Accessibility June 3, 2021
“Create a personal connection to disability, with the people who are making decisions” – Sheri Byrne Haber at Eyeway Conversations
Sheri Byrne-Haber is a global subject matter expert in disability and accessibility and is best known for launching digital accessibility programmes at top global companies. Her programmes have positively impacted people with disabilities globally. Sheri, who is based in the United States, shared her journey and learnings on Eyeway Conversations, the disability podcast series started by BarrierBreak and Score Foundation that’s building awareness about accessibility through conversations with disabled and non-disabled people from around the world.
When we talk of people making an impact in the Accessibility space globally, Sheri Byrne-Haber’s name is among the first that comes to mind. Sheri is best known for launching digital accessibility programmes at Fortune 200 companies as well as consulting on government Accessibility.
What led her to take this road and what are some of her learnings while working with top companies? Sheri talks about this in a conversation with BarrierBreak Founder-CEO Shilpi Kapoor and Score Foundation CEO George Abraham in the disability podcast series Eyeway Conversations. The disability podcast series highlight personal experiences of disabled people as well as international practices in digital Accessibility.
Journey to Accessibility & Advocacy
This CPACC certified Accessibility professional brings her subject matter expertise in varied fields like law, business management and computer science into a holistic 360 degree view of the issues that go into making a high impact Accessibility programmes.
- Sheri was the first Girl Scout to create a computer science badge in the 70s.
- Midway through her law degree her daughter was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss. This led to Sheri taking up advocacy for the deaf.
- Ten years ago she decided to start using her computer science degree to take up Accessibility.
Getting large companies to listen
Sheri is best known for launching digital accessibility programmes at Fortune 200 companies like McDonald’s, Albertsons, and VMware as well as consulting on government Accessibility. Her programmes have positively impacted more than one billion global people with disabilities. But how does one make that connect with large companies and convince them to actually devote resources to building the Accessibility aspect? Sheri talked about some of the approaches that have proven to be effective.
- Build a personal connection to disability, with the people who are making the decisions. Shifting the mindset is to make it about the person who’s making the decisions.
- With larger organisations look at accessibility from a compliance perspective. The larger the organisations, greater the legal risk.
- Make it about the money but in a positive way. Emphasise the spending power of disabled people globally.
- Put accessibility as the solution as close to the problem as possible and start with technology rather than diversity and inclusion.
- Start with Accessibility upfront and build it along the way, not retrofit it at the end.
- Keep costs low when you start off with Accessibility. Look at low budget tools and take the help of open source platforms like Google Lighthouse, WAVE, etc. There’s also VMware’s soon to be launched Crest machine learning-based open-source automated accessibility extension to WAVE that checks for video captions/subtitles and podcast transcripts automatically and keyboard function, focus indicators, focus contrast, and heading relevance.
- Start with an accessible design, train developers, doing accessible development and then adding accessibility into the QA cycle for little overall cost increase.
Ensuring Accessibility standards globally
Ensuring that large companies abide by Accessibility standards globally is a major challenge whether it’s about working environment, hiring disabled people or building accessible products for the market. Sheri talks about some of the ways to overcome this.
- Accessibility laws vary across countries and its hard to keep track of changes. The way out is to pick the strictest Accessibility law in the world and try and comply with it. That’s the approach Sheri followed with McDonalds.
- Build greater conversations around Accessibility at the workplace and the way to do that is by hiring more employees with disability. Have more Employee Resource Groups within companies that are focused on disability and Accessibility.
- Have sign language classes and celebrate days dedicated to disabilities in the workplace including hidden disabilities.
- Make every employee responsible for Accessibility. Reward and recognise employees who deliver accessible products on time. This way Accessibility gets integrated organically.
- Get accessible tools for employees with disabilities to use.
Creating an Accessible ecosystem
Making the entire ecosystem accessible including vendor management in procurement is a challenge. To ensure that Accessibility standards followed by big companies have a ripple effect Sheri shared some of the practices that are being followed at VMware.
- At VMware there’s an internal accessibility policy under which every new vendor the company engages with has to commit to following the WCAG 2.1 standard.
- VMware works closely with vendors to ensure the products are made accessible.
Sheri is a prominent global subject matter expert in the fields of disability and accessibility in the business and educational settings. To assess how well an organisation is doing with respect to employees and customers with disabilities, Sheri co-authored the Digital Accessibility Maturity Model while a Principle Accessibility Policy Consultant at Level Access, the foremost global consultancy dedicated entirely to accessibility. She is currently trying to get her wheelchair 720 archery score over 600 and would dearly love to be in the 2024 Paralympic games.
Watch in Sign Language
- Disability podcast series Eyeway Conversations highlights importance of creating accessibility in physical & digital spaces
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