Last month we held an event entitled, “Digital Accessibility in the Legal Space”, which focused on digital accessibility barriers, accessible user-informed design, and innovative accessibility practices. Maggie Austen, a Massachusetts attorney, offered a firsthand account of her frustration with internet accessibility.
When Maggie was a student lawyer at the Suffolk University Health Law Clinic, she discovered that a feature on the Massachusetts Trial Court Electronic Case Access website made it difficult for her to file documents remotely. Maggie has a visual impairment, and uses magnification and text-to-speech software to access content online. Maggie submitted a request to the court in December 2021 on behalf of a client who needed assistance, but ran into issues when the website required her to answer a challenge image (also known as a CAPTCHA). As a security precaution, these challenge pictures are intended to prevent non-humans from accessing critical data. Unfortunately, Maggie was unable to read the challenge image on this page. Even with her assistive technology, this made it difficult for her to do her job and put her at a disadvantage compared to other student lawyers. Luckily, Maggie had the support of her professor, Liz Valentin, to write a letter to Mass Courts recounting how inaccessible their website actually was and citing Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act to support her statement.
A week after the letter was addressed, Mass Courts removed the challenge image.
Maggie’s story has many lessons about facing barriers when it comes to accessing technology, but one stands out above the rest: Legal Tech companies have a special opportunity to prioritize accessibility within their designs so that their products are useful to everyone, regardless of ability. However, how can we guarantee that our designs are indeed inclusive?
The Value of Disability Perspectives
It cannot be overstated that people with disabilities are experts in their own experiences and integral to the design process. By prioritizing and integrating accessible experiences from the start, designers can create products that are universal.
Here’s a list of key considerations every person involved in creating a legal tech product must prioritize when creating accessible products:
Accessibility Guidelines: Make sure that the Legal Tech product meets the most recent accessibility guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines provide a clear framework for creating accessible digital products.
User Testing: Test the product with people who have disabilities to make sure it works for them and that you understand how different people use what you have built. This will help identify any barriers that users with disabilities may face when using the product.
Keyboard Navigation: Ensure that the Legal Tech product can be fully accessed and navigated using a keyboard only, as many people with disabilities rely on keyboard navigation to access digital content.
Color Contrast: Ensure that there is sufficient color contrast in the product design to make it accessible to people with visual impairments. This can be achieved by using color contrast checking tools.
Text Alternatives: Provide text alternatives for non-text content, such as images and videos, to make the content accessible to people with visual impairments and other disabilities.
Audio and Video Captions: Provide captions and transcripts for audio and video content to make it accessible to people with hearing impairments.
Assistive Technology Compatibility: Make sure that the legal tech product is compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers and magnifiers, which are often used by people with disabilities.
Empathy in Design
Empathy is an important tool for designers who want to create products that are truly inclusive. It's not enough to simply include accessibility features - designers must also understand the experiences of people with disabilities. As mentioned above, UX researchers can conduct user testing and compensate for their time and expertise.
Testing Accessibility Software
It is essential to involve people with disabilities in testing accessibility software; however, it's also beneficial for people without disabilities to try accessibility software. For example, try using assistive technology like screen readers to gain a better understanding of how people with visual impairments navigate a computer interface. This practice can increase empathy and awareness and help in the design of more inclusive products.
Designing for inclusion is not always easy, but it's important to prioritize accessibility in our design work not as an afterthought, but throughout the entire process from sketch to final product. Accessible design improves the overall user experience for everyone, ultimately leading to better engagement and increased customer satisfaction.
Suffolk University Law School (n.d.). Suffolk Law Health Clinic Advocates for Accessible Court Website. Retrieved from https://sites.suffolk.edu/jhtl/resources/commitment-to-accessibility/suffolk-law-health-clinic-advocates-for-accessible-court-website/