The Importance of Accessibility in Technology
Apr 08, 2021

A photograph of Amy TengelicsVultr Software Engineer Amy Tengelics specializes in front-end development and usability, and since joining the Vultr Team, she’s become well-known as the "UI Sorceress." Amy’s personal experience with accessibility difficulties has inspired her to find creative solutions for tricky web usability challenges.

When Amy’s diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome forced her to switch careers, her father (a veteran mainframe programmer) inspired her to explore web development. We’re lucky to have her on board here at Vultr, supporting our mission to simplify the cloud. In the Q&A below, Amy shares the importance of accessibility in technology and what her department at Vultr does to ensure inclusiveness.

Why is accessibility important in tech?

Around 15% of the global population identifies as having a disability, including myself. Many of those disabilities interfere with the way a person interacts with technology. By not designing inclusively, you are alienating many potential users to your website, services, or products.

It’s easy to just think this applies to people with vision impairments, but there are so many more aspects that I have to consider when working with our websites. Elements that have hover or mouseover effects can be a nightmare for people with poor hand-eye coordination, fine motor skill impairments, or tremors.

There are even aspects to consider for certain medical conditions that aren’t always considered disabilities. Flashing banners or busy, repetitive patterns are a great way to get a user’s attention but may trigger a seizure in an epileptic person. I know firsthand because my sister has epilepsy.

Color-blindness is not considered a disability, but color scheming can affect whether someone can read your site or see your logo. My father sees only gray-scale, with the exception of brown and red. I want to make sure I design sites so that he can see what I’ve built. UI design can only truly be inclusive if it provides a functional, pleasant experience for everyone.

Here is a picture showing the types of color-blindness and how they can affect the contrasting color choices of your website design.

A simulated example of different types of color-blindness

Why is accessibility important to you personally?

Living with a disability is extremely difficult; I can’t do things that most people do every day. I can’t walk that far, even standing up for extended periods of time is hard. I’ve been in many situations in public places where my needs haven’t even been considered; like being in a building with a perpetually broken elevator, and I need to get to the third floor. It’s extremely frustrating to realize that, in general, people with disabilities have fallen through the cracks in society. I’ve learned to become my own best advocate, loudly and proudly, and I’m in a position where I can advocate for others as well.

That’s one of the factors that attracted me to working at Vultr. Developers can easily manage everything in the dashboard with our Vultr API and Vultr CLI. These allow you full control through a text-based interface in your console with no hindrances for a screen reader or voice-based text input.

A screenshot of the Vultr customer portal

What process does Vultr use to identify issues and adjust for accessibility?

The most important thing is designing with accessibility in mind. If you design inclusively from the very start, you have to make fewer changes later. Following ADA Guidelines when designing and creating new web content is the first step we use here at Vultr. But this alone does not encompass all the steps involved in designing for accessibility.

At Vultr, we use a multi-faceted approach toward identifying problem areas. There are web extensions to quickly identify which web elements are missing accessibility tools like the alternative text on images, ARIA labels and roles, and problematic color schemes.

After those simple fixes, I like to examine each page myself using assistive technology. I personally have three different screen readers installed on my computer: NVDA, Jaws, and VoiceOver. I check that every page is functional with no barriers to any content, the wording and links are concise and specific, and the navigation is clear and does not lead to any dead ends.

Sometimes I run across common wording choices that I would consider to be ableist language choices. When you see "$5.00/mo", your mind translates that into five dollars per month, but a screen reader will pronounce it as "dollar-sign-five-period-zero-zero-slash-M-O..." While I’m sure people using screen readers have grown accustomed to phrases like this, I think it’s important to be more mindful of the wording choices we make.

The most valuable information the development team gets regarding site accessibility comes from our customers with disabilities that use our site every day. I can emulate someone else’s user experience, but it will never be the same as someone living it.

What are some of the changes Vultr has made to be more accessible?

Going back to the ableist language choices I referred to previously, we recently added a link underneath our pricing tables to a more accessible version in our FAQs. Tables, charts, and graphs often do not translate well and are hard to navigate for people with screen readers.

For example, this is the original Vultr pricing table:

A screenshot of the original Vultr pricing table

And this is the same pricing table, updated for enhanced usability and accessibility:

A screenshot of the Vultr pricing table after redesign

While most of our site was accessible via the arrow and tab keys, some of the information was getting skipped. We’ve gone through each page manually and made sure that keyboard controls can reach all the content. We’ve added more back-arrow navigation in the client portal to ensure that no page acts as a dead end. There is certainly more work to be done to make our sites even more inclusive, but we are dedicated to making those changes. We get better with every iteration and will keep aiming higher.

Have you noticed any problems while using Vultr’s website or services? Please feel free to contact us and tell us what problems you encountered and where they occurred. I know I speak for the entire company when I tell you that we want to help. We want to improve everyone’s user experience, and your feedback is extremely valuable to us.

Stay tuned for more about accessibility in tech from Amy and the Vultr Team!

About the Author

Amy Tengelics is a software engineer specializing in front-end development and usability. When her diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome forced her to switch careers, her father, a veteran mainframe programmer, inspired her to explore web development. Since joining Vultr, she has become well-known as the team UI Sorceress.

Amy’s personal experience with accessibility difficulties inspires her to find creative solutions for tricky web usability issues. She enjoys all water sports and can not imagine living more than a short drive from the beach. Any unlikely bugs in Amy’s code can usually be traced to Lulu, her 16-pound Maine Coon mix. Lulu does not understand that keyboards are not cat lounges but, fortunately, has not mastered Git. Yet.