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Designing & Developing for Accessibility throughout the Life Cycle


The study and practice of Web and software accessibility has placed much focus on the creation of coding and design guidelines. Two of the most well-known accessibility standards, the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and U.S. Section 508, offer such guidelines and help developers produce accessible Web content and applications by outlining proper coding and design principles with respect to text, images, forms, multimedia, and the like. In addition, there are many testing tools that have been created to assist developers in evaluating the accessibility of Web content and applications. However, these tools and coding guidelines only address detailed implementation issues at a single point in the phase of a Web application's life-cycle. The individual tools and standards often do not address fully how to inject accessibility into the overall application life cycle — from its conception through requirements, design, development, testing and launch.

Much more is involved in designing and developing a quality accessible Web application than just conforming to a set of guidelines or evaluating using a suite of tools. Activities must be performed by the team throughout the development life cycle to help ensure the developed application is usable, meets both business and user needs, and has a high level of quality. To perform these activities well, accessibility and development experts must work together effectively throughout the life cycle to understand the relationship of various work products that help the team collectively develop an accessible application.

Pre-design Phase

In this phase, the development team needs to make sure that an accessibility strategy for the application is defined. In order to do so, many questions need to be answered including the following:

Design Phase

In this phase, the development team needs to create an application design that takes into account the business and user requirements for accessibility as well as the technical limitations identified in the pre-design phase. Some key questions asked in this phase are:

Development Phase

In this phase, the development team needs to implement the application accessibility strategy and the design decisions made in the previous phase. Questions that need to be addressed include:

Testing Phase

In this phase, the accessibility team seeks to assure the quality of the implementation of the application accessibility strategy. The main questions to address in this phase include:

IBM offers a range of strategic consulting services, including standards integration, governance practices training, and design, development and testing of accessible technology solutions. Government agencies, universities, and private-sector companies can all benefit from these IBM Accessibility Services.

For information on obtaining the full text of Olive and Bill's paper "Designing & Developing for Accessibility throughout the Life Cycle," to inquire about IBM's Accessibility Services, or engage IBM Interactive :: Toronto's Accessibility Practice, please contact:

Richard Daoust