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

Guest Dr. Chris Law – VPATs, Risk and Accountability

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, everyone. Today’s podcast is sponsored by AbleDocs, makers of axesWord, axesPDF, as well as document remediation services. So we want to thank them for being our sponsor on today’s podcast. My name is Chad Chelius. I’m an Adobe-certified instructor, accessible documents specialist, as well as a consultant.

Dax Castro
And my name is Dax Castro. I’m an Adobe certified PDF accessibility trainer, as well as an accessible document specialist certified by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. Chad, we are on episode 18. How are you doing today man?

Chad Chelius
I’m doing pretty well. Doing pretty well.

Dax Castro
We are close to 2000 podcast downloads, dude. We are getting there.

Chad Chelius
That is that is awesome. I’m glad that listeners are finding it, you know, useful and interesting?

Dax Castro
Well, you know, and I’ve talked to a couple of our podcast listeners who are quick to kind of get their feel on how they feel about the podcast. What’s interesting is a lot of them are like, “Oh, I’m on. I’m on episode five. I haven’t caught up yet.” So, you know, it’s interesting that, it’s kind of like watching your favorite series, like I was watching Evil on… I don’t know, whatever channel it’s on, but the series, you know, and we just binge watched for like a whole day to get through all the episodes. So, you know, it’s interesting that we get an influx of people every Tuesday when we post but there’s still lots of people going back and listening to all the episodes.

Chad Chelius
Yeah, yeah. So don’t talk about the episodes with any of your friends. We don’t want any spoilers along the way. [Dax laughs]

Dax Castro
Well, I will tell you, though, I have I did go back. And before on our podcast, we had all of our podcasts listed by title, Episode 17, Episode 16… on down the line. And I got feedback from one of our listeners who said, “Hey, you know, I have a really hard time searching through your podcast to find a topic that I, you know, that I wanted to hear about that I that I had heard before. And which episode was it was a 16 was a 14?” She goes “It’d be great if they actually had titles that helped me identify what was in the podcast.” So I went back, and I changed all of the titles to our podcasts. So on chatchax.com, now on the streaming services, they’re all just by episode. But on the website, where the full transcript is, you can now search by, or you can look at, the different titles of the podcasts and really understand what podcast that was or what the main topic was based on the keywords that were, you know, that we were talking about?

Chad Chelius
Well, and just another example of how we value people’s feedback, right. I mean, whether it’s, you know, whether it’s about how we post the podcasts or, you know, regarding content, you know, that we cover in the podcast, so keep it coming, everyone.

Dax Castro
Absolutely. Well, today, we have a special guest, Dr. Chris M. Law, who is a consultant at Accessibility Track. Chris, welcome to the program.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Hi, there. Thanks for having me on. Thank you.

Dax Castro
You know, you were mentioned as a person of interest by one of our previous podcast guests, and she said, You need to have Dr. Chris on, you need to have him come and talk to you. And so we thought we reached out to you. And lo and behold, here you are. So thank you again for joining us.

Dr. Chris M. Law
You’re welcome. Good to be known as a person of interest. In a good way, I hope.

Dax Castro
Absolutely. So yeah, in addition to being a consultant, I hear you run a couple of different conferences is that that’s correct?

Dr. Chris M. Law
I do I I started my own consulting firm, run about five years ago now. And I sort of ended up by accident creating conferences. Some I used to work in in testing, and I worked as a consultant based in federal agencies, and we were running testing programs. And one of the things that I I did soon after starting up my own consulting firm, was I was working with some previous colleagues from the government and we were doing a webinar, you know, as you do these webinars to explain what you’re what you’re doing. And we were talking about the test process and things like this. And the three of us were sitting together having a beer afterwards. And we were bemoaning the fact that the there wasn’t a conference where people could come together and talk about testing, right?

Dr. Chris M. Law
So, testing of websites and mobile might have come up as a single session at many other types of conferences, [right]. But there wasn’t one where people gather together and start talking about this. And at the time, and it’s even, it’s even worse now. Because at the time, there were, you know, say 10, Major, different ways of testing. They’re all testing the same types of things. But they’re all doing it a different way. They’re all reporting a different way. They’re promoting it in different ways. And, you know, now, I think the numbers was probably in the hundreds. But at that time, we weren’t gathering together. And we were just looking at each other over a beer and saying, “Why doesn’t anybody do this? Why doesn’t anybody have this? It should be somebody should create this conference?” We all kind of looked at each other. I said, “Yeah. Okay. Well, it’s gonna be us. And isn’t it?” So we did. And we, we gathered our friends to become a committee. And within six months, we’d had our first actual peer reviewed conference on accessibility testing. Yeah.

Chad Chelius
So Chris, I’m curious, what is the percentage of people talking about document testing versus web and app testing?

Dr. Chris M. Law
I don’t have the exact percentage numbers, but it’s, but it’s comparatively very low. Unfortunately, the lion’s share of, of accessibility testing has been with web and websites. And then, to an extent, mobile testing mobile, even with the testing and symposium, we created a committee just to create a new mobile test process. We started that process about three years ago, we released the first one and two years ago. And then, document testing has always been the forgotten one, as it were, unfortunately. We do get we do get some papers that are submitted on document testing we’ve had we do workshops at the beginning of our conferences, and we’ve had, we’ve had a number of document accessibility testing workshops. But yeah, it’s it’s certainly an area that needs more attention doesn’t get enough attention. When you compare, when you think about how work mostly gets done. It mostly gets done by documents in big companies, it doesn’t necessarily really get done by websites. Okay. So there’s a huge gap there.

Chad Chelius
Sure. Now, I hear that there’s a new version of VPAT being developed. Have you heard anything about that?

Dr. Chris M. Law
Yeah, I hear things. The folks there every now and then there’s VPAT, is something that has been tried to sort of be shepherded through changes as as WCAG has changed. And I think people are beginning to realize the maybe the shortcomings of it. So I know that they are working on updates to it. I’m actually working separately to create a new, a new nonprofit organization, which hasn’t actually even been officially announced yet. But but we’ve had meetings with people in the testing community. So talk about well, how do you report your test results? Because the traditional VPAT of even, like, let’s say the latest version from, you know, was came out a year or two ago. You could have a VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template), or Accessibility Conformance Report, as the name sort of change to. It might have a 56-page document is basically a huge table. And somewhere in that 56 pages, is the answer to the question, is this accessible or not?

Dax Castro
I find that’s really the key. That has really been the problem, right? Because, you know, I’ve worked with lots of companies who start either developing a web app or the latest company, I worked for Jacobs Engineering, they developed a 1 Million Lives app that was a social app for gauging your emotional health. And it was a great app, a great idea. And they started down a path where they had a developer company start creating this app. In the end, the Jacobs took it over and finished it out.

Dax Castro
But what they didn’t do is they didn’t look at the VPAT close enough for the framework that they were developing it in, to know whether it was accessible or not. And so they gave it to me after they were… You know, the cakes three quarters of the way big. They just needed to frost it, put some cherries on it, and said, Hey, Dax, are you allergic to carrots? And of course, the cake is a carrot cake. Right? So, you know, it is it is I’m like, Look this. I said, you can’t navigate any of this with a keyboard. Right?

Dax Castro
And so the, you know, the answer was, well, we’re too far into this. Now. We’re really, we really think it’s important. And thank you so much for, you know, bringing this to our attention. But we’re gonna have to catch it on the next round. Right? We just were too far into this to go. And I felt bad because I’m like, okay, but I can’t help you promote it, because it’s not accessible, people are going to rake me over the coals. Once you put your foot out there as being an accessibility advocate, everything you do has to be on point. But to your point, going back to what you said, the VPAT And for those who don’t know, for our listeners who don’t understand, understand or know what a VPAT is, because in the document accessibility world really don’t have a VPAT, right? A VPAT is a voluntary assessment of the accessibility features or testing points of pass fail does not apply to several different criteria within your site, or app or whatever it is you’re developing.

Dax Castro
And the ability for the average lay person to decipher whether or not overall the app or website is accessible by reading this VPAT is almost impossible. Because I’ve had people give me VPAT and say, Oh, yeah, it’s accessible. And I look at it, it’s like, “does not pass,” “partially pass, partially, pass partially,” I’m like, this is like, Bull, but it says a partially passes, like, Yeah, but that means it doesn’t pass, it means it’s only got certain elements that pass, right?

Dr. Chris M. Law
We had we had in our in our meetings, where people shared tales with us procurement staff, who assumed that if the device or website had a VPAT, that meant it was accessible [right]. It’s just because they’ve got mountains of paperwork. And then if they’re not properly trained, and really, you do need proper training in order to assess what a VPAT is. I liken it to the process of trying to go buy a car. And there’s a standard sticker on the window of a car, right, that tells you how fuel efficient it is and what the safety rating is. And it’s a one to five star scale. Now, when I’ve said to people, you could have a one to five star scale for accessibility of products, people said no, no, you can’t do that is too complicated. And my counter argument is, “You know, the people who created that five star scale, they had arguments to as to what warranted five star,” [right]. And what, what warrants five stars keeps on changing. [Yep]. So as new to new safety, technology improves, things have to change. So I’m not sure whether we’ll end up creating a five-star system or something like that, or an ABCD?

Dax Castro
I think the ABCD was the one yeah, was the I’ve heard of the score that what’s the scuttlebutt around, at least with the circles I run in, is that the letter grade for accessibility is kind of the, the, the up and coming for how to what they’re looking at to change the vpat. system. So…

Dr. Chris M. Law
But you also don’t know what the test process is. Right? It created the VPAT. So going back to the car analogy first, first, you, you would say to the dealer, well, is this car safe? Yeah. Yeah. And the dealer would hand you this 56-page document and say, well, somewhere in here, it tells you whether it’s good luck, right? “And oh, you want it for the other car next to it. Here’s another here’s another 56 page document… this one’s actually 70 pages, go go knock yourself out, go find that.” And then you might say, “Well, were they all tested the same?” You know, if you had a company that said, we drove our car into a brick wall, and it survived just fine, [right], right. You say, “Well, okay, well, what the bricks made out of? Well, the bricks were made out of cardboard. Okay, [right]. It’s not quite the test that we really want we were you on a concrete wall. [Right]. Not a cardboard. So that’s the product that’s one of the problems that we’re looking to tackle is what is the validity of that test process to come up with that result? So it’s not just creating a say, a cover sheet that will tell you whether a product is accessible or not. It’s what the test process is that goes along with it.

Chad Chelius
It kind of seems like you know, when you’re watching the commercial, and it says, four out of five dentists recommend you know, this this particular bubble gum is. Like, well, which five dentists did you ask? You know?

Dr. Chris M. Law
Exactly, exactly. And that’s, and that’s the conundrum for people making procurement decisions, you know, million-dollar procurement decisions. And they find out down the road when the when the people, as you’d mentioned, you know, “Oh, sorry, we don’t actually have that accessibility part for this version, maybe in the future, we’ll get to that.”

Chad Chelius
Well, and it’s all a big challenge, you know, and Dax and I have had made this point many times on this podcasts where, you know, that there are different levels of accessibility. I mean, it’s just the nature of the beast. Right? Yeah. And when people say, “Well, is this document accessible?” Well, that’s as ambiguous as you can get right. You know, it’s like, is it accessible to the WCAG standard, or to the PDF/UA standard, you know. And a similar analogy, you know, Dax and I mentioned this before, how, if you add the PDF/UA identifier to a document, it doesn’t mean that it’s PDF/UA compliant, it just means that somebody used the rubber stamp and said… You know what I mean.

Dr. Chris M. Law
So, if it’s got a VPAT it’s an accessible PDF/UA… yeah.

Chad Chelius
So Chris, a lot of this seems to boil down to time and knowledge, wouldn’t you say?

Dr. Chris M. Law
Ah, unfortunately, yes. This is, this is the struggle that we’ve been dealing with for a long time. And, and it’s, it’s really, that the accessibility is just not baked into everything is always seen as a sort of extra thing that people do. You know, you know, we’ve, we’ve even said with the testing conference. The testing conference, the accessibility testing conference shouldn’t really exist. Right? What should exist? Is that industry-wide testing conferences of software, should include accessibility as a component.

Dax Castro
Yeah, no, that’s absolutely true. Well, you know, and we, in the in, you know, we run a Facebook group called PDF Accessibility, we’ve got about 1400 members in there. And literally, every week, we get the “I tested my document, and it doesn’t sound the way I think it’s supposed to sound.” And, you know, we always ask, “Well, what did you test it with?” And most of the time, their answer is “Apple VoiceOver on my phone, or VoiceOver on my computer, or read aloud,” and you’re just like, “Okay, that can give you a start, and maybe a sense of where you are, but you realize that only 15% of the users out there are using Apple voiceover to digest their documents, right?”

Dax Castro
So, you know, it’s that that first level of understanding of awareness is one of the tools and WebAIM comes out with their, you know, statistics every single year, but their sample size is only 2,400 people worldwide. And I personally, I find their statistics valuable, because it’s the only metric I can find. But I really find it disheartening, because it’s a very small, tiny percentage of the population. And you have no idea whether or not it’s actually accurate to what the world is.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Well, the Yeah, and even in the accessibility testing field, the accessibility field is tiny, compared to the software development field. [Sure] And, and we’re, we’re sort of chipping away at the rock surface, you know, and the rock face. And we’re not really going to have that much of an impact until it gets baked into everything to begin with.

Dr. Chris M. Law
When I was when I was working at the federal government at that time, there was the a, a large company that did PDFs, let’s say, okay, and they had an alphabetical listing of all of their topics. And, and I would say to people, here, take a look at this website. Where would you think accessibility might show up? [Right] Under “A” right?, It’s under A.” [they replied] “No, it’s under G. It’s under G for government? Because only underneath government heading, would you find accessibility as a subheading.” Well, why just for government?” And I talked to the people that their company and they said, well, they’re the only ones who have requirements right now.

Dax Castro
Yeah. Okay. But surely, it’s good for everybody. Right?

Chad Chelius
Yeah. Chris, you just kind of summed up our podcast in one sentence, you know, I mean, it’s really, really what it boils down to thank you. Thank you very much.

Dax Castro
Well, you know, it really is doing it. Because it’s the right thing to do. Right. I mean, you know, I feed if my kids are hungry, I feed them because it’s the right thing to do. Right? I follow the traffic rules because it’s the right thing to do. Right?

Dax Castro
And, and, and I find, you know, accessibility is a lot like a stop a stoplight, right? You can choose to run the stoplight, but you have to accept the consequences of what happened if you run this stoplight, right? And that may be just a ticket. Sure, you may get away with it, you may get away with it for your, you know, 10th or sixth or eighth time, but eventually someone’s going to catch up with you. And that goes, you know, to my next topic, you know, we find this a lot in organizations where we get these questions of “Well, who’s checking anyway?” Right? “Why do I need to spend five hours on this table to make it accessible? Who’s really gonna know? Acrobat says it’s okay.” Right? And I have that conversation. And I just, I find it so frustrating, because it’s like, you know, I can serve you raw chicken in the salad? And you’re not really going to know, and you’re probably not going to get sick. But you know, that’s right. That’s right.

Chad Chelius
I come from the print world. And it’s kind of like running a running a newspaper on a printing press. And, and the ink density is super low, and you can barely see the ink on paper. And it’s like somebody saying, “Well, who’s reading this anyway? What does it matter?” You know what I mean? Like, we don’t ask that question. Yet we’re asking this question in regards to accessibility. So it’s, it’s an interesting viewpoint.

Dr. Chris M. Law
There’s an interesting sort of through line for me is that, you know, I did my PhD on organizations and their responses to accessibility issues. And I did that into that I finished that in 2010, started 2006. So it was really only in the in the 2000s, that people were starting to even talk about this. They were talking about the business case for accessibility and trying to say, well, there’s a huge market and trying to make convincing arguments, often without data. But yeah, they were trying to make convincing arguments, like there’s this many people with disabilities in the world. And you should really see this as a as an opportunity. And it wasn’t working. It wasn’t changing minds.

Dr. Chris M. Law
So I did my PhD on just going into companies and saying, “Well, how do you respond to accessibility issues?” without any judgment as to why things were right or wrong? Just to learn what they did. And I learned what tended to make them successful at their work and intended to make them fail. And one of the things that tended to make them fail was not assigning responsibility and accountability to doing accessibility throughout the organization.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Fast forward to 2018. I did. I did a survey while I was helping out with the IAAP, International Association of Accessibility Professionals who you mentioned at the beginning, with your certification. Sure. I did a survey myself, Pina D’ Intino into you know, and Julie Romanowski. And Rob Sinclair. We sent out a survey to member organizations to try to figure out what was driving their accessibility program. And basically, one of the main, if not the main, driver of their accessibility programs, at that time was risk mitigation. [Right] Because the number of lawsuits suddenly spiked, you know, it had gone from only one or two, in around about 2010. To now there were thousands of lawsuits. And so risk mitigation was on everybody’s mind. But people didn’t know necessarily how to do it. And, and then, we started the Digital Accessibility Legal Summit, which is my second conference that I run.

Dr. Chris M. LawLast year, Debra Ruh gave a fantastic speech on what she called “The leading edge of globalization” which is inclusion, you know, and they were saying, “Look, if you’re if you’re doing this kind of whack-a-mole approach to accessibility, you’re doing it wrong.” If you’re doing a whack-a-mole approach to inclusion as a whole for race, gender, disabilities, you know, the whole gamut. You’re doing it wrong. You need this to become part of your culture, you need this to be embedded in everybody’s values. So if that was the case, you wouldn’t have somebody saying, “Oh, wait, this is going to take me five hours to remediate this table.” What you’d be doing You’d be saying, “Look, everybody, we’re remediating things, we’re going to fix these things, we’re going to, we’re going to make them accessible from the beginning, which will actually take an extra two minutes, rather than five minutes remediation on the back end.” Anyone who’s remediated a PDF table, after the fact knows that that’s really hard to do. If you if you make all the things in the source document accessible, you’re golden, you know.

Dr. Chris M. Law
So I look at it as a bit like, the, the, what I call the blue paint fallacy, you know, or the blue paint problem, right? If somebody is creating a parking lot, nobody comes to any meeting in advance and says, “Who on earth is going to pay for the blue paint? You want me to paint these disabled parking spots? And I’ve got to go buy some extra blue paint and do extra work to create these parking spots?” Nobody does that. Nobody does that. Because it’s not a problem. Because everybody’s been doing it for a long, long time. Yeah. Okay. And that’s where we need to get to, with accessibility, webs, documents, products, whatever, you name it. That’s what the situation where we need to get to. It’s like, Oh, sure. accessibility. Yes, check. Yes, of course. You know,

Dax Castro
Well, you know, I find it so funny, because when I you tell people, okay, we have these Usually, it’s like, it’s a, you know… Chad and I teach a Accessibility for Word 101 class, and we find that most of the time the people that respond are, well, why do we have to do it this way? We’ve been doing this this other way. And this just seems like a bunch of extra work. And you’re like, Yeah, it really isn’t, you’ve just doing it wrong for so many years. You know, I mean, we say this, almost every episode, that accessibility is 80% of it is using the product the way it was designed to be used. Using styles, using tables the right way. And, you know, when you do that, you really only have to do a small… Right click and add alt text, right? I mean, right, you know, define your heading row. You know, I mean, really, those are kind of the extra lifts, for the most part, that you have to do. And, you know…

Dr. Chris M. Law
I used to teach in exactly the same way I used to teach document accessibility back at Social Security Administration, when I worked there, as a consultant. I did the exact same thing. And, I also find, it’s a good way to just start by showing those types of things styles, and how to format things probably. And then you say, look, actually, here’s a whole bunch of solutions. Now, let me show you this accessibility checklist. And by doing this, you’ve knocked off, you know, 75% of them already.

Dax Castro
Exactly. You know, one of the other things that we like to do, too, is show them how it sounds in a screen reader. You know, it’s like, Okay, this is what you’ve been doing. Let’s listen to it. And they’re like, “Oh, well, that’s doesn’t make any sense.” Like, yeah, exactly. [Yeah] Because if you just start giving them a bunch of rules and say, Okay, this is what you have to do here, eight different things, you now have to change how you’re doing it. The wall tends to go up, right? But if you if you show them, hey, look, this is how your document sounds to people that like, “Oh, I can’t use tabs to make columns. I see why now.” Because it reads it a linear, like just like row… you know, across the page. And you’re like, yeah, that’s it’s pretty easy.

Dr. Chris M. Law
I would, I would say to people, imagine that your talk, or your paper that you’re trying to format. Imagine your piece of paper was just a big long string of ribbon with the words printed on it. And it was like 300 feet long. And somewhere in there is the heading you need. And you’ve got to keep going through the ribbon until you find it. That’s what it’s like for somebody who’s blind trying to read your document when you don’t have your headings marked up.

Dax Castro
Yep, I have a slide and a slide deck that actually is a giant block of text out of a newspaper, that the only way you can differentiate anything, is the dates or the parentheses or whatever. And I put it on screen and I say “Okay, I want you to digest this for a minute.” And then I say “Right now your brains trying to understand what we how this you know, where this breaks, maybe you’re looking at the parentheses, maybe you’re looking at the date, but you’re visually you’re trying to make sense of how to break this document apart. Now let’s look at it with tag. This is why…” and you know, then you go through that whole spiel, you know, usable net to change topics here a bit.

Dax Castro
Usablenet does a report every single year and it I will tell you, the first year that they put this report out at least that I was aware of this report. It had some accessibility challenges. And I worked with them to actually make it more accessible. And they gave it back to them. And they posted it and gave me a little Thank you, which was great. They just sent me a pre release copy of this report, they did an outstanding job at the accessibility for all of these charts and graphs, making them accessible. So huge kudos to Usablenet, they are have made leaps and bounds, progress. And I would say this is intentfully accessible from a user experience standpoint. All of the bar graphs, all the pie charts, all of the things are all done really well.

Dax Castro
But the one thing I wanted to ask to talk to you about was the lawsuits, digital lawsuits on track for record. And in 2018, there were 2,314. 2019 there were 2,890. Now, last year, they had the report it was going to be… they were saying it was going to hit 3000. Well, the reality was it ended up being 3,503 cases. And right now, we’re on to 2021 is 4195 as an estimate for the end of the year. And if they’re estimates or anything like past estimates, it’s going to be higher than that. So I you know, what’s interesting is I found a website that lists accessibility lawsuits, by state or by government or by industry because I find, I get the question, “well, who’s checking anyway?” And I say, “Well, the end user is checking.” And when they check, and your document… it’s one thing when your documents, one or two pages, making that accessible is not a big deal. But what do you do when your documents 800 pages, or you’ve got 800 documents that are 800 pages, and none of them are accessible? Now, you don’t really have the opportunity to kind of fix them quickly. You’re in lawsuit mode, and you’re gonna get sued. You know, and so I find that that’s, you know, once you start giving them those risk, and those risk cases, they tend to [say],”Okay, so what do we do?” Right? [Yeah]

Chad Chelius
Well, and you had made a good point, previously, Dax. Where, you know, we often talk about how, and again, I’m going to refer to the US federal government, as an example, but I’m sure the same rule applies in in Canada and Europe, in that they have oversight, right? I mean, that the federal agencies, they fall under Section 508, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and there’s oversight for those agencies. And you and I were talking to one day, and I said, “Well, who’s the oversight for non federal agencies?” And I think your response was Dax, that “The lawsuit is the oversight.” Yeah, that fundamentally, the lawsuit is the oversight, you know, so in some ways, I think that’s unfortunate. Right? I mean, I think it would be much better if it was more of a proactive approach. But when you use the lawsuit as the oversight, now, it’s a reactive approach right now. Now you’re in now you’re in reaction mode, and you’re like, Oh, my gosh, how do I how do I deal with that? Yeah. So and that’s never a good good spot for anybody to be in.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Being being proactive on any issue, like inclusion. And inclusion issue is the way the way to go. Well, almost universally recognized. People complain that, you know, this is this is extra, this is things that they need to do, you know, when Section 508 came out, people called it an “Unfunded mandate.” [Yeah]. And I would say that’s not the way you look at it. It’s not an unfunded mandate. It’s the funding, the funding has been in your department for the last 20 years. Because if you hadn’t noticed, you know, up to 20% of the population has a disability,

Dax Castro
Right, that didn’t just happen. They didn’t just all of a sudden…

Dax Castro
So, so realistically, you’ve been having a free ride for 20% of your funding over the last 20 years. So now, we’re just saying, you need to spend a couple of percent fixing this.

Dr. Chris M. Law
So this is not an extra. This is not an extra, this was always there, and you were being naughty by following the law. Just just get on with it.

Chad Chelius
It’s funny, Chris, because I have taught several of the federal, the US federal agencies, you know, PDF accessibility, and in a lot of the classes that I would teach, you know, I would often get people who would say, “Well, now that it’s a law, we need to make our documents accessible.” And I’m like, Whoa, Whoa, that was a wall 25 years ago. You know what I mean. It didnt just happen, you know what I mean? [That’s right] But, I think and I don’t know this for sure, but it seems to me that the oversight, even within the federal government was very lax in in the first, probably two decades, you know. And it’s only been in more recent years that the hammer has kind of come down, and they’re saying, “Guys, you know, we this is no longer an option. This is no longer ‘if you want to’, we need to, we need to make this happen.”

Dr. Chris M. Law
Even the Department of Justice was, you know, were tasked with, like doing an annual report on this. When 508 was enacted, which came into effect in 2001. And they were supposed to do an annual report on 508, I think. And I think the first one was in 2003, the second one was in about 2007. [Yep], then the next one was about another 6, 7 years later.

Dax Castro
Yeah it was 2012. And then in 2017, yeah, and this is this goes back to where I started with accessibility, I worked for the California high speed rail project. And in 20016, 17, we got the mandate of “Hey, in 2019, everything needs to be compliant” with the California AB-434 came about that said all state agencies have to write an accessibility statement stating that they comply, or that they’re making plans or you know, that they’re compliant. And a lot of agencies were just scrambling, right, you know.

Dax Castro
But if you if you get the tip of the spear, I call AODA, The Accessible Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the tip of the spear, because they are literally doing everything that I think the rest of the world should be doing. They’re really holding businesses accountable. And I think that really, if you’re not in Canada right now, and you’re thinking about accessibility and thinking, “Oh, well, this is, you know, just for government sites, and it’s not really for me yet.” It’s coming. Right, Chad, you know, the fine structure for the AODA is really very poignant, right?

Chad Chelius
Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean, you know, looking at looking at the, you know, the regulations, I mean, corporations can be fined up to $100,000 per day. And individuals and unincorporated organizations can be fined up to $50,000 per day. I mean, that is significant.

Dax Castro
Well, you know, what’s interesting is that if you are a director or an officer of a corporation or organization, you can be personally fined $50,000 per day, which is a huge “holy-cow” moment, right? I mean, if I am C-suite executive who’s in charge of a certain project, and that project gets sued for accessibility, I can be fined $50,000 a day. That’s huge. Right?

Chad Chelius
That is.

Dr. Chris M. Law
One of the one of the ways that I usually used to explain this to people as to why they should be doing it is to say, “Look, if you were if you were excluding people based off of race, [right] do you think it’d be in the news the next day?” Right? “If you were excluding people based on gender? Do you think it’d be in the news?” The difference with accessibility of all of the…, You know, all all categories require training and education and that type of things.

But only disability access requires you to actually change your technology. Yeah, that’s the only one. And that’s why it generates so much protest.

Dr. Chris M. Law

Dr. Chris M. Law
Because you have people who have not been educated on those changes. They never heard about accessibility in school. Right? They may have gone through a four year grad program in computer programming and never heard the word accessibility. Right? So you have these people and the first thing if you let if you have an environment where people can protest, they will protest, right? If you make the environment such that there is no protest, this was one of the things I learned in the PhD was it depends on what environment the leadership sets. If the if the leadership says “No, no arguments, stop with the arguments just get it done. This is actually a priority. We’re going to get it done.” And someone says “Yeah, but you say no, no, no, no, no buts. Just go get it done. Thank you very much. report to me back when you got it done. Okay.” That’s that’s the thing that makes change. But it but it is the disability access is fundamentally different in that way to all the other inclusion issues.

Dax Castro
You know, we had Sherry Byrne-Hayber on we talked about how to how to start Accessibility programs are what’s the best way to introduce accessibility in your organization. And by far, the best way is always top down. Right? You know, you make that presentation to your senior executive level, and say, This is what it is, this is what we need to do, here’s the risk and why we need to do it. And it’s socially This is the right thing to do. And then you move forward. Trying to do it from the bottom up, is like trying to push that uphill. Ya just can’t do it.

Dr. Chris M. Law
I know, Sherry. One of one of the one of the document guides that we created… Another project that I work on is called the Accessibility Switchboard. It’s a National Federation of the Blind website. And it gives people tips for starting with accessibility. [Okay] Because, like I say, There’s 1000s of people out there who have no idea where to start, and they just start googling accessibility. So what we did was we gathered together a community of practice of some 30 plus consultants and industry groups and academic groups and government as well. And we put together these resources that had been reviewed by the community of practice and contributed as part of it.

Dr. Chris M. Law
One of the one of the guides that we came up with was how to make a pitch to your executives. What are the things that you should have in place? The answers that you should already have? And how to go about getting those answers before you even knock on the door? Okay, so yeah, I totally agree with Sherry,

Dax Castro
I’ve actually got I’m looking at your website right now, Accessibilityswitchboard.org/guideslist. And there’s quite a few guides on here, “Beyond offering employees a compliant process,” “Proactive measures for tackling accessibility issues. a complaint or complaint process? Sorry, my dyslexia is showing through. “How I can find an accessible work environment”, “Digital accessibility and introduction for small businesses and startups…”

Chad Chelius
Well, you know, guys, the AODA applies to all levels of government, all nonprofits, and all private sector businesses with one or more employees. So, you know, these penalties currently apply to organizations with 50 or more employees. And, and again, it includes businesses, public sector organizations, and even nonprofits,

Dax Castro
Right. So small, small businesses aren’t yet, as a whole, bound by ADA, if you end up with 50 or more employees, your this is going to impact you, right, you know, and it’s coming. I had a veterinarian office, messaged me and say, Hey, I’m worried about accessibility. I’m giving these PDFs, I’m emailing these PDFs for people to care for their animals. And I had someone who has low vision, tell me that the document wasn’t accessible. Do I need to make these accessible? And I said, Well, right now in California, someone could say using the Unruh Act that, you know, yes, you could have a case there. But more than that, it’s the right thing to do. She said, Well, is this coming? Should I be working on it now? And the answer was, yes, absolutely. All right, the rules are going to… I mean, the idea that “Everybody should have clean drinking water” is not up for debate, right? I mean, we’re making progress every single day, all around the world, more and more people are getting clean drinking water, I think accessibility is that same way. Accessibility is a right, it is a fundamental, you have the fundamental right to be able to read and see this get the access to the same information as everyone else. And it’s if it isn’t in your area right now, or in your specific field of business, it’s going to be. It just is.

Chad Chelius
You know, David Blatner, who’s a really good friend of Dax and mine, um, he had quoted another gentleman, and you have to forgive me, he, I can’t remember his name, maybe maybe I’ll look it up. And we’ll try to reference it in the show notes [couldn’t find it sorry]. But he made a really good statement. And he said, access to information is a fundamental human right. And I thought that that statement was so poignant, you know what I mean? Because we’re now talking about, whether it’s intentional or not, withholding information from people. And to me, that is significant. You know, that that is a really, really important statement that I think we all need to remember.

Dax Castro
So, Chris, we are at the end of our podcast and so I want to five you a moment to talk about the two. So the two different conferences that you run give us some information about that. So for everybody listening, we always say this every podcast, all of this information is in a transcript on our website, we have links to the show notes. So if we mentioned something or reference, a rule or a website or a profile, we always link to it. So you can go to chaxchat.com and get that. So Chris. In addition to linking to your symposiums, can you tell us more about what they are and who might be the person to go seek them out?

Dr. Chris M. Law
Let me start with the Digital Accessibility Legal Summit, which is coming up in October. In Washington, DC and online. It’s actually primarily online. But it’s hybrid, like most events now. So this is our third legal summit. We have invited talks from experts in the field that the audience is primarily people working in the legal field on the plaintiff and the defendant side, as well as accessibility professionals. So people who run accessibility programs or the lead expert for their organization, that type of thing. So it’s certainly not an introductory level conference. on accessibility, it’s really focused key focused on accessibility issues in legal.

Dr. Chris M. Law
We also, we also publish the results that we published the talks. The publication of Volume One, and Volume Two, which is going to be from the previous two conferences, is going to be coming out later in the summer published by Fastcase. So the website for that is simply www.accessibility.legal.

Dr. Chris M. Law
The other conference that I run is [The ICT Accessibility Testing Symposium], we’re now going to go into our six annual conference [2022ict.org]…

Dax Castro
Six years, great.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Six years, yeah. But it’s annual, in quotes, this time, really, because of the pandemic. So normally, the event happens in the fall. We have people throughout the summer, writing their proposals, which then get peer reviewed by around about 20 of their peers, experts in accessibility from around the world. And then we usually hold a two-day [ICT Accessibility Testing] conference in the fall. Now with the pandemic. things we’re beginning to open up at the beginning of the summer. And we all thought that everybody just needed a break. That people will really want to get back and see the their families and their friends that ends in a long time. And just get outside and start doing things that they’ve been missing. And not sitting at home writing proposals for accessibility conferences. So we actually decided, let’s give everybody a break. So the next annual conference, after skipping 2021, we’ll be in around about April 2022.

Dr. Chris M. Law
We’ll probably be again, in the Washington DC area. We get around about 150 to 200 people showing up. Accessibility testers, people who run accessibility testing programs, people is just interested in the science and the practice and the theory behind testing. We have awards, we have best paper best presentation. That type of thing. We also have a printed proceedings, an actual so when people show up at the conference, they actually get handed a print proceedings, which is a bit like encountering a dinosaur, really. But we’re kind of old school. We want people to be able to read along through the conference. But those the proceedings are, of course, digital format as well available and fully accessible. And we post those at the start of the conference. And all of the proceedings of the previous five conferences are available online as accessible PDFs and as ePub format as well. So yeah, we are doing these conferences. In both conferences, the idea is to Yes, hold the event and the people that attend the event, get first access to the most current knowledge. But our goal is really to take that knowledge and then put a permanent record out there that people can go back to and use as a reference for their work later on.

Dax Castro
Awesome. Well, that sounds really great. I definitely sounds very interesting. And I think the more we you know a lot of there’s kind of I feel like there’s two classes Have people doing accessibility? There’s those who are on the, “I just want to make this past compliance.” And that’s not an aspersion. It’s just, “I’m just trying to do my job and get this done.” And then there are others who really are interested in the behind the scenes what it is, what’s the legal aspect of it, you know, how does this apply to different situations? You know, kind of “the extra,” right? And i think that yeah, those are the types of people that benefit for those type for the types of symposiums and conferences you’re hosting. It sounds wonderful.

Dax Castro
Chris, thank you so much for being part of this podcast. Um, again, Dr. Chris M. Law is a consultant at Accessibility Track. And what’s your website? AccessibilityTrack.com. That makes it super easy.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Yeah, like that’s a link to all my projects. Thanks to you, Chad. Thanks to you, Dax. This has been a fun conversation. I’ve greatly enjoyed it.

Chad Chelius
Thank you, Chris. So once again,I want to thank AbleDocs for being our sponsor on today’s podcast. Once again, AbleDocs, are the makers of axesWord, axesPDF, as well as document remediation services. So again, thanks for your support our podcast. My name is Chad Chelius.

Dax Castro
And my name is Dax Castro and together each week we bring you Chax Chat where we unravel accessibility for you.

Chad Chelius
Thanks, guys.

1 Comment

Fascinating topic and one I can completely relate to having been in the accessibility field for the past 10 years.

My thought is that we can respect that not everyone is interested in “our” topic on the same level. IF people across the board producing software, apps, documents, products would just move towards compliance that would be marvelous.

Deeper buy-in will be one person at a time. Love the low hanging fruit approaches by all three people in the conversation. “Teach what is already built-in to Word, etc. Let people who have no need for a screen reader hear how their website/ product sounds using one. Have people who use sight to read try to quickly pick out the heading without the clues CSS provides.”

Inspirational for me and confirmation that I am on a useful path with my own clients.

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