Evolving Native Mobile Accessibility at KP
March 2023: Article by Joseph A Humbert, Mobile Accessibility Lead
Where we have been
Kaiser Permanente Digital (KPD) has been committed to supporting and improving native mobile accessibility for a long time. This commitment stems from multiple goals within KPD. Improving user experience has become a core goal and motivating factor in many of the systemic changes taking place in KPD. Accessibility is an important part of the user experience. The member usage trends have shown that members are more frequently accessing their health information through KP’s mobile website and mobile applications (apps). The more members that use internally developed KP mobile apps and other third-party mobile apps provided by KP, the greater the likelihood that these users may have a disability.
To help support members with disabilities, KPD has been putting resources into identifying and fixing accessibility issues with the mobile apps developed and supported by KP. For internally developed apps, those resources include dedicated accessibility subject matter experts (SMEs) on the testing and quality standards teams as well as SMEs to assist developers with fixing issues, plus external third-party accessibility reviews. Apps are then validated through the KP certification process that includes an accessibility review as part of the User Experience/User Interface (UX/UI) gate. This accessibility review covers accessibility standards that are UX/UI related. The certification process is supported by KP’s Mobile Application Certification Policy, first ratified in November 2016, which includes requirements that mobile applications provided to KP members meet recognized accessibility standards. To understand how the vendor measures the accessibility of their application, KP often asks the vendor to provide a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) or an Accessibility Conformance Statement.
How native mobile accessibility is evolving at KP
The Digital Accessibility Program (DAP) has been collaborating with the UX/UI certification group, Danielle Demerle and Xavier Unamun, to revise the accessibility checkpoints used during certification. This will more closely align the UX/UI certification gate to the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 guidelines as well as provide a better user experience for people with disabilities. In addition, the UX/UI certification group may require a VPAT for third-party applications that are certified by KP. This ensures that KPD has a fuller understanding of the accessibility of these third-party applications through the combinations of the UX/UI gate accessibility checkpoints and the VPAT document. For internally developed mobile applications (such as KP Health Ally and KP Mobile), in addition to the new UX/UI gate accessibility checkpoints, the DAP team has been improving processes and documentation to help “shift left” accessibility. This will help to ensure that accessibility issues are found earlier in the design and development process and potentially resolved before the application is submitted for release.
On the design side, the DAP team is now offering weekly consulting office hours to review and provide feedback for new mobile app designs earlier in the design process. The DAP team also attends the Design System Pattern Review meetings to provide feedback on near final designs. In addition, the DAP team is working in partnership with the Design System team to create an accessibility annotation library. These annotations can be used by designers to better convey the accessibility requirements to developers. This is part of the “shift left” work and is intended to reduce issues when new designs are developed into application content. These annotations are currently being tested in a pilot. A beta version is planned for release in Q3 2023 with full roll out planned before the end of 2023.
On the development side, the DAP team is working with the Mobile Platforms team to roll out Axe DevTools for Mobile for the KP Mobile app. Axe DevTools Mobile is an automated accessibility testing tool. This will enable developers to test their own code for accessibility issues before submitting pull requests to the main KP repositories. The DAP team will be piloting the rollout of these tools over the next few months and intend to complete the rollout to all KP Mobile development squads before the end of 2023.
The DAP team also offers weekly accessibility consultation office hours for both onshore and offshore developers. This allows developers to get assistance with fixes and ask questions about Jira bugs, and for the DAP team to share insights on new methods for coding accessibly.
What does the future hold?
Accessibility, like design and development, is always changing and improving. This includes updates to the industry standard accessibility guidelines, WCAG. The WCAG 2.2 guidelines are set to be formally released by the end of 2023. The DAP team along with its partners in KPD will be prepared for any new guidelines that are introduced. Along with these new accessibility standards, the DAP team is in the early stages of exploring the possibility of implementing a full accessibility gate for certification.
This potential future accessibility gate would be an extension of or separate from the UX/UI gate. This new gate would go beyond UX/UI accessibility checkpoints to include functional WCAG 2.1 AA checkpoints using the assistive technology used by members with disabilities, such as the Voice Over and Talkback screen readers. This functional testing could also help with the verification of the conformance information included in VPATs provided by third parties.
DAP and MCoE will continue to partner on accessibility initiatives and process improvements toensure our users with disabilities have equitable access and that we provide the best digital experience to everyone. For more information on the current and future state of accessibility for native apps, reach out to email@example.com.
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