Techshare India: Accessibility is more than a checklist item

Yahoo! has been doing some fine work towards setting best practices around accessibility and making Yahoo! properties more usable to everyone. I want to focus on some of the initiatives Yahoo! Bangalore has taken over the last couple of years, which we described at the recent Techshare India 2010 conference in New Delhi.

Web developers in Yahoo! Bangalore conscientiously stay up-to-date with standards and technologies in accessibility. One example of the results from such efforts was when we relaunched Yahoo! Mail classic, with tons of great usability features.

Initially, a couple of us were actively involved in doing code reviews and usability reviews. Today, the group is much larger and is passionately backed up by the User Engagement group. This group, along with a few more engineers from various teams, have been doing a lot of evangelism to promote good user experiences. Victor Tsaran from the Yahoo! Sunnyvale office also has been of great help for providing the resources and help whenever needed. He has made a couple of trips to Yahoo! Bangalore to educate the employees and the public.

Techshare India 2010 conference

At the Techshare India 2010 conference held in New Delhi recently, Yahoo! got a great response, both at its booth at the conference and the presentations made by Srinivasu Chakravarthula and Subramanyan Murali. Techshare conferences aim at providing an opportunity to the government, corporates, NGOs, educators, and the disabled to bridge barriers with an inclusive perspective.

Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment at Yahoo! booth

Srinivasu, who presented on the Need for Web Accessibility in Developing Countries, says “The presentations at the event focused on the importance of accessibility from a business prospective and how it helps not just people with disabilities, but everyone.”

My talk — titled Fixing the Developer Mindset — focused on how small steps upfront in the development cycle can go a long way in supporting accessibility. Processes like code preliminaries and UED reviews have benefited us greatly.

At the conference, demos on the Yahoo! homepage, Yahoo! Mail, Yahoo! Search, Yahoo! Cricket, and Yahoo! Careers were made. We were happy to use an open source screenreader NVDA to demonstrate Yahoo! properties.

Yahoo! India Accessibility lab

To handle accessibility requests and manage the various initiatives better, the Yahoo! India Accessibility lab was set up in the year 2009. The lab is equipped with various assistive technology devices like screen readers, screen magnifiers, switches, voice recognition tools, and the like. Designers and developers can try out the various products on these devices to get a feel of the experience offered to the end user.

The lab is also set up to educate engineers through courses offered through the learning and development team. The Accessibility lab works closely with UED, Product, Development, and QA at various phases. The end goal to all of this is to incorporate accessibility requirements and best practices at the very beginning of a software development life cycle so that there are not surprises during the delivery of the product.

Upcoming initiatives

Srinivasu Chakravarthula, who manages the Accessibility Lab in Yahoo! Bangalore, works closely with other Accessibility gurus around the world to create a wow! experience for Yahoo! properties. Some of the initiatives he is currently heading are Yahoo! Mail, Yahoo! Search, Yahoo! homepage, Yahoo! Weather, and Yahoo! Careers.