Designing for Accessibility

6 min readJan 10, 2022

Massachusetts Commission for the Blind Award-Winning Case Study

Image of the cover of The Quest for Independence

Customer Experience Strategy.

There comes a chance for everyone to shine, to be the superhero. In developing a customer experience strategy, the goal is to shine that light on the consumer. Make them feel like a superhero. To do this, companies need to understand who their customers are. To be a superhero, though, we need to know who our heroes were before they were super. A good customer experience strategy understands both Superman and Clark Kent. As a customer whisperer, my goal is to pull those insights and help companies develop them into a message and strategy that resonates and connects with the end-user.

In 2019 my team and I had the opportunity to work with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB). The project’s goal was to increase awareness of Massachusetts’ Pre-ETS services that support the visually impaired or those becoming visually impaired between the ages of 14–21 years of age. Massachusetts, like many states, offers numerous services and support groups to help individuals, but not everyone is aware of them or taking advantage of them. The Commission needed a new customer experience strategy to engage with its customers. In the months of developing this project, we also discovered a lot of superheroes along the way.

Accessibility as a Growing Trend.

Any marketer using Google knows that accessibility has become increasingly important in all types of design and media. More than 32 million adults report some form of visually impairment and Five hundred fifty-nine thousand nine hundred forty-three children (559,943) will have a form of visual impairment.

Three panels from the graphic novel The Quest for Independence about two visually impaired teens, Sophia and Alex.

Understanding Your Audience.

When my team and I met with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB), we did a series of interviews with all the stakeholders. We spoke to those in the program, those who already graduated, Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and Social Rehabilitation (SR) Counselors, and the parents of students. We learned that each of these students had their own superpower, skills they learned along the way that became strengths. They did not let their impairment turn into kryptonite. ,

When Superman is flying to save a bus full of people, he doesn’t let his insecurities stop him. Instead, he shows up and does not let the past define his future.

The kids and young adults we interviewed are superheroes, never letting their disability or past define their future. We met students who podcast, are artists, and work with Lego to convert all the Lego instructions into accessible documents. These teens and young adults are superheroes, and we wanted to tell their stories.

A split panel from the graphic novel The Quest for Independence showing the superhero MCB.

Speaking to Your Audience.

The documents we reviewed from Massachusetts Pre-ETS services or
other states were boring, ugly, complex, and read like a legal document.
For parents, the documents were difficult to understand, and I could
not imagine a teenager, one who was just informed they were losing their
sight, comprehending these documents. However, it was clear that the
documentation did not speak to their audience in a way that was positive
and engaging. They were not written or designed with the customer in

The audience for the materials is young. For this project, my team
chose to tell the story of visually impaired teens and Massachusetts
Pre-ETS services in the form of a graphic novel.

Creating a Hero.

We knew immediately we wanted to create a graphic novel, a visual story that is engaging for this age group. Focused on diversity, the team created two fictional high school students, Sophia, who is going blind, and Alex, who is already blind. We wanted our hero to be approachable to our characters and created our Mr. Preets, who is a middle-aged advisor who is also blind y. In the story, Mr. Preets transitions into MCB, a larger-than-life superhero who has developed a robust set of tools that help him overcome obstacles around resilience, accessibility, mobility, and independence. Finally, MCB expresses how he would never have reached his full potential as a full-time superhero if he hadn’t made a choice as a teenager to become employed with the help of Pre-ETS services.

Left to Right, Skip Henk (President of Xplor, Shoshana Burgett (Flounder of Pink Elephant Productions) and David D’arcangelo (Massachusetts Commissioner for the Blind)

Designing for Accessibility.

We all use technology differently, and the visually impaired are no different. Smartphones can increase the font size, and programs like JAWS readers allow text to be read aloud. Even our most common apps, from Microsoft PowerPoint to LinkedIn, ask the user to add Alt Text — a text description to help those visually impaired understand the images. In addition, the team delivered a multi-technology approach for accessibility providing a:

  • Printed graphic novel.
  • Digital accessible PDF.
  • Audio media file.
  • Accessible website.
  • Infographic for Parents.
  • Social Media images and GIFS.
  • A Stakeholders Packet.
  • A Poster Design.
  • Keychain to provide to Pre-ETS Consumers.

We did this all in under 60 days. (We were excited, proud and very tired.)

Landing page of the new Massachusetts Commision for the Blind, The Quest for Independence Website
Landing page of the new Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, The Quest for Independence Website

The team had to design for accessibility; unlike a typical graphic novel which may have six or eight panels, we had no more than three to accommodate the large 18-point sans serif fonts. When the comic conveys a flashback, the color schemes change to yellow sepias, which can be seen across various color-blind ranges. A graphic novel is highly visual. When your customer is visually impaired, it’s vital to think about all the ways your customer engages with it — print, PDF, and multi-voice audio, like an old radio show.

The team worked inside Adobe PDF to ensure every page read correctly on the screen. We learned how to write for screen readers. Small tricks like adding a period at the end of headlines or bullets are essential. To a site-seeing person, a period at the end of a headline or bullet may seem odd or incorrect, but for screen-reading technology, it is critical. The period triggers a pause in how the devices read out loud.

Proven Case that Accessibility Empowers Everyone to Be Their Own Hero.

The MCB Pre-ETS graphic novel, The Quest for Independence, paints a vibrant picture of the program advantages using concepts that the reader can relate to. It is written in a language that is easy to understand. The characters are approachable and relatable, and the graphic novel is engaging and accessible for the visually impaired. In The Quest for Independence, MCB empowers Sophia and Alex to become their own superhero and, in turn, empower the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind’s readers too.

The graphic novel, website, and supporting materials launched in 2021. In the first 6-months of 2021, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) saw a 64% year-over-year increase in engagement. This is a significant measurable impact. It shows the value in applying customer insights, building a strategy around the customer experience, and providing relevant information that engages consumers.

Award Winning Case Study.

The Pink Elephant team was thrilled to learn we won best Application at Xplor, and were even prouder to take the award alongside the Massachusetts Commissioner for the Blind, David D’arcangelo, at their award ceremony in November. This was a team effort and one of my proudest projects. Seeing the photos of kids engaging with this project speaks to how much work still needs to be done to be inclusive to all.

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