Accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities is a key priority at VMware. As stated in a recent blog post by Sheri Byrne-Haber from our Office of the CTO:
“The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 15% of the world’s population has some form of disability.”
The age of multi-cloud and modern applications is right ahead of the industry. And we at VMware believe that accessibility to these technologies is becoming more important, multifaceted and broad than ever. It is now an important consideration to support diversity, equity and inclusion for multi-cloud solutions and the development of modern applications.
Our thousands of VMware Cloud Provider partners have global reach and availability. Therefore, they can make an important contribution to better accessibility of cloud solutions and applications. In many countries, offering accessible interfaces is even a regulatory requirement. Examples include the EU Web Accessibility Directive and the US ICT Accessibility 508 Standards and Section 255 of the Communications Act.
In this blog post, I would like to explain a couple of examples for improving accessibility for IT professionals and end-users with the VMware Cloud Provider platform. This can allow service providers to support inclusion for their customers and users, make their offerings more accessible, but also differentiate.
To raise awareness for this important topic, we will cover three specific aspects of building and offering a more accessible and inclusive Cloud and Modern Application Platform:
- Making VMware Cloud Director-based Services more accessible
- Supporting the agile development of more accessible Modern Applications
- Providing custom and third party accessibility tools
Making VMware Cloud Director-based Services more accessible
The first step towards a more accessible and inclusive Cloud and Modern Application Platform, is to ensure Cloud services can be easily consumed and managed by all user groups. The common interface for Cloud service consumption is a self-service portal. And the portal UI for visually impaired and other user groups may require particular consideration when designing a Cloud solution.
VMware Cloud Director (VCD) as the leading Cloud Management Platform for VMware Cloud Provider partners has been tested and optimized for accessibility. But how exactly should a UI be designed to be more accessible? The guiding framework here is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG 2.1 “defines how to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities.”
By leveraging VCD as the self-service interface towards customer end-users, providers can already assume a high degree of accessibility, that they would otherwise need to ensure themselves when building a customer portal. We provide details on the conducted tests and conformance with WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 A and AA Levels in our VMware Accessibility Conformance Report for VCD and other products.
For use-cases and customer groups that require accessibility capabilities beyond what VCD delivers out of the box, it comes with an important feature to support better usability especially for visually impaired individuals: Custom themes.
Custom themes allow the customisation of the VCD UI, among others the color schema and fonts, which both play an important role to make the VCD portal more accessible.
Through the guidelines included in WCAG 2.1, Cloud providers can design and implement a custom theme that makes their platform even more accessible. This can be done by adding custom color schemas that provide the required level of contrast, as well as sufficiently large font sizes. Since VCD is a multi-tenant portal, custom themes with specific accessibility characteristics can be implemented for certain customers or user groups to meet their specific requirements.
Supporting the agile development of more accessible Modern Applications
The next step is to support more accessible Modern Applications that are developed and deployed on the VMware Cloud Provider platform. Accessibility testing is becoming an important step in the Continuous Integration phase of modern software development environments. It is a form of software testing to ensure that an application is usable by people with disabilities like color blindness, hearing disorders and others.
An important tool to conduct accessibility testing is the CI pipeline. While there are many different CI pipeline and testing tools out there, the most popular and widely used ones are open-source solutions. To make these tools available to software developers that want to ensure accessibility testing as part of their pipeline, VMware Cloud Provider partners can leverage the VCD App Launchpad in combination with VMware Marketplace. This allows for self-service access to Web, CI and Testing tools, that can be offered for accessibility testing as part of the development process. Beyond that, VMware Marketplace includes many Bitnami application packages that can be used as part of an application stack and include additional accessibility features and plugins:
- GitLab: The GitLab CI/CD pipeline uses Pa11y, which is a free and open source tool for measuring the accessibility of web interfaces. Through this combination, developers can easily identify the impact on accessibility from their committed code changes.
- Jenkins: A popular CI and testing platform that can be integrated with various accessibility testing tools like Pa11y, Tanaguru or aXe.
- WordPress: Popular blogging and content management platform that powers a significant portion of all websites on the Internet. It has plenty of accessibility plugins available that can be installed to identify accessibility issues.
- Drupal: Another popular CMS, which offers a lot of accessibility features out-of-the-box and can be extended through additional modules.
- Magento: An open-source e-Commerce shopping cart system owned by Adobe, which has an Accessibility Enabler Extension available.
- Many more that can play a role in developing accessible applications and platforms, like MediaWiki, Typo3, Spree, Django and others.
Providing custom and third-party accessibility and inclusion services
To make the use of accessibility tools even easier, VMware Cloud Provider partners can offer third party tools, integrations and customisations which are not available out of the box.
For example, using Pa11y accessibility testing with GitLab requires the GitLab Accessibility Docker image. To make this even easier for customer developers, cloud providers can provide this pre-integrated or from a private repository for easy consumption.
Another approach is building custom packages for ready-to-deploy accessibility open-source or third-party tools and making them available from the catalog. The VCD AppLaunchpad offers the ability to include custom applications for self-service deployment. Partners that want to support their customer developers’ accessibility testing practice can offer additional solutions like:
- Axe: An accessibility testing engine for websites and other HTML-based user interfaces
- Tota11y: An accessibility visualisation toolkit
- AATT: Tests web applications regarding conformance with WCAG 2.1
- Tanaguru: An automated accessibility (a11y) testing tool, with emphasis on reliability and automation
- IBM Equal Accessibility Checker: Tools to automate accessibility checking from a browser or in a continuous development/build environment
- and more…
Accessibility of cloud platforms and applications should be an integral part of any platform design. Whether it’s designing a self-service cloud platform for IT professionals with the VMware Cloud Provider platform, or building modern applications for end-users on this cloud platform, it is hardly acceptable to lock out around 15% of the population. With the VMware Cloud Provider platform and open-source solutions, providers and developers have the right tools to move towards more accessible and inclusive Cloud and Modern Application platforms. To learn more about VMware’s journey towards accessibility, check out this post.