Blog and News

Bixal's Commitment to Advancing Accessibility in the Federal Government: A Q&A with Digital Accessibility Manager, Amy Cole

April 09, 2024


According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), “61 million Americans live with a disability, but almost half of the most popular federal government websites are not fully accessible.” To address this issue, OMB recently released updated guidance that prioritizes accessibility in the federal government's digital experience, ensuring equal access to critical services for all Americans.

The guidance outlines several key actions to enhance accessibility:

  • Delivering accessible digital experiences: Agencies are required to test electronic content for accessibility before publishing it, involving people with disabilities in the design and testing process.
  • Establishing digital accessibility programs and policies: Agencies must appoint a program manager responsible for overseeing digital accessibility processes, including reporting, tracking, and resolving accessibility issues.
  • Procuring accessible products and services: Agencies are encouraged to involve accessibility experts in the acquisition process to ensure that any new technology purchased meets accessibility standards.
  • Monitoring and remediating problems: Agencies should regularly assess web content for compliance with accessibility requirements and promptly address any issues that arise.
  • Cultivating a positive culture of digital accessibility: Agencies are urged to provide regular training on Section 508 and digital accessibility to employees, fostering an inclusive workplace culture.

Bixal has extensive experience with digital accessibility. Led by Amy Cole, our digital accessibility manager with over a decade of experience as an advocate and consultant for accessibility, our team of specialists understands that compliance with regulations goes beyond checking boxes. We believe in a "test early and often” approach, where accessibility is included from the beginning stages of design and planning, all the way to testing and deployment.

In this Q&A, Amy discusses Bixal's accessibility work, how we ensure conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and current OMB and White House guidelines for our federal partners, and how we assist clients in areas such as user testing and creating custom accessibility statements for federal websites.

What are some initiatives that Bixal is currently working on in the area of accessibility?

Bixal is actively engaged in various initiatives to promote accessibility in digital experiences. Our development team has always prioritized accessibility in coding and technical processes. The accessibility team goes a step further by introducing accessibility training to other departments, including design and delivery. We collaborate with clients like the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on ongoing remediation efforts. We specialize in document remediation, including PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, and other materials, ensuring that previously inaccessible documents are made accessible for public-facing websites and comply with all federal accessibility guidelines. We also provide document remediation training for clients. Furthermore, we offer our clients accessible templates for recurring documents, making the process more streamlined.

In addition to document accessibility, we conduct thorough compliance checks on various digital properties, such as web components, online forms, and webpages. Our expertise in website accessibility and user interface design enables us to provide expert advice in these areas. Through a combination of manual and semi-automated testing methods, we ensure that multiple projects for the General Services Administration (GSA) meet the required accessibility standards. Additionally, our team assists in other practice areas like analytics, search engine optimization, design, help desk support, and Spanish translation to guarantee a consistently high level of accessibility for federal websites.

Lastly, we are actively partnering with our user research team to recruit individuals with disabilities, incorporating them into our user research participant pool. By default, we include people with disabilities in our testing processes, allowing us to better learn from their experiences so we in turn can best create inclusive and accessible products.

Overall, Bixal's dedication to accessibility extends to staff trainings, remediation, compliance checks, and user research, all aimed at fostering inclusivity in the digital landscape.

What services does Bixal provide to ensure conformance with WCAG and the current OMB and White House guidelines?

Our accessibility specialists play a crucial role in ensuring conformance with WCAG and the current OMB and White House guidelines. We serve as the voice and advocate for people with disabilities, and our services encompass various areas, including:

  • Recommending the inclusion of 508 specialists in all contracts.
  • Incorporating disabled personas in content development.
  • Verifying WCAG compliance in our designs before handoff to developers.
  • Conducting manual testing as part of our quality assurance (QA) process.
  • Engaging people with disabilities during the user research phase.
  • Offering public feedback opportunities and supporting 508 requests from individuals seeking accommodation or assistance on government websites.
  • Encouraging the use of USWDS and design system components and patterns, which undergo testing by our accessibility team.

Given that up to a quarter of the American adult population identifies as having some type of disability, and especially as the population ages, it’s imperative that we follow OMB and White House guidance to “design digital services to maximize access and usability so the widest possible range of people may reach and interact with the government.”

What types of accessibility training do Bixal 508 specialists provide?

Bixal's 508 specialists offer a wide range of accessibility training options tailored to meet the needs of our in-house and external teams. The training we provide covers a diverse set of topics and can be customized to suit various requirements. Some examples of the training categories we offer include:

  • Document accessibility training for all levels, from beginner to advanced.
  • Manual web audit training, covering magnification, keyboard accessibility, and screen reader testing.
  • Training in using screen readers such as JAWS and NVDA.
  • User research with disabled participants, including methodologies and best practices.
  • Design checking for 508 compliance.
  • Role-based, custom training for HR, delivery, design, development, and other specific roles.
  • Training in creating accessible content using a Drupal CMS.
  • Testing a Drupal CMS for compliance with accessibility standards.

Our accessibility specialists provide comprehensive training in a variety of areas to ensure that our teams are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to create accessible digital experiences.

What are the most common misconceptions surrounding what services an accessibility specialist can provide for a team?

There are a few common misconceptions surrounding the role of an accessibility specialist. Firstly, many people are unfamiliar with accessibility beyond its association with physical spaces like restrooms or buildings. Explaining the scope of our work can be challenging. Additionally, there is a misconception that accessibility experts simply check off technical WCAG compliance boxes and are only involved in the final stages of a project, often after it has already gone live.

Another persistent myth is that only developers need to be concerned with accessibility. Often, budget constraints lead to 508 specialties being omitted or not specifically included in contract roles, with the assumption that “the developer will handle accessibility.” However, without someone advocating for people with disabilities from the beginning, the risk of launching a project with numerous accessibility failures increases significantly.

A recent survey of 249 federal agencies revealed troubling findings, indicating that “the government as a whole is not meeting the minimum standard or legal obligation to provide equal access to all members of the public and federal employees with disabilities.”

Furthermore, most agencies have part-time or non-existent 508 staff. The study emphasized the importance of dedicating adequate time, resources, and personnel to accessibility, as agencies with more dedicated accessibility focus were better equipped to deliver inclusive and accessible digital experiences. The study also noted that staff training was a particularly weak area, highlighting the need for dedicated 508 personnel to integrate accessibility throughout all phases of the project life cycle.

Can you explain Bixal's approach to user research with people with disabilities and its partnership with disability-focused organizations?

Our approach to user research with people with disabilities involves actively seeking partnerships with disability services, such as World Services for the Blind (WSB). Through our partnership with this Arkansas-based nonprofit, we are able to efficiently recruit visually impaired users for testing federal projects. The high-quality candidates we receive from WSB enable us to quickly test prototypes, beta projects, and live digital properties, including forms and websites.

To ensure inclusivity and accessibility, we design custom screening surveys that are accessible to all users. Our testing environments are deliberately created to be inclusive and accessible, and we solely utilize technology platforms that are accessible. In recognition of participants' time and expertise, we provide compensation for their involvement in the testing process. By tailoring our research methodologies to identify potential barriers, we continuously improve our work based on the insights gained from user research sessions.

How does Bixal consult with clients and other federal agencies on the importance of custom accessibility statements for federal websites?

Bixal emphasizes the significance of custom accessibility statements for federal websites and provides consultation services to clients and federal agencies on this matter. The accessibility statement plays a crucial role in ensuring that visitors to a website can effectively use it, and it also serves as a means for reporting any encountered barriers for swift resolution. By including contact information, a feedback mechanism, and a report of known barriers along with a timeline for addressing them, organizations can be proactive in addressing accessibility issues rather than being reactive.

Creating and supporting an adequate accessibility response protocol requires the expertise of a Section 508 specialist. Bixal recognizes that, like the importance of security measures, achieving optimal accessibility requires time, knowledge, expertise, and a genuine dedication to addressing the needs of end-users with various abilities or barriers. Through effective consultation, Bixal guides clients and federal agencies to prioritize the development and implementation of custom accessibility statements that ensure accessibility remains at the forefront of their digital presence.

How Bixal Can Help

Accessibility compliance and conformance can initially feel overwhelming. However, Bixal's accessibility team is here to provide support and guidance to demystify the legal and technical aspects of accessibility, while also emphasizing the ethical and human side of the equation. As an organization, we prioritize people above all else and recognize that accessibility laws and guidelines exist to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not left behind.

At Bixal, accessibility is at the core of our work. We are committed to helping individuals and organizations mature in their accessibility journey or get started on the right path. If you need assistance or guidance with accessibility, we encourage you to reach out to us for a consultation. We are here to help and ensure that accessibility continues to be a focus and priority for everyone. Visit for more information about our organization and how to reach us.