Future of Work Podcast, Episode 9.

Dan Ellerman, Inclusion and Diversity Senior Manager at Accenture, discusses the findings from their recent white paper “Amplify Accessibility,” and the hows and whys of implementing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

This podcast is developed in partnership with Workology.com as part of PEAT’s Future of Work series, which works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities.​

View All Episodes


Intro : [00:00:01] Welcome to the Workology podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica : [00:00:22] Welcome to a new series on the Workology Podcast that focuses on the future of work. This series is in collaboration with the Partnership in Employment and Accessible Technology or PEAT. You can learn more about PEAT at PEATworks.org.

Jessica : [00:00:43] According to the Amplify Accessibility report from Accenture, people with disabilities can potentially add an additional 23 billion – that’s 23 billion – to the global economy. Advances in accessible technology can help make this a reality enabling more than 88 million of the 160 million people with disabilities to be a part of the workforce. Welcome to an ongoing series on the Workology podcast that focuses on the future of work. We’re talking today about making corporate workplaces more accessible and inclusive. This series is in collaboration the Partnership in Employment and Accessible Technology or PEAT.

Jessica : [00:01:22] And today I’m joined by Dan Ellerman. He’s the Inclusion and Diversity Senior Manager at Accenture. Welcome to the Workology podcast.

Dan : [00:01:30] Hi Jessica. Thanks for having me.

Jessica: [00:01:32] Can you talk a little bit about your background and your journey to working at Accenture in workplace and diversity inclusion?

Dan : [00:01:40] Sure. I recently joined Accenture it’s been about nine months now. Prior to that I worked for the Northrop Grumman Corporation, which is a U.S. based defense contractor, for the past 16 years. A lot of individuals seem to fall into diversity inclusion as a role. But I transitioned probably about 12 years ago now and am doing various assignments within HR and diversity and inclusion. My last role at Northrop Grumman was director of the MRC inclusion, and it was a privilege to meet our Wounded Warriors program called Operation Impact. My experience with that program and that organization only grew my passion for veteran and disability inclusion which I think really kind of launched me to my current position at with Accenture, leading global persons with disabilities program. And I’m very thankful for the tremendous support and guidance I’ve had from many great leaders and mentors throughout my career. That has opened doors and given me opportunities, sometimes opportunities I didn’t feel I deserved, but they pushed me and believed in me. My professional goal and my personal goal is to open as many doors of opportunity for others as possible. This job is a perfect alignment of my professional goals and my passion, and I feel lucky to be here.

Jessica: [00:03:14] Wow, I love hearing about your background and I do think that there are a lot of HR professionals, including myself, who have really fallen into their profession and have fallen in love with the field of human resources. There are a variety of different things that you do when you’ve been in HR and here you are in the areas of diversity inclusion and accessibility. That’s awesome. Let’s talk a little bit about Accenture’s commitment to accessibility for their employees as well as your customers. Can you talk a little bit about this for us?

Dan: [00:03:47] Accenture really has taken a very thoughtful approach to disability. Prior to my arrival, probably about two years ago, they really sat down as an organization and had the conversation about well how do we include people with disabilities within our organization and how do we accelerate that inclusion? And definitely the accessibility of infrastructure piece is one of the most important aspects. In that they decided, well, we need to ensure that we establish executive accountability for accessibility and so they created an executive accessibility council that’s chaired by our Chief Compliance Officer and General Counsel, Chad Jerdee, and has many of those team members including the Chief Information Officer, Andrew Wilson. Our executive leadership represented learning and marketing communications as well, and workplace operations teams are also represented there. So, basically, any area of accessibility that we need functional areas to execute on accessibility initiatives is represented in this council. If they’re not, we’ll definitely bring them in. I know the projects mainly will be about technology accessibility. But one of the neat things we just accomplished — because we are in 120 different countries around the globe so it’s a large organization — is we went back and looked at our physical space accessibility standards and we created an Accenture global accessibility standard for physical spaces and workspaces to ensure that they’re accessible as possible. When we’re building or renting or renewing license and leases, we make sure that these workspaces are accessible for all our employees. I was proud that we were able to push that through and get that implemented this year.

Jessica: [00:05:59] Well let’s transition over to software a little bit and talk about making software and technology accessible. Can you talk about some ways that Accenture has been working towards technology accessibility?

Dan : [00:06:13] Sure. There are a couple of different aspects. Internally, we work with our CIO team to ensure that there are accessible templates to inform the background bones of whatever IT or digital asset that were developing or putting content on. At the end you want to think about the end user, so the user experience. Are they able to access the information that they need? That’s why they’re coming to your website or to your portal or wherever else they’re coming to gain information. We went on this path to really look at all our digital assets throughout the company, test them, and make sure that they are accessible by the standards. And that people can access them. We also do this in partnership with the entire ecosystem. We use the Microsoft suite of products and Microsoft happens also be one of our clients in our ecosystem partners. But one of the initiatives we recently completed with Microsoft was to test their new release of Office 365, specifically for accessibility features. We reached out to our employee resource groups and our disability networks and asked our employees with disabilities to test the Office 365 products (Word, PowerPoint and Excel) for these accessibility features to make sure they built to the standards. But we were testing more on the usability. Was it made usable so that end users can really be effective with that tool? You know, that’s just one of the things we do more in the ecosystem realm to ensure that accessibility started out throughout the whole process. Real quick on that from an employee-specific perspective: I recently was able to work with an employee and sit down with her for a little bit. This employee has cerebral palsy and she started just before I did. She had some limited mobility strength and dexterity issues. So instead of a standard laptop which can be five to ten pounds, we worked with her and got her a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet which is much easier for her to navigate and maneuver with. Then we noticed that every time she was accessing her smartphone she was having difficulty kind of opening it up to unlock it because you have to type in this eight-digit code that has uppercase, lowercase and special characters, and it times out every 10 minutes so she’d have to re-enter the code. We were looking at that and thinking well what can we do, so we actually wound up finding a phone with her that had biometric security features – specifically, facial recognition – that allowed her to open the phone without having to go through the task of putting in a passcode and this allows her to free up time and effort instead of constantly trying to open her phone to access e-mail.

Jessica: [00:09:34] That small change is a huge one because it impacts your life. I mean being unable to access e-mail is going to really limit your productivity in the workplace. Can we talk about web content accessibility guidelines or WCAG? Can you give us some foundational insights? I hadn’t been familiar with accessibility guidelines for web content until I started working with the folks at PEAT and I’m just going to assume that’s the case for many of us who are listening here. This is a new concept so can you give us some background information?

Dan : [00:10:12] Sure. The web content accessibility guidelines were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C. And that organization was founded back in 1994 so they’ve been around for a while. Their version 1.0 came out in 1998 and then they had an update in 2008. But what W3C is known for is really establishing standards for the Internet. A lot of people in the tech world know about TCAP or IP protocols. That’s kind of the work they do. So if you talk about the standards in the latest release, which most organizations are familiar with, there is 2.0 and there is a 2.1 release that everyone’s waiting for. Last we heard, I think they’re looking in June to release the new ones but the current one that most people are familiar with now kind of breaks up the list of success criteria into four main principles. Basically, it’s got to be perceivable, operable, understandable, robust and perceivable. Say you’re looking at 10 people who don’t have all the senses you’d normally use to interact with a PC or website. If you don’t have one of the normal senses around vision, hearing or touch, you can interact through taste and smell. But that’ll come later on with virtual reality. Right now, there are three main senses that you’re interacting with, so that’s the perceivable aspect. The main way that most people interact with a website is just by a mouse. But what if I don’t have the ability to use a mouse? Can I use voice recognition software? Can I use a keyboard to navigate a website? Then there’s the understandable principle, which is more on the cognitive level. Is the website easy to read? Is the information presented in a fashion that’s logical and very intuitive to follow? You want to make sure your content can be accessible by all of the current technologies available now and in the future. The best analogy I can come up with right now is if you visit a website on your desktop and your mobile device, it looks different and renders differently. But put another layer on that. What if I’m accessing a website using a screen reader? Or I’m using an iPhone that’s using Siri to interpret it? It’s got to be built so the information can render on multiple devices with multiple assistive technologies. Those are the four principles and those principles have a rating scale.

Jessica: [00:14:11] Thank you for that background because I feel like it’s something that we haven’t discussed here with the future of work series with PEAT, and it’s something that I think will get people a lot of insights and perspective especially when we dive into recruiting or the accessible hiring process and things like that. Let’s talk a little bit about Accenture’s procurement goals when it comes to buying accessible technology. Does Accenture have any benchmarks or standards they follow when purchasing technology?

Dan : [00:14:41] The standard is the same for purchasing or procuring technology as it is for building. Going back to the WCAG 2.0 standard, what Accenture has done on the procurement side of the house is this is something that I’m proud of. Again, we want to make sure we can leverage Accenture’s buying power and impact the ecosystem on accessibility. Accenture has now updated and modified our supplier code of conduct to put the accessibility clauses in there to say that any digital asset procured must meet the WCAG 2.0 standards. It’s in our RFP and contract language as well. Now quite frankly there are a lot of areas were the vendors may have not even thought about accessibility or even what WCAG 2.0 is. We’ve got to work with those organizations because there’s really not a product out there that that meets those standards so we’ve got to really engage with those vendors and get them to where we need them to be on that aspect. A lot of survey products are developed by organizational psychologists and they may not really be thinking about people with disabilities, so I’d like to use an assistive technology to interact with that survey like a screen reader or something else. A lot of those surveys are structured so that the question times out, so you may not get the full response from the employee who’s taking that survey and you’re not going to get good data back on their responses. We’re working with those organizations and those vendors that may not necessarily understand WCAG and just helping them along their path to access. We actually develop a scorecard for our vendors so we can score them and then use that information to have a conversation.

Jessica: [00:17:21] I love that and it’s something we have been talking about in my conversations with other podcast guests. I talked with Sassy Outwater and she went through a purchase process for a payroll processing software. After they signed the contract and she was going to be the one processing the payroll, she realized and learned that it wasn’t accessible for her to be able to process payroll using the software even though that they were told that it was. I think that sometimes we don’t fully understand all the accessibility needs and I think a scorecard would be helpful or some sort of checklist to help folks when they’re thinking about the technology that they’re looking to build either internally or externally.

Jessica : [00:18:13] Let’s take a bit of a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you’re listening to the Workology podcast in partnership with PEAT. Today we’re talking with Dan Ellerman about making the corporate workplace more accessible and inclusive through the Workology Future of Work series, supported by the Partnership in Employment and Accessible Technology or PEAT. The purpose of the PEAT initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. You can learn more about PEATworks.org. That’s PEATworks.org. I can get away with my computer just being a keyboard with no mouse attached and not having full functionality. But sighted people need screens so that’s why the computers were developed with screens to allow people to work. So all technology is assistive. It’s designed to work with the maximum number of bodies and physical presentations possible.

Jessica : [00:18:56] Dan, I wanted to ask you, how does Accenture decide on new accessibility-focused initiatives and how are you getting your employees involved in this?

Dan : [00:19:05] As far as deciding on new initiatives or what we should prioritize, that really is something that the accessibility council takes up and takes a look at. What they’ve done is to assess disability initiatives and what we should focus on as we establish a multi-year accessibility roadmap with our accessibility council. We’re trying to do that initial data capture phase of figuring out what are all the assets we have to make sure that they are complying or meet the accessibility standard that we have set to gather that data. So that was the first step. And now we think we have that locked so we’re slowly working on updating assets that we need to make accessible. We first started out looking at what websites and digital tools we use throughout Accenture. Just like the bell-shaped curve or Murphy’s Law, 20 percent of our products impact probably 80 percent of our employees. They’re the ones we looked at first as far as testing them for accessibility. Now we’re putting in a remediation plan and then really working on it and being ever vigilant. We have a testing schedule for all our sites and tools. Then we also have another third-party software that we have layered on to do some automated tests. Again, this is really testing to the standards and not usability which can be two separate things. And that’s where we get our employees involved. You may build to the standards but then how useful is it to the actual employee? We involved a lot of our own employees with disabilities to be that end user tester. For instance, we have just revamped their accessibility website internally where we know we can have a lot information for employees as well as for business development. You know, for developers. We had one of our employees with vision impairment kind of go through that site to test it and make sure it was accessible by people who had visual impairment. We try to integrate and educate that way through all our networks. Not only do we have an employee at this building point network, but we also have a mental health allies program of disability champions that work at Accenture, so we have a lot of people and employees that are very passionate about disability inclusion and are willing to help us ensure that everything is in good working order for people with disabilities. If you think about it, it’s in their best interests. They want to make sure that they can be effective and efficient at their jobs, so they can be on the ground floor of helping us in the design process. In your last podcast, I loved one of the quotes your previous guest who talked about designing and developing tools and resources that are born accessible and without having to remediate them later in the process. So that’s what we’re trying to do as an extension.

Jessica : [00:22:38] I love that you guys are focused on that and as I’m having more conversations with technology companies on this topic in organizations and with professionals like you, I’m hearing about a lot of the challenges of accessibility where after the fact we’re trying to make something accessible or trying to build into that accessibility component. And it is extremely time consuming and can also be very expensive to redevelop and recode and reprogram a piece of technology.

Dan : [00:23:09] That’s very true. People forget that it if you can’t go in thinking about accessibility, the cost of remediation is so much more. I can’t recall the figure off the top my head right now, but it’s an exponential percentage to remediate versus to create accessible. So it’s good point to remember.

Jessica : [00:23:35] Yeah absolutely. Your work at Accenture is just simply amazing. I know we talked about the council and how you get employees involved. And I think that those things are amazing. Let’s go ahead and also talk about some of that technology you guys have developed for your clients and in the consumer marketplace. One of the things we talked about when prepping for this podcast is some cool Internet of Things technology that you guys have put together. Can you talk about those a little bit for me?

Dan : [00:24:05] Sure. I think what’s most well-known and out there in the public space right now is a couple of innovations that we have through a partnership with Tech for Good and their innovation lab in India. Specifically, we have a product which is like an augmented sight type of tool you can pair with a wearable like some smart glasses. And what that does is it allows an individual with vision impairments, be it blind or low-vision, to take a snapshot of the area around them if they’re in a meeting with a lot of people in the room and it will provide them feedback on what they’re actually facing or focusing on whether it’s people, or some land formation like a desk or office space. It will explain that layout to them, so they get a little bit of a situational awareness. The other one was a real-time powered speech-to-text and text-to-speech device that was created for one of our employees in the Philippines. We hired this woman in the Philippines who was deaf and she was working with a team and we were trying to figure out a better way for her to interact engage and collaborate with her team members. So we went to work on this application so she could interact, and she was able to collaborate by putting it on a kind of Skype conferencing tool.

Jessica : [00:27:39] You were talking about the sign language technology that just gave me goosebumps because how amazing for your team to come together and say hey we’re going to learn this. We’re going to commit to being able to be part of a team and allow for everybody to participate and contribute in a way that works for them. I mean that says so much about that team and then about Accenture as an organization.

Jessica : [00:28:03] I wanted to ask you if you could share some advice for the folks who are listening to the podcast today. Where can they start if they are thinking about making their workplaces more accessible? Where do they need to begin?

Dan : [00:28:20] Thanks for the question and giving me an opportunity to talk about a white paper that Accenture recently published on accessibility. Anyone can Google “Amplify Accessibility Accenture” and it’ll come up with the white paper. Our team does a fantastic job of writing an overview of the importance and impact that the accessibility has on an organization. They specifically came up with four key recommendations. The first one being to understand the application of accessibility and they give information in the white paper about designing accessibility into your business and transforming your design and development process, and lastly building an ecosystem of accessibility. I strongly urge and recommend listeners to go and check that white paper out if you are the person that’s responsible for championing that cause within your organization. I would also add that you probably need to build some allies and leadership and across functions. You need a groundswell of people from all aspects of the company talking about accessibility in all the various terminology that is relevant to the company. So in terms of employees, in terms of clients and customers, in terms of business implications. Through new innovation, those conversations about accessibility and inclusive design and human-centered design have to be commonplace throughout your organization. We really need to get everyone to understand that accessibility should have the same priority as we put on security. When we talk about cybersecurity no one thinks twice or blinks an eye when it’s about a product that we have to build security into from the beginning. It’s got to be the most secure product available and we build it right and we build it with the most stringent security protections. We need that same mindset when it comes accessibility.

Jessica : [00:30:30] I was just reading that, so I will link to that in the podcast transcript that we put on the Workology site. Dan thank you so much for joining us today. Where can people go to learn more or connect with you? And, where can they go to learn more about accessibility, inclusivity and diversity hiring at Accenture?

Dan : [00:30:57] Well as far as Accenture is concerned, you can definitely go to our website and take a look at the different offerings that we do for our employees and our focus in the community around persons with disabilities. I’d recommend people take a look at our corporate site on persons with disabilities and myself you can find me on LinkedIn. That’s basically where my professional profile lives and sits and I do my best to respond to all messages. If you put in that you heard me on this podcast I’ll try to bring you up on a the priority list of responses. Just mention the Workology podcast and I’ll get back to you.

Jessica : [00:31:52] I will link to the enablement Accenture website and then also to the white paper on Amplifying Accessibility that Dan mentioned. Just go to the resource section of the Workology podcast episode here and you’ll be able to get all that information. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. I really appreciate it.

Dan : Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.

Jessica : [00:32:15] I love Accenture’s commitment to accessibility for their employees as well as their customers or clients. Their executive accessibility council really helped set the standard for the rest of the organization. It really helps to organize and focus the larger efforts of the company so that people understand the expectations and the company’s commitment in this area. Thank you for joining the Workology podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader who is tired of the status quo.

Exit: [00:32:49] Until next time you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous podcast episodes. Production services for the Workology podcast with Jessica Miller-Merrell are provided by Total Picture.com.