AIGA Washington DC DC Design Week

I transformed a local celebration of design from an inaccessible brand to an accessible beyond compliant experience through culture, accessibility operations, and design system work.

  • Reduced 160+ issues caught through automated scans by 100%
  • Passed and expanded upon all WCAG 2.2 AA criteria, meeting 10+ applicable AAA criteria and prioritizing usability best practices
  • Established AIGA DC's first accessibility statement, severity rubric, and accommodation request process

Explore our 2022 accessibility statement.

The accessibility statement of DCDW expresses AIGA DC's commitment to improving


DC Design Week is a celebration of the DC, Maryland, and Virginia region’s creative community. Each year, a committee of volunteers collaborates with local designers, businesses, and organizations to host a variety of events showcasing the work, creativity, and relationships thriving in this area.

I first joined the DC Design Week team in 2020, and was impressed by their commitment to diversity– but like many other AIGA programs, their efforts towards accessibility needed some love. Notably:

  • No accessibility statement existed for the conference
  • No methods existed to request for accommodations
  • Branding and visual design were prioritized over accessibility
  • There were 100+ accessibility issues including color contrast, headings, motion, focus, alt text, and more

I also joined too late. Accessibility was already siloed and framed around remediation as our brand and website were already in the works.

The year I joined our branding used sharp animations, which unintentionally excluded people with motion sensitivities.
An axe scan of the 2017 website's homepage which reveals 48 serious issues.
Previous iterations had many serious accessibility issues, often on critical landing and event pages.

Maturing a culture of accessibility operations, not remediation

As an annual conference that is run by over 40 volunteers and usually hosts 20+ events, DC Design Week needed upstream cultural change within the community, not last minute remediations to inaccessible ticketing and events.

You cannot put the blueberries into the muffin after it is cooked. This shows that you have to think about accessibility from the beginning, not after a website is already built. Another story is about ice cream cones. If you ignore your ice cream cone it gets very messy. In the same way, you cannot ignore accessibility until the end of the project.

Lainey Feingold's observations on food analogies for digital inclusion

In the next 2 years, I focused on embedding myself as early and as often as possible with volunteers as a partner (not an expert) to bake the blueberries (accessibility) into our muffin (process).

A slide from our alt text workshop coaching volunteers not to write super long alt text for a bananya
I taught executive leadership, volunteers, and speakers from inclusive presentation tutorials to alt text workshops.
A live kickoff call where I'm letting volunteers know of office hours and other accessibility updates.
I gave accessibility updates on volunteer calls, hosted office hours, and set up slack spaces for async feedback.
A checklist on google sheets documenting recommendations for slides along with plain language explanations.
I created checklists written around disabled experiences and embedded them within required checkpoints.
A github list of accessibility issues prioritized by must, should, and consider.
I established a severity rubric to prioritize issues during QA testing.

Scaling honest and inclusive content

I made it a priority to make our public content on accessibility as honest, transparent, and inclusive as possible.

When drafting our accessibility statement, I wrote a comment arguing for transparency.
A local accessibility statement noting ADA compliance, gender neutral bathrooms, and how to request accommodations.
I created a template to publish accessibility information for each event. This let our content writers note if locations were ADA accessible and had gender-neutral bathrooms.
A presenter commenting on a slide detailing how to request for accommodations and learn more about accessibility at DCDW.
I also created default slide templates for presenters which included instructions on how to provide accessibility information.
Three staff of color on the 2022 website have alt text describing their race.
I worked with team members and speakers to craft inclusive alt text that represented our diverse identities. Tolu makes the case for race noting, “writers of alt text hold power in shaping the experience and perception of screen-reader users.”

A design system that puts accessibility first

By 2022, I was able to build up a strong relationship with our design and web teams to focus on prioritizing accessibility first within our design system, code, and ultimately website.

A case study by our brand partner noting how accessibility was placed at the forefront.
The events page features a h2 labelling the filters section and another h2 labelling the events list with a count included within it. Specific filters and the event titles were h3s nested within those sections for easy navigation.
Accessibility annotations like headings ensured pages would be easy to navigate for assistive tech users.
An axe scan revealing 0 automated issues on the 2022 landing page.
A combination of automated and manual testing revealed we had resolved all accessibility issues from previous years.
Keyboard navigation includes skip links, focus halos that use double drop shadows to perform on any component background combination, and underlines for actions that are links.
All animated content on the website respects reduced motion preferences.

Closing thoughts

Working with AIGA DC has been a gift over these last couple of years. While we’ve made huge leaps in accessibility as a ragtag team of volunteers, I feel we’re only just getting started:

  • Issues remain to be resolved, or may not have been caught yet
  • AIGA national remains to be inaccessible, with little transparency on how they plan to better include disabled creatives (if at all)
  • We need to include more disabled people within our teams and collaborate closer with local disabled creative groups

Although this is my last year with the DC Design Week team, I’m confident that with good people and an accessibility-first culture, we’ll continue to reach new heights.

Our team of BIPOC designers enjoying Korean corn dogs in a grocery foodcourt.
Our web and design team finally got together to enjoy some mochinut goodness.