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Questions and answers about the IBM accessibility developer guidelines

For more than a decade, the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center has published and updated accessibility guidelines (also known as accessibility checklists) for developers and testers. Perhaps you use them or know about them and have questions about these often-quoted accessibility pointers…

Who?

  1. Who developed the IBM developer guidelines (accessibility checklists)?
    That's an easy one to answer. The members of the Technical Consulting team in the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center developed the accessibility checklists and have kept them up-to-date throughout the years. This team includes members who work with, and often lead, the standards and regulations bodies that produce accessibility guidelines. Their efforts ensure the checklists incorporate the most current accessibility research and knowledge in government and industry.
  2. Who can, or should, use the IBM accessibility checklists?
    Product designers, developers and testers in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry should investigate these checklists. Any one who is working on Web applications, software programs, Lotus Notes applications, plug-ins or add-ons, hardware or "self-contained" hardware such as copiers, printers, fax machines or kiosks or documentation, including presentations and email, can benefit from the comprehensive information contained in the checklists.

What?

The basic questions here are "What is accessibility?" and "What are the checklists?"

Accessibility, as it pertains to ICT, is about removing barriers that prevent people from using it. People with disabilities, mature users, and non-native language learners are just some of the people who encounter these barriers. Furthermore, in the new mobile, connected world, everyone, at some time, will encounter barriers and difficult situations. When you design or modify software or hardware to allow access by the greatest number of people in the greatest number of situations, you make it accessible.

Complying with accessibility standards will help you create accessible products. IBM harmonizes its accessibility checklists with the U. S. Standards for Electronic and Information Technology, (developed by the Access Board for Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act) and the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) recommendations. Following these guidelines and meeting the intent of the checklists can help you understand what you need to do to make your technology and information accessible.

Specifically, IBM publishes six accessibility checklists that cover the ICT landscape from Web applications to printers. Each checklist consists of one or more checkpoints. Each checkpoint includes the rationale for fulfilling the requirements associated with that checkpoint, design and development techniques, and several concrete examples.

Additional design and development techniques, as well as a large repository of internal testing procedures and "how-to" instructions are not published externally. IBM maintains these resources for their internal designers, developers and testers. However, IBM offers these materials to our clients and partners to help them jump start their ICT accessibility transformation.

If you are developing an ICT application or product in any of the following areas, IBM has you covered:

When?

The answer is "early and often!" Incorporating accessibility into your technology doesn't have to be difficult or expensive — if it is a factor at the front end of your design and is integrated throughout the design, development and test process. Think of accessibility as a component of all your development and testing activities, rather than as an isolated component of the project.

Creating documents and applications that are accessible by more people can be relatively easy as long as basic steps are followed:

  1. Understand the rationale for the requirements.
  2. Implement techniques found in the accessibility checklists.
  3. Use assistive technology and automated tools like IBM Rational Policy Tester, and engage people who have disabilities to test the design and implementation of the application.

Where/How?

You can find the IBM Accessibility Checklists under the "Developer guidelines" navigation item on the ibm.com/able site.

Why?

The primary reason to use the IBM accessibility checklists is to produce accessible products that are usable by the millions of people who have disabilities or who are operating under other conditions that cause barriers to a satisfying and enjoyable ICT experience. Creating accessible products can also help you:

And, why does IBM provide this guidance?

For many years, IBM has been a leader in developing assistive technology and making ICT accessible to people, including those who have disabilities. Technologies such as voice recognition, captioning, and speech output improve the ability to access ICT for people who have disabilities. In addition, these technologies are increasingly in demand by today's connected and mobile individuals seeking added convenience and ease-of-use.

IBM is committed to creating accessible and easy-to-use technologies that enhance the overall workplace environment and contribute to the productivity of all employees. In the new social business, accessibility is more important than ever. IBM Connections is a prime example of this commitment – its software components were developed and tested in compliance with the accessibility checklists.

More importantly, helping more people benefit from computing and information resources is part of IBM's larger vision of a smarter, more inclusive planet. Check it out.

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