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Accessibility: The Journey From Compliance to Belonging
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Accessibility: The Journey From Compliance to Belonging

When the word accessibility is broken down, it means the “ability” to “access.” That's why being an ally means to thoughtfully design your website, product, and all content with everyone in mind, including people with disabilities.

Accessibility is more than an equality issue; the focus makes good business sense. Last year Accenture, in partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Disability:IN published Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage. The report shows how companies that employ and support persons with disabilities in their workforces significantly outperform their peers, with 28% higher revenue and twice the amount of profit. 

Since 20% of the population has a disability, people with disabilities represent a huge and mostly untapped market for customers and opportunities for talent. At Salesforce, we believe in the equal value of all lives and strive to build a workplace that welcomes all. That is why creating a product that is accessible and inclusive of all of our customers is equally important. 

What has this got to do with me?

As a Deaf person, I frequently encounter a lack of access on the web, especially when videos have no or poor quality captions. So, I recently began the most significant career change in my eight years with Salesforce. I joined the Product Accessibility team in the User Experience organization, in a new role — product Accessibility Compliance Program Director. 

As a leader of Abilityforce, Salesforce’s employee resource group for people with disabilities and allies, I partnered with the Product Accessibility team to raise visibility on product accessibility issues. Now I’m an integral part of the team! With the support of my bright and caring colleagues, I can directly impact our software development process and ensure Salesforce software solutions are more accessible in our entire ecosystem. This includes software that is used by our employees, partners, customers, and our customers’ customers.

What is the Accessibility Compliance Program?

My new role oversees the production of Accessibility Conformance Reports (ACRs). ACRs document how well a given Salesforce product conforms to agreed-upon accessibility standards for users with disabilities — be they permanent, temporary, or situational.

An ACR guides the assessment of whether a product meets standards for web accessibility, answering questions such as:

  • Is all content on a web page readable by a screen reader for the blind or those with low vision?
  • Can the page interactions be accessed via keyboard for people with limited ability to use a mouse? 
  • Is the content simple and readable, even when the concepts are complex?

These reports are typically generated by independent auditors, and hew to a standard format, the VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template). The auditors run extensive tests, looking for how well the product conforms to accessibility standards and works with assistive technology. When the auditors turn in ACRs, the reports inevitably come accompanied by lists of bugs found during testing, since our products are so complex and have dependencies on the Operating System (OS), browser, and assistive technology. As all of us in software development know, manual and automated tests never catch all defects, and that’s also true with accessibility. 

Another new task I love is responding to questions — from our sales and support teams as well as those asked directly by our customers — about product accessibility and ACRs. Not all products have a published ACR yet, and some of the best accessibility feedback comes from end users. Most of my career has been managing programs for internal systems, so it’s exciting to have broad community contacts in this new role. 

I work with our product managers to prioritize bugs found by internal teams, auditors, and customers and support the development and Accessibility teams to devise fixes and track them through to release, and then guess what? After all these product changes, it’s time for a new accessibility evaluation! The cycle starts again: We enter into a contract with an auditor, kick off an updated assessment, and generate a new ACR. Each cycle generates better and better accessibility results, a more usable product, and happier, productive Salesforce customers, and end users. 

Currently, we use spreadsheets to track the production of ACRs, the product accessibility issues found by auditors and customers, and the responses to accessibility conformance requests. This program includes automating the above processes to scale for Salesforce’s growth and expanding product portfolio. There’s some engineering work ahead for me too. Woohoo! 

What can you do to further accessibility?

When the word accessibility is broken down, it means the “ability” to “access.” Thoughtfully design your website, product and all content with everyone in mind, including people with disabilities. At Salesforce, we practice 6 Inclusive Marketing principles. Learn more with Trailhead where we dive into how to conduct an inclusive review of your content. 

You can also learn about web Accessibility Principles. Find out where your company is on the accessibility journey. Share your accessibility wins, and reach out to your development teams to investigate where your products and services can be improved. If you are working on a software product, test it without a mouse. Is everything accessible? Keyboard accessibility is the “ground floor” of full accessibility conformance and a good place to start.

Inclusion and belonging

My job is a newly created position at Salesforce and represents a significant step for any company on the path toward accessibility. Accessibility creates inclusion that leads to a feeling of belonging, where users of all abilities can bring their authentic and most successful selves to work. I look forward to networking with others in the field and influencing increased accessibility across the tech industry and beyond. Join me to make the world an amazing place for everyone. Learn more about our Employee Resource Groups and our commitment to Equality for all.

 

Daniel Sonnenfeld is an Accessibility Compliance Program Director at Salesforce. He is also Global Accessibility Chair of Abilityforce, Salesforce's employee resource group for people with disabilities and allies. His professional experience spans the high tech industry, having worked with large enterprises and startups. After a stint at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Daniel graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Computer Science. Born Deaf, Daniel wore hearing aids most of his life and received cochlear implants 17 years ago. He is multilingual and fluent in English, American Sign Language, and French.

More by Daniel Sonnenfeld

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