UW Information Technology

June 28, 2019

How UW is improving software product accessibility on a national scale

Visually impaired working on computer with assistive technology; braille display and screen reader.

By Ignacio Lobos

When a software vendor recently approached Hadi Rangin to make significant accessibility improvements to its app, he sensed the needle was finally moving in the right direction.

They were knocking on his door instead of the other way around.

Rangin, who came to the UW in 2014, leads a team of students who test, evaluate, and consult on the accessibility of software applications and other technologies for both on-campus developers and third-party software vendors.

Leading the way

Today, the UW is a leader in accessibility issues, with software developers from across the country seeking Rangin’s expertise to improve their products for all. His team has significantly influenced accessible design and development of multiple nationally prominent products, including Google Cloud Platform, Internet2, ServiceNow, Workday, Zoom, Canvas, Panopto, Microsoft Office Tools, Microsoft Windows and Interfolio Faculty Search. Some of these companies have found these services so valuable that they have hired his former students to lead accessibility efforts.

“We want software developers to think about accessibility in the design stage before a single line of code is written, instead of as an afterthought,” said Rangin, a senior computer specialist in UW-IT Accessible Technology.

“While software companies are not required to make accessible software, we as a higher education entity have to deploy accessible software. Thus, accessibility must be a functional criterion in all purchasing decisions,” Rangin said.

Partnering for a great cause

A case in point is Rangin’s recent partnership with the UW Office of Academic Personnel and its selected vendor, Interfolio Faculty Search, which offers an app that streamlines the faculty hiring process.

From the start, Academic Personnel included accessibility as a key criteria during its software purchasing process, and accessibility enhancements were part of its contract negotiations. Incorporating accessibility from the beginning is an important part of the process, Rangin stresses, and should be part of contract discussions with any vendor.

Working closely with Academic Personnel staff, Rangin’s team tested and evaluated the accessibility of the application, prioritized issues and provided solutions. They helped the Interfolio development team fix and redesign the application as needed to deliver accessibility enhancements. Since its launch in summer 2018, 121 academic units have conducted searches through Faculty Search and more than 9,800 individuals have applied for positions.

“It is a win-win for everyone,” Rangin said. “Our community gets a product that’s accessible and usable by everyone. And because these vendors make their products accessible from the get-go, they are more marketable.”

This story was published in UW-IT Insights in May 2019