Yeah, so just a little bit about me. I am the chief research and Innovation officer at Funka, I’m also the representative of the UN initiative G3ICT and the International Association of Accessibility Professionals representative to the EU. I do a lot of strategic consulting these days mainly for the European Union but also for um EU member states, national governments, when they are transposing their the EU legislation into national law.

Um, I did, I’m leading the Radix subgroup which is an expert group helping the commission and the member states implementing the web accessibility directive, one of the recent legislations in this area, and I’m also one of the technical experts in the ETSI special task force 536. And we have been responsible for updating and harmonizing the EN standard which is the minimum requirements of the legislation in in Europe.

Um, just a couple of words on the, on the company I work for – Funka – we are specialists in accessibility, uh, but we were founded by the disability movement in Sweden and we um, we started as an NGO, really but we converted into a private company in the year of 2000. We have our headquarters in Stockholm, and and offices also in Oslo, and Madrid, and Brussels.

We do consulting and development on accessibility and usability, we do also a lot of research and innovation and that’s nowadays the department that I lead, and so we do national projects and also European and Global projects in research and innovation. And we also cover policy and and different kind of studies and investigations and we are of course also engaged in standardization, which is extremely important if you want to do accessibility. Also one of the proud founders of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals.

So, in Europe, the web accessibility directive is really turning everything upside down here.

We have been living in a world where we have more recommendations on accessibility than actual regulations, and this is now changing. We started with a procurement directive a couple of years ago, now the web accessibility directive is covering public sector, and in 2022 we will also have the European Accessibility Act which will cover products and services in some of the private sectors.

We are really moving from recommendations to, to regulations. And it’s an interesting time to be alive, here, but we have a couple of problems when when this is happening, of course, and um, and one of the biggest problems that we have, um tried to to solve or looked into at least, is that really, really that accessibility is much more than a technical issue, of course, and around 50 percent of the accessibility problems or fails that we encounter when we do audits – they are created by web authors.

And this is not a surprise, because many web authors – and this is now in in public sector mainly – and most of the web authors are not professional communication people, and absolute vast majority of them are not accessibility experts. So, of course they do create content that is not perfectly accessible.

And, and this means that we now have approximately 7 million interfaces that are supposed to, to comply with the new regulations and with seven million interfaces we have, I don’t know I can’t even count the number of web authors that would need training to, to make this work. And of course that’s good for us, because we are specializing in this, and we’re happy to provide training, but it just won’t scale.

It’s not enough just to put out manuals and training and, and you know trying to make all these web authors do the right thing, because it, people change their job, they, um they get on [parent leave, parental leave or or you know, we change people all the time. So we just need to do something else than only training, because that, that is not, will never be enough. And that’s when, when the idea came that – what if accessibility could be built into the websites from the start? What if the authoring tools could do something to help, here?

Um, maybe everything can’t be automized, but at least the authoring tools should have a possibility to give much better support to the web authors. That was sort of the idea behind this, this research projects.

And we managed to lobby for this idea and make more people interested in it, and after a while the European commission came out with a, with a call for, um, for proposals on trying to see if authoring tools could actually, uh, be part of the solution here.

So, um, the European funding for research, and very common way of doing this, is that you first, you apply for a pilot project, where you sort of prove that your idea or thesis is valid, and that there is something here to, to keep um, looking into, and then, if you’re successful in your pilot, then you can also have the possibility to make what is called a preparatory action. Which is where you actually perform the real research or, or whatever initiative is needed to be done. So it’s a two-step process, often.

And, um we did get the opportunity to have a, to perform a pilot project a couple of years ago ,
where we looked at the 30 most used tools in the public sector bodies in in the EU. So we, we crawled the internet for public sector bodies and, and found the 30 most used tools, to make sure that we, um, the efforts were made on the most frequently used ones. And we did some piloting and testing, so trying to see what happens if you, if you’re not an expert in accessibility, and you’re procuring this tool, and maybe your, your supplier is also not an expert in accessibility, because that is the normal case – that is the majority of these situations.

What happens then? If you just acquire an authoring tool and a website for somebody, from somebody that is not an expert, how accessible is it then? It’s like, I know this is really theoretic, because it’s not really possible, but the idea is if you just sort of push the button and up comes a website from your package then how accessible is it by default. What is built-in there. And the answer was: not much. But we did a lot of surveys and prototypes, we talked to, uh to suppliers and, and vendors and tool makers, and so on, try to figure out how much is really included in the, sort of, basic, the standard templates, and so on.

And we did a lot of analysis and also user testing, of course. User testing both with web authors, and also end users with, with disabilities to, to make sure that the results were valid from both perspectives. And we did also work a lot with different stakeholders in, and that this was before the Corona so we, we could make, um physical workshops in Brussels. We had specific, uh webs, workshops with web authors from public sector, to see what are the user needs; how can the authoring tools help these web authors to, to make the right thing. It should be easy to, to do the right thing when you create content. And we also discussed with the end users with disabilities of course, which are the most common problems or fails, or what is the biggest barrier to you.

And also looking into the, the back office, so to speak, so if if the Web author has a disability, how accessible is the actual interface that you meet as, as author. So the, the back end, so to speak, the input part of the of the authoring tools. And then we also discussed with the tool makers and other vendors, suppliers, and also standardization bodies. So we had a series of workshops where we, where we really collected user needs and experiences from this for different stakeholder groups.

And the result from this pilot was that, well, there is not much accessibility by default out there in the most used tool, unfortunately, but they’re big demand. And also we thought that there would be, um well, a good potential to do something. If something is not perfect, then you have the the potential to, to make it better. So, the result of the pilot was really a matrix of, of the most used tools. And also we made three sets of guidelines for web authors, or people who are procuring or looking for a tool, and also for end users with disabilities, and for the industry. And really this was then the starting point for further research.

And the result of this um, on the part, the open parts and not everything is, is public, but the public parts of this project results can be found on our website. It’s www.funka, which is slash we4authors. So “we” and the number 4, and “authors.”

And then, of course, the next phase started and we were happy enough to, to get also the second phase funded by the commission. And we are now, uh a third into, um the preparatory action which is called “we4authors cluster” and here we, we work with a cluster of tool makers, because we think we need now to dig deep into the the real code and the real, um potential of this. So, based on the user needs that we found in the pilots, and we are going to create new features that can be adapted into whatever tool you use.

We are going to do extensive user testing to make sure that the features that we create are really good – they’re user friendly, they are solving the right problems, and that the web authors like them. Because otherwise they won’t be a success. And we are then going to try to implement these features in different kinds of tools, so that we make sure that we can reach as big part of the market as possible. And, and we are then, when the project is finished, by July next year, we are going to share code, if there, if we are resulting in code, which I hope, or, if we can’t produce the code, then at least we will share the documentation, and prototypes, videos, visits, or whatever it can be from the user testing, to show as inspiration for others.

Because maybe everything can’t just be a snippet of code, and then you can just implement it quickly into whatever tool, maybe life is not that easy, always, so we will also describe the feature, and describe how it works, and what people liked with it. And so that then, the rest of the market can, hopefully, use those ideas and for inspiration, and also implement these ideas in their own tools.

And this is really an important part of of, of all European research, of course, that, that the result is going to be for the common good. So this is not something we, or the partners, will, will keep um, behind any closed doors – the idea is, is really to share with the community.

And the members of this cluster, right now, are Drupal, um, we have um Mike Gifford of Open Concept who is representing Drupal, here. We have Plone, represented by Timo Stollenwerk from kitconcept, in Germany. We have SiteVision, a Swedish licensed, um licensed-based authoring tool. We have Joomla, um, and Brian Teeman is the representative for Joomla, and the foundation of Joomla in Germany, it’s also a part of the project. And we have Umbraco, represented by Sigma in the UK. So, these are the cluster members who are representing different kind of, of authoring tools. And we are, of course, also working with other tool providers, and, but we are also closely related to the International Association of Accessibility Professionals, so that we can reach out to both vendors, and also, um, customers using these tools, and the end user organizations.

So, with IAAP we, we have a really broad outreach, apart from, from the partners own networks, so to speak, and we also work closely with ERRIN, which is the European Regions Research and Innovation Network. So, in with this network we can also make sure that we reach a lot of the public sector bodies’ web authors in, in Europe for user testing and, and also making sure that the user requirements are, are met in a really, uh, relevant way for them.

After the discussions with, with the stakeholders and the different user groups, and specifically, of course, the web authors, their needs, and also the ideas and experiences from our cluster members, so, to make sure that whatever we do is, is sort of relevant, and possible to use also for the tool makers, we have, we set up a set of criteria for, for how the features would; what kind of um, what kind of problems we wanted to, to solve, how frequently this um, problem was occurring, and so on.

And then, based on these criteria we selected 10 different features that we wanted to try with users. So now we are, specifically, in the position in the, in the project where we are, we have already selected 10 features, and we are now going to user test them, starting in October. um so we are, right now, finishing or refining the prototypes, that we are then going to, to test in an iterative process, of course, inviting users, web authors, and others interested to test the prototypes and come with, come back to us with feedback, so that we can refine them, and make them better and better. So, we have until Christmas to do this, really, but we’re starting here in October. So the features that we have, um, selected to try and make sure that we can support users, web authors with, is really how to provide alt text -alternative text -on, on images.

It’s a very basic thing but we have seen that this is solved in different ways, in different authoring tools, and sometimes it’s quite hard to make it in a good way, and sometimes it’s, well, you have the possibility to add the alt text, but you don’t get any support on how to write it, or when to write it on or when not, and so on. So the whole idea here is to provide more support. If something can be, maybe, mandatory we will try to make it mandatory. Alt texts can’t really be mandatory, because not all images need them, and so on, but we can also prompt for the Web author to do something, so it’s really visible, it’s really um, you’re sort of pushed to do the right thing. You shouldn’t be, um, you shouldn’t have to look for the place where to write the alt text. It should be very obvious and sort of “in the flow” of your authoring process.

And then the, we can also provide, maybe, support in different, at different levels, or information. So we have all this sort of the levels of, of automation we can do – we can either build it in, so that it’s really, by default, making it accessible; or we can prompt it, or we can make information, or, or support in in other ways. So we will try different ways of doing this, and see what the web authors find most useful, and then present that to, to the market, when we have a good decision there.

So alt text is the first one, and then we are also prototyping now the possibility to change language, um, when you have a multiple language on a, on a website or a page, which is very common in, in the European context. We often have websites with, with more than one language. Also, we’re looking at documentation of the accessibility features, because our research has shown that many web authors don’t really know what their authoring tool can do. So how can we make the documentation better, and also, how can we make it, or we want to try, if it’s better to have the documentation – the information -that support in a wizards, sort of “in context,” so where you are actually performing, doing something, that is when, where you can find the information.

Or, if that may be disturbing for you, because the user experience will be then, maybe, too crowded, or too overwhelming with all this information. So, maybe it’s better to have it sort of on the side, that you need to go look for it. And we have we have seen different situations, different contexts, and also different Web author groups who prefer one or the other, so this will be really interesting to do AB testing on. Um, of course some of the really big troublemakers in authoring is tables and forms, so we are going to test supportive tables creators and also forms editors in different way, that can um, a combination of making it accessible by default, and supporting on when you do more complex tables and forms. Of course, everything can’t be automated, or at least not now, um, maybe in the future, but we want to to make sure that the author has better support, uh, in doing the right thing.

When it comes to video, we are testing supporting the editor on how to make sure that the video is compliant with the regulations. And then we have four features that are sort of connected to each other, and they all have to do with testing. So we want to try out how to best test accessibility while, or when you are editing or publishing something. So we are trying to have testing procedures built into the editor, so while you’re actually creating the content. And then another specific sort of easy win if, if we support web authors in, in providing accessible documents. Especially, specifically PDF documents which is, all over the world, I think we have unaccessible or inaccessible um documents, and that is a a big issue that many web authors tell us they would like to have support in. So, some kind of testing before you, or while you’re uploading your documents, so that you know if the document is okay or not. And then we want to test the full page.

So when you have um, provided all the images, and the objects, and the content that you are going to to publish,
then during this content creative, creation phase, you could also test all the different parts and objects that you are, um, going to, to publish. So before publishing just check if it’s accessible or not, and then, of course, helping you to remediate this will be an important part.

And maybe not specifically for the Web author, but for the website owner, or the person who is responsible for the whole, accessibility, um, the accessibility of the whole website, then of course there could also be a built-in testing tool for the whole website. And please note that we are not building a new, eh, automatic tools for accessibility testing. There are many out there and some of them are really good. So we are not going to test if they are good or bad, it’s just the how can they be combined, or included, or implemented, in the authoring tool or in the content creation phase, so that it supports the, the web authors in a better way.

Because what we see is that many of the testing tools are quite technical. And they may be very helpful for developers, but the web authors are sometimes not very technical, so it can’t be too, um, sort of, success criteria related and really technical in the way it’s presented. It needs to, to support you in, in another way. And we think combining it into the content creation phase could be really helpful for at least some other web authors. So these are the 10 features that we are now prototyping, and going to test, and these are going to be test like generic tests, and so that we have made them anonymous, so to speak, so we are trying to just test the feature it, and the prototypes are not supposed to look like any specific tool, but it wouldn’t, it shouldn’t be important which tool you’re used to use, but you should be, sort of, recognizing the, the content creation, how it looks when you, when you edit content.

That is the, the idea. So, we’re doing, um, this testing on a prototype level, and then when we, when we have learned more or less what the web authors need or or want, then we’re also going to do test implementations in the cluster members. So all the authoring tools that are working with us in this project also have the possibility to, to test the, these features in their own, um, in the technical environments, so to speak. Of course it takes time to implement these things in authoring tools and, and maybe we won’t be finishing this before the project is finished, but at least we want to make sure that we have done some test implementations, so that we can also say that we know that these, these features work in at least some of the technical environments that we have tested, because that makes it more probable that they will also be possible to use for other tool makers.

So the test implementation in the specific tools is also an important part. But what we are trying, doing right now is first of all the generic testing. And because of the pandemic we will do, we will do some face-to-face, um, physical testing at our offices, but most of the testing, so, the quantitative part of it will be online. So it’s actually open for anyone that would like to, to test these features and we are happy to welcome anyone. And we’ll come back to that. So, um, will this solve all the accessibility problems of the world? No, it won’t. But we believe that built-in accessibility by default in authoring tools could be an important part of the solution. If we succeed in this. Um, because, I mean, this is kind of obvious, but if you, if the authoring tool is supporting you in your content creation phase, then you can avoid unnecessary mistakes.

And this is really the primary goal here. Um, accessibility by default can make it. We can, we can start with the hygiene factors that the authoring tools shouldn’t, sort of, create accessibility problems, but it should also support the author in not doing that mistakes. Another important part here is really to help the non-experts to get it right from the start. Because, as I mentioned before, most of the web authors in public sector are, are not specializing in communication, and definitely not specializing in accessibility.

So we also hope that this can mean that the governments can create framework contracts, so in the centralized procurement that is very use, much in use in, in some of the European member states, which can mean that tool makers that do provide accessibility by default using our features or, or other services, but, but some, in some way can prove that they, they do provide good support for web authors, they can then have a, um, an advantage in the competition, by being sort of checked on beforehand by, by the central procurement system.

So that is what we’re hoping. That a group of tools will be, sort of, the front runners here, and they will then have the possibility to easier at least sell their services to public sector.

And with that, experts in accessibility, and also experts in, in tool making can, and the web authors themselves can, focus on more interesting things, or more complex issues, and sort of solving the rest of the problems that we can’t solve in this problem. But that is the, that is the aim of these projects. So, I would like to invite you all to make contact to us and if you are like to, or if you, one of your clients or customers would like to try, if you have any web authors, if you know web authors that would like, are interested in trying out these features, then please do contact us.

There is room for everyone who wants to, to contribute to this, and of course the more test persons we have, from the more parts most part of the world, and with different backgrounds and so on, the better it will be. So the results will really depend on, on the users who want to test. We already have, um, quite a lot of testers. I think, at least, over 100 organizations have, have said that they would like to to join the testing phase, but we are always welcoming more. So please do contact us.

You can use my email, which is Susanna s-u-s-a-double n-a at And we also have a project website. It’s not very active yet, because we don’t have so much, um, results yet to show, but we will be more active in this website soon, I hope. So you’re also welcome to follow the project on

And with that, I’m open for questions.

Roberto: Um, well thank you very much Susanna. We don’t have a lot of questions, we have one main question at this moment. Is, is the next one. You mentioned you will develop new features, uh, do you have examples of what kind of features are good candidates?

Susanna: Well, before we started testing them we don’t know which ones are the best candidates. That’s really is the test – it’s the 10 features that I talked about, and showed the slide. These are the features that we are now testing, and if they all turn out not to work, or not to be, um, of interest for web authors, then we will have to come up with new ones. Because we have promised the European commission who is funding this that we are going to, um, to promote or provide 10 – at least 10 features when, when the project is ready. But as we are just starting the testing phase, I can’t tell you which one is the best candidate right now. We are testing all the 10 features, and then hopefully many of them will be good enough to present to the world. And if not, we will have to have make another round, and uh, yeah create new ones.

[Robert] Cool, thank you very much. Well, at this moment we don’t have any other questions. Is there anything that you want to add on this couple of minutes? Uh, you didn’t cover on your presentation? You have, like, another five minutes if you have anything, or we can make a break.

Susanna: I think I’m, I, I hope that people will connect with us, and I’m happy to answer any question via email or Twitter, or just reach out to us and we will be happy to discuss this more, because I, I think there are a lot of interesting things and we are really eager to hear also from WordPress developers, and designers, and users, and I hope that, that you will all be interested in this project and also reach out to us to to learn more.

Roberto: Awesome. Um, well, we can give it a couple of minutes and see if there is another question on YouTube.

Okay, we have a question. Uh, the testers need to be multilingual?

Susanna:: Good question, thank you. Uh, no. The tests will be performed in English, so um, you would need to understand at least the instructions in English, because the prototypes are in English. But otherwise we don’t have any, any requirements on the testers.

Roberto: Thank you, Susana.

Anyone, if anyone have another question, uh right here.

Susanna: I think it’s in the middle of the night in many countries.

Roberto: Yes, I, actually for me it’s past midnight but, but, what’s your time on your country?

Susanna: It’s now 8:30 in the, in the morning, but it’s Saturday, so I don’t think anywhere, exactly.

Roberto: Yeah, most of Europe people, yeah, Susanna: still asleep, I think, yeah.

Roberto: just waiting for this Saturday. But again, thank you very much for sharing with us and taking your time, uh get, get um, I think we’re gonna finish this one, uh.

I think Lnn is making a question – we say, how much time it does it take, how much time does it take testing?

Susanna: That’s another good question, um, well you can spend as much time as you like, of course, but you can test just one feature, and that will take from five to, I guess, mostly 10 minutes. We, of course, hope that you test all the the features, and you can also come back, because we have this iterative process, so then you can test it again and see the refinements. But, but you can just spend five or ten minutes and do one test, and we will be happy, and if you are really interested and keen then you can come back and test all the 10 features. And that will then take, maybe, one and a half hour or so, and you can also come back and do it more times, but but there’s no, no specific requirements on time needed. So you can just do a short one and see if it’s interesting and then, hopefully, you will stay on and do more tests.

Roberto: And then we have another question for Ahmed, uh if you have to name one thing that it will be your biggest achievement in accessibility what it would be?

Susanna: My biggest achievement? Oh. Well, personally, I think that, that we are hiring people with disabilities in our company. I think that is the biggest achievement for to me personally, I believe the key to inclusion is to have a workplace, um, and really that we have been able to not only hire people ourselves, but also help other young people with disabilities to get into the workforce. That is what I’m most proud of in my professional life. That is not really accessibility, as such, but I think that is my sort of spontaneous answer to that question.

Roberto: Awesome, thank you very much as I think Lnn also ask, for the previous question, if the time that you describe is also include the training?

Susanna: Well, there’s no training, really here. In the, I mean the testing is just really simple prototypes, so you are doing the same thing as you’re normally doing as when you’re creating content. You are writing a text, you are adding a link, you’re adding an image, and then you are supposed to add the alt text, and so on. So you are performing this, this sort of the user scenario from the, from the web authoring perspective. And then there’s really a short instruction on what we want you to do to perform that test. So it’s not really, I wouldn’t say it’s training, uh, really. So it’s a short instruction, then you perform the text, test and then that is screen recorded, so we can see what you do. So that is sort of fine, but we also always ask you if you have any comments or suggestions or anything. We’re really happy if you want to share with us your thoughts, so you also have the possibility to answer some questions afterwards, if you, if you would like to. But it wouldn’t take more than 15 minutes just to do one, one of the items.

Roberto: Okay, awesome. Um, I think that’s all the questions that we have. Um, we’re gonna finish the presentation right here. Thank you very much for your time. Um, just let the people who is watching this presentation, don’t forget to attend our next talk.

Um, who it will be how to use ARIA in forms, uh, at 7:00 AM UTC, presented by, by Ryan…Rian, Rietveld – sorry, my accent, but, yeah. Thank you very much, and we see you later. Bye!

Susanna: Thank you.

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