Trickle Down Accessibility – CSUN Preview

I will be discussing Trickle-Down Accessibility at the 2018 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference on Wednesday, March 21 at 2:20 pm in Cortez Hill C, 3rd Floor, Seaport Tower.

The following is the proposal for this presentation. I will publish the final presentation for further details.

Trickle-Down Accessibility Proposal

Trickle Down Economics[1] suggests economic growth benefits all members of society. The focus is on tax benefits for corporations and the higher income population, as they have the potential for making larger impacts in economic growth. Providing financial incentives to this population will, in theory, eventually result in higher prosperity for all.

Matt May’s observation on Twitter in 2016 raised awareness of Trickle Down Accessibility:

“Watching a blind advocate tell someone with another disability to center blind issues first and wait for the benefits to trickle down. Wow. [2]”

Focusing on screen reader accessibility has distinct advantages for product developers. If your application works with a screen reader, it should also be usable with a keyboard, voice recognition, and switch control devices. Screen reader accessibility also falls in line with automated testing tools.

However, there are many disabilities, and assistive technologies, that are not necessarily benefited by this focus on the blind/low-vision community. Color contrast, closed captioning, readability, consistency in design, user customization, session timeouts, and animation distraction are just a few examples of concerns that often go unaddressed.

The Broader Picture

This presentation is not meant to downplay the goals of making your products accessible for the blind/low-vision population, rather a challenge to also recognize gaps within your testing and development plans. Discover the key areas not being addressed and how other companies using this broader view to create innovative new experiences.

This talk will include examples from Intuit and other companies that have recognized these gaps and what they’ve learned and implemented.

Recognizing the voice of your customers

What are you missing from your customers? It’s impossible to join every discussion group, forum, mailing list, and meetup group. At Intuit, we’ve begun data mining our customer feedback channels, with a set of keywords, to discover buried communications. While it’s not catching everything, we have been able to find patterns and prioritize changes based on feedback from different communities.

We’ve found our deaf and hard of hearing customers have been advocates for our products; with a key emphasis on chat-based support systems. We’ve also discovered patterns of detractors focusing on low-contrast and small font size.

The Open University[3] has been using student feedback forms to track student’s satisfaction during the entire course involvement.

“Our analysis suggests that procedural themes, such as changes to the individual over time, and their experiences of interpersonal interactions, provide key examples of areas where feedback can lead to insight for the improvement of accessibility.”

Supporting the deaf and hard of hearing community

Microsoft is a company that has benefitted greatly from expanding their outreach to all customers. Microsoft Translator[4], an application that allows individuals to communicate in multiple languages, is an example of a product greatly improved after receiving feedback from a deaf colleague. They added speech to text support and now a deaf or Hard of Hearing individual can communicate in a group setting with people speaking a variety of languages.

Microsoft’s Disability Answer Desk[5] provides customer support for all customers with a disability. They have added American Sign Language videophone support as well as text and voice support.

The “Silver Tsunami”

Intuit, like other companies, is continually searching for the next generation of loyal customers. This leads to focus studies and user testing based on the interests of customers between the ages of 18-35. However, the over 65 community is the largest and fastest growing population around the world[6].

“My Legacy” was a recent campaign by Intuit’s LaCerte product team. LaCerte is software for professional accountants and this campaign focused on customers preparing to retire. Understanding the needs and concerns of this customer base is important for helping accounting firms continue to grow as their leaders retire.

Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia

Data accuracy is critical for some applications, such as Intuit’s QuickBooks accounting software. This is complicated when the user has dyscalculia, difficulty in understanding number-related concepts and symbols, dysgraphia, difficulty in writing characters, or dyslexia, difficulty with reading.

Research by Ricardo Baeza-Yates, Yahoo Labs, and Luz Rello, Carnegie Mellon University, on font type, size, and line-height discovered design patterns that helped and hindered the comprehension of content text heavy web sites[7][8]. There’s a lot of information surrounding dyslexic support, but actual user studies allowed them to quantify what factors can actually improve readability.


Supporting the blind and low-vision population is a key element of building accessible products. It’s important to realize the work done towards this aspect of accessibility doesn’t necessarily improve the usability for other customers with different disabilities. Expanding your scope will lead to better products and increased innovation. This presentation explores these opportunities.

[1] Trickle-Down Theory, Investopedia, Trickle Down Theory

[2] Twitter, @MattMay, January 27, 2016: ted_drake on Twitter: “@mattmay #trickleDownA11y”

[3] Understanding Accessibility as a Process through the Analysis of Feedback from Disabled Students, Tim Coughlan, 2017.

[4] Microsoft Translator, Microsoft Translator | Conversations | Break the language barrier

[5] Disability Answer Desk: Disability Answer Desk | Microsoft ​

[6] Silver Tsunami, National Conference of State Legislatures, 12/1/2013 States have a fairly long to-do list to get ready for the health care needs of an aging America.

[7] Make It Big! The Effect of Font Size and Line Spacing on Online Readability CHI ’16: ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. San Jose, CA, May 7-12. Make It Big! The Effect of Font Size and Line Spacing on Online Readability (.pdf)

[8] The Effect of Font Type on Screen Readability by People with Dyslexia. ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing (TACCESS). ACM New York, NY, USA.


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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