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Reflecting on the Deque-Microsoft collaboration

I’m writing this post to provide some added color and personal opinions you may have missed in our recent joint press release with Microsoft titled “Deque Systems to expand open source accessibility tools in collaboration with Microsoft.

As someone who got into the accessibility industry before there was such a thing, I find Microsoft’s commitment to accessibility very exciting. It isn’t everyday that a software giant like Microsoft champions inclusivity at the level they are doing.

Deque’s journey with Microsoft began several years ago when Microsoft decided to use our library of accessibility courses to train internal Microsoft employees. At the time, we were very impressed by the planned widespread deployment of our coursework, little did we know it was only the beginning of the journey together. Soon thereafter, Microsoft decided to adopt Deque’s open source rule engine, “axe-core” for use by developers internally and eventually power the automated checker for their new Accessibility Insights tools. If you read the press release already, you know that this brings us up to today. Microsoft joining the axe community and open sourcing their Windows rules as axe for Windows is a further crucial step in strengthening the community that has been strengthening axe since its release. The community can now contribute on accessibility tests for their Windows-based applications.

We are also thrilled that this decision coincides with Deque’s commitment to expand our contribution to the community by open sourcing axe rules libraries for iOS (coming soon) and Android and releasing free applications based on these rules.

I believe that accessibility testing will be a core responsibility of every front-end developer. Today is a milestone that allows us to expand the community of axe users and contributors, enabling everyone to automate more accessibility testing than ever before, using a common testing ruleset across platforms.

What this means for accessibility

The Microsoft and Deque collaboration on the open sourcing of accessibility tools is a game changer for the world of accessibility. Before axe, accessibility rules were like black magic. Most rules were subject to personal interpretation, lacking transparency and collective community support to help to improve and to use. There was precious time being wasted on comparing results from different implementations of WCAG standards rather than focusing on what really matters – making the digital world live up to its promise of being the greatest equalizer since the printing press , allowing every person in the world, regardless of ability to tap into the knowledge, convenience and ever increasing innovations of the computers and Internet. Weeks were being spent on arguing over which tool was providing the right or wrong answer. I also saw a dismissal of accessibility from developers, the audience which I know will have the ultimate impact, because they simply didn’t have the time for the endless arguments over standards and their flawed implementation.

Axe invited a “million eyeballs” to scrutinize our rules it invited contributions and these contributions have made it what it is today – the de-facto standard for automated accessibility testing. Deque devoted a team of brilliant developers to nurture this project in coordination with the community. The community responded and we saw contributions from Google, Facebook, eBay and many other companies

While each organization might have different reasons for starting on the accessibility journey, it is ultimately about a great customer experience for users of all abilities.

Ask yourself a question: would you rather work for a company that was focused on short term profits or one that recognizes the moral importance and long-term revenue opportunity of making their online experience as widely available as possible? There are 1 Billion people with disabilities around the world, each and every one of them has the same right to access your digital services. Excuses to ignore them are running out.

What this means for Deque customers

Open sourcing our web rules engine under the axe banner and seeing it become the de-facto standard is instrumental to our mission of “digital equality” at Deque. Yet, this is not the whole story. Our enterprise customers have many requirements that we strive to meet with our WorldSpace suite. Powered by the axe rules library, our customers can now benefit from the expansion of the axe projects and the strengthening of the community. They also can be sure to get their support, security and enterprise requirements met with our commercial tools while seeing rapid benefits of increasing automation in our axe rules engines.

You all probably have tons of great questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments or contact us directly and we’ll work to answer them.

Where to find the tools & projects to join in the effort

If you’re looking to contribute to the open source efforts, he’s where you can find all the relevant projects. Each of them are opening up soon.

Photo of Preety Kumar

About Preety Kumar

Preety is the CEO of Deque Systems and co-founded Deque in 1999 with the vision of unifying Web access, both from the user and the technology perspective. Under Preety's leadership, Deque has grown to be a market leader in the field of information accessibility, serving corporate and government clients with the highest standards in information technology such as Veteran Affairs, Department of Education, Humana, Intuit, HSBC, Target, and others. She collaborated with the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative and is a nominated member of the Accessibility Forum's Strategic Management Council: a GSA sponsored group with representatives from the IT industry, academia, Government Agencies, and disabled user groups that fosters information accessibility through mutual cooperation.
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