Updates to the Va11yS Open Source Project

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With Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) quickly approaching, Sharon and I thought it would a be a good time to give you a brief update on our open source Verified Accessibility Samples project – or Va11yS.  Jack Dam, our Accessibility Test Engineer, has been rigorously testing the latest samples and adding the results for the iOS VoiceOver and Android Talkback screen readers.  Sharon has been refreshing test results, mitigating merge conflicts, and rendering React samples.  We’ve all been brushing up on the latest frameworks like React, Angular and Vue in an effort to add new samples to the repository and to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape that is accessibility.Va11yS - Open Source

What is Va11yS

First, a brief history for readers unfamiliar with our Va11yS project.  The idea came about when we were looking for a consistent way to test updates to assistive technologies (AT) and operating systems (OSs).  Our first thought was: “Let’s build a collection of sample pages that would cover a wide range of scenarios”.  But where to start?  Well, having been long standing members of the W3C WCAG Working Group – and knowing that the WCAG Techniques pages are full of code snippets – it made perfect sense to grab those snippets and turn them into live working samples.

We also felt that it was important keep the samples, as well as the entire site simple by design.  We want to ensure that the code is easily understandable and reusable.  The idea is to test each sample with a variety of ATs and OSs with our primary AT focus on screen reader testing.  Also note, there is no pass/fail system.  Instead we simply log what the screen reader announces for each sample.  When an issue arises, developers and testers can compare their code and AT against our findings and easily determine if the problem is on their end or if the issue is due to a bug in the AT, user agent or OS.  Va11yS is also a great resource for folks new to developing accessible web content, and a means to them get familiar with using a screen reader for accessibility testing.

Current Picture

After we had a collection of code samples it only made sense to turn this into an open source project and make it available to everyone, so they can use and contribute to the project.  Today we have nearly 200 code samples in the repository and roughly 600 different combinations of AT test results – covering VoiceOver on iOS; Talkback on Android; and JAWS on Windows.  We’ve scraped nearly all of the code snippets from WCAG 2.0 HTML, ARIA, and General techniques.  Sharon has started adding a few React samples to the repository, and both Jack and Sharon have started digging into Angular.

We’ve been getting a lot of great feedback from teams who are using the Va11yS samples to develop and test new accessibility tools, and then using the code samples to verify the output of their tools. In addition, other folks have found the code samples are an excellent resource for accessibility training. It’s been interesting to hear all the various ways that teams are making use of the repository.

What’s next

What’s next for Va11yS?  That’s really up to you, the readers and open source contributors to decide!  We’re happy that so many teams are finding the repository useful and we welcome you to join our team as new contributors. If you’re new to open source, Va11yS is the perfect project for you to wade into the pool.

For developers, the skill level runs the gamut.  We can use everything from simple HTML and CSS, to more complex frameworks like React, Angular or Vue.  We also have plenty of room for Swift and Android applications.  If you have a platform that you prefer to develop on, we have a home for your accessible code in Va11yS.

For testers, we can always use your help “verifying” the samples to ensure they are indeed accessible and logging the results on how your AT works with each sample on different platforms. As standards change retesting is also an important aspect of keeping our code samples viable. As we start delving into more complex applications and code samples, we think it would be a good idea to record keyboard navigation results on new submissions to include data on whether the application uses standard keyboard patterns.

If you’re a technical writer, we can also use your input for our Contributor guide, Code of Conduct, and help files.  Bottom line, if you have an interest in accessibility and/or open source we welcome you to contribute to the Va11yS project.

With WCAG 2.1 finalizing this summer we’re also anticipating a slew of new techniques that should be added to the repository.  There are plenty of new ideas around low vision, touch, mobile and cognitive that will be needed to support teams in meeting the new success criteria introduced with WCAG 2.1. This also means that the current code samples will need to be retested to the latest standards. We’re looking to get ahead of the game so that you can begin following the new guidance as soon as it’s released.

That’s what we have going on with Va11yS.  What are you doing for GAAD?  We’d love to hear from you!

So, what is the “a11y” thing

BTW, if you’re newer to accessibility the name Va11yS might be throwing you off a bit.  The abbreviation a11y (the letter a, plus the number 11, plus y) is a form of a numeronym. Some other common numeronyms are W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), i18n (internationalization) and g11n (globalization). With numeronyms, numbers replace letters in an abbreviation to symbolize the count of how many letters were removed in the word between the first and last letter.

Numeronyms are used worldwide commonly in software engineering abbreviations.  In her blog post, 10 Numeronyms Web Developers Should Know, Anna Monus puts a11y in the top 4 on her list.

Senior Accessibility Engineer

Sharon Snider

Accessibility Engineer, IBM Accessibility Research

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