QuickBooks Desktop Accessibility

Find out how QuickBooks Desktop for Windows was rebuilt to make it accessible. QuickBooks for Desktop was originally developed before Microsoft’s accessibility APIs. The program was built upon custom drawn elements and the accessibility was always minimal.

However, a small group of developers and users worked together in 2013 to fix the issues within the core and added screen reader scripting to make QuickBooks 2014 accessible.

This presentation was developed for the ATIA 2014 conference in Orlando to show what is possible, even with a legacy product, when there is a commitment to making an accessible product.

Dixie’s Dilemma

This video introduces Dixie. It was originally created for QuickBooks upper management to understand the problems caused by QB inaccessibility. It’s effectiveness was stronger than we hoped and the video was released officially by Intuit.

My Blind Spot

Introduction to MyBlindSpot’s work with Intuit.

QuickBooks History

  • Older than MSAA platform
  • Custom, not standard, components
  • No awareness of impact
  • Workarounds became the norm

QuickBooks was build in 1990’s before Microsoft’s MSAA platform was established. Unfortunately the core of QuickBooks was built on custom elements that had no standard interface with the Accessibility APIs. Engineers continued to work with custom elements, as there was not an understanding of the accessibility impact. As the product matured, elements began integrating standards and some elements were more accessible. However, blind users still had to discover their own workarounds to use the product.

QB 2013 Broken Promises

  • Significantly simplified interface
  • Worse accessibility for screen reader users
  • Improved low vision and cognitive accessibility
  • JAWS Script-only fix attempt
  • Blind user testing did not solve problems prior to product launch

QB 2013 was a significant re-build with a new, simplified interface. Designers paid significant attention to low vision and cognitive accessibility. Unfortunately, the engineers made the product less accessible with the new set of custom components. QB was testing with blind users, but were not able to solve the increasingly bad developments prior to product launch.

QuickBooks 2013 was a mixed bag. There were attempts to add more accessible, but they efforts were not effective. This led to a fundamental re-evaluation.

QuickBooks 2014 A New Commitment

Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.

C. S. Lewis

It became clear that we needed to do a full evaluation of what went wrong to truly make a positive push towards accessibility.

Key Learnings

  • Get executive buy-in for full support
  • Create a diverse, strong team
  • JAWS scripts were not enough
  • Fix the core structure
  • Automated QA test solutions

Executive Support

  • QuickBooks executives introduced to accessibility impact on a personal level.
  • Dixie’s video and meeting with Albert Rizzi led to expanded support.
  • Accessibility became a “no trade-off” position for QB 2014.

While executives understood the accessibility challenge, we needed them to fully embrace the efforts and provide the budget to hire consultants (DeQue and My Blind Spot) to make this work. They also committed to making this a permanent effort and to include outreach and education.

Diverse Team

  • Cheryl Aranha (QuickBooks) – Project Management, Lead Engineer
  • Steven Clark and John Martyn (My Blind Spot) Scripting and User expertise
  • Sujasree Kurapati (DeQue) – C++ and Accessibility API expertise
  • Albert Rizzi (My Blind Spot) – User testing, training, outreach management
  • Lori Samuels (Intuit) – Project and Strategy Management

Cheryl’s team expanded as she was able to reach across the QuickBooks team to find help on specific problems. For instance, tracking down engineers that previously worked on components.

JAWS Scripts

  • John Martyn demonstrated his JAWS scripts for QB 2012 at NFB 2012
  • Screen layout dependent
  • Slow and fragile
  • Required significant changes for QB 2013

The scripts were a valiant effort, but were limited by the lack of control information provided by the program. With no solid identification of objects, the scripts had to investigate the page to discover the identity of each element.

Fix The Core

  • Focus on the components
  • Identify their state,class, name, and control ID
  • Start with one page, expand to full product
  • Regression testing critical

QuickBooks is fundamentally a mature product with a large user base. Our first priority was to fix the accessibility issues without introducing new issues. Start small (one screen) allow changes to bubble up across the product.

Automated Testing

  • Automated tests navigate the product.
  • If they can do it, why can’t we?
  • The tests gave us foundation for discovering component information
  • Core fixes improve automated testing

Accessibility projects need to include automated testing, as they go hand in hand. With QB, the automated tests included complicated methods to grab component information. We were able to use this information to make these custom components work for everyone. Working with QA incorporated regression testing to ensure product stability.

User Testing

  • Steven and Sujasree brought extensive screen reader experience
  • Small business and accountants
  • Testing for barriers and inconsistencies
  • Testers helped each other


  • QB 2014 release included basic accessibility
  • JAWS Scripts make product much more usable
  • NVDA and WindowEyes under development
  • Subsequent releases have increased support to 90%
  • Roadmap for QB 2015 and future releases


  • Current users have developed their own workarounds
  • These will be affected with new release
  • Education to use QB 2014 natively
  • Accessible training materials

Real World Training provides official training for QuickBooks, this information is used towards building the accessible documentation

This is an introduction video from Richard Kelly on setting up QuickBooks to work with JAWS.

Interesting Discoveries

  • Custom focus color was blocking JAWS
  • Detect screen reader to remove skins
  • Beta testing platform was not accessible
  • Document shortcut keys for consistency

QuickBooks used a green highlight color. JAWS looks for blue or black and was not able to detect the green focus indication. Better yet, changes were made to use true focus instead of only visual indication Detecting the screen reader via Microsoft’s wm_getobject allowed us to disable the problematic skin and focus on core elements. Beta testers were initially blocked by a third party software that was not accessible.


Published by Ted

Accessibility is more than making sure images have alternate text. I work with engineers, product managers, and designers to understand how accessibility impacts the users, set realistic deadlines, and create the solutions to provide a delightful experience to all users, regardless of their physical, sensory, or cognitive ability.

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