Der Frontend-Experte Thomas Jaggi im Interview

«Internet is a platform for all» – Accessibility means everything

Thomas Jaggi, Expert Frontend Engineer at Unic, participated in the development of the recently launched Accessibility Developer Guide (ADG) in cooperation with the «Access for All» foundation and the agencies Zeix AG, Liip and Hinderling Volkart. He talks about the community’s initiative, his engagement for a barrier-free digital world and the significance of accessibility for Unic.

Accessibility – contents accessible to all website visitors

Thomas, you have devoted several years to the topic of freedom from digital barriers. How do you define «accessibility» and when is a website actually «barrier-free»?

Thomas Jaggi: In my opinion, a website is barrier-free when its contents are accessible to all users. Accessibility means in particular the fact that people with impairments – for example with impaired vision or blind, deaf, or with motor or cognitive impairments – can have unrestricted access to website contents just like users without such impairments.

Has the field changed since you started your activity related to accessibility? How can you tell the changes? 

Browser applications have better performance now than a few years ago. And websites have become more interactive. These developments are actually very useful because the user experience is improving for us, users. However, the side effect is that it has become more difficult to create barrier-free websites. Therefore, we have to be even more careful to create websites in such a way that they can be used also by people with impairments. 

Let’s try to take a look into the future. Is the Internet barrier-free in a few years? 

My personal goal – but also Unic’s goal – is that websites have fewer barriers in the future than today. Because the Internet is a platform for all. To exclude certain user groups because we don’t have the know-how required for implementation is unnecessary and a pity. The Accessibility Developer Guide brings us one step closer to this goal. The instructions and code examples from ADG help us, developers, create better platforms from the very beginning. 

The Internet is a platform for all. To exclude certain user groups because we don’t have the know-how required for implementation is unnecessary and a pity.

Unic and accessibility – we develop barrier-free websites

What is the significance of accessibility in Unic’s web projects?

Unic has always attached extraordinary importance to accessibility and we raise the awareness of our developers regarding this issue. When executing projects, we always attempt to achieve the WCAG 2.0 AA level. WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and refers to international guidelines that define the worldwide standard for barrier-free web contents.  

Which projects are particularly valuable thanks to their exceptionally good accessibility?

In this respect, the relaunch of SBB.ch was certainly the biggest challenge. We had to make sure that a number of components were as consistent and as easy to use over a multitude of channels for all customers – whether it be through touch-, mouse-, or keyboard-input, with or without screen readers. 

From the very beginning we chose an iterative procedure and tested and improved the components regularly in close collaboration with «Access for All». This process proved to be successful. 

Since sbb.ch is a big and complex website, this kind of work is never finished, though. Therefore, accessibility is still a key focus in the ongoing development. 

Accessibility Developer Guide – this way a barrier-free frontend is achieved

You have already mentioned the Accessibility Developer Guide (ADG). What is ADG actually? 

The Accessibility Developer Guide is a platform on which all information about accessibility in the frontend is bundled. It contains specific instructions and shows how to, e.g., configure a screen reader, set up a test environment or implement a tooltip without barriers. In addition, ADG offers many code examples and test results and deals with the limits of a solution. This way ADG answers the crucial questions concerning accessibility in the frontend. 

What is the origin of the need for ADG and to whom is ADG addressed primarily?

ADG stems from the direct need on the part of frontend developers. Because we, developers, are the primary consumers of ADG. We know this problem from our everyday work – we have to gather information about freedom from barriers laboriously and from a multitude of sources. To make matters worse, it is often unclear if the information is reliable, because, for example, there are no test results. ADG collects and bundles all relevant information in a single portal. 

What was your purely personal motivation to collaborate on this guide or to work on the topic of accessibility so intensively?

The topic of accessibility is and was my priority also in the past. For me, it was all the more unfortunate that we, as a community, had to struggle to share the necessary know-how. Apart from that, the knowledge often concentrated on specific individuals. This is the reason why I’m happy that thanks to the launch of the Accessibility Developer Guide the knowledge and experiences are now documented as an open source initiative. At best, the Guide will save us, agencies, much time in the future and we will be able to create better websites from the very beginning. 

The first version of ADG was launched on 19 June 2018. Is your mission accomplished now?

No, definitely not. Because there are still may things by which we want to expand the platform. For instance, there are no instructions for certain widgets and there are topics that have not been covered in the Guide at all, such as the concept of barrier-free e-mails.

In particular, now the task is to keep the information included in ADG up-to-date. Because ADG is an open source project, I would like to invite all frontend developers to actively participate in it. We are looking forward to exciting inputs from the community, which will help improve and develop ADG further.

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