In An Introduction to Accessible QuickBooks by Intuit and My Blind Spot, published in the May 2014 issue of AccessWorld, we brought you an evaluation of the latest version of the accounting software. That one article was just not enough to cover all of the information about Accessible QuickBooks. In this piece, I speak directly with Albert Rizzi of My Blind Spot and Lori Samuels of Intuit to get their personal perspectives on the successful partnership that lead to the new version of QuickBooks.
Aaron Preece: Albert, how did you decide to become involved in technology accessibility? When did you decide to found My Blind Spot?
Albert Rizzi: I started My Blind Spot after I lost my eyesight and I started running into literal and virtual walls because I could not independently file applications, bank independently, or do a lot of things I took for granted when I could see. The more I learned about accessibility, the more interested and committed I became to using my voice to draw attention to this need for the vision loss community. When I found out the access technologies were not only used by the blind and visually impaired but the print disabled as well, it just seemed like something I had to tackle.
Preece: Why did you decide to advocate for QuickBooks accessibility?
Rizzi: I lost a lot of access to many things when I lost my eyesight. Given my focus on accessibility since the founding of My Blind Spot, I knew adding code to programs or tags to sites can be easy to do when engineers know about Section 508 and W3C.
I also wanted to try and rebuild my life as a business owner and nonprofit professional, and QuickBooks has been used in nearly every business I've operated. And, I wanted to use QuickBooks for the nonprofit that I and 12 other blind people served on. We had over $100,000 to manage, and the antiquated tools we were using to manage the finances just seemed like tools from the dark ages.
So I called Intuit, and the call was escalated to Lori Samuels, and the rest is history. It was a combination of the right people, at the right time, with the right commitment.
Preece: Who is on the My Blind Spot accessibility team?
Rizzi: My Blind Spot is determined to hire people who are one degree of separation from someone with a disability or who themselves have a disability. We are currently working with about 60 blind or visually impaired beta testers, testing the popular screen readers on the market. We are a team of professionals, including accessibility professionals, where 80% of our staffers themselves have a disability, including people who are blind or visually impaired.
We could not be at our best if we did not walk the walk and talk the talk.
Preece: What ideas do you have for future accessibility projects? Are there any other pieces of technology hardware or software that you would like to make accessible?
Rizzi: I am already working on that. I am taking my cue from Tom Wlodkowski and looking at cable and Internet providers on the east coast as one consideration. There is a need for cable programming to be more user friendly, as well as websites that need to be accessible so the community can independently manage their accounts.
I would also like to continue the financial management wave that we are riding thanks to Intuit. I think My Blind Spot needs to approach financial institutions and investment firms, like Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Ernst and Young, etc.
[I'm] thinking that would serve a couple of purposes for what we started with Intuit: 1) It would be a natural progression that once someone is able to become an accountant because they are able to use QuickBooks, they might want to climb the financial management ladder and set their sights on working for a brokerage firm or investment firm, [and] 2) If they were less adventurous they could start their own business and build an investment portfolio that they could then independently manage. Either way they can pursue a set of new dreams and dream like they were not able to before.
I truly believe access equals ability. Access to the right tools promotes ability and restores infinite possibilities.
Preece: Lori, what is the process for applying accessibility fixes? Are accessibility issues discovered and fixed by Intuit teams, or does My Blind Spot report accessibility issues that are then fixed by Intuit engineers?
Lori Samuels: The process always starts with an assessment to determine where the critical gaps or problems with accessibility may exist in the product. We followed this process with QuickBooks and gathered inputs from multiple sources. Our own internal team at Intuit partnered with subject matter experts at My Blind Spot and our other accessibility consulting partner, Deque. We also focused our attention on the most commonly used workflows in the product and prioritized those areas first. As with all software development and testing, the process is iterative and involves discovery of new issues along the way. What worked incredibly well on the QuickBooks project was the fact that we had regular communication with all the key members of the team working on accessibility improvements. We had a weekly meeting where we all reviewed progress, shared new learnings, and aligned on our next steps. Given that we had team members in two different cities in India, [and in] San Francisco and New York, it was critical that we keep in close communication.
We also made a conscious decision up front that we would fix as many core issues in QuickBooks software itself as we could in the time that we had, but we would also create custom scripts in all three popular screen readers to improve usability and/or work around any issue in the product that might take too long to fix or potentially introduce too much risk of breaking the software functionality. QuickBooks presented a unique set of challenges from an engineering perspective. First, it is an enormously large, complex body of software code that has been inactive development for about 20 years. Secondly, because it is a desktop product that still sells in traditional retail channels as CDs, there is a very strict schedule for releasing (unlike web or mobile products, which can be more flexible about how often they update and release new versions). Lastly, QuickBooks has a large installed customer base and we are always very careful to make sure that any new work on the product, including accessibility, doesn't introduce defects. So, we had to operate within these constraints but were still able to make tremendous progress in the QuickBooks 2014 version and continue to work on improving accessibility for QuickBooks 2015.
Preece: What features of QuickBooks will be made accessible next?
Samuels: As we worked through the changes and improvements in QuickBooks 2014 at Intuit, My Blind Spot was also busy finding people who would be interested in being beta testers. We had great response from the community and started beta testing in November 2013 with pre-release versions of the QuickBooks software and our early versions of JAWS scripts. The feedback gathered from these customers (all of whom were blind or visually impaired) was invaluable and also guided our priorities during the QB 2014 development. As we finally reached the very end of the release cycle for QuickBooks 2014 in March, we have now used the input from our beta testers to guide our plans and priorities for QuickBooks 2015. This input plus our own software QA testing has helped us identify where we still have areas to improve accessibility. More specifically, we hope to address access in the areas of Product Registration and Processing Payments in future releases.
AccessWorld will continue to check in with the folks behind QuickBooks access efforts and keep you informed about new developments.