What can others learn from the successes and failures of your approach to making accessible experiences?: 

We believe that our experience in designing accessible technologies may help focalize the attention on special needs, and prove that a scalable amount of accessibility can be implemented in all kinds of systems as long as there is the will to do so.

The trickiest situation we encountered, and where our experience can be useful for other designers and stakeholders, is that we soon realized that simply following guidelines and best practices is not enough. We decided to carry out research on the field, working with a group of blind employees of Comune di Cagliari who tested a first draft of our front and back-end interfaces. The feedback we received was extremely important, and one of the lessons we learned was that just following the guidelines by summarizing information could become more of a problem than a solution if appropriate hierarchy was not provided. This also helped us gain insight in the field of general usability.

Another great example of how on-the-field research is of extreme importance was given to us when we visited our test group of blind employees in their office. We were immediately impressed by the way they could perfectly navigate their known environment (opening locked boxes, making coffee for us when we arrived); this provided a practical example for us of how memory was driving their movements and behavior, and this applied on the web as in the physical environment. While we had perfectly followed the guidelines for our back-office area, providing direct semantic explanations for every element, their feedback was that we had exaggerated with the quantity of information. Their preferred behavior was to read and scan the whole page in order to memorize it; too many descriptions actually hindered rather than supported this process.

What did you do, what was required, and/or what justifications did you need to establish to ensure that accessibility became and remained a requirement for your product or service?: 

Entando's mission is to simplify Enterprise portals, while ensuring top-level performances. Accessibility is a fundamental requirement of both government and enterprise intranets and portals, and when national regulation fixed the minimum requirements for web technologies, we were already involved in R&D activities to grant the maximum level of accessibility. Our development team had been researching semantic HTML since 2001 - 2003 and readily embraced the cause and challenge of accessible web design. Consistency in this commitment was not a problem since accessibility was a clear priority.

How did you ensure the needs of users with impairments or special requirements were considered throughout the process of designing your product or service?: 

The first thing we did when approaching the design of our front and back-end interfaces was to study all the available literature in the field. The next step was to draft our accessible UI following all the guidelines and best practices, and test our product by simulating the experience of individuals with special needs, with the help of assistive technologies.

We then worked with a test group of 4 blind employees from Comune di Cagliari: we observed and gathered their feedback while they performed specific given tasks. These included accessing the system, finding the content list, choosing a specific content, and successfully editing and saving changes made to the chosen content. This allowed us to tune and tweak our interfaces according to the received feedback, and understand and evaluate the importance of the technologies underlying our system: each test member was using a different computer, a different workstation (some used headsets, others didn't) and different versions of their screen reader. This last element was especially important for us since we understood that accessible web design has to closely consider features and qualities of the specific assistive technologies used by target users, since this element can significantly differ from the state-of-art situation expressed by manuals and guidelines.

What are the most significant ways that your attention to accessibility manifested in the product or service, and what effect has that had on users?: 

Our focus on accessibility is closely paired with our attention to responsiveness and general usability as means of inclusion. Our front-end is designed to ensure maximum freedom and flexibility, and is therefore open to optimization in the accessibility as well as in the creative field. Entando technology is fully compatible with elements such as Google Chrome vocal input and search, and responsive and mobile-first design.

These last two elements are commonly recognized as useful features, which are also extremely important when referring to special needs in general, without focusing on visual impairments; the fact that Entando perfectly interfaces with touch technologies is essential to ensuring accessibility to people with cognitive and coordination impairments. Finally, our accessible back-office for content editing includes several required fields which are commonly not mandatory in other systems (i.e. alternative text for images) and this has the positive effect that all portals and websites developed with Entando generate accessible content, while improving SEO.

Please share any quantitative, qualitative, and/or anecdotal evidence of the wisdom and value of your focus on accessibility.: 

Our focus on accessibility has had two major positive outcomes: the first is a competitive advantage since we were compliant with international regulation before our local competitors, and have set the standard for back office accessibility. Several international research (IResearch4Birth and Optibirth) and government portals (Italian Ministry of Justice, Civil Protection) have been developed using the Entando platform also thanks to its state-of-art accessibility features.

The second major positive outcome is that our research always kept a user-centric approach which greatly improved the overall quality of our UI and UX design, since usability and responsiveness are tightly intertwined with accessibility; as a result, Entando is the first portal technology to provide an entirely responsive back office.