Partial conformance is the state of everything: 5 questions about accessibility with Lionel Wolberger, COO of UserWay

  • The Web Content Accessibility Guides (WCAG) are expecting an update, while some firms are still playing catch up to older versions of the guidelines.
  • Read about how accessibility technology provider UserWay is playing a role in shaping the upcoming guidelines and what insights they have on the space from their work with FIs.

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Partial conformance is the state of everything: 5 questions about accessibility with Lionel Wolberger, COO of UserWay

Unlike accessibility teams at FIs, accessibility technology providers like UserWay tend to have an industry-wide view of best practices, the state of accessibility compliance, and the challenges in the space. 

Set by the World Wide Web Consortium, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide international standards for how the web should be structured and developed for those who are differently abled. WCAG is periodically updated to ensure the guidelines evolve with the changing technological landscape and industry needs. 

The last update WCAG 2.1 came out in 2018,  and another one is expected soon. WCAG 2.2 will not require quite as big an overhaul as 2.1, but there are firms that are still playing catch up to some of the old versions like WCAG 2.0  To discuss how this update will impact the financial industry, I sat down with Lionel Wolberger, COO of UserWay, to discuss his role in shaping the new generation of guidelines and how UserWay’s clients like banks and online money transfer company Payoneer build accessibility into products that already exist and cannot be overhauled and built anew.

1) How do FIs typically deal with accessibility issues and building more accessible digital products?

They're very detail-oriented. From most of them we get really good cooperation, because they want this to work. But we're in the dev team – we're not in the design team usually. We wish we were getting the design team, as well, since we have design audits and design is the best place to capture accessibility issues. The most sensitivity is around those areas of real financial reporting and financial transactions. And sometimes it's more difficult to help because there's so much control around that. 

We find that some FIs are going for the more low-hanging fruit, which is all the things leading up to account reporting. We would like to see more involvement from the user interaction and user design space. Just to be really honest with you, that's not what we're getting. We're getting dev: “It’s been designed, it's really interactive – can you make this more accessible?” We can, but we wish we were coming in earlier. 

2) There is an ideological push towards shifting accessibility left in product development processes. But you talk an alternative approach which is building accessibility at the edge. How does this factor into the work you do with your FI clients?

Accessibility on the edge is just as respectable. I see this a lot with the FIs. They have code and they can't even touch it. It's like AS 400, the stock exchange still runs stuff on this project. One of our customers, a $50 billion company, has what they call green screens. They will not touch that code. Then what you do is you can fix it at the edge. 

Payoneer is an example of adding accessibility at the edge. They added these abilities through UserWay. For example you can pause the animations, you can hide the images, if you wish, you can make your cursor bigger. You can change the contrast, or you can add a reading guide, which is very useful. These are things that were not programmed in at the source. Slowly the conversation in accessibility is really picking up and asking when is it okay to do things at the edge? And when do we want to put our foot down? 

So you can do all this work at the source, but only the edge really knows certain things for sure, like whether I am blind or deaf. This is a bona fide way of doing things. At WCAG we're busy hashing that out. The bulk of our business is taking what's already there, and adding edge technology that can make things more accessible quickly. 

An image comparing simple cloud computing to cloud computing combined with edge computing. Edge computing is a layer directly atop consumer devices such as laptops, smartphones etc and is used adapt enterprise applications to end-devices.
Source: W3C
Screenshot of Payoneer's website where  UserWay has implemented an accessibility menu that has a range of options like Screen Readers, Smart Contrast, Dyslexia Friendly fonts etc.

3) What are some of the challenges that you face while working on products that are live and running?

The big clients don’t let you touch live, so you have to work on staging. That's another reason why these things take a long time, because getting into staging, getting things set up takes a long time. After our work on staging is done, it needs to be verified. It's just time consuming. There's so many details, you end up with hundreds of tickets, processing them, you need to check the status, you need to verify, and then you need to verify them in many different states. 

You know, a lot of people simplify accessibility as screen reader accessibility, but it's not just screen readers. You have to check whether a person who is deaf can easily access the product, because things tend to be written. But what people often don’t realize is that deaf people have poor reading comprehension skills in general, because particularly the English language is very hard to learn if you can't hear because of all the consonants.

4) Is it better if these FIs have internal subject matter expertise on accessibility?

Your question points to the phrase “nothing about us without us”. There tend to be no disabled people on these teams. We tend to go into dev, and developers are happy to do what you tell them. But then it doesn't extend at all because they can’t relate to the core issue. Generally they don't have screen reader testers – they have one person doing that. 

At one of our non-FI clients which is a partner to the US government health agencies, their Lead Project Manager uses a screen reader. They’re not blind but they still use a screen reader. The difference is day and night. Let’s just say that they’re a partner that can even bring things to our attention. 

5) Your company initially objected to the WCAG 2.2 guidelines during the technical rounds of recommendations, but eventually decided to agree to its passing. What were your objections to WCAG 2.2? 

So one standing complaint that UserWay and I myself personally had, and it started to really make me upset: Look, these people are old. So am I, by the way, but they seem to think that web pages are the stuff we built in the 90s. It was really bothering me, and one day I decided to fight for it.

The WCAG 2.1 guidelines say “sometimes web pages are created that will later have additional content added to them”. Sometimes? They fought back. They said who cares? One reason why no one wants to change this is because the whole theme of 2.2 was cognitive disabilities. And suddenly, there is Lionel talking about partial conformance, which by the way, is what I deal with every day. It's the state of everything. Everything is in partial conformance. It interests me. I got the change made to 2.2. 

You cannot be acknowledged for being partially conformant today, and yet it's the state of everything,  it's the hidden secret. It's the biggest lie of what we're doing. Everything is 'pass/fail' without any room to acknowledge partial conformance to standards. What we hope to change in 3.0 is we will let you say our checkout is perfect. However, the checkout’s order page, with this header and stuff, is a little less perfect. To be able to say where you are, that is the whole trend of what we're doing. No company can stand and say we're totally secure. They say, we do this and we do that. You might even want to be transparent about your efforts. But you know, you're blocked by this, 2.1 and soon to be 2.2. Because it's black and white, you either are or you aren't compliant for the whole website.

So WCAG 3.0 will allow a much more robust and reliable way for companies, large and small, to say, we understand the most important thing in our site is paying your bill. That part is 100%. And we've got this other stuff that we haven't checked yet. We're planning to get to it.

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