Are Your Collaboration Tools Inclusive?
In business, enabling collaboration has never been more important or more challenging, given that so many people are still working remotely. Without the ability to easily connect, work together and share ideas, people are not as productive or creative. Fortunately, there is a growing number of tools specifically designed to facilitate collaboration, and these are useful whether people work in person or over the internet.
However, if the software isn’t developed with inclusivity and accessibility at the core, not everyone can take advantage of the collaboration.
Visually impaired users can’t simply rely on a mouse and standard keyboard and need alternative ways to navigate within the software. If the tools do not have accessibility enhancements such as predictable navigation, screen reader compatibility or features such as shape-based rather than color-based icons, the visually impaired won’t reap the full benefits of the collaboration tools. Accessibility enhancements can make it easier for the visually impaired users to engage with the software. When they are able to navigate efficiently, nobody is left behind, and everyone can collaborate more effectively.
Collaboration needs more than accessibility
There are as many as 32.2 million American adults who report some vision loss – blind or unable to see at all or trouble seeing even with glasses or contact lenses – according to 2018 estimates from the American Foundation for the Blind. The organization also points out that visually impaired people need software that’s inclusive: not only can its interface be equally accessible to all users regardless of disability, it also must be efficient and usable as part of the user experience.
That’s why it is important for keyboard and screen reader elements to be designed into collaboration software at the start, with input from the users who require these features the most. We at Mattermost believe inclusive collaboration tools should cover four critical elements:
- Efficient and intuitive shortcuts/navigation
- Predictable region/channel navigation
- Certified accessibility compliance
Accessibility features add business value
Many companies create and enact policies to promote inclusivity, but efforts will fall short if they don’t also consider making workplace solutions, including collaboration tools, more accessible and inclusive. Often, these features take less priority than enhancements deemed to drive business value.
But accessibility enhancements such as predictable and intuitive navigation can make a big difference for visually impaired users, and they can also improve the experience for all kinds of users. Power users such as applications developers can use keyboard shortcuts and keyword navigation designed for the visually impaired to increase the speed at which they design and build new products and services – increasing time to market and adding business value.
Good keyboard navigation requires as few inputs needed by the user to perform a given action, and the order in navigational action should be carefully designed to match how people typically use the app.
Here are 3 key accessibility capabilities to look for:
1. Predictable region navigation
Ensures that the order of keyboard navigation between the collaboration software’s key focus regions never changes. We’ve built our collaboration platform with navigational input from users and by leveraging the familiar and standard regions and navigational movements in the other tools they’ve used.
For example, simple, manual controls, such as continuously pressing F6 (or CTRL+F6 on browsers let users move between the regions quickly and effectively without losing track of where they are in the software. By pressing TAB and SHIFT+TAB, they can maneuver between elements. On-screen highlighting and colored outlines draw attention to elements and pressing Enter or Space puts elements in focus.
2. Intuitive message navigation
Limits extraneous steps required to navigate through messages and relies only just a few keys. For example, users can strike F6 (or CTRL+F6 on browser) to enter the message list region, then use UP or DOWN arrow keys to navigate between the messages. Pressing TAB lets the user easily navigate through message actions, including replying and reacting.
Compatibility with popular screen readers, such as AppleVoiceOver and JAWS for Windows, adds even greater accessibility to messages.
3. Optimized channel navigation
Addresses the challenges visually impaired users face when channel switching or moving around different conversations in the collaboration tool’s messaging region. With a switcher that is fully keyboard accessible (CTRL + K), users can jump between channels quickly.
When optimized algorithms are integrated into the solution, users can find what they are looking for, such as the most relevant conversations, faster and with less input. Channel sidebar regions make it easier for users to navigate between entire sidebar categories (such as Favorites, Channels, Direct Messages, and custom categories) using the arrow keys.
Compliance standards should guide accessibility and inclusivity
There are a number of compliance standards and certifications to look for when choosing collaboration tools that support accessibility and inclusivity.
- 508 Compliance:For U.S. public sector organizations seeking to confirm 508 compliance, look for a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).
- WCAG 2.0L: Check third-party ratings to measure how the tool meets Web Contact Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG.
- ADA: Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is critical; look for features that provide accessibility support detailed in the VPAT and WCAG 2.0.
- Remediation: Any technical issue in a current or future product release that would prevent compliance with accessibility ratings stated in product documentation should be considered a product defect. Vendors should welcome the public filing of an issue report against the defect so that it may be resolved.
But be sure not to let standards be your only guide. The highest priority in delivering accessible and inclusive software is the user experience. Standards can be a starting point, but they don’t tell the whole story and they can’t be a substitute for talking with your end users, working towards meeting their needs, and iterating on their feedback. There are many ways to implement a specific WCAG guideline, but in the end the user experience is what matters to the people using the software daily. Get users involved in the process of software evaluation, rather than relying solely on guidelines and certifications.
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