Document Accessibility Unraveled
Chad Chelius and Dax Castro during an Accessibility Podcast with the Chax Chat Logo between them.

Guest: Sheri Byrne-Haber on starting an accessibility program in your organization

Dax Castro
Welcome to another episode of Chax Chat. Join Chad Chelius and me Dax Castro, where each week we wax poetic about document accessibility topics, tips, and the struggle of remediation and compliance. So sit back, grab your favorite mug of whatever. And let’s get started.

Chad Chelius
Welcome everybody, today’s podcast is sponsored by AbleDocs, makers of axesPDF for Word, axesPDF Quick Fix, as well as document remediation services. So we want to thank them for being our sponsor for today’s podcast. My name is Chad Chelius I’m a trainer, author, consultant, Adobe Certified Instructor as well as an Accessible Document Specialist among other things.

Dax Castro
And my name is Dax Castro. I am an Adobe Certified PDF accessibility trainer. I’m also certified as an Accessible Document Specialist by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. And we want to thank you for joining us for our podcast this week, we are excited because we have a very special guest. So Sheri Byrne-Haber is someone that I have been following for a long time on Medium and she and I have become friends on LinkedIn. I look forward to her articles, they are always so great. Sherry is an accessibility architect with VMware. And I’m really happy to introduce Sherry to you here today at Chax Chat. So Sheri, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sheri Byrne-Haber
Sure, so I live at the top of the mountain that makes Silicon Valley a valley. So kind of halfway between San Jose and San Francisco. I started off my professional career with a degree in computer science, did a lot of software testing for about 10 years, decided that I wanted to go to law school got involved in a lawsuit that was questioning whether or not some software that was buggy had been adequately tested. And I realized that software people don’t understand the law, the legal people didn’t understand technology, and there ought to be pretty good business for somebody who understood both. But during my law school, my third year of law school, we discovered that my daughter, my middle daughter had a progressive hearing loss. And so I ended up going into advocacy for the deaf. And from there into accessibility. I’m a wheelchair user, I have type one diabetes, but I didn’t get into accessibility because of my own issues. I actually got into accessibility because of hers.

Chad Chelius
That’s awesome.

Dax Castro
Great, well, the reason that we thought we would have you on is because you have some good insight on accessibility from an organizational standpoint, right? How to get accessibility started in a corporation or a company. And and that can be a struggle, sometimes, wouldn’t you think?

Sheri Byrne-Haber
Oh, absolutely. And the larger the company, sometimes the larger the struggle. So the the small people don’t get it, and don’t don’t always have the resources to implement an accessibility program. But large companies, you have to do some pretty pervasive organizational changes, I mean, it’s easy to get something accessible, it’s hard to keep something accessible.

Dax Castro
You know, that’s a really good point, because with large companies, you have lots of documents, right. And I can think of several companies off the top of my head that have 10s of 1000s of documents, PDF documents, especially including their website, right, that are not currently accessible, and they want to start a program but it’s so daunting because there’s so many documents, and they look at it, you know, look at the elephant and say well, how do I even start, you know of course, everybody says you eat an elephant one bite at a time, but where do you start? Right? How do you get that going?

And usually, it’s one person at a department gets tapped or has awareness or is required for some submittal. And then it’s like pushing mud uphill, sometimes in large corporations trying to get that buy in, right? Can you give me some of your thoughts on approaches for trying to get that buy in kind of what what are some of the better ways to do that?

Sheri Byrne-Haber
So when I accepted the job at VMware, I made it a contingency that an employee resource group around disability be started, VMware had 26 inclusion initiatives going on at that point in time, but disability wasn’t one of them. And so I needed to get that going because I feel that that’s the most important way to get accessibility integrated into an organization, you have to have more people talking about accessibility than just when the accessibility team is in the room.

Dax Castro
And that is definitely a great point. I know Chad, you go around and train a lot of different organizations. Matter of fact, I was just speaking with a large engineering organization, that you that in fact, you had trained, and they had said that, you know, Chad was the one who trained us and they were talking about how in their engineering firm it was really hard because the person had come in with previous experience doing accessibility and this corporation has literally 10s of 1000s of employees and said, why aren’t we doing accessibility? Do we not have an accessibility program? And that was the start. And they said, oh, by the way, you’re going to be the person in charge. And so, you know, usually is where we get, you know, who are our accessibility advocates, they’re the people that kind of get tapped with the magic wand of you now are the accessibility person!

Chad Chelius
Isn’t that surprising? Like a company that does have, as you said, 10s of 1000s of employees you know, it’s surprising that they haven’t already discovered, you know, the need for for this requirement, you know, for somebody to handle accessibility and to facilitate that within the organization.

Dax Castro
Well, Sherry, you can talk to this, because one of the things that happened in 2017, well, at least in California, right AB-434 and the mandate to ensure that, you know, you had to certify that your website was accessible, and also a lot of state organizations were scrambling, including organizations like Caltrans and some other organizations that ended up getting sued. And it was a big deal, right Sheri?

Sheri Byrne-Haber
Well, the biggest state that I’ve seen resulting from AB-434 was the suit against the Parks and Recreations Department. So that was actually a third lawsuit where the state of California contracted for a campsite reservation program, paid a fortune to a subsidiary of Xerox had the WCAG standards written into the contract. And it was clear that what was delivered that they didn’t even try to make it accessible. And when the state didn’t go after Cerner, who was the subcontractor that built it, a, somebody from I think the California Federation of lines, ended up suing them, because he’s an intended third party beneficiary, right, what do you do what, you know, who are campground reservations site for? They’re for the public! Right, you know, booking sites. So that one is still pending in the court system.

Dax Castro
Well, you know, it’s interesting that, you know, we find this a lot, at least I find this a lot in the work that I do, where an agency, a state or federal agency will know that their stuff has to be compliant, it will be in the contract. But then when you talk to them, they have no idea what that actually means. They just know it’s something they have to include, some box that they have to check. And, you know, I find mixed results, sometimes you’ll get I’ll be the one giving a presentation where it’s like, okay, we’re getting ready to start this project here, the accessibility things we have to think about moving forward as we prepare this EIR or as we develop these documents, or this public outreach meeting, or whatever, and I get mixed results.

Some are like, this is great, and some have, you know, some limited knowledge, but others are like, yeah, we don’t really work, you know, we’re not really interested, we just want to check the box. And, you know, make sure we’re our risk is mitigated, which I get, right. Not everybody is passionate about accessibility. Not everybody is as an advocate. But I think what’s what’s very clear, is that most state organizations and federal organizations, at least here in California that I’ve experienced, have a very limited view of what accessibility is.

Now, I will tell you one of the organizations we I am currently working with for a large water project is vastly familiar with accessibility and are doing a great job. And Matter of fact, gave us a series of guidelines and said okay, here’s what you need to do if you’re going to work on our documents. And so, you know, it’s a mixed result but I think it’s where we come in as advocates to be able to inform them on, you know, what the accessibility rules actually are and why it’s important to follow. I think it’s the why that’s really the key.

Sheri Byrne-Haber
And that’s why it’s so important to have people with disabilities involved. If you’ve got the state and you’ve got a contractor, and there’s a box that being checked, but nobody actually has any skin in the game about the results, that’s when stuff falls through the cracks. I see the same thing with lawsuits. You have all of these professional plaintiffs going around filing all these lawsuits and the settlement agreements always say

“you know, you have to be WCAG complaint,
but who’s checking it when it’s done.”

The plaintiffs got paid, they don’t care. You know, they’re all filing the next lawsuit. And the corporations sometimes they care sometimes they don’t but 20% of cases that were filed in the Last calendar year 2020, were against repeat plaintiffs, they were people who get sued once got stuff accessible, and then didn’t keep it accessible after the first plaintiff went away.

Dax Castro
Wow, you know, I just did a presentation not too long ago, on AODA in Canada, and the Canada laws actually are taking this into account. And they have a little, they have a matrix of the fees, the penalties increase based on the severity of the violation and the frequency. So if you’re a repeat offender, they’ve got a scaling set of penalties that can even be applied to an individual project manager, you know, senior manager or supervisor to really kind of make it sting. So I think that’s interesting.

Violation HistoryMajor
Impact
Moderate ImpactMinor
Impact
Major$15,000$10,000$5,000
Moderate$10,000$5,000$2,500
Minor$2,000$1,000$500
The maximum penalties under the AODA include Corporate/Business fines up to $100,000 per day. Directors and officers found guilty can be fined up to $50,000 per day.

Sheri Byrne-Haber
The way AODA’s set up is it’s set up, like carpool lane offenders, right? You do it once there’s a fine, you know, it’s usually big enough to be painful, but not big enough to bankrupt you. But the next fine, if you do it is double, and then it’s fine. If you do it again, it’s triple, you know, they figure that they have to escalate the pain to send the message.

Dax Castro
Sherry, can you talk to us about, you know, some approaches to introducing accessibility as a formal program within your organization where are the places to start?

Sheri Byrne-Haber
So the one thing that I always make sure that I include in every introduction to accessibility class that I ever do, is what I refer to as the Sady video [audio description version]. And Sady is spelled S-A-D-Y. And it’s 90 seconds on how assistive technology changes people’s lives. And then it was basically an Apple ad. And it goes through head switches, it goes through connecting your hearing aids to Bluetooth, reading aids for children with dyslexia, home controls, all the different pieces of assistive technology, because it’s easier to create empathy, when you understand what it is that these groups of people need, and what it is that they’re not going to have, if stuff isn’t accessible, and then I stop and tell the story about my daughter with her hearing aids.

So my, my daughter’s father was Chinese, and she spoke Chinese from a very young age. So she had a progressive hearing loss, but didn’t really start to get bad until she was about four and a half. And by the time she was nine, she actually lost the ability to understand Chinese, because Chinese, Mandarin was very subtle vowel tones and she couldn’t hear them anymore. Her ability to understand and speak Mandarin, with her father’s side of the family was totally integrated into her identity, then comes the Bluetooth connections to her hearing aids, she can understand Mandarin again. And as she flip flopped back, it was just it was an amazing thing to watch, but just a tiny thing like that, completely changed how she thought about herself.

Chad Chelius
That’s phenomenal. Sherry and so you use that story as your, you know, kind of guiding companies and, you know, getting them to kind of buy into Accessibility Awareness. And and, you know, the whole concept of that correct?

Sheri Byrne-Haber
Yeah, when I teach about accessibility, I don’t focus so much on what the guidelines 1.4.3 is this and guideline 2.4.6 is that, I have them broken up into categories, and then we talk about the why all the way through? Because if you get why, why, why why, you know, unless you’ve got a heart made out of brick, you’re really gonna start to feel the pain that is caused by not following those guidelines.

Chad Chelius
Yeah, I mean, I think we, you know, we as sighted users or, you know, however you want to describe it, you know, we tend to think about, you know, accessibility in the realm of, you know, the visually impaired, and, you know, a kind of a certain group of people, but the people who are impacted by what we do, is very very broad. Right? I mean, you know, it’s such a broad range of people. And, you know, I’m curious that Sady video that you mentioned, is that available online?

Sheri Byrne-Haber
Yeah. There’s lots of versions on it on YouTube.

Chad Chelius
Like Google or Youtube? Okay, cool. Cool. Well, we’ll put a link to that in the, in the show notes to that so that everybody can see that. That’s, that’s awesome.

Sheri Byrne-Haber
So the second thing I like to use to create empathy is I show a chart that talks about the employment rate of people with disabilities.

You know, the entire goal of the ADA was to get more people with disabilities working and the employment rate for people with disabilities, you know, 30 odd years ago when the ADA passed was about 50%. Today post pandemic, were down below 20.

Chad Chelius
Wow

Dax Castro
Wow

Sheri Byrne-Haber
We have utterly failed to correct the situation with respect to employment of people with disabilities. And the reason why people with disabilities can’t get jobs is that the tools that they’re given to use aren’t accessible. So that’s one of the reasons why I took the job at VMware, I was anxious to get into a position, partly where I could use my technology background again, but also partly to improve the tools so that people with disabilities who are using VMware software, you know, could use those tools effectively and can stay employed.

Chad Chelius
Well, well. And last episode, and I talked about my experience with this. But last episode, we had Jose Martinez from Lighthouse for the Blind. He was Chicago, right Dax?

Dax Castro
Yes

Chad Chelius
So I did work for Lighthouse for the Blind in Seattle a few years back but but they’re the exception, not the rule. You know what I mean? You’ve got these organizations like Lighthouse, who are employing, I think, strictly, you know, impaired people, which is phenomenal. But they’re the exception, and we just need to get more organizations, you know, employing users who really need that service,

Sheri Byrne-Haber
We need to get people with disabilities employed outside of accessibility, you know, I’m in accessibility, because I love it, I would be in accessibility, even if I didn’t have a disability myself. But there’s no reason why people who are blind can’t be programmers can’t work in sales, can’t work in marketing, we don’t all have to be in accessibility and D&I.

Chad Chelius
Do you find that there’s an inherent bias by people who feel that a visually impaired or or users who are impaired in any way cannot do a job?

Sheri Byrne-Haber
I think it depends on the region. Certainly, I’ve seen more bias in countries that don’t have accessibility and disability laws. I did a presentation in one country where I was teaching developers how to use Aria to program in HTML. And so you know, two hours pretty intense technical class. And at the end, I said, Okay, anybody have any questions? And one guy said, Yeah, why would blind people want to work? Now, that was outside of the US and a country that didn’t have a lot of accessibility laws, didn’t have any accessibility laws, actually.

So you get areas where people with disabilities are associated with begging, because they don’t have career opportunities. In the US, we don’t see quite that much implicit bias. But what we see is what I call the firm handshake and eye contact rule, right? Where that’s what managers want, they want a firm handshake and eye contact. Well, how do you hire somebody with autism? If that’s what your valuing? How do you hire somebody who’s blind who can’t necessarily make good eye contact, if that’s what you’re valuing, you can’t value the same thing. Or you can’t value ablist things and have a successful program hiring people with disabilities.

Dax Castro
You know, I will tell you, I signed an NDA, so I’m not going to give a lot of information about what I’m about to say, but there was a training that I reviewed for accessibility, and one of the things in the training your body language and, how am I communicating? Right and, and I was reviewing the document for just for accessibility compliance is this document passing, you know, WCAG but I talked with the person and said, You know, this is ableist, when you talk about, you know, making eye contact, and making sure that your body language is, you know, this and that and that your, your posture and all of these things, you know, not everybody can control that. Not everybody can, you know, have good eye contact be aware of or even control the way that they’re sitting or looking or presenting themselves in certain aspects.

And, you know, you might want to take this opportunity and during this portion of the lesson to address that and say, Hey, guys, although this is important, for some people realize that there are other segments of the community where this might not apply. And as managers and employers, we need to be cognizant and aware that firm handshake, like you said, the firm handshake and eye contact might not apply and you’ve got to be able to rethink how you apply that standard to someone with a disability.

Sheri Byrne-Haber
Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more.

Dax Castro
You know, it’s interesting, a lot of People just assume, and I say this quite often that accessibility is about wheelchairs and canes, that you’re either blind or in a wheelchair, you know, and that’s the extent and and I find that when I talk to people, you know, I focus a lot on colorblindness. And I will tell you that the reason I do is because it’s one of the largest percentages of people with disabilities that have a great impact. And in organizations where you’re drawing plans and doing diagrams, and you know, we’re gonna take this land, or there’s endangered species on that land, and you’re using red and green, and all these other colors that have don’t have enough contrast, and your manager or the approver, or somebody in the organization is colorblind. That’s a big deal.

And then people are like, well, who’s this for anyway? You know, this is a 700, page EIR, environmental impact statement, you know, environmental impact report, no blind person is going to be looking at this. And I just smile, and I tell them, you know, not every disability is blind disability. And this goes beyond that. And that’s the opportunity to educate. And that’s where I hear all of us, we all come into play. Those of us who are doing document accessibility or just accessibility in general, it’s our responsibility as advocates to be out there talking about the stuff, and getting that awareness out that look, it is more than colorblind or blind or wheelchair, it’s autism. I mean, autism is a huge thing that I think a lot of people don’t understand, you know.

Even as a kid, I look back at myself as a kid. And I know that there were people that were that were autistic growing up at some level. And now that I’m an adult, and I look back on what that means that I can think of those people. You know, I’m much more sensitive now to a way a person might communicate. And I take that, you know, if someone’s maybe a little bit harsh, or they’re very direct, or they have I can kind of read into it, maybe there’s something going on there. My immediate knee jerk reaction is, oh, that person’s a jerk. It’s, oh, well, I’m not really sure what kind ability that person has. So I’m gonna treat them with, you know, take that with a grain of salt.

Sheri Byrne-Haber
70% of disabilities are invisible. You’re right, and we use visible symbols, like the person with the guide dog, or like the person in a wheelchair, because they’re easy to convey. And we talk all the time about people who are blind, but it’s not because they’re the most common form of disability, it’s because it’s the hardest thing to take something that’s inherently visual, and convert it into some sort of sound base input, that people with vision loss can have an equivalent experience.

Dax Castro
Which is why we have jobs, you know, in general, I mean, that’s really what we’re doing. You know, it’s funny Chad, I was I was thinking about this just before the show, actually, I was in the shower thinking about this…

Chad Chelius
Too much information.

Dax Castro
Sorry, TMI. A deaf person can absolutely be a remediator that a person with hearing loss has no barrier when it comes to accessibility to making a document accessible. There are JAWS has a plugin that allows you to display instead of voicing, what would be voiced as you tab from character to character, it has a text display that will show you what JAWS would have said, when it got to that area, a deaf person has 100% chance of making a document compliant, there’s no barrier for a deaf person to make a document accessible.

However, a blind person cannot remediate a document, they can test a document, but even testing a document, they can only report what they find. They can’t actually tell you what’s missing. Because they don’t know! There’s no, there’s no ope it missed a piece of content on the page, all they can do is say, here’s what I found in the document. And I find that’s, that’s such a I wish that were different.

Sheri Byrne-Haber
I wouldn’t go quite that far. So we have a quarter of our team at VMware is legally blind. And what we do is we just pair them up, we make sure that somebody who’s blind is working with somebody who’s sighted. And then that way the sighted person can test the color contrast and the magnification and that a blind person can’t test.

Dax Castro
Right. So you work in teams, that’s, that’s a great approach.

Sheri Byrne-Haber
That’s how we handle that. But that’s really the only exception Other than that, everybody can fully test anything.

Chad Chelius
Well, and when I was at Lighthouse in Seattle, I mean, I was teaching blind users how to make accessible PDF files. Now they were starting from a source Word document. So they had the source content, they had the destination content, and they probably had to do a good bit of bouncing back and forth, to your point DAX of like making sure nothing was missed or anything. But they truly were able to, you know, utilizing Microsoft Word, create accessible PDF files.

Dax Castro
Well, you know, what’s awesome about this podcast? Is I learn something every single episode.

Chad Chelius
Oh my gosh.

Dax Castro
You know? And it’s about talking about this kind of stuff that really helps bring that awareness, right, because now I feel like my point of view has changed a little bit, right?

Sheri Byrne-Haber
I always tell people, you know, it’s like, I know how to use screen readers. In fact, I know how to use six different screen readers, I don’t use them the way a blind person uses them.

Dax Castro
And that is really our struggle, I struggle with that every day. It is really a goal of mine, to try to emulate how a blind person uses a screen reader, because that will dictate what the user experiences is like. I can only approximate, you know, I think I mentioned this last podcast, I can only approximate, right, but it’s that input, the more input we get from the blind community, on how they’re using documents, the better, we can kind of tune our documents to be more accessible for them, that goes beyond the checkmark beyond passing WCAG. Beyond, you know, just being compliant PDF/UA compliant, but actually considering the user experience. Sheri, if you could give someone advice on starting an accessibility program within their organization, for our audience that might be listening, is that what would you say would be a first step in approaching their management or their departments or the powers that control their, organization on implementing an accessibility program,

Sheri Byrne-Haber
The important thing to understand about accessibility is that it’s driven by regulations, and it cuts across the entire product, and even the entire product experience. So most companies already have privacy and security programs established before they get into accessibility. There’s a lot of things that you can leverage in terms of stakeholders and processes that you can take from those programs and then adapt them to deal with accessibility.

Dax Castro
That’s a great point that, you know, part of the struggle is how do we implement the program? Well, the idea is that you probably already have used the steps to implement other programs that accessibility can benefit from. Well, that’s a great insight,

Dax Castro
Sheri, thank you so much, Chad, we are at the end of our episode, Sheri, I’d like to give you an opportunity to plug you know where people can find you if they’ve got more legal questions or more questions about accessibility? How can they get ahold of you?

Sheri Byrne-Haber
Well, I don’t have an active BAR license right now. So I definitely can’t answer legal questions I can answer what would Sheri do questions? But you can find me either on LinkedIn and there are about 19 ways you can misspell my name, but it’s a very unique name. So once you find me you don’t have to worry about did you find the right person. So Sherry is S-H-E-R-I, Byrne-Haber is B-Y-R-N-E hyphen H-A-B-E-R. Now Medium and LinkedIn don’t support hyphens. So just run that all together, Sheribyrnehaber.medium.com or LinkedIn/in/sheribyrnehaber.

And don’t forget, May is when we have Global Accessibility Awareness Day. So that’s coming up May 20, there’s gonna be all kinds of great events going on the entire week as far as I know. VMware is doing a global event on service animals. So I will be posting that to my LinkedIn profile. Also, AccessU put out by a company called mobility is going to be happening in May and I’ll be speaking or I’ll be actually moderating a panel on automated accessibility testing. So if you ever wanted to know about, you know how and when and why to do automated testing, that’s something that you should definitely go to.

Dax Castro
So it’s funny that you mentioned that because Sharon rush from from nobility is going to be a future podcast guest here on Jack’s chat to talk about access you so that’s really great. And I will tell you that for our company internally, at Jacobs, I’m actually leading three different accessibility for InDesign accessibility for PowerPoint and an accessibility for Word, internal class to help promote awareness for document accessibility internally within our company for a Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

So, you know, check with your organization’s if you’re not doing something and you have the ability to maybe bring some awareness to your organization on Global Accessibility Awareness Day, take that opportunity. Awesome. And we’ll link to your profiles on in the show notes for the podcast. Sherry, thank you so much for being a guest definitely I’ve learned something today. Chad, you know, I wanted to ask you, you know, what do you have coming up in the next little bit full as we Close this podcast, where are you going to be next?

Chad Chelius
So I think that the next thing that I’m going to be at is the CreativePro Conference coming up in May, I believe. Yeah. So I’m working on the material for that right now. And if you haven’t been to the CreativePro Conference before, it’s an awesome event. It is online this year, again, due to COVID. But um, you know, it’s still an amazing event. If you do anything in the graphic space with the Adobe products or presentations with PowerPoint, you’re not going to want to miss it. It’s going to be a really great event.

Dax Castro
You know what I and I’ll be there as well at CreativePro Week, and that’s may 17, through the 21st. And I will tell you, the one thing I look forward to a CreativePro Week are the handouts. The handouts are always so great, and a lot of the presenters I know we work really hard to create all of those handouts and they come in one giant big file. So if you miss a session, you kind of get everybody’s notes, which is really great. So definitely check that out at CreativePro Week. My name is Dax Castro,

Chad Chelius
And my name is Chad Chelius.

Dax Castro
And we are Chax Chat and we are so glad you joined us on this journey where we help you unravel accessibility for you.

Chad Chelius
See you guys.

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