WebExpo 2024: 5+1 Questions for Ondřej Pohl, Accessibility Director at Actum Digital

The WebExpo 2024 conference is focused on accessibility and offers several opportunities for those interested in this topic to dive deeper into it. One of them is Ondřej Pohl’s talk, Creating an accessible website: Expectations vs. reality.

In this talk, Ondřej will guide you through the whole process of creating an accessible website for the Institute of Experimental Medicine of the Czech Academy of Sciences, from initial planning to the Accessibility Statement. He’ll cover common accessibility mistakes that can occur during the design, development, and content creation stages, providing detailed and specific examples. You will learn how challenging accessibility projects can be, especially if you cooperate with several companies.

Ondřej Pohl

Firstly, let me briefly introduce Ondřej. Ondřej has been working in UX, research, and team management for more than 12 years, but for the last 4+ years, he has primarily focused on accessibility. Currently, he is the Accessibility Director at ACTUM Digital, an international digital technology agency. His main goal is to popularise accessibility and educate people, which he considers the easiest way to make websites and applications accessible. He is also invested in getting the Czech government and public sector to embrace accessibility.

Radek: Can you walk us through the initial planning phase for creating an accessible website? What key considerations should be addressed from the start?

Ondřej: In the initial planning phase for creating an accessible website, several key considerations must be addressed to ensure a successful project. Here are a few crucial aspects to consider:

  • Motivation and goals: It is essential to understand the primary motivation behind making the website accessible. Is the goal compliance with legal requirements, enhancing user experience for a broader audience, or another reason? This will help shape the overall approach and priorities for the project.
  • Team structure and supervision: Determine whether an internal team or an external agency will handle the project. If using an external agency, will the accessibility supervision be part of their contract? Clear roles and responsibilities must be established early to ensure seamless collaboration and accountability.
  • Team experience and expertise: Assess the team’s experience with accessibility. Who will work on the project—seniors, juniors, or a mix? Understanding the team’s skill level will help plan necessary training or support and ensure accessibility best practices are followed.

These factors, among others, can significantly influence the project’s setup, direction, timeline, and cost.

Radek: What are some of the most common accessibility mistakes you’ve encountered during the design phase, and how can they be avoided?

Ondřej: One of the most common issues designers face is creating input fields with outlines with a very low contrast ratio against the background, making it difficult or even impossible for some users to see them. Ensuring a high contrast ratio for input field outlines is crucial to avoid this problem.

Another frequent mistake involves proximity problems. For instance, placing the label of an input field too far from the field itself, or displaying a notification after a successful action far from the interactive element that triggered it. This can pose significant challenges for users with large magnification settings or tunnel vision, making it hard for them to locate the label or notification, resulting in a poor user experience.
Interestingly, most accessibility issues arise during the development phase rather than the design phase.

Radek: How do you handle the coordination and communication challenges when working with multiple companies on an accessibility project?

Ondřej: Managing coordination and communication with multiple companies on an accessibility project can be challenging, especially at the beginning. When three or more companies collaborate, time management and the quality of outcomes can be significantly impacted. Maintaining a friendly and understanding approach without forcing decisions is crucial, as that often leads to backlash.

From my experience, the most important aspect is clearly defining who the final decision-maker is. In situations of disagreement, having a designated person to make the final call is essential to prevent chaos and ensure smooth progress.

Radek: How do you balance the expectations of creating an accessible website with the reality of the practical challenges that arise during the process?

Ondřej: Initial expectations about accessibility often differ significantly from reality. For example, many believe that accessibility is solely the responsibility of developers or that it can be fully automated. To address this, I focus on educating both the team and the client, helping them understand the true scope and nature of accessibility.

Regarding practical challenges during creation, I advocate for a „progress over perfection“ mindset. If we encounter an issue that cannot be made accessible at the moment, we document it for future improvement. Accessibility is a journey, not a destination, and continuous progress is key.

Radek: Based on your experience, what advice would you give to someone starting their first accessibility project to ensure they meet accessibility standards effectively?

Ondřej: This question could be answered in several ways, but I will focus on meeting accessibility standards.

Firstly, suppose your primary goal is to meet accessibility standards and comply with legislation, especially if you are concerned about potential litigation (such as in the United States). In that case, it’s crucial to work with or hire an accessibility professional with proven experience to help you.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many instances where attempts to improve digital accessibility resulted in „Frankenstein“ solutions that sometimes made things worse than if no changes had been made.

Consider this: Would you entrust your project’s cybersecurity to someone with only basic knowledge and no previous experience? The same principle applies to accessibility.

I don’t want to demotivate anyone—it’s commendable when people strive to make things accessible. The principle of „progress over perfection“ is vital. However, to approach accessibility systematically and ensure compliance with legislation, you need to involve experts with the necessary expertise.

If you decide to tackle accessibility independently, without professional help, remember that accessibility is not only about screen reader users. It’s not enough to test your solution with a blind user. Some people use only the keyboard, control digital solutions by voice or eye-tracking, have difficulty understanding the language, are distracted by seeing motion, magnify content, or use mobile devices horizontally, among many other considerations.

Radek: Why should WebExpo attendees join your talk?

Ondřej: Attendees should join my talk because it is practical, educational, and hopefully fun. It will be presented in a way that anyone should understand. They will gain insights into the expectations of companies and teams, which I believe will be interesting and possibly eye-opening for some of them.

Unlike many accessibility talks and webinars, which tend to be more theoretical, my presentation will feature practical examples and actionable information that attendees can take and apply directly to their projects.

Ondřej, thank you very much for the interview, and I look forward to your talk at WebExpo 2024!

For those who would like to join Ondřej and other excellent speakers at WebExpo 2024, there is a coupon code “poslepu“ for 20 % off the ticket price.

Buy the Ticket & Enjoy WebExpo 2024

#2 Ondřej Pohl – Accessibility, Advices on starting in accessibility, Life in the AI time

Radek Pavlíček

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