I recently had a chance to speak at Refresh DC with my web developer friend and colleague, Tommy O’keefe about the inherent challenges of designing and developing for accessible data visualizations, and our evolving approach to integrating accessibility into our entire process and culture. We talked about our learnings and experiences working on the Cancer Statistics Center, a web app for analyzing and creating cancer data visualizations on the fly. We delved into the philosophy of structural meaning of the data/information before designing for the screen, an approach we called “No-screen-first” or “Meaning first” and how we integrated accessibility from this beginning. Each presentation layer that build upon this “Meaning” layer has to enhance and not obstruct meaning.

I am so glad to know that we’re not the only people who have challenges when it comes to data viz. I love this supportive community and conversations that sparked afterwards. I hope people walked away from the talk questioning whether following a set of standards or guidelines alone is enough to ensure usability, and keep questioning their own approaches to raise the bar for making products that are inclusive and useful for everyone, regardless of their abilities, and increasingly, devices.

Check out our slides below: