PEAT Blog

Passion and Commitment toward a More Accessible Future: A Dispatch from CSUN 2017

It’s an annual tradition for PEAT—joining thousands of global accessibility advocates who converge at the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in San Diego every March. Keeping with tradition, the event delivered another robust line-up of educational sessions highlighting worldwide efforts to make technology more accessible to people with disabilities.

With each passing year, CSUN’s increased focus on workplace technology issues has heartened PEAT, including this year’s powerful kickoff address from Dr. Kellie Lim. Dr. Lim is a physician at UCLA Health who became an amputee due to childhood illness. She described the many barriers people with disabilities face in building their careers when they cannot fully interact with inaccessible work environments.

During conference sessions, PEAT similarly encountered innovative ideas, approaches, and conversations related to why accessible workplace technology matters and best practices for implementation. These approaches can drive efforts to promote accessible technology that breaks down barriers to employment for people with disabilities. Here are a few highlights.

Capital One: “Accessibility cannot be accomplished by just one person or team.”

Mark Penicook and Sean Adams recounted Capital One’s initiative to integrate accessibility awareness into the company’s internal brand, so that employees at every level understand its importance. Strategies included:

  • Switching the conversation from compliance and risk to the user experience and the value of simple, intuitive products for everyone.
  • Holding internal summits for design and product development groups to build strong relationships across departments and discuss enterprise-wide standards and pattern libraries.
  • Integrating accessibility into the onboarding process with fun and thoughtful experiences centered on helping new hires understand: 1) how and why accessibility makes a difference in the quality of resulting products, 2) that accessibility is considered the corporate standard, and 3) how they can stay in touch with the accessibility team.

Wireless RERC: “Change is a process, not an event. It’s important to be part of the process.”

Researcher Salimah LaForce detailed strategies for how anyone can help influence the prioritization of accessibility in federal rulemakings related to technology. As she noted, the Wireless RERC has submitted comments on 60 rulemakings and has been quoted and referenced more than 170 times on topics ranging from emergency communications to hearing aid-compatible phones. Salimah pointed to self-driving cars as one emerging policy issue to watch. They hold enormous promise for increasing accessibility in many areas of life, including as transportation to work—but only if they are designed flexibly for all users. One example is that some current proposed legislation would require the passengers to be able to drive the car if necessary. If these technologies aren’t designed for a wide range of users, people with disabilities might be barred from using them independently.

PEAT could not agree more, and some great ways to hear about these opportunities include Wireless RERC’s Technology and Disability Highlights newsletter, and our own recently unveiled resource Policy Matters.

Elsevier: “More customers are following up on VPATs, particularly about remediation plans and workarounds.”  

VPATs (Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates) are documents used to evaluate a product's compliance with Section 508, and aren’t typically a topic that garners excitement. However, Ted Gies and Jay Nemchik of Elsevier made a compelling argument for how and why both developers and sales teams should be making them a serious priority:

  • Customers across the board are increasingly concerned about Section 508 compliance, from government agencies to universities to police departments, particularly due to the Section 508 refresh going into effect next year.
  • Elsevier has integrated VPATs into their development cycle, ensuring that communications with customers are clear, and also that any issues identified through VPATs are relayed back to the developers. One element of this approach is the DUTCH method:
    • Detailed (fill out the Remarks section)
    • Unbiased (use 3rd party or standard testing criteria)
    • Template based (reusable and saves time)
    • Contemporary (update every year or with big releases)
    • Honest (show where you DO and DO NOT pass a requirement with specific examples)
  • Their development team now formally tracks VPAT requests to create metrics, demonstrating that a commitment to quality VPATs has resulted in millions in profits through increased customer loyalty. This approach then successfully woke up the management team to the benefits of accessibility buy-in.

Deque: “If you’ve designed a site to please the average user, you’ve designed it to please no one.”

This year, Denis Boudreau’s “Design Trends and Their Impact on Accessibility” update highlighted the immense rise in chatbot customer service tools over the last two years and some accessibility tips for working with them. In particular, Denis emphasized the concept of designing for extremes and letting the middle take care of itself. He noted that “average” users are probably only 30% of your user base when considering older individuals, people on mobile devices, and people with diverse conditions ranging from ADD to blindness to complications after strokes. Because they all have different and diverse needs, providing a flexible user experience is key.

Deque also hosted an exciting accessibility hackathon the morning following the conference, led by Marcy Sutton, author of the popular Accessibility Wins blog. This friendly event allowed developers of all abilities to share techniques and get to know each other while bashing accessibility bugs. Thanks to their aXe-core testing tool, even beginners were able to find and report bugs related to many tools essential to today’s workplaces, from Microsoft Office Fabric 365 to WordPress.

Passion and commitment to bringing greater accessibility to all areas of technology

CSUN never ceases to amaze and inspire the PEAT team. As always, it serves as an annual guidepost that shapes our priorities and activities. Between now and next year’s conference, we’ll be strengthening the partnerships and connections we’ve built with the accessible technology community’s movers, shakers, and innovators to foster dialogue and action around accessible technology in the workplace.

About the Author

Corinne Weible headshot

Corinne Weible

Corinne Weible is the Deputy Project Director for the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT). She holds over a decade of experience in directing programmatic development, grants management, and communications strategies at nonprofit institutions nationwide. Prior to her work with PEAT, she served as Outreach Manager for the Finger Lakes Library System, where she led advocacy campaigns, professional development programs, and community outreach efforts to help diverse populations access library services.