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How Common App Got Ahead of the Class by Putting Accessibility First in their Product Design

Dave Tiss, Director of Development, Common App
“Our partnership ensures we're addressing accessibility in the most comprehensive ways on a path and pace we can sustain—direction that software alone couldn't provide.”

Dave Tiss,

Director of Development, Common App

Ease of access is essential to Common App’s mission of simplifying the college application process online. So, when the organization spotted an opportunity to improve usability for people with disabilities, the team seized the day. Today, the Product and Technology team at Common App leads a companywide movement toward inclusion and accessibility that has reinvented the Common App product and the organization’s mission statement.

A crash course in digital accessibility

When Common App’s members—over 900 colleges and universities—expressed the need to improve accessibility within the application, the Common App team quickly educated themselves. They found a vast landscape of federal regulations and tools, from website plugins to full-scale testing solutions. They needed guidance, so they chose Level Access. Level Access’s unique blend of software and services provided the insight to prioritize and progressively improve their accessibility, plus the tools to measure success.

“From the beginning, it was clear that Level Access understood our needs and limitations,” says Dave Tiss, Director of Development at Common App. “Our partnership ensures we’re addressing accessibility in the most comprehensive ways on a path and pace we can sustain—direction that software alone couldn’t provide.”

Investing in the future

Upon implementation, the Common App team realized that surface-level fixes wouldn’t resolve systemic, code-level issues. They made the ultimate investment in their customer experience, commissioning a three-year project to rebuild and modernize the product with accessibility best practices as a guidepost for success.

“Accessibility is an investment,” says Tatiana Sisian, Quality Assurance Analyst. “But it’s the right thing to do! We’ve trained our designers, developers, and testers with Level Access resources. We’ve updated technology, hired new staff, and incorporated a more intentional review for accessibility.”

The results are evident. Common App improved their AMP Accessibility Score from the 60s into the 90s, significantly reducing identified risks and improving their compliance.

Greg Bruening headshot
“The key to our success is that accessibility is now baked in from the beginning!”

Greg Bruening,

Front End Developer, Common App

Ahead of the class

“The key to our success is that accessibility is now baked in from the beginning,” notes Greg Bruening, Front End Developer at Common App. “All teams consider it when designing and building solutions—and not just for compliance. Better accessibility and inclusion benefits everyone.”

Access, equity, and integrity are key tenets in the Common App mission statement. “Except now, the meaning of access has evolved,” adds Brandon Jackson, Vice President of Product and Technology. “Level Access helped define what accessibility means for not only our organization but the millions of students and recommenders who use the Common App each year.”

Having successfully relaunched their core product, Common App is now extending accessibility standards to Support sites and other customer-facing experiences—ensuring that all align with their mission and meet the needs of people with varying abilities.

The student becomes the teacher

Common App has firmly rooted accessibility into their company culture with informed development practices, better measurement, and growing internal expertise. Ongoing education for all employees—like a companywide Global Accessibility Awareness Day event—reaffirms the importance of inclusion in their overall customer experience.

“Accessibility isn’t a milestone; it’s an ongoing journey,” adds Greg. “We can now proudly say we offer accessible solutions to all users. When prospective members ask tough questions about accessibility; we have good answers.”

Products used

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    Comprehensive Accessibility Management Platform with JIRA integration

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    Access Continuum

    Integrated accessibility testing for development teams.

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    Access Academy

    Online training program.

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    Access Advisor

    On-demand consulting and support.

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