Accessibility DevOps: Changing the culture and awareness in the software development life cycle

The current accessibility mantra we hear repeated, and repeat ourselves to development teams, is to “bake in accessibility” and “shift-left,” yet accessibility needs, design, development, training, testing, reporting, goals, and metrics historically are siloed (and thus fosters no collaboration) within the overall Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). SDLC refers to a methodology of defined processes to create high quality software for the lowest cost in the shortest time possible. The development process includes: defining requirements; planning; design; development; testing; and finally, deployment. The perpetuation of the fractured approach to software requirements – to include accessibility –remains limited in its effectiveness.

DevOps, an industry-wide initiative, represents a cultural shift that has enhanced software development by coordinating and automating the work of the development teams (Dev) and the operations (Ops) teams. The agile methodology further enhances the implementation of DevOps by integrating the principles of Agile – an iterative approach to development that helps teams deliver value to customers more efficiently, thereby enhancing the effects of DevOps implementations and fostering collaboration between all team members involved in software development. Agile DevOps is a proven, efficient method for providing customers and end-users with better software.

Because the underlying principles of Agile DevOps are holistic, it is not surprising that its implementation solves many of the same challenges experienced by the accessibility industry. After all, many critical accessibility activities happen within the SDLC. Anything good for the SDLC should be good for accessibility.

In searching for a better method that combines software engineering team culture and technical approach, a new initiative was born: Accessibility Dev/Ops (A11yDevOps). Simply put, this is an accessibility-focused version of the underlying principles of Agile Dev/Ops that drives more meaningful, conformant, and successful information and communication technology (ICT) development and maintenance through the strategic integration of accessibility subject matter expertise.

A11yDevOps takes these concepts one step further, expanding upon the cultural DevOps principles and practices to include accessibility subject matter and best practices to produce better software – to include accessible software more consistently conformant with Section 508. In contrast to DevOps, A11yDevOps is not an established, industry-standard, known initiative, but rather a newly branded initiative that evolved from life cycle enhancement work done by New Editions Consulting at the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Accessible Systems and Technology (OAST) in 2021. A current pilot is ongoing to include a Playbook, a series of technical resources and code repositories, and stakeholder outreach meetings and trainings to help educate and implement this concept.

The concept of A11yDevOps was presented during the 2022 DHS Accessibility Day (May 11th and 12th) and additional content, implementation techniques, and discussion will take place in the A11yDevOps: Agile DevOps and the Future of Accessibility in the Software Development Life Cycle presentation during the 2022 ICT Testing Symposium on May 16th, 2022. Alan King and Kristen Smith-O’Connor will present on this topic which won Best Paper as voted by the Peer Review Committee. We hope to see you there!