An expanded partnership between Microsoft and accessibility software provider Deque Systems aims to widen the reach of developers to create assistive applications for people with disabilities.
Microsoft has added Windows platform support to the Deque axe accessibility rules engine, a tool to test accessibility in applications during the development phase of the application lifecycle. The software giant also has released the source code to its Accessibility Insights tools, which are based on the Deque accessibility rules engine.
Microsoft began to use Deque's (pronounced "Dee-Q") accessibility training courses within its own ranks three years ago, and a year later adopted Deque's rule engine to drive the automated checker for the Microsoft Accessibility Insights tools, said Preety Kumar, CEO of Deque, based in Herndon, Va.
Now Microsoft has released the source code to its Accessibility Insights tools, so the overall community can contribute code for accessibility software tests for Windows-based applications, Kumar said. This will foster more inclusive apps through a shift-left introduction of accessibility testing tools earlier in the development cycle.
Microsoft Accessibility Insights is a set of two free automated tools that run stand-alone or integrate with an organization's build process, to help catch accessibility issues as early as the design phase. They can automatically scan, identify and fix accessibility issues, and enable developers to log bugs.
For its part, Deque will open the source code for its Android and iOS rules so developers' platforms can test their code for web, Windows, Android and iOS apps during the development process using a common, unified approach. Deque also will release free applications based on the axe rules engine, which has been deployed to 25 million devices, Kumar said.
Testing engages a growing accessibility audience
Charles KingAnalyst, Pund-IT
The incorporation of accessibility testing and compliance into the development process is both practically and strategically sensible, and wider availability of accessibility software tools is the right thing to do, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, in Hayward, Calif.
"IT vendors have paid little attention to ensure that their products are available and usable by people with various disabilities, including blindness, hearing loss, color blindness and old age," King said. "Unless those issues are addressed effectively, vendors risk leaving sizable audiences further behind the technological curve than they already are."
Deque's tools can be used in numerous scenarios. They can be integrated early in development efforts or handle remediation and complaint issues, King said. For Microsoft, without these sorts of accessibility efforts, the company risks alienating and abandoning sizable numbers of loyal customers, King said.
More than one billion people worldwide have some type of disability, and their annual disposable income exceeds $1.2 trillion, said Gina Bhawalkar, an analyst at Forrester Research. In the U.S. alone, the population of people over 65 years of age rose from 35 million to over 49 million between 2000 and 2016, she added.
Aging adults typically experience some loss of short-term memory, vision, hearing and fine motor function, which may require them to use assistive technologies. That adds up to potentially trillions of dollars in revenue for companies that provide accessibility software and services and who take an accessibility-first approach to digital experiences, Bhawalkar said.