A new software app developed to enhance our daily web browsing experience can be used to customize and personalize the look and appearance of the sites we visit. The freely downloadable software has a set of adjustable tools, including ones to adjust a website’s font size and shape, affect colour intensity and brightness, and to stop those annoying auto-play video pop-ups!
Annoying for some, but potentially hazardous for others: folks who live with epilepsy, for example, can have symptoms triggered simply by unexpected flashing lights or animations; pop-up videos that play unexpectedly and automatically can annoy workmates in the office, but they can also trigger seizures in vulnerable individuals.
So, tools in the new app are designed for and by people who need accessibility support or who may self-identify as facing a disability, but the app has uses well beyond the disabled community: it can be a handy tool for all who spend time on the Web.
What’s also unique about this new assistive technology is that it comes from the bank!
The TD Accessibility Adapter, now available on the Google Play Store, was initially developed by TD Lab, an internal working innovation group that serves the Toronto-Dominion Bank’s many operations. It was designed to help increase the accessibility options available to TD employees, whether they identify as having a disability or not, whether they require assistive technology, or they simply want to have a better, more productive, browsing experience that’s tied to their individual viewing preferences.
An initial pilot release made the app available to more than 6,000 retail employees at TD Bank in the U.S. With some additional feedback and fine-tuning, it was made available to more than 95,000 TD employees around the world this past June.
Now, after additional internal testing, the accessibility browser plug-in is available to the wider public at no cost, as TD Bank Group has announced a Canadian and American launch; it’s available in both English and French.
Easy to install, the app becomes an Extension in the Chrome browser (shown as a little puzzle piece icon in the toolbar). It can be pinned for fast access among other browser plug-ins, but once opened it offers its own tutorials and user help guides.
Not only does the app have multiple customizable functions (such as that setting that stops all animations and on-screen auto-plays, used by people with epilepsy or not), the selected settings can be saved and stored to individual profiles, based on individual user needs or specific time-of-day configurations, for example. You can even exclude specific websites from the tool’s control as or if needed.
Although a user can immediately see the effect a selected tool has on the web page they want to read, the app was designed without using obscuring overlays and to co-exist with other assistive technologies, such as screen magnification software.
Among the tools a user can set for him or herself, there’s a number of specific preset ‘Disability Profiles’, such as a dyslexia font mode that automatically changes the font and spacing of every word on a web page so that people with the disorder (that’s some ten to twenty per cent of us, according to Dyslexia Canada) can more easily read. A separate “reading guide” mode for people with ADHD blacks out every part of the screen except the single sentence they’re reading to help concentration. The reading guide is steered by mouse or keyboard command.
There are also multiple functions for people with low vision and colour blindness that allow users to change the font size, and to view web pages in low or high colour saturation and in monochrome or dark mode. The app was designed without using overlays and to co-exist with other assistive technologies, such as standalone screen magnification software.
The tool’s development was fronted by Samantha Estoesta, Product Manager – Social Innovation Specialization at TD (and an experienced front-end developer), along with a multi-skilled team that included designers, developers, business analysts and more. Feedback from fellow employees, partners and members of the disability community was also important piece of the development process, as she described in a conversation with WhatsYourTech.
“We knew we couldn’t build for the accessibility community without their involvement, and as someone with disabilities, as someone who identifies with the disability community, that was very important to me.”
Samantha herself uses the app to eliminate the blue light from her on-screen browser that could cause her terrible chronic migraines. Since starting to use the app, she says she has not taken a sick day due to those headaches.
“We know that while roughly one in four adults in the U.S. and one in five in Canada have some type of disability, oftentimes there is a stigma that comes from saying ‘I have an accessibility need,'” she points out.
Overcoming such stigma and making the necessary tools of the trade that much more comfortable to use can enhance a person’s work experience and improve their productivity. In our increasingly digital world, accessibility must be a priority to boost everyone’s inclusion and equity online.
In that light, the fact that the launch of the TD Accessibility Adapter came in time for National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is telling. Observed each October, NDEAM celebrates the contributions of Canadian and American workers with disabilities, while showcasing inclusive policies and practices, assistive tools and technologies, that promote an accessible workforce.
Accessibility has standards as well as supporters. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are widely accepted definitions of how to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities, including those that are visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, linguistic or neurological in nature.
As well, here in Canada, the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) requires certain public and private sector sites to be accessible, and several provinces have also passed accessibility law; they all use WCAG as the standard for compliance.
Asked about the Accessibility Adapter, Samantha’s pride in the tool was evident: “It’s a five-star rated product, compliant with WCAG 2.1 (the latest implemented standard) and we did a review against 2.2 as well. Even with the Google submission process, which we had some nervousness about because of the individual, customizable nature of the app and how others would see it, was a fantastic experience as well. We’re all pretty proud of this application.”
Even with its specific focus and recognized ability to assist those who need it, the TD Accessibility Adapter goes beyond just being an accessibility tool, Samantha underscores.
“It’s for anyone with digital preferences; you might not have an accessibility need defined to certain features in the app, but everyone has a preference for getting a browsing experience (the dark mode is everyone’s favourite, it seems) that has the least number of barriers. This app allows you to tap into those preferences.”
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