The Paciello Group, LLC

Please tell us about how you focused on accessibility and/or how you improved the successfulness of a product, service, experience, etc., through attention to accessibility.: 

The Paciello Group is a consultancy that provides subject matter expertise exclusively in accessibility. We partner with clients to help create websites and applications that are usable for all people. In our work, we review existing resources for potential accessibility barriers and provide the necessary technical and strategic support to help clients improve accessibility in a practical, pragmatic manner.

We don’t stop at technical accessibility or guideline conformance. We recognize that an accessible site or application is one that people enjoy using and can use successfully. TPG has an Accessible User Experience team that provides user research, usability testing, and design reviews to help companies and organizations improve the overall user experience for people with disabilities. We provide strategic consulting for organizations looking to adopt a practice of accessibility, integrating responsibility for accessibility into project teams and, through accessible UX, adapting the product develop lifecycle to produce accessible products and services.

We have had great success with our approach, working with companies and organizations including Google, eBay, Wells Fargo, AT&T, Comcast, and Major League Baseball, among many others (see a partial list of our customers).

TPG’s ethos is one of sharing. We share our knowledge of accessibility challenges and solutions broadly, with the goal of helping design and development teams improve the web experience for all users. We regularly publish information on the TPG blog and in other venues.

TPG’s founder, Mike Paciello, pioneered the field of accessibility, and has been instrumental in advancing accessibility worldwide. Following his lead, TPG staff members are encouraged to participate in global initiatives aimed at improving accessibility awareness, knowledge, and support. As a member of W3C, we are particularly active in W3C activities, including a number of Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Working Groups. Steve Faulkner is co-editor of the HTML5 specification and has worked hard to take an evidence-based approach to including or retaining elements and attributes that will have a positive impact on accessibility. David Sloan is a member of the WAI Research & Development Working Group. Gez Lemon is a member of the HTML Working Group.

TPG is also involved with accessibility standards development. As committee co-chair, Mike Paciello has been closely involved with the revision of the Section 508 standards in the US. Léonie Watson and Patrick Lauke are invited experts for the British Standards Institution (BSI), and have contributed to accessibility standards development in the UK.

TPG also builds and shares resources to support progress in accessibility. Steve Faulkner is responsible for HTML5 Accessibility—an open, freely available collection of data that provides an authoritative overview of current accessibility support across different browsers for HTML5 elements. Hans Hillen created a collection of jQuery user interface widgets using WAI-ARIA to demonstrate how rich internet applications can be created to provide an accessible user experience for people with disabilities. The examples and source code are freely available.

In short, our purpose is to bring attention and energy to achieving and sustaining accessibility on the web. We make progress by working with clients to improve their digital products and services, while at the same time improving global awareness and knowledge of best practices, and by influencing how accessibility is implemented in standards and platforms. And we do this work with the goal of making the web a place where everyone can have successful and enjoyable experiences.

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

TPG’s approach to improving accessibility is to bring to our expertise and experience to bear broadly, on the global marketplace. We aren’t focused on making a single or set of products and services accessible. Instead, we partner with companies to help make their products and services more accessible and enjoyable to use for people with disabilities. In this way, we have a global impact on advancing accessibility.

We are serious about partnering—our success is dependent on our clients’ success. If our client doesn’t make progress toward improving the user experience for people with disabilities, then we have not had a successful engagement.

This is why we don’t take the more conventional approach to consulting of engaging long enough to write a report and make recommendations, and then moving on. Our engagements are designed to help companies transition their products and services from ones that may be difficult or impossible to use for people with disabilities to ones that provide a good experience for everyone.

TPG’s standard engagement begins with a needs analysis, where we identify components of the product to evaluate, based on which have the greatest impact on user experience. We then audit the product to identify accessibility issues that will affect the ability of people with disabilities to achieve the intended user experience. We report on those issues and provide recommendations for repair. Every engagement includes a “help desk,” where designers and developers can get assistance from TPG experts as they work through the issues and implement improvements to support accessibility. Then, once the changes are implemented, we do remediation testing to ensure the issues are repaired.

We also provide training to promote accessibility into the culture of the client’s organization in a range of forms: a mix of presentation slides and discussion for the broad issues, and practical exercises and live coding for technical aspects. We have customized training for clients and differing roles within their organizations, focusing on how to create accessible experiences for developers, and how to test for successful accessibility for QA people, for example.

In summary, we have built up an unparalleled level of expertise in the area of accessibility and accessible user experience, which has been tapped by companies that have a global impact, with millions of users. We look for our success in the success of our customers, and of the people who use their products. We are committed to helping our customers in any way possible to advance their products toward accessibility.

Many accessibility consultancies help companies achieve technical and legal compliance. For TPG, the end game is accessible and enjoyable digital products and services, for everyone.

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?: 

TPG is all about accessibility. It’s what we do. Our founder and our staff are all specialists in accessibility and inclusive design who recognize the potential for technology to reduce social exclusion while making better experiences for everyone. We have devoted our careers to promoting digital inclusion. Each of us has many years of experience of working with people with disabilities, understanding the tools and technologies required to create great, inclusive digital experiences. In other words, accessibility is a fundamental requirement for TPG’s existence.

That said, we are sensitive to the challenges companies and organizations face in making and sustaining a commitment to accessibility. One of our strategic consulting services involves working with organizations to transition to a culture that supports accessibility. Our approach is highly customized, to ensure the changes we recommend and help implement suit the existing culture and processes. We typically work with a high-level champion to craft a roadmap for moving forward with accessibility. Because there is usually some distance to go in moving accessibility from a technical requirement to a core value, we help launch an ambitious strategic initiative, whereby accessibility is approached as an innovation rather than a change to existing processes. We feel this approach has the most chance of success in affecting the kind of change needed to adopt accessibility with the same level of commitment as other core values, such as integrity and quality. We discuss our approach in the article, Accessibility In Practice, and the paper, Accessibility in Practice: A process-driven approach to accessibility.

We also support individuals and teams within an organization in their efforts to promote accessibility and gain support from their colleagues and leadership. One key vehicle is our reporting methods. We endeavor to provide accessibility feedback in a format that our clients can use in their efforts to bring the voice of people with disabilities to the discussion. We include insights from our staff experts who use screen reader and screen magnification software themselves. We include scenarios in our reports to illustrate how accessibility issues affect people with disabilities. Our usability testing and field studies provide first-person narratives that make the struggles and frustration experienced by people with disabilities real and difficult to ignore. We don’t simply report compliance ratings of pass or fail. We use the opportunity to help product teams and leadership understand that accessibility matters.

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

We have had the greatest success in bringing people with disabilities into design discussions and decision making of our clients by including first-person accounts from people with disabilities in our deliverables.

The best and most effective way to do this is through field studies and usability testing, where we have recorded feedback. In persuading a client to make changes, nothing can take the place of hearing directly from Joe, who has limited mobility and uses Dragon and ZoomText, how he has to wrestle with the website to accomplish the most simple tasks. Or from Janet, how she can’t read the website text because the text color is too light. Or from Leslie, how she doesn’t use the site because the design is too busy.

We bring these first-person perspectives into our reports through personas and scenarios. For example, we provide a technical explanation of, say, issues with text alternatives for images, and then provide a scenario that illustrates the impact of a misleading text alternative on the ability of someone who is blind to successfully complete a task using the resource under review.

But the very best way to bring first-person perspective to clients and help design teams understand the impact of their decisions is through usability testing. Like any other group of technology users, people with disabilities have a wide range of technical skills and attitudes. Assistive technologies range in support and capability. All of these factors can impact whether someone with a disability can use an interface, or whether they may give up due to insurmountable barriers or the sheer effort of trying to navigate and comprehend a technically accessible but practically unusable interface. Gathering and sharing data on the experiences of people with disabilities is a valuable way of refining and validating the effect of technical accessibility improvements.

TPG’s staff combine a comprehensive understanding of technical accessibility with a sensitivity to the practical limitations in support of assistive technology, and the diversity of needs of people with disabilities, gathered through observation of and discussion with the people who benefit most from accessible design. This means that our recommendations are a balance of a future-looking, standards-based approach and a real-world pragmatic understanding of constraints.

When we can incorporate user research data direct from people with disabilities into the technical accessibility support we provide our clients, we do so. When this is not an option for our clients, they know that the technical advice we provide is grounded in our understanding and appreciation of what genuinely helps people with disabilities.