Welcome to another edition of Profiles in Accessibility where it is our mission to highlight different topics within the Accessibility field by having a conversation with this community of leaders, advocates, and users. We believe that by having an ongoing conversation with the folks in this area, we can help to create a culture of Digital Accessibility while bringing attention to the importance of going beyond compliance by implementing digital accessibility practices that make the internet a better experience for everyone.
Our conversation on Accessibility today is conducted by our Marketing Director, Travis Franklin. Joining him in the interview, as always, is the Growth Manager here at QualityLogic, Clyde Valentine, who is also the lead on this Community Building Program.
Our guest is Keith Bundy. Keith has been working in the accessibility industry for 20+ years as a consultant, trainer, and public speaker. He is blind and uses assistive technology which informs his work with his current company Siteimprove. Based in Denmark, Siteimprove is a multinational Software-as-a-Service company that creates cloud-based tools and services for website governance, optimization, and inclusivity for all users.
The topic today will focus on why it’s important to make accessibility a priority, and how someone in a business or organization can be successful in meeting that goal.
Welcome, Keith, and thanks for taking the time to join us today. We really appreciate it.
The pleasure is mine; nice to meet you both.
Let’s just go ahead and get started by reviewing the goal of this conversation. We’d like to talk about why accessibility should be a priority, and specifically, how someone in a business or organization can make accessibility a priority within their role.
How did you get into digital accessibility?
Well, interestingly enough, I got into digital accessibility, for personal reasons. I’m a totally blind person and have been blind all my life. When the internet came out, I was very interested in the potential that it offered and what it could become. Early on I was attracted to the movement toward accessibility with the internet.
Personal reasons kept me interested in accessibility for about 12 years, and then as I was working at Dakota State University, I was given the opportunity to chair their accessibility committee. So, my personal interest turned professional. I was able to talk about my vision for accessibility and helped implement that vision on campus. About six years ago, I had a chance to shift over to Siteimprove and help with accessibility on a nationwide and even an international scale, and have been promoting global digital accessibility since.
One of the things I am curious about from a personal perspective is, after being in these various roles throughout your career and watching accessibility evolve:
How has accessibility changed in the context of your different roles and the market in general?
Well, it’s a lot better than it was 25 years ago. Back then it was mostly people talking about making the Internet accessible but not a lot of response or action from the internet community. Now, we see that it is a global standard with the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) development of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. I’ve seen accessibility improve tremendously over that time.
Obviously, there’s still a lot of work to do. WebAIM recently did a survey that found 97.4% of the country’s top million homepages still fall short in terms of accessibility. We still have work to do but it has gotten better. There’s a lot more acceptance of the idea of accessibility, and a lot more willingness to take action on implementation. We want to be inclusive to all people which means accessibility is a necessity. So, things have improved significantly over the 25 years since I got into the field.
Yes. I also think that one of the most exciting things happening today is the large community built around accessibility. It’s gaining wider acceptance and these communities continue to push it forward.
More people are talking about accessibility across all levels of business and to your point, it’s been great to witness the evolution.
What is your role in the realm of accessibility?
Well, my day-to-day role is to talk to companies and organizations about accessibility, to educate and inform. I do a lot of screen reader demonstrations to show people how people with visual impairments use a screen reader to browse the web. I talk about things they can do to make their pages more friendly to screen reader users. I also answer a variety of accessibility questions that we get at Siteimprove. I am one of our thought leaders, and continually working to promote accessibility better for broader acceptance.
Why would you say that accessibility is so important?
I think there are three reasons accessibility is so important. First of all, in 2011, the World Health Organization estimated that 15% of the global population has some type of disability. The CDC, more recently, estimated that 26% of the American population has some type of disability. This means that up to 26% of the visitors to a website may need some sort of accessibility consideration. Also, accessibility is something that may be important to all of us as we go through our lives. People with impairments are one minority group that everyone or almost everyone will become a part of, at some point, whether that’s a temporary disability, like a broken arm, a situational impairment like the inability to hear a video you are watching in a loud room, or a permanent disability of some type.
We will also experience these situations through the natural process of aging. The estimate is that out of a population of people over 65, 44% of those folks have some sort of impairment. So, it’s something that’s very likely going to happen to all of us at some point and makes clear that accessibility is the right thing to do. You want to make sure that everyone is included in a positive web experience for your business or organization.
The second reason that accessibility should be a priority is from a financial position. It is estimated that people with disabilities along with their families and friends have $8 trillion in spending power. So, as a business, you want to be sure that you’re capitalizing on that potential. Another study says 71% of disabled users will leave a website that’s not accessible. Most of them won’t even tell you that they’ve left the site or why they’ve left it, but the primary reason is that it’s not accessible. And so, again, from a financial standpoint, you don’t want to turn down that number of people with that amount of purchasing power.
The third reason why accessibility is so important pertains to the legal landscape. Last year, there were 2352 accessibility lawsuits filed in the U.S. against U.S. businesses. That was a 14.3% increase from 2020. It’s usually cheaper to fix your site than it is to fight it in court, but a lot of people haven’t learned that yet. While they fight and spend a lot of money on lawsuits, they could have used that money to implement accessibility on their sites. It just makes no sense.
I think those are the three reasons that accessibility is so important today, aside from the fact that it’s just the right thing to do.
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. From an ethical standpoint, we want to do the right thing and make sure we are providing experiences that are inclusive of everyone but also going beyond that.
Even though a lot of businesses or organizations are constrained by investment resources, as you’ve pointed out, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. They can build an accessible application that will include more people while at the same time capturing additional markets. Accessibility best practices lend themselves well to increased web traffic and SEO, and from a quality assurance perspective, accessibility means having unique identifiers in place and working well with test automation to ensure an even more effective experience.
All of these elements seem to point to improving overall product quality and it demonstrates that accessibility is not a cost center, it’s an opportunity.
How does a person or an organization go about making accessibility a priority? What’s the path?
I think, first of all, you need to have people who are true accessibility champions, people who get the vision and say, this is something that we need to do. This is important. Inclusivity benefits us in many other ways, and we need to pursue accessibility.
Recruiting those champions is key and once a company has a few accessibility champions, it’s easy to talk with stakeholders and work toward convincing them of the need for accessibility. Those champions can explain the specific needs for engagement and implementation and shift the thinking to convince people of the need for accessibility.
Again, those champions can come from anywhere. I love to show people how people use a screen reader to browse the web. We always end up with some accessibility champions from the demonstration because they have never seen how a screen reader works, and it’s a whole new experience for them.
Ultimately, we can garner empathy and champions who want to work toward being a better company and making it happen. It may start slow and small, but accessibility is a journey. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, right? It truly is a lifestyle. While it might be a battle to get going, once we have somebody or some people who are considered champions of accessibility, we’re well on the way to helping that company institute accessibility as a priority.
Yes, exactly. I’ve been working with our Director of Engineering who is blind. After 25 years in marketing, I have a completely different perspective from watching him use the screen reader to navigate websites. It has been completely eye-opening to me. I have shifted my approach to thinking about how other people, and how Paul uses the work I am producing. I am an accessibility champion.
Yeah, and that is where it all begins.
Exactly. The empathy piece and a perspective shift are such important results of having a direct experience with someone who uses assistive technology. It pushes you to consider the diverse ways that we interact with content, whether it’s a PDF or a website.
What does it take for someone to be an effective accessibility champion in their organization?
I think it takes a commitment. A commitment that says, I’m willing to acknowledge that we’ve been doing some things that haven’t been inclusive, and I’m willing to do my part, to make changes.
Your part may be small, but you should be willing to do whatever you can to make sure those changes take place. It also takes persistence. You persist because it is the right thing to do and you persist until the job is done. You need to be willing to talk to stakeholders in the organization and to talk with them about the need to do things differently to create an experience of inclusivity. You need to be willing to do your best to try to convince others that accessibility is a commitment that they might want to make or that they should take.
Keith, in your professional and personal experiences, what are some of the misconceptions that individuals or businesses have about getting started with accessibility? What’s the major pushback and how does an accessibility champion work to overcome it?
Believe it or not, one of the pushbacks is that people will honestly say, “Somebody with a disability is not going to visit our website.” And that’s not them being negative. That’s just their frame of reference. They don’t understand the scope of disability. It’s like an auto manufacturer thinking, “Well, why would a blind person visit my site if they can’t drive?” They don’t realize that I may visit the site to look at cars, because my wife drives, and I want to help make that decision. She trusts me to have an active voice in that decision.
The solution to that kind of pushback is to provide statistics. Statistics from the WHO and the CDC, and examples that show them a blind person may visit this site and why. Like me, it’s not because they’re going to use the product directly, but they may have a part in the purchase decision for their family or their company.
Another area where we get pushback is the statement of the cost. People think that accessibility is going to cost a lot of money and require a lot of resources. The solution to the pushback there is to say, “Well, what’s going to cost more, the commitment to accessibility, or maybe losing some of the spending power that we could be achieving if we were to implement accessibility?” “What’s going to cost more, the legal lawsuit that may come up, or committing to accessibility?”
Trying to convince the stakeholders is well worth it for those reasons and because people with disabilities are very loyal customers. So, if you have a site that’s accessible, not only will you have those customers returning to your site multiple times to make purchases, but they will also talk positively about your site to other people with disabilities, and they will do their part to help you to recoup some of the costs that you put into accessibility.
Accessibility takes a commitment of resources but it is far less costly to implement accessibility than it is to fight a lawsuit or to lose some of that spending power that a large community of people provides.
I also think about the fact that as a company that has implemented accessibility, you can really differentiate yourself as a business and that is incredibly valuable. Accessibility really opens doors to business.
People are becoming more socially conscious too. Even if they don’t use accessibility themselves, they may opt to use a competitor that is accessible for the principle alone. They want to be a part of an inclusive environment.
Absolutely. That is something that we’ve heard as well. Some of the clients that we work with want to be a socially responsible company and an inclusive provider, and it’s more than just the ROI. They really want to make an impact on the community as a business and as an organization.
What are some of the trends that you’re seeing in digital accessibility?
Also, what are you seeing in terms of adoption rates or new technology and tools that might be available?
I’m seeing more companies adopting accessibility than ever before. Even from the time I began to work at Siteimprove six years ago. Initially, I saw a lot of companies that were still hesitant toward adapting accessibility, and now we’re seeing customers adopt accessibility quite willingly. I’m on a lot of calls with customers, and they’ve already begun to work with their site. Many of these sites are surprisingly accessible because they’ve already adopted the philosophy of accessibility and they’ve begun to put that work in.
Are you seeing new technology and tools that people are starting to use that business needs to pay attention to?
I don’t know that there are a lot of new options out there. But options have become better over the years. For example, browsing the web with the screen reader is far easier now than it was 10 or 12 years ago. It’s a much smoother process because it’s been refined. it’s more common to have keyboard-only users now because websites are easier to browse with a keyboard.
There’s also a lot of talk about what virtual reality may be able to do for accessibility in the future, and I’ve just begun to investigate that. I don’t have a lot of information on it, but there’s a lot of interest in that area. Of course, I’m also interested in some of the new technologies that are rumored to be coming out such as self-driving cars. That’s something I’m very interested in. There are also new programs and new devices out there that can help people who have vision loss regain some of their vision. So, yes, there’s a lot of new technology in development that’s only going to help in terms of accessibility.
What’s something you think people should be more aware of when they think about digital accessibility?
Something I think they need to be more aware of is something we’ve already emphasized. Realize that there are people who will use your site who need accessibility considerations. People still don’t understand that, yes, we have disabilities, and we will be visiting your website at some point. So again, I think that’s an old theme with me, but it needs to continually be referenced and addressed. There will be people with disabilities visiting your site, regardless of whether you think they will or not.
What do you see employers doing to be able to provide more access to good quality jobs?
I see employers making a positive shift. I see them moving toward more accessible job platforms to post their positions, realizing that there may be people who have disabilities who may want to apply for a position and need an accessible posting site. I think that employers, after COVID, are willing to have more people work from home. I think that’s going to be advantageous for more people with disabilities to find jobs.
The greatest thing that happened to me was when I went to SiteImprove. When I walked in the first day, one of the managers said to me, “we know we’re not perfectly accessible so, you tell us what we need to do and we’ll do it.” I just felt like that was a totally open attitude on their part. It told me they were willing to accommodate whatever my needs might be, and that they were open to understanding more of what my perceptions were, and what my needs were in the employment environment. That was a very meaningful thing for me. I believe that offering those accommodations is important. It’s as simple as asking employees when they interview what they need in accommodations for the job. What do you need to do this job?
Thank you, Keith. In closing would you mind sharing with us a bit about your background and Siteimprove?
Sure. Well, as I said, I’ve been with SiteImprove for six years and I am considered a senior accessibility community consultant. I do webinars and presentations regarding various aspects of accessibility, and I do a lot of phone calls with customers to talk about accessibility needs and how they can better implement accessibility into their job or their companies and organizations. I love what I do. I’m also a public address announcer for the Dakota State Trojans sports. I do that on the side for their football and basketball programs. To my knowledge, I’m the only blind public address announcer in the country at the college level.
That’s fantastic; we can hear that you’ve got a good voice for it, for sure.
It’s been really a great conversation, Keith. I really appreciate the time you have taken to talk with us. Good luck in all you’re doing and thank you so much.
You guys, it’s been a pleasure.
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