Accessibility project

accessibility logo
Master's thesis at Famly • 2022
Project Overview
This study examines the crucial accessibility concepts necessary for an organization to develop fully accessible products in a pragmatic way. To address this, I conducted interviews with accessibility experts and utilised Action Design Research to create an IT artifact. This artifact takes the form of an accessibility chapter within the design system of a SaaS company named Famly.
Working closely with stakeholders from Famly, the artifact was refined to explore the practical implementation of knowledge derived from empirical research for designers and developers.
My Contributions
• Creation of an accessibility guide for a software company
• Accessibility audit
• Qualitative research & analysis
Screenshot of the accessibility design system for the company Famly
The WCAG guidelines for web accessibility are often considered unpragmatic and not widely implemented by companies due to their complex and technical nature, lack of clarity, compatibility issues, high costs and currently still limited legal enforcement. While accessibility is important, companies face challenges in fully adhering to WCAG guidelines, and incremental improvements should still be pursued to make digital content more inclusive.
↪ Unpragmatic Accessibility frameworks
Challenge 01
The ‘Web Accessibility Directive’ as well as the 'European Accessibility Act', which is gonna be applied to national laws until 2025, will affect most european companies that create or distribute a wide range of electronic products. If organisations don't follow such standards, the legal and financial risk increases. In order to be prepared, all software companies, such as Famly, should start now to increase the accessibility of their products.
↪ Legal obligations
Challenge 02
While Digital Accessibility might be an unkown concept to the general population, most designers and developers have knowledge about its existence. However, after an academic and real-world assessment, I concluded that this is usually where the knowledge and awareness ends. Barely any designer could tell me what a holistically accessible digital product actually entails. They may be unaware of the specific needs and challenges faced by individuals with disabilities when interacting with digital technology. Most people at Famly as well as outsiders had full pipelines of projects and not the time, incentive or touchpoints to focus on the matter. As a result, digital products, websites, and applications may feature barriers that prevent impaired people from effectively using them.

Organizations may not be aware of the legal requirements or industry best practices related to accessibility. This lack of awareness can result in a failure to allocate resources, budget, and time to incorporate accessibility features and ensure compliance with accessibility standards.
↪ Low awareness
Challenge 03
Inaccessible digital products exclude a significant customer base and may result in lost business opportunities. By raising awareness and prioritizing accessibility, organizations can tap into an underserved market and enhance their overall reach and user base.
1 billion people worldwide are impaired and suffer from the 'electronic curb'. Furthermore, the rapid aging of the population will increase this number drastically.
↪ Missed Opportunities
Challenge 04
illustration of an arrow pointing downwards
Action Design Research (ADR) is a powerful methodology that combines academic research with practical problem-solving and action-oriented outcomes. I used ADR to focus on addressing real-world challenges and delivering actionable solutions. All stakeholders and end-users were involved throughout this research process, which ensured the relevance and applicability of the findings. Secondly, ADR promotes collaboration and co-creation, encouraging the participation of diverse stakeholders and fostering interdisciplinary approaches. This collaborative nature lead to a holistic and innovative artefact as the result of the study.
↪ Action Design Research
Methodology 01

Overview of the Action Design Research model

As described in the figure by Sein et al. from 2011, the building-intervention-evaluation (BIE) cycles of ADR happen together with practitioners of the field as well as the end-users of the artefact. In this study, practitioners were accessibility experts and end-users were designers, developers and product-managers of the company Famly. Therefore, 2 rounds of major adapations of the artefact were done throughout each BIE-cycle.
On the knowledge and content level, the practitioners affected the findings, while the end-users mostly infleunced the practicability and shape of the artefact/ the design system chapter about accessibility. After 3 BIE cycles, the findings were satisfactory and the chapter was published as a part of the design system of the company on Zeroheight.

Expert interviews with accessibility consultants/developers, industry-leaders and founders of disability organisations were a valuable research method as they provided access to specialized knowledge, unique insights, and validation from recognized authorities. Interviewing them offered insights into real-world application of accessibility guidelines and allowed for flexibility in questioning.
In-depth information and enriching the overall quality of the study was more valuable and feasible in this case than doing my own testing with impaired users.
↪ Interviews with Accessibility experts
Methodology 02
Biweekly meetings with designers, managers and the design-lead at the company secured the feasibility of the project and the pragmatism of the artefact. Based on the findings from the accessibility consultants, the knowledge was transformed into guidelines which were tailored to the company's needs. This was done via an evaluation system as well as on-site testing with employees.
↪ Evaluation with employees
Methodology 03
Overview of the divide of accessibility matters into Pragmatics and Processual and Knowledge categories
Roughly 6 months after the start, the finalised, however still work-in-progress accessibility chapter of Famly's design-system was published internally. It consists of two major knowledge groups, pragmatic accessibility with hands-on tips for designers and developers mainly, as well as processual accessibility, which incorporates guidelines for decision-makers on how to improve accessibility organisation-wide. Besides numerous formulated guidelines and tips, partially following the WCAG and partially not, key findings were the following:

Organisational context was unexpected in its weighting in the findings. The chapter contained advice about creating a systematic process in the organisation, assigning the correct responsibilities, prioritising issues accordingly, raising awareness and considering legislation appropriately.

There is a clear symbiosis between usability and accessibility.

Instead of valuing standards solely, effective accessibility frameworks need to incorporate the different domains of accessibility and valued experiences as well as research.

Another unexpected, overarching finding of this study is that a simple checklist for designers is not enough to assure an accessible product. Processual changes, as well as more requirements for different kinds of positions, are needed to make products holistically accessible. Consequently, the produced artefact/design-system chapter is more than a comprehensive checklist.

↪ Accessibility part in the