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Embracing Digital Accessibility: Spare Rider Web’s Journey to Inclusive Mobility

Take a peek inside Spare’s Rider Experience Team and their dedicated efforts on making Spare Rider Web a readable, usable, and appealing experience for all riders, regardless of their abilities.

Jason Miller

Over 1 billion people–or 15% of the global population–have disabilities. These disabilities range from either permanent or temporary, including those affecting visual, hearing, mobility, cognitive, speech and neural functions.

What’s more is that 70% of disabilities tend to be invisible. Yet, these impairments permeate lives in less than favorable ways, affecting social and economic inclusion, impacting access to transportation and physical environments, and posing as barriers to using technologies.

In today's fast-paced digital world, accessibility for all users is no longer just an afterthought but a fundamental necessity. Spare, a pioneering force in transit and mobility services, has recognized the importance of digital accessibility and is committed to creating a more inclusive environment for all riders. This blog post delves into Spare's unwavering approach to digital accessibility and highlights the dedicated efforts of our Rider Experience (RX) Team in making Spare Rider Web–a web-based rider trip planning and booking tool–a tool that serves all users, regardless of their abilities.

The Shift Towards Digital Accessibility

When the earliest versions of Spare were built nearly a decade ago, our focus on carpooling and shortly after, microtransit, made digital accessibility and its implications an afterthought. Like many others, we realized that numerous apps unintentionally marginalized users with disabilities, creating difficulties and even impossibilities in accessing crucial services. Understanding the need for change, Spare embraces a renewed focus on digital accessibility to create a more inclusive platform for everyone.

The Birth of the Rider Experience Team

To focus on enhancing the experience for all riders who use Spare, we formed a dedicated new team called Rider Experience (RX). Comprising a Product Manager, two Product Designers, an Engineering Team Lead, and several engineers, the RX Team's sole focus is to create a positive impact on riders by delivering an accessible and intuitive experience that accounts for a wide range of disabilities and impairments.

Spare Rider Web: An Integral Part of Mobility Services

Spare Rider Web plays a central role in empowering riders to plan and book their trips with ease. It is a browser-based booking interface that has all the same functionality as our Spare Rider mobile app. For riders who don't have access to a smartphone or who have caretakers booking on their behalf, it's a great way to plan and book rides from any web browser.

Recognizing its significance across our partners’ ridership, the RX Team has focused on increasing digital accessibility in this web-based tool to ensure that all users, regardless of their abilities, can navigate the platform seamlessly.

WCAG 2.1 AA Compliance: The Gold Standard

A core component of the RX Team's mission is to ensure that Spare Rider Web meets the rigorous Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards. The RX Team not only aims to achieve the WCAG 2.0 standards–the benchmark for digital accessibility–but we also aim to surpass it by building products and web interfaces that achieve WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines.

Many agencies and specifically those in Canada require WCAG 2.0 compliance as part of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). WCAG compliance elements range from non-text elements on websites, such as images that require text alternatives, to the ability for text to be resized and more.

The intent of the guidelines is to encourage web products to be perceivable, operable, and understandable to people with a wide variety of abilities, as well as compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers, switch controls, and braille displays.

Some examples of WCAG 2.1 success criteria include:

  • Providing text alternatives for non-text content like images and video
  • Ensuring content is readable by using good design practices and allowing users to control the zoom level and screen size
  • Creating navigable interfaces with clearly labeled parts and consistent behavior
  • Making it easy to navigate using keyboards and other input devices
  • Helping users avoid and correct mistakes

By adhering to these industry standards, we guarantee that all users, including those with disabilities, can easily navigate the platform and access its features. WCAG 2.1 AA compliance not only enhances the experience for users with visual impairments but also benefits those with mobility challenges or cognitive disabilities.

Enhancing Screen Reader Support and Keyboard Navigation

Central to our mission of inclusivity is enhancing screen reader support for blind users. Through meticulous research, testing and development, we've made sure that screen readers can read out any information that’s visible to sighted users, such as the number of seats required when booking a vehicle, and that form labels are accessible. Additionally, we are striving for consistency in labeling across different custom fields to create a seamless experience for all users.

It’s more than getting a screen reader to read out the same text that sighted users see–here’s why. People with visual impairments can have a harder time picking up context clues from elsewhere on the screen. For example, if a time is shown as "8:00", a sighted user might notice other times like "14:00" shown on the same screen and conclude the time is in 24 hour format. A screen reader user on the other hand, might miss that context and feel unsure whether the time being read out is 8 AM or 8 PM. To help make this less ambiguous, Spare’s RX Team ensured that times are read out loud in both 12 and 24 hour formats when a screen reader is in use.

Keyboard navigation is another critical aspect of digital accessibility for people who have difficulty seeing a cursor, operating a mouse or trackpad, or simply prefer using the keyboard sometimes. Spare’s RX Team is continuously improving the platform's keyboard navigation capabilities, allowing users to navigate Spare Rider Web with just a few key presses.

Addressing Color Contrast for Better Visibility

Color and contrast are more important than you might think–not just for people with low vision or color blindness, but for everyone else too.

For example, digital tools are more usable for everyone when:

  • Color isn't the only way to tell a link apart from regular text
  • Text stands out from the background behind it
  • Interactive elements actually look tappable

The RX Team has taken on a comprehensive effort to ensure that text, links, buttons, and everything else meet accessibility standards throughout Spare Rider Web and the rest of our products. From login to trip booking, canceling, payment, and beyond, we aim to provide a readable, usable, and appealing experience for all riders.

Conformance Review and Ongoing Testing

Our commitment to digital accessibility extends beyond the initial updates. To maintain our dedication to excellence, the RX Team continuously conducts conformance reviews of all of our rider-facing products, including Spare Rider Web and the Spare Rider mobile app. Our meticulous approach includes collaborating with partners to ensure thorough testing during implementation. Real-world customers, including those who run ADA paratransit services every day, have played an instrumental role in testing these new changes.

Many of the accessibility improvements mentioned here have already been released and are being used by our rapidly growing paratransit customer base across North America, including at Citibus and Capital Metro in Texas, Pinellas County Transit Authority in Florida, Greater Attleboro-Taunton Regional Transit Authority (GATRA) in Massachusetts and many more.

At Spare, accessibility is more than just a concept; it is a guiding principle that permeates every aspect of our design and development. But this was not always the case–from our early days of building Spare from providing sustainable carpooling services into a leading microtransit platform until now as a leader in next generation paratransit, we acknowledge that we still have a long way to go.

By prioritizing digital accessibility and investing in the evolution of Spare Rider Web, we aim to break barriers and ensure equal access to mobility services for all. As we continue to evolve and embrace inclusivity, we stand committed to pioneering a future where technology empowers every individual, regardless of their abilities, to embark on their journey with confidence and ease.

Interested in learning more about Spare's commitment to accessibility? Our Statement of Accessibility offers a direct line of sight into our commitment as a company and a direct line of communications into providing us feedback on the accessibility of Spare's websites, software and apps.