Finding and fixing barriers to accessibility

Perkins’ new consulting service can help organizations make their digital and physical spaces accessible to everyone

A man using a computer with a large-print keyboard.

Members of Perkins’ accessibility testing team conduct personalized accessibility audits for clients like Harvard University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

September 17, 2015

Whether it’s a mobile app that tracks expired food or an online course offered by a world-renowned university, Cris Broyles believes that people with disabilities should be able to access it.  

As director of digital accessibility for Perkins Solutions, the technology arm of Perkins School for the Blind, he’s now in a position to make that happen. Backed by a team of technology experts, Broyles has helped the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Harvard University and other organizations develop digital content that’s accessible to everyone.

“Accessibility is the law,” he said. “It’s an implicit part of the Americans with Disability Act. But more importantly, it’s the right thing to do. We really try to help our clients understand what it means to be accessible.”

This fall, Perkins Solutions announced the official launch of its accessibility consulting service, which covers both digital and physical spaces. A company can call on Broyles’ team to assess any aspect of its ICT (information and communication technology), or its buildings and workplaces.

Members of Perkins’ accessibility testing team, each with 20-plus years of technology experience, will then conduct a personalized accessibility audit. The team clicks through a client’s website searching for features that aren’t accessible to someone using assistive technology. They frequently find things like unlabeled arrows, which make navigation difficult for individuals using voice-control software.

“Even clients who have a good handle on accessibility might not be aware of some of those things,” said Broyles, “but they become really evident when you’re working with users who are blind or visually impaired.

“That’s one of the things I love about our testing team,” he added. “I’m not sitting here running a webpage through an automated program. I’m getting real people in there, with real assistive technology, to tell us what works and what doesn’t. Accessibility is more than meeting standards.”

At the end of the process, clients receive a comprehensive audit report detailing issues and offering solutions. The report also includes an accessibility score for managers who want to know how their website measures up, but Broyles said it’s less of a report card and more of a roadmap.

“The report is a blueprint for accessibility; it outlines a path forward,” he said. “Our philosophy is to assess, remediate and sustain – we’re identifying issues but also explaining them and providing recommendations to address them.”

The process helped organizations like the University of Notre Dame ensure that its current and future web content can be viewed by the largest possible audience.

“The team at Perkins helped us find the correct balance of device and page coverage that worked within our budget,” said Erik Runyon, the university’s technical director of marketing communications. “The final report and follow-up not only gave us practical advice on how to improve the site that was tested, but also lessons we can take forward into future projects.”

Learn more about Perkins’ accessibility consulting services »