Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

Making the Digital World a Better and More Inclusive Place for All: A QnA with ADA Site Compliance

ADA Site Compliance honored Global Awareness Accessibility Day by offering their proprietary accessibility solution for free during the global pandemic. ­The Accessibility ADApter© helps protect businesses and public entities from lawsuits by offering an automated step towards legal compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Given that over 20% of the world’s population has some form of disability it’s important to keep in mind that they have equal right to access digital spaces.

We spoke with Jeremy Horelick about this in a short QnA for TecHRseries,

Catch the complete story:

_____

Tell us a little about yourself Jeremy, and a little about ADA Site Compliance:

As V.P. of Business Development for ADA Site Compliance, I wear a lot of hats—sales, of course, and client service. But I also wear the semi-serious cap, V.P. of Education. So much of our team’s day is spent teaching business owners, governments, and sometimes just friends and family about what digital accessibility really means. We are compelled by core universal values that unite all of us: equality of opportunity, dignity, the common good and inherent worth of people just trying to do their work and live their lives. This can all sound quite kumbaya sometimes, we know. But we founded the company on these tenets and strive to evince them daily in the work we do.

Read More: TecHRseries Interview with John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company

We are full-stack digital accessibility experts and began the business in 2016, well before the recent surge in litigation around ADA compliance. Our CEO, Scott Trachtenberg, is a serial entrepreneur who spent a lot of time and energy (and money) working through a web accessibility threat to his last business. So, when he exited that business, he decided this would be his next one. He figured, correctly, that other business owners like him could use help with their own digital accessibility. He brought aboard our Chief Technology Officer, Scott Rubenstein, who’s been programming for 30 years and is a thought-leader in the information technology space. Rube was in Tower Two on 9/11 and, after escaping the city that day, soon came back to help rebuild its critical tech infrastructure. That’s our origins story in brief.

Today, clients hire us for our expertise on a lot of fronts. Most turn to us for auditing and remediation of their websites, their mobile platforms, their native apps and documents. We also build fully ADA-compliant websites from scratch, offer training and consulting, video captioning, and template-design for PDFs, which our clients can use to drastically cut their costs of re-remediating the same documents each year. We will serve as expert witnesses in litigation, offer validation of existing work. We will walk your dogs. But only your digital ones.

In today’s workplace culture Diversity and Inclusion is becoming more important an aspect to address, can you share some thoughts here on how you are seeing changes with regards to this in companies worldwide?

As with most things, how you see global corporate progress on diversity and inclusion depends largely on where you sit. Regrettably, a lot of companies still only give lip service to these principles. Others are genuinely thinking about inclusion—especially the idea of ableism—in new ways and realize that we don’t all necessarily see outward evidence of disability. I’m neither an attorney nor an HR professional, but I do speak to folks in these roles each day, and many are asking smart questions about including people with mental and cognitive disabilities, trauma, and other disorders that never got discussed in workplaces less than a decade ago. That’s not to say every company has evolved at the same pace. But companies, on the whole, are more sensitized to these concerns now.

Read More: What Will Change for HR After The Covid-19 Lockdown?

Everyone does have equal rights when it comes to accessing digital spaces: what top tips would you share with companies to help them plan their websites better to address this?

Number one is to build accessibility into your design. This applies not just to websites, but to mobile apps, video presentations, PDFs, and emerging technologies like VR and AR. It is far, far easier to build your house on a solid foundation than to retrofit a fundamentally flawed structure. Will you still need to patch up holes in the roof and replace windows from time to time? Of course. But companies thinking they can just keep making cosmetic repairs forever wind up failing at it AND spending a lot more money and human capital.

Number two is to think of usability first. Too many companies approach accessibility from a risk-management stance and ask: “What is the minimum I need to do and spend to meet legal and compliance standards?” Accessibility is not about checking boxes on a given standard. It’s also not about providing an accommodation. Putting an accessibility toolbar or widget—or offering a separate “ADA-compliant” version of your digital assets—isn’t just wrongheaded; it’s demoralizing for large swathes of the populace. You need to have different members of the disability community, such as those with physical disabilities who can’t use a keyboard, or a user who’s deaf, test your design throughout the development process. Keep testing post-launch of your product, and then on a continual basis. Remember that your accessibility testers and their feedback are assets to you and your business, not legal hurdles to clear.

Lastly, use a real expert, as you would for anything else you cared about. A lot of web design firms and marketing companies have veered from their core business, which they may do very well, and now offer plugin tools and accessibility consulting. They boast full ADA compliance and accessibility but are often unqualified to do this work. Or they are simply using white-labelled software that won’t fix the problem. Most business owners have no idea what goes into this work, so they buy a so-called “AI-backed” tool and think they’re done. Later, they get sued, or in many cases sued again. The company’s execs and web developer will point fingers at each other. We’ve seen things get pretty heated, since resolving these complaints can cost six figures between the settlement amount, both sides’ legal fees, multiple rounds of auditing and remediation. So, the key takeaway is really: don’t wait for a lawsuit or a threat. Rather, spend the time and money up front to hire a credible consultant. Do it right the first time.

Given the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and with it the challenging environment for businesses worldwide and the percentage of the disabled workforce dealing with work troubles and work from home issues: what top thoughts / tips would you like to throw light on?

Great question. The pandemic has clearly disrupted global business in so many ways. One of the biggest, of course, is the new “work from home” reality so many of us are confronting and that’s putting a premium on true digital accessibility. People are doing more of their daily tasks remotely. They are ordering food and household supplies through courier services, often via mobile apps. They are banking online, taking classes, using telemedicine, and having lots and lots of meetings. COVID-19 has exposed the cracks in the architecture of our communication and the many things we take for granted. If you’re hearing-impaired, and must now process information only via web-based video, this may be a very tough time for you. A lot of the chat platforms do have captioning and transcription features built in, but these are far from perfect. Many people with autism are having trouble with video conference calls. With so many faces on the screen at once, knowing where to focus or trying to read social cues, especially when the feed freezes or glitches, can be exhausting. Many people simply opt out.

If you’re an employer, you want to offer reasonable accommodations without singling anyone out, especially in a group setting, which can be humiliating. Keep fostering inclusiveness while accepting that these are unprecedented times, and no one has a playbook for every circumstance that arises. But the free market is a beautiful thing; there are companies competing to offer superior live-captioning software, voice-to-text functionality, and other assistive devices. So, if the vendor you’re currently using isn’t cutting it, there are plenty of others who are innovating and often giving away free versions of their product.

And if you’re a business that’s a public accommodation, the best advice is to have a human audit done of your website and other digital assets, then fix the underlying code. This is the only way to make your website truly accessible. It will not only help protect you against the risk of a lawsuit, but it will expand your customer base and generate good PR for you and your business.

Read More: Managing Employee Relations Remotely: Tips for Navigating Issues During the COVID-19 Crisis

How do you foresee the future HR executive change how they approach Diversity and Inclusion? 

Many HR executives we meet have already changed their basic view of diversity and inclusion. Where they once viewed these concepts as a risk-management mandate, more and more now see them as an opportunity to win in the marketplace. When companies bring once-excluded voices and points of view into conversations on strategy, product-development, marketing, sales, client service, legal and regulatory compliance, it’s only natural that those companies will take market share, since they’re drawing on a deeper well of ideas. With some twenty percent of the population having at least one form of disability, it’s clear that ability status will play a much more central role in the leadership and decision-making echelon of any company that intends to compete in its vertical. The smart HR executive already knows this and has made it part of his or her company ethos.

On the whole, when it comes to creating a balance at the workplace between special needs staff and others: what would you share?

Going back to my earlier comment about building inclusion and accessibility into the design phase of web development, I’d say it’s the same thing here with respect to staffing. If you’re designing business processes that factor in special needs employees, then there’s less need to strike a balance later, once these systems are up and running. Naturally, with existing protocols in the workplace, this is much harder, since you don’t have the benefit of designing something anew. But you can still solicit feedback from members of your team who see the world in a fundamentally different way than others might. And be open to the idea that you don’t know what you don’t know. The best employers and managers approach the topic of special needs in the workplace with openness and humility. They’re receptive to the idea that there are forms of disability they may not have considered before, and that having an open mind about this will make their workplace more attractive to top talent.

Any other thoughts before we wrap up?

Yes. We’re big believers in technology and its power to improve our world. As a global village, we are standing on the shoulders of the innovation giants who preceded us. We are solving problems at a breathtaking pace. But we know from the work of so many like Nobel-winner Daniel Kahneman and others that the human brain struggles with the exponential curve. Is it possible that, in the next five years, we will have technology powerful and “smart” enough to make all forms of content universally accessible with the flick of a switch? Perhaps. But that day is not yet here. The qualities of human empathy and discernment are still essential to the process of accessible design. If someone is telling you their AI-backed solution will make your product or service usable to all, they are either misinformed or lying. Humans are an essential part of the solution in making a better and more accessible world.

______

ADA Site Compliance helps protect businesses and governmental entities from lawsuits by offering digital solutions toward legal compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Our company was founded in 2017 by two guys who want to make the digital world a better and more inclusive place for all. Accessibility and compliance are not only lawful, but the right thing to do.