Rapid Discovery and Remediation

This is the continuation of a previous post: Extreme Accessibility: Rapid Discovery And Remediation, Part 1. In this post, I’ll explain a better process.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve arrived at the hard-to-avoid conclusion that the traditional accessibility audit process is not focused on making things better for the customer, it is focused on consultants getting paid for a tangible deliverable. The traditional audit process is one in which the consultant finds issues, documents those issues, and provides a long-form deliverable. The customer must then parse that deliverable to determine for themselves what action they must take. The traditional audit process leaves the customer with the sole responsibility to take action on the audit report contents in order to actually fix problems. Further, it serves as a monumental delay to actually fixing problems.

Depending on the time of year, most accessibility consulting firms will be running a few weeks before they can get started on a new audit. Depending on the nature of the audit it will be a few more weeks before the audit is in hand. Only after the client has the audit in hand will they be able to understand the scope of work necessary for repairing the problems. Some consultants say they’ll offer support and advice after the audit report has been delivered but this is often at extra cost and at the expense of more time.

In my experience, it will be at least a few more weeks before the client will be able to find and schedule the development resources needed to fix the issues found in the report. At minimum, you are looking at around two months from the time you sign the contract with your consultant to the time actual code is getting fixed in a traditional audit-then-fix process.

What we need is a better, faster, and more efficient mechanism of getting accessibility data, reporting that data, and using that data to fix the problems uncovered. We also need to ensure that all relevant participants and stakeholders get what they need from the process. This alone proves the case against a single format report deliverable.

I’d like to propose a new approach, which I call Rapid Discovery and Remediation. Rapid Discovery and Remediation is collaboratively focused on improving the client system(s) as quickly as possible and with as much positive impact as possible.

There are four core principles to Rapid Discovery and Remediation:

  1. Leverage each testing technique for what they’re best at finding and report issues as soon as they’re discovered.
  2. Effectively prioritize the issues uncovered during testing.
  3. Begin the remediation work as soon as possible – preferably while testing is performed
  4. Iterate over this process in incrementally improve the system.

Leverage each testing technique for what they’re best at finding

Before embarking on this type of process, it is important to understand the strength and weaknesses of different types of testing. Automated testing is the fastest way to get accessibility test results, provided you’re using a reliable and accurate accessibility testing tool. The efficiency provided by automated testing can be leveraged, especially in early phases, to discover issues quickly and early in the process.

Later phases must include manual testing, use case testing and, where appropriate, usability testing. There are piles of things automated testing cannot find. Leveraging automation early (and ongoing) is a powerful way to find accessibility problems, but it must be backed up by humans who are experts at this type of work.

In all cases, issues should be reported as soon as they’re discovered and those issue reports should be visible to the customer as soon as possible. This can be done through the client’s issue tracking mechanism or through ours.  This gives the client immediate insight into what’s happening and where and allows them to dive in and begin fixing things as well.

Effectively prioritize the issues uncovered during testing

Not all accessibility issues are the same. The primary goal of Rapid Discovery and Remediation is not just to fix issues, but to fix the issues that have the highest impact. Put another way, we want to concentrate on having the greatest positive impact for the user. Not only does this achieve the best accessible user experience, but it also reduces the most risk. This requires applying an effective and efficient prioritization approach.  Our proprietary prioritization approach allows us to clearly identify the most important issues to fix first. As testing phases progress, the most important issues always bubble up to the top, which makes remediating issues highly efficient – especially when used in a Kanban approach.

Begin the remediation work as soon as possible – preferably while testing is still being performed

Work to address these issues should begin as soon as issues are found and deployed as soon as they’re fixed, providing immediate positive results for end users. In early phases, the efficiency of automated testing can be used to test large volumes of code in a very short period of time. The results of this testing should be analyzed to determine patterns that exist in common templates. It can also be used to determine production patterns that contribute to issues that are pervasive across the system. In both cases, fixing these issues will have huge impact. In the following phases – often concurrent with the above – manual testing is added to the mix and those issues are fixed as they’re found, too.

Sometimes the work to fix the accessibility problems requires additional assistance. This is where other consulting firms offer a style of “Help Desk” support. While this is often a good way to get advice, the back-and-forth of a “Help Desk” still lacks efficiency. At Tenon, we’ve taken a more extreme approach to this concept: Pair Programming. Tenon staff actually go on-site with customers and do real-time testing and even writing the necessary code to fix the problems found in testing. This collaborative approach results in more definitive guidance, happening in real-time, that is more likely to result in effective repairs.

Iterate over this process

In all phases we focus on the process of find, prioritize, fix, and deploy. It is important that each round doesn’t just focus on testing, but also fixing errors, too. This is where effective prioritization shows its power. With each iteration, we have maximum positive impact. While every situation is unique, all other things being equal, this process of iteration will result in a far more accessible system in a shorter period of time.

If report deliverables are needed, the data for these deliverables can be derived from this process. Exports from issue tracking systems can be massaged into deliverables and those deliverables can be updated at each phase.

Better for Users, Better for Site Owners, Better for Compliance & Risk Mitigation

It is important to understand one universal truth when it comes to accessibility: All ICT products and services have accessibility problems. There are very few compelling reasons (such as litigation) to have an audit done on your product. We should instead focus on doing work that is focused on actively fixing the system’s issues. Using Rapid Discovery and Remediation, we can find issues quickly and fix them quickly. This means that the customer saves money and that their systems are brought into compliance more quickly as well. Nothing mitigates risk like bringing a system into compliance. Rapid Discovery and Remediation is the best way to do so.

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