First Fuel and Perkins Access: Improving Digital Accessibility, Gaining A Competitive Edge

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FirstFuel is the global leader in customer engagement for energy providers and their business customers. The company has developed an analytics platform that turns complex energy data into insights that help utilities work more effectively with their customers.

Increasingly, the company noticed that prospective customers were building digital accessibility requirements into their requests for proposals.

From a business perspective, it made sense for FirstFuel to assess the overall accessibility of their platform. “We were going to be doing that work anyway,” said Rick Kellstrom, Sr. UX UI Designer. “In this market, it’s a competitive edge to be accessible.”

Why Perkins Access?

At the time, First Fuel didn’t have an accessibility expert in-house. But the company’s VP of Products had engaged with Perkins Access in the past and had a very good experience.

On that recommendation, First Fuel began exploring the partnership.

Early on, it was clear that the two organizations would work well together. “Perkins speaks the language – it’s reassuring to work with a partner that understands the lingo and knows the best practices,” said Kellstrom. “Working with Perkins was a very collaborative experience.”

FirstFuel opted to begin the engagement by having Perkins conduct a full accessibility audit and guide the remediation work on their platform.

“As we kicked off the project, it was apparent that this was going to be a great partnership,” said Gary Aussant, Director of Digital Accessibility at Perkins Access. “FirstFuel was really interested in understanding how to improve the user experience for people with disabilities and they were very responsive to our recommendations. We knew they were going to be a great client to work with.”

Accessibility and Improving the User Experience

“I knew that there would be a lot of change coming, and that was a good thing. It’s all about user experience – and Perkins Access helped us keep that in mind. The more accessible the platform became, the more user-friendly it would be,” Kellstrom said.

And in the end, all the change was worth it.

“It was a big pill to swallow, but we got through it and now we’re in a much better position. Better performance is better for everyone,” he said. “The incredible thing with Perkins is seeing how detailed and how thoroughly they approach accessibility – and do it the right way. The team was a great guide for us to follow. The recommendations always work out well.”

Building Accessibility In Means Better Products Today – and Tomorrow

Once the audit and remediation work were complete, FirstFuel committed to the idea that what they learned about accessibility would become ingrained into their culture.

“The accessibility work we’ve done with Perkins will absolutely influence the way we develop our product going forward,” Kellstrom said.

Accessibility is now built into the quality assurance (QA) process. Every feature must reflect a best attempt to address accessibility issues. For example, new features and functions are tested on mobile and desktop using screen reader software to ensure that visually impaired users can easily access the information.

“Our primary job as consultants is to help our clients walk before they can run,” Aussant said. “Like most digital companies, FirstFuel is not going to stop adding new features and functionality to their product. Our partnership with First Fuel helped them create a sustainable approach to accessibility so that they can successfully maintain an experience that works for all people, including those with disabilities.”

“We’re in a much better situation than we were a year ago – and we’re still coming back to Perkins for regular check-ins, but there are a lot fewer issues popping up,” said Kellstrom. “Perkins Access has changed the way we work.”