Accessibility Acceptance Criteria in team processes

Background #

While working on the Coles Promotion Manager application, one squad I worked with was tasked with creating a new feature for users to plan and manage a fourth type of promotion. The new promotion type would bundle items from different categories together. For example, a meal deal promotion combining a soup, a main course, and a dessert. However, instead of fixing accessibility issues after building the new feature, we had an exciting opportunity and mandate to design it to be accessible from the start.

Problem #

Our team was new to building and testing with accessibility requirements baked in from the start. We needed a clear and actionable approach to create a new feature that meets accessibility standards without overly taxing team velocity.

Solution #

I chose to use the Accessibility Acceptance Criteria (AAC) whenever possible, rather than referring to the complex and wordy Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

What are Accessibility Acceptance Criteria?

AACs are broad accessibility criteria applied when user stories are created. Instead of developer-focused, they’re BA-focused. And describe key behaviours the finished feature needs to display – an outcome, but they don’t go so far as in specifying how to do it.

Instead, they act as guard rails allowing a developer to implement the feature in any possible way, if the outcome is met.

They define the boundaries of a user story and are used to confirm when a story is complete and working as intended. They’re written in plain language and easily understood by members of a team who have different expertise and varying levels of fluency in each other’s technical jargon.

Accessibility Acceptance Criteria

The 10 AAC are a shortlist of frequently needed accessibility requirements to help teams design, build and test inclusively from the beginning. With a shift left approach, we can avoid much of the costly work of fixing accessibility issues after they are in production.

I mapped each of the 10 AACs to one or more WCAG success criteria to know when we could use the corresponding AAC.

Accessibility Acceptance Criteria map to one or more WCAG success criteria.
Accessibility Acceptance Criteria mapped to corresponding WCAG success criteria.

AAC in design annotations #

Next, I created an AAC annotation component to efficiently annotate design mock-ups.

10 component variants for annotating designs with Accessibility Acceptance Criteria.
Variants of AAC annotation component

Then I added relevant AAC annotations in a margin comments area alongside a design mock-up.

AAC annotation links to the documentation.

Adding AAC to stories #

I worked together with the business analysts to add AAC to stories.

We added acceptance criteria to stories before estimation.

To speed up learning in the early phases, I also added checklist items to stories. For example, with AAC6 I included the checklist item for errors:

Does the screenreader announce each form control error?
  1. Trigger form validation errors. Open NVDA screenreader.
  2. Use Tab and Shift + Tab to navigate through form controls.
  3. Check the form control error is announced by NVDA when focused on the form control.

This made our definition of done clear to everyone in the squad.

AAC in development #

When front-end components needed to be refactored or built from scratch, I collaborated with the tech lead and developers. Using AAC to guide conversations helped us achieve semantic HTML elements and attributes that would meet the desired outcome.

Quality assurance testing with AAC #

With the squad quality assurance testers, I ran coaching workshops on testing with AAC. Each AAC includes one or more checklist items written in plain language, which makes them easy for testers to pick up. This was critical to ensure that new features were implemented as intended. I also provided extra support to testers for AAC that involved using a screen reader.

My tips for screen reader testing in Agile product processes:
  • Learn how to stop the screen reader.
  • Increase the estimate of story points to allow time to learn how to operate the screen reader.
  • Increase the estimate of points for all stories that involve screen reader testing. By nature of needing to listen, it is more time-intensive than other manual inspections.
  • Display the speech output as text.

Results #

The entire team’s capability was uplifted throughout the process. As our team pieced together the new feature, velocity was only impacted as expected as we adopted new ways of working. Using AAC from end to end provided our team with a fast way to build the feature and meet accessibility requirements. Moreover, the team can now build and test web experiences with accessibility from the start.

Mock-ups and component designs included AAC annotations to communicate requirements before user stories were finalised.

Our most used Accessibility Acceptance Criteria were AAC6 Screen reader and AAC7 Form control labelling and inline errors.
Snapshot of user stories shows the most used Accessibility Acceptance Criteria were AAC6 Screen reader and AAC7 Form control labelling and inline errors.

In JIRA, relevant AAC was added to stories alongside business acceptance criteria. This stimulated questions and collaboration among all roles during backlog grooming. Early discussions about our process helped reduce ambiguity and assumptions. This clarity made it easier to estimate stories with certainty. In turn, stories became easier for our product manager to prioritise and schedule.

Conversations with developers gave us a clear understanding of how the accessibility requirements would benefit people using the application.

QA testers quickly gained confidence and competence in manual accessibility testing procedures. They became efficient and effective at identifying passing results and logging a defect when something failed an AAC check.

Bonus result #

Our new product feature uses accessible tooltips. I discovered that there are gaps in the old AAC 2 Content on hover. So I wrote a replacement AAC2 based on Hoverable in WCAG 1.4.13: Content on Hover or Focus (Level AA).

Accessibility Acceptance Criteria and checklist items are available in a public repository.

Then I collaborated with Ross Mullen and he reviewed my refinements to the AAC and merged them into the repository. These 10 Accessibility Acceptance Criteria and checklist items are available for you to adopt in your team and to accelerate accessibility in your projects.