PEAT Talks Transcript: Raising the Bar on Accessibility

>>Hello, and welcome to PEAT Talks, the virtual speaker series from the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology. On every third Thursday of the month, PEAT Talks showcases various organizations and individuals whose work and innovations are advancing accessible technology in the workplace. My name is Christa Beal. I’m a member of the PEAT team and I’ll be hosting this today’s talk.

Before we get started, I’m going to quickly review a few logistics. We will have time for Q&A, so please enter your questions in the Chat window or by emailing info@peatworks.org. You can also email info@peatworks.org if you are having any technical difficulties. You can download the presentation on PEATworks.org, and an archived recording will be posted online following today’s event.

We will be live Tweeting today’s event from @PEATWorks, so please feel free to join us using the #PEATtalks and including @dsullyrecruit.

Today PEAT is honored to welcome Dan Sullivan. Dan is Vice President at AudioEye, where he is responsible for all aspects of new and existing client relationships. Prior to AudioEye, Sullivan was Chief Revenue Officer and Senior Vice President of Sales at Professional Diversity Network (PDN). At PDN, Sullivan built and deployed a sales team and sales operations infrastructure to bring PDN’s diversity recruitment solutions to the marketplace.

Today, we will be talking about the return-on-investment for employers who embrace accessible technology that benefits all users. At PEAT, we recognize that making a business case for accessible technology will help drive adoption and improve employment opportunities and work environments for people with disabilities.

Now, without further delay, I’ll turn things over to Dan.

>> Thanks Christa. I appreciate that. One additional piece of logistics, we will be asking a poll question here in a few minutes and if any of you have difficulty navigating through or interacting with the polling question, feel free to put your answer to the question in the chat window or tweet it at us. Before I get started I wanted to thank the folks at PEAT very much enjoy the work they do and find it to be a unique intersection of the path that I have traveled in my professional career having been in the HR and recruitment space for the best part of the last 15 to 16 years and just recently coming into and becoming more cognizant of the accessibility space. The work that PEAT does uniquely intersects with things that have been significant components of my professional life, so very appreciate for their willingness to have me here. I'm actually live with the PEAT folks in Washington DC and very excited about that.

Today we will talk about what I like to refer to as Raising the Bar on Accessibility. What I see in the marketplace is this transition or emergence of moving from a Web Accessibility 1.0 landscape to a web accessibility 2.0 landscape. Really discussing and talking about how that impacts both employers and employees. So with that we will get started. We will have some time at the end for Q&A and I look forward to interacting with you in any capacity and if you have any Twitter related comments you can get them to us during the course of the event. When I look at the world of accessibility and I will be quite candid and frank up front and letting you know I am reasonably new to the world of accessibility but not new to the world of diversity and recruitment initiatives as a whole.

So when I look at the role of digital accessibility in particular, I see this age-old pull fight between the carrot and the stick. We recognize and understand that the carrot should be eminent motivator and should be able to identify a means that corporate America moves forward especially with the emergence of baby boomers beginning to retire from the marketplace and things of that nature. The carrot ultimately should be the key motivator when it comes to digital accessibility but we do recognize and understand that the stick also can become a motivator and anybody who has been observing the digital accessibility world over the last 8 to 16 weeks in particular will recognize that the amount of litigious activity and demand letters that is taken place has really reached fairly high levels and the stick has become a much more significant component of digital accessibility.

Our endeavor and my goal is to highlight and look at and to point out where the carrot really should be the ultimate motivator when it comes to digital accessibility. And when leveraged appropriately it can become a significant competitive advantage whether you are trying to secure new customers or trying to secure and retain talent in your workforce.

With that I'm going to go through and give a little bit of perspective on what we see in the current marketplace relative to digital accessibility. When I go through the concept of giving you a definition of background between Web Accessibility 1.0 and Web Accessibility 2.0, that is not to say that I am in any way shape or form naïve enough to think that the vast majority of corporate America is even caught up with Web Accessibility 1.0. But I can tell you that a substantial number of organizations that have seen and understood and have been working on the concept of web accessibility 1.0 are looking to move beyond the initial framework of what it is designed and developed to accomplish and are looking to move beyond to the next iterations of what I like to define as Web Accessibility 2.0.

To give you some context as I see it, the landscape of Web Accessibility 1.0 has been principally compliance driven. With some of the new WCAG standards that have come into effect it's begun to provide a global standard to begin development and accessible technologies to interact with but one of the things that we clearly recognize is that the vast majority of the benefits that are derived by those individuals that benefit by the compliance related approach really depend on those individuals that reply up on license and have access to and use regularly some form of assistive technology.

One of the things we recognize when we look at that is when you look at the overall number of individuals that rely upon or utilize accessible technologies on a day-to-day basis, it's a small subset of the overall population that could ultimately benefit by having additional layers of accessible technology and abilities and tools and resources to interact with content.

This is where I give you the perspective of what we see in the marketplace and where I see that the space is going and I like to define it or refer to it as Web Accessibility 2.0.  There are number of examples and I will cite, we base this thought process on and that is really that we see web accessibility moving from compliance driven initiative to a true accessibility driven initiative. What do I mean by that? Web Accessibility 2.0 as we see it really recognizes that there are those in the community across the disabled various levels of disability that are not serviced by infrastructures that are defined as accessible but more driven by a compliance base model.

One of the things we see and that I am heartened by is that I see corporate America waking to the point that accessibility ultimately can be a key business driver for their organization and I think when we begin to tie business advantages to web accessibility, it will start to move higher and higher within corporate America's priority list and we ultimately will begin to see infrastructures which are more and more accessible. A component of Web Accessibility 2.0 is the provision of tools and resources and things that enable additional populations to consume and interact with content in a way which is more comfortable for them and gives them a better experience and ultimately enables them to have a more fulfilled experience.

Lastly, I think what all of this ties into which has been a conversation for quite a period of time is really leveraging accessible resources as a universal design component and we see that as this burgeoning environment around Web Accessibility 2.0. 

Now I will ask my poll question. It ties into what I see in the story I see around Web Accessibility 2.0.  That is, I wanted to ask an awareness perspective question, how many that you those of you that are participating are aware of the story of Emily's Oz. I will give you about 15 seconds for folks to answer this question so I can gain some familiarization as to how aware of Emily's Oz you are.

>> I have enough data that I know the vast majority of you are not familiar or aware of Emily's Oz and that was the context I was looking for. Continue to answer but I have enough information and we will move on.

Emily's Oz was a commercial and a media campaign that was launched by Comcast. It was designed to bring awareness to the issue of accessibility for Comcast cable content. Comcast has gone through the process from an accessibility perspective of delivering voice automation and interactivity with their cable top box that is connected to your television. They have a talking guide and they also have a remote control that enables you to communicate and interact with your cable system. The folks at Comcast who began that initiative, it was driven out of their accessibility office. My good friend Tom drove that the contest and it was specifically designed and developed to be an accessibility initiative.

Tom actually began his accessibility career at WGBH Boston where he worked with the team that deployed the first closed captioning within the television environment. The reason why I bring this up is, in Emily's Oz was this wonderful television commercial that Comcast put together and what it did was it brought an individual that was visually impaired, Emily, and she went through the process of describing her favorite movie which happened to be the Wizard of Oz. If you get a chance I would highly -- not in the middle of my talk -- but at the end Google Emily's Oz. There is a site and YouTube videos and you can see the commercial.

It brought exceeding levels of visibility and attention to the accessibility space in the concept of what Comcast was doing there. The reason why I bring it up is really a wonderful example of what I see as Web Accessibility 2.0. Right now Comcast and every new subscriber and every new remote that they distribute into the marketplace has this functionality built into it. Although Comcast is not formally releasing numbers on its usage, I can tell you that the preliminary data that they see wildly surpasses their expectations and utilization on a monthly or weekly basis is significantly larger than what we believe the visually disabled population to be. The concept is, being able to provide tools and resources to better interact with content ultimately gets used from a universal design perspective and ultimately makes much better business sense.

Comcast sees this as a better opportunity get deeper engagement with their content, more pay-per-view, things of that nature and ultimately as a business driver it has helped their mission. When you look at things around universal design and how accessibility related tools and resources ultimately drive to that I have to look no further than watching the way in which the way my wife watches television at home. She has no hearing impairments, she does not watch television without closed captioning because she does not want to miss anything or if she hears something at a lower level, she wants to be able to hear that content. Closed captioning was not developed for her but she relies upon it and finds it valuable.

My concept, the idea of what I talk about and I wanted to highlight an example of where we see Web Accessibility 2.0 going. We could take a look at all of the amazing advancements that have taken place with voice technology, be it Siri, Amazon echo, okay Google. We can see a lot of those tools and resources have benefits to those individuals in the disabled population but also have a level of usage that extends far beyond that.

One of the things that we like to do is, let's highlight some of the statistical data and some of the things that are out there that speak to this as a topic that go beyond my observations in the world if you will. There was a wonderful report that was done by Forrester Research in concert with Microsoft. A couple of things they pointed out that I think are critical is according to that research 57% of computer users are likely or very likely to benefit from the use of accessible technology due to mild or severe disabilities.

Lastly, the other statistic that jumps out is that most computer users, 69%, with mild or severe impairments are currently using some form of accessible technology but that many could benefit from additional accessibility options or assistive technology products. Frankly I love the work that this report highlights, the statistical assessment, but I must tell you that this report is exceedingly old. This was commissioned and published in 2004. Literally 12 years ago. When we look at all of the technological advancements in all of the things that have been built in the universal design whether it's voice over in Mac or some of the functionality that has come out. This report was written before the iPhone came out. I can only believe and understand that these numbers have continued to go up and that this report, if this report were be to recommissioned, the statistics would be much higher.

I want to talk about the concept of rising tide lifts all boats. I think one of the things that we have seen is that there is often a thought process within the world of accessibility that the concept of Web Accessibility 1.0 and Web Accessibility 2.0  compete with one another. I humbly submit that they don't. I believe this is accretive, additive and something that assist additional audiences and they have derived all the benefits from Web Accessibility 1.0 and will lose nothing in this. If anything they gain. In that sense this burgeoning expansion of web accessibility or digital accessibility really benefits a much much larger audience and everyone benefits from it collectively.

When I talk about Web Accessibility 2.0 I really want to highlight the things that I see. Things like expanding beyond the current assistive technology to a much larger audience. I really do view that there are a much larger number of folks that could benefit by having some additional tools or resources at their disposal that may not necessarily know how to use voice over, may not have accessibility functions turned on their phone, may not have a screen reader etc. The idea is, one of the things I find in this rising tide lifts all boats is the one thing that corporate America's attention gets grabbed by is large audiences that could be better or are unserved. The more engaged that users are by content, the more likely that corporate America will be to prioritize providing these tools and resources because they want to be as competitive as they can in the marketplace.

Lastly, the point I tried to make is Web Accessibility 2.0 is an inclusive approach. No one really gets left behind. Any advantages of the greater population gets does not come at the expense of those individuals that have relied on accessible technologies in the past or have leveraged infrastructure. The concept is everybody takes a significant step forward. I have to look no further than the digital guide or the voice controlled remote control that Comcast has deployed in the marketplace. There are folks that use it because it heightens their experience and Comcast and enables them to be a much better customer and ultimately that was born out of need to provide more accessible resources in the market.

So obviously we are here for a PEAT Talk.  We all have passion and energy in their professional careers around the world of work. So when I talk about this world of Web Accessibility 2.0 and where we see it going. How does this impact the world of work? I think it's a simple extension to that.

One of the things and prior to my time at professional diversity network I was at monster for 15 years and I spent a lot of time in recruitment and in the HR technology marketplace and I can tell you that there are billions and billions of dollars spent annually on HR and recruitment technology. One of the things that has become incredibly clear to me is that the vast majority of this technology isn't even accessible within a Web Accessibility 1.0 world much less a Web Accessibility 2.0 world.  One of the other things that becomes important to know when it comes to the workforce is that baby boomers are beginning to leave the employment market and an unprecedented fashion and when you take a look at the new number of college graduates versus the ones leaving, there is a significant year-over-year deficit.

As far as that data can be forecasted, it continues to rise. The issue becomes one of, where is the employment marketplace and what do companies have to do to be competitive to secure the kind of talent that they need to drive into the next decade and beyond. I think we all have a sense of understanding that as unemployment begins to dip below and gets into a sub 5.0 area we began to get closer to what the economy would be defined as full employment.

When we get and what that means is you get to a point in the marketplace where almost anybody that wants a job can secure a job. I know we are long ways away from that but there is this concept of full employment economy. I think there are a lot of holes that can be punched in the concept but the bottom line is employers will have to be competitive and look to new talent pools and new ideas to bring in the best and brightest talent that they can ultimately to be competitive.

I take a look at the data and the numbers that are in the marketplace. I see a really bright and amazing opportunity for corporate America that sits right in front of them. One only has to look at the data that's published. In January 2016 the unemployment rate that was released on the first Friday in February, the unemployment rate for Americans with a disability was 10.8% or 23.4 million Americans. There's a good news and bad news in that scenario. The good news is if you look at it on a year-over-year rate it is a 10% reduction, actually the largest year over year reduction out of any of the segments of the economy that BLS tracks data for.

The bad news or the devil in the details is if you look at the total number, the total number of unemployed individuals with a disability in the US has stayed the same. When we start to correlate the other data in the marketplace, one of the other things that has been interesting and is specifically ties to increasing compensation rates seen in rising wages in the marketplace, is that in the same time period at the end of January 2016 there were 5.6 million jobs openings in the US. This is defined as job postings or our open positions. The duration of time of the job postings that remained open has done nothing but expand and everything points to the fact that the employment marketplace is becoming more competitive.

I humbly submit and ask the question and ask us all, of those 5.6 million jobs with an employment pool of 23.4 million unemployed disabled Americans, if we had better accessibility and technical resources within the workplace that enabled individuals to have a more accessible experience, how many of those 5.6 million jobs could be filled by that 10.8% that is in the marketplace? That's a significant question and ultimately when we get the answers that we will see some movement when it comes to accessibility within HR recruitment technology.

You would say some of the folks would say what are these tools and resources that you talk about? What are some of these things? What are these resources that are being used by companies that are looking to drive to a Web Accessibility 2.0 environment? I'm not here to put on a commercial for AudioEye resources that we have, in addition to helping and assisting companies with getting up to speed and deploying technical resources in the marketplace that enable them to have a 1.0 environment, we are also working with a number of companies that are working to expand their accessibility beyond just compliance or WCAG or ADA standards and really provide tools and resources.

I provided a few screenshots of some of the examples we have. Such as a cloud deployed screen reader that very very simply can be navigated with 12 to 15 key demands and does not require the sort of ramp that an individual might leverage and utilize to become proficient with a screen reader. The idea is that this is not for that individual but it's for that individual that could benefit by an additional resource, might have some comfort in being able to have an audio transcription of the content that they were on but wouldn't necessarily go through the ramp it would take or the licensee process or the navigation process to become proficient.

So this is just one example of a technology that we would deploy in the marketplace that gives additional level of accessibility.

Another example that I will show you is an example that we have within the same WebMD infrastructure. It's where we can actually for individuals with cognitive disabilities, in looking for ease of navigation we can essentially strip out the creative aspects of the web infrastructure and provide mechanisms and means to navigate through that infrastructure in an environment that is not as visually stimulated and gives them the ability to navigate through as well as do things like change contrast and font and things of that nature.

Just to speak to a couple new tools that we will be deploying in the marketplace in the beginning of April which we are excited about, that we have done some initial rollouts at the USBLN Conference, is there are two new resources that we will deploy in our toolset for individuals that may not have licensed technology or accessible technology at their fingertips but could benefit by it.

One of those is going to be the ability to choose by clicking a radio button within a web environment, be able to translate that entire page into a dyslexic font. In essence anything we can do to provide resources that make that content easier to navigate and consume, we ultimately believe it will be helpful. That is coming out April 1.

Lastly I will talk about one of the pieces of technology that we are most excited about. The concept of voice technology to web interfaces. We see this unbelievable trend in voice Technology and it's really geared toward being able to get you to a website or web destination but then what? We will apply voice interactive technology that will enable an individual using a voice command and microphone in the computer to navigate through the page and to be able to apply for a job, by something, file a complaint -- whatever they need to do they will be able to do it without utilizing or navigating a keyboard or mouse if they so choose. We know there are resources like Dragon NaturallySpeaking in the marketplace and that some individuals will license that and have it and acquire that the being able to provide the tools for individuals that want to use it, but may not necessarily have it ultimately can be a benefit.

Lastly I will wrap up as we're running out of time. Here's what I see. The opportunity in the marketplace. More users, more adoption. I think that if the marketplace and the free market economy in the U.S. and corporate America sees that there are more people that they can bring into their experience and they can satisfy and get better loyalty from the customer base, then they will adopt the use of accessible technology in either web accessibility 1.0 or a Web Accessibility 2.0 world.  I think the more advantages and the more competitive advantages they gain, the more likely they will be to speed that up

We all know that companies always seek competitive advantage. I will tell you that relates to whether they are looking for new customers or talent help them drive and build new products and deploy new things. It's very clear to me that the war for talent in this current environment is on. The demographics say that will continue. There will be more people leaving the workforce of the next 10 years and people coming in and it will become increasingly more difficult. If you can make internal resources accessible, it opens up access and gives you a competitive advantage with that pool of talent that we talked about, that 23.4 million people that are out there and are incredibly able and talented and have a lot to contribute. If you can provide the level of accommodation that makes them want to come and work for you, it gives you competitive advantage.

>> Thanks, Dan. We are going to dive into a couple of questions that came and for all of you on the phone we will run a few minutes over so please enter your questions in the chat window if you have them. I'm going to start with one. It's how can workplaces best achieve full accessibility in a technology context?

>> This is one of those things where I would argue with the word full. I think everybody, you can't run a 100 dash in one step. This is an incremental change and you have to start somewhere. You begin to bite off incremental steps to get to where you need to be with the overarching goal of being full. You will ultimately get there but I think one of the things that would be best there is to give up on the notion of fault and begin to make some incremental changes that will get you there.

>> Great. What are best practices to address concerns employers may have about the costs of implementing accessible technology?

To this is an interesting question and I always marvel when folks talk about what do I do to offset the cost. I would humbly submit that you'd be far better off asking differently and say what is the cost of not implementing accessible technology? As the employment market gets tighter, as more and more folks require tools and resources to contend, you have to ask yourself what are the consequences and costs of not doing it and what are the disadvantages from a competitive perspective in the marketplace have? That relates to talent, bringing new talent into your organization, retaining existing talent and frankly driving your business through the acquisition of or retaining of existing customers.

>> This sounds a lot like universal design. Is that how is being promoted to people?

>> Ultimately it is universal design and in essence it is providing tools and resources that can utilize and drive advantage that goes well beyond those individuals with accessibility. I will tell you that those individuals that may have disabilities currently that don't have those resources are ultimately going to gain by that. Yes, ultimately this is around universal design it's around making your content easier to access and understanding that if it is solely and exclusively focused on just the population of individuals with disabilities that will benefit by that, you leave a sizable portion of the benefit that the overall population will get. And the rising tide lifts all boats concept, if you build this in universal design ultimately the disabled web consumer will derive significantly greater advantage through universal design concepts.

 

>> All right. One more question for you. How can human resource professionals are employers demonstrate that they are committed to implementing accessible technology?

 

>> One of the big places where I think this makes a lot of sense is the HR and recruitment ecosystem when it relates to technology is exceedingly and highly dependent on third-party applications and essentially all built together to form a technology ecosystem. I can tell you that one of the ways in which you can really make strong steps forward here is that you need to vet out those third-party applications that you are buying and purchasing and deploying to make certain they have accessibility built-in. I tell you and we are very encouraged to see that there are a few HR technology companies in the marketplace that are putting exceedingly high level of priority on this and are really responding to their clients’ needs and they know that it gives them competitive advantage. So if you specifically seek out those resources that have designed to build accessibility into their HR resources and the market responds favorably, I think ultimately those entities that have not prioritized it will move quickly because if they find they have competitive disadvantage by not adopting that concept, they will quickly fall in line.

>> Well, that’s all we have for today. Don’t forget to join us for next month’s PEAT Talk on Thursday, March 17 at 2pm ET. We will be welcoming Sharron Rush, co-founder and executive director of Knowbility, who will be talking about the importance of user testing to ensure that workplace technologies are truly accessible. You can find the registration link on PEATWorks.org, or look for an email from PEAT with more information.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Dan for speaking with us today, and for all of you who took the time to join us. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon!