What success in embedding accessibility looks like – video interview with GAAD’s Jennison Asuncion

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) has arrived again.

To celebrate, we’re publishing this clip from a video interview I recorded with Jennison Asuncion – one half of the team who created the idea, and a good friend of Hassell Inclusion – a few years ago. Jennison’s a well-known advocate for accessibility, who now heads up accessibility at LinkedIn.

In the video we talk about:

    1. Why Jennison is so passionate about accessibility
    2. How he and Joe Devon came up with the idea behind GAAD
    3. How he and colleagues embedded accessibility into the ways of working at his old employer – a bank in Canada
    4. How he got buy-in to embed accessibility into the bank
    5. How BS 8878 can help other organisations to do the same

Find out more by watching the video below, or reading the transcript.

Win a free copy of our book to help you embed accessibility like Jennison

One of the best ways of achieving the sort of success in embedding accessibility that Jennison talks about in the video is to follow the step-by-step approach details in our book.
Book cover

“Should be on every shelf of the head designer or strategist of any company that sells a product, or government agency that seeks to include all of their employees and constituents.”

Elianna James

“A must read for anyone who wants to make this digital world a better place for all.”

Ajay Sharma

And, to celebrate GAAD 2019, we’re giving away 4 copies of the book to people who enter our competition on Twitter. Follow us on @hassellinc to join the fun and enter.

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Transcript of video

[Jennison]
Wow – this is really neat, because you’re not just pointing people to the guidelines. You’re actually talking about the process and the people that is necessary in order to execute on and to achieve people’s best efforts when it comes to accessibility.

[Voiceover]
Jonathan Hassell interviews Jennison Asuncion on embedding web accessibility as ‘business as usual’ in a bank

[Jonathan]
Today I have Jennison Asuncion with me. Hi Jennison; how are you doing?

[Jennison]
Good morning, Jonathan.

[Jonathan]
So, he’s a Canadian that almost everyone in the accessibility community knows. Probably because he actually runs most of the accessibility communities out there. Jennison, I wanted to start with your evangelism work. What makes you so passionate about web accessibility?


[Jennison]
I think what makes me passionate about – and I’ll expand web accessibility to what I call digital accessibility, to include the mobile world as well, and whatever else is coming down the pipe. Because I first of all had been a direct beneficiary of what happens when stuff is accessible. So I trace my success to having access to accessible learning, accessible work, etc., etc.

So I feel really lucky that I’ve had that, so it’s my opportunity, as much as it might sound a little hokey, but it’s my opportunity to give back. Because I have had those really good opportunities myself. There are so many interesting things to get done, which is what also motivates me. There’s all this new technology that’s coming out, and just figuring out a way to get people to think about accessibility and to talk about it, to me… If people are comfortable coming to me to ask questions then to me that means I’m able to help open up that conversation and get them more informed.

So if I can play my small part in doing that, in making accessibility “accessible” primarily to the mainstream designer or developer, then that’s great. I’ll use that talent – or whatever you want to call it – hopefully to help move things forward.


[Jonathan]
One of the ways you do that is organising the Global Accessibility Awareness Day every year. What inspired you to do that?

[Jennison]
Back in 2011 – it was probably November/December of 2011 – I was home on a Saturday evening, which is a rarity for me, and caught a tweet from someone I didn’t know at the time, Joe Devon, who is a back end developer in Los Angeles. He’d just tweeted about a blog post he wrote about how important it was for developers to understand accessibility. Because of some of the other stuff I’d been doing before then with accessibility camps and stuff like that, I said, “This is an interesting article and read the blog post. It was all about how he as a developer – so this was he who didn’t have a disability – he felt it was very important for developers to appreciate and understand accessibility. That it would be neat to have one day in a year where the focus would just be on accessibility.

So when I saw that of course all these lights turned on in my head because of the accessibility camp movement that I had been involved with, and the same thing, helping evangelise accessibility. I was like, “This is interesting and great,” because I’d been thinking about wanting to do a day-long focused international day where we could do something like this. So it was almost like a gift in my lap.

So I responded to his blog post and said to Joe, “Well, if you’re interested in doing this, if I can give you a hand, let’s do it.” Then, long story short, fast-forward to May 9th of last year, we had events running from Mumbai, India, events in the UK and events all over Australia and in the US and Canada. We had some other events in Qatar and virtual events held all over the place.

It was all through the power of social media and through some great people who just rose to the occasion. The whole concept of Global Accessibility Awareness Day is for that single day to think about, to learn about and to experience digital accessibility.

So globalaccessibilityawarenessday.org – I’ll put the plug in there for that. You can certainly check that out. We definitely encourage people to get involved.


[Jonathan]
You mentioned the organisation you work for. This is one of the largest banks in Canada, is that right?

[Jennison]
Correct.

[Jonathan]
You also mentioned that accessibility is important for your employer. Can you say why?

[Jennison]
It’s important because first of all we want to be able – like any company – to serve and attract both customers and potentially qualified employees with different disabilities. Because we want to be reflective of the communities that we do work in. So at the company that I work for, we have executive level buy-in. We’re embedded in the processes, the culture. Is it perfect? No company is. But I am so proud of where we are.

I’ve been at the company now – I’m just starting year seven. To have people like project managers now reaching out to us early in the game to come get our assistance so that they can plan for accessibility in their projects…

We get developers coming to us early, because they’re thinking of using a particular widget in a project and they just want to make sure it’s accessible. They want to make sure they have enough time that if it’s not, they can work to make it accessible so that it can be brought in when the thing goes live.

To think we actually have procurement people now picking up the phone and calling us to say, “Hey, we’re just about to start a request for proposals. We want accessibility brought in.” Just that whole thing.

I know different companies are at different places, and we didn’t get there overnight .The team’s been around for at least 10/12 years, so it’s taken time. But since I’ve been there, it’s just been amazing to watch how accessibility is really baked into what we do.

[Jonathan]
So you’re here at CSUN in San Diego doing a presentation on the approach that you’re using. You mentioned accessibility being baked in. Can you tell us more about the approach?

[Jennison]
I think what I’d like to say about that is what it does is – and rightfully, as it should – it breaks accessibility into a shared responsibility. It would be so easy for everyone just to dump all that work on the accessibility team. I’m not just talking about at my organisation; I’m talking everywhere.

So as an accessibility team, you could just get bogged down serving one project. We see over 300 projects a year – 3 or 400 projects a year – so we cannot be involved at the granular level with every single project. So what we’ve done is we’ve said, “Project managers, you have a role to play. QA testers, you have a role to play. Developers, you have a role to play. Designers,” etc., etc.

“We will be there to train you on what your role is, we will give you the documentation you need in your role, we’ll consult and do all that kind of stuff. But as a project, you are ultimately responsible for delivering on accessibility.”

Our job as the accessibility team is to be your centre of excellence, but what we want to continue to do is build that culture where it’s a shared responsibility. Particularly when it comes to things like testing. It should be that people should understand how to test for accessibility. As people move on, those are skills they can take wherever else they go.

But I’m really passionate about that piece, that it’s not… it shouldn’t be the accessibility team’s sole responsibility. Like I said before, it would be so easy to do that. “Let’s give all that work to the accessibility team.” Then what ends up happening there, as I said, that poor team will be bogged down on one or two projects and what about the 60/70 other ones that won’t get any attention?

[Jonathan]
We first met when I was doing a draft for public consultation of the standard I was creating. BS 8878 in some way came out of experiences that I’d had, and others on my committee had in the UK, where we were trying to do the same thing you were doing, to try and embed accessibility as a responsibility and a competence across our organisation.

I think one of the things for me that was quite important about that – it’s probably even more important for me now. Which is that I’ve seen numerous instances where there is somebody like you or me in an organisation, someone with a real passion for accessibility. Because of that passion, the organisation gives that person the role to do all of that work.

The problem then is that at some point we all move on. I’m no longer with the BBC, and I would hope that what I was able to do was to embed accessibility within the culture there. So the fact that I am no longer there doesn’t cause them a problem.

You mentioned the other aspect of that, which is people getting burnt out in large organisations. You mentioned various job roles. You mentioned project managers, procurement people, QA testers, developers. How did you manage to get them all bought into that vision that they needed to be responsible for their part of the puzzle?

[Jennison]
I’ve got a team and my boss, who really has been leading the charge for now more than 10 years at our organisation for doing that. So all credit goes to him. We’re more the heavy lifters in there.

But what I will say is I think the fact we have executives in our organisation who talk about accessibility makes all the difference. Because if you don’t have that executive, C suite buy-in on accessibility, it makes it more challenging. But if people know, “Oh yes, that’s right, because the executives, that’s an important thing to them,” it helps definitely. It helps support the whole thing. It’s not just Jennison saying it has to be that way or it should be that way; it’s, “This is what our executive team wants. They want to build accessible apps.” So I think that definitely is a big help having executive buy-in.

When a project comes to us, they have to follow a process. We have steps that we give them and we tell them, “In development you need to do X and Y. Then when you do testing, you need to test for accessibility. Here’s some documentation to help you. If you need some training on that, we’ll provide it to you.”

How we got that to happen… First of all we talked about it; we educated. For example, we have an ‘introduction to accessibility’ course that is mandatory for developers and for our business systems analysts, the people who do the requirements documents in that. If they’re enrolled in a certain curriculum, they have to take this course.

Part of it really, Jonathan, is the education. Once people are educated, as they’re starting to step through their project they’re like, “Oh yes, don’t forget we have to think about accessibility here.”

[Jonathan]
So it’s that combination of executive buy-in and education of people.

[Jennison]
And being built into the process so it stares them in the face.


[Jonathan]
That, for me, is key to what we did at the BBC as well. That’s why I was trying to build that framework for how organisations could do that with BS 8878.

[Jennison]
Because it’s one thing to have something like the web content accessibility guidelines – which is amazing and important. But that’s just… that’s the anchor; that’s the standard. You need something like the standard you built, to kind of open it up and to help people understand, “So, what are we supposed to do? Who’s going to educate people on the guidelines? Who’s going to make sure people are implementing them? Who’s going to teach the developers how to do that?”

So what’s neat about the standard that you built and why I was happy to get on board is that you understood that accessibility is more than just the guidelines. Naturally and necessarily there’s a wrapper around the guidelines. The wrapper can include who’s responsible for what. What about the people with disabilities? What do we need to think about for them?

So what I liked about, and why I was so enthusiastic when you were kind enough to ask for my opinion on it was, wow, this is really neat, because you’re not just pointing people to the guidelines. You’re actually talking about the process and the people that is necessary in order to execute on and to achieve people’s best efforts when it comes to accessibility.

[Voiceover]
This interview is one of 16 filmed to contribute to my book ‘Including your missing 20% by embedding web and mobile accessibility’. The book provides a full guide on how to transform your organisation to achieve the consistent creation of web sites and mobile apps that are usable and accessible to all your customers, at the most efficient cost. Find out more about the book by visiting hassellinclusion.com/book.

Did you like this video? If so, why not share it with your friends. And I’ve got many more videos on the way, with accessibility experts from all over the world. So make sure you don’t miss them, by subscribing to my channel. Thanks so much for watching.

Terms & conditions for the competition

1. How to Enter

1.1. To enter the competition, entrants need to retweet a competition post from @hassellinc with #IncludeThe20% in the retweet so that we can track your entry.
1.2. The winner will be selected at random.

2. When to Enter and Who can Enter

2.1. The Competition opens on Monday 13th May 2019 and closes Monday 20th May 2019
2.2. There will be 1 draw with the chance to win 4 Kindle editions of the book (Include your missing 20 by embedding web and mobile accessibility by Jonathan Hassell) each week. The draws will take place on Tuesday 21st May 2019. Entrants can enter at any point between these dates.
2.3. Entrants can only enter each weekly competition once, but can like, share, comment, tweet and RT as many times as they like.
2.4. The Competition is only open to those aged 18 or over, excluding employees and agents of Hassell Inclusion and anyone professionally connected with the administration of the Competition.
2.5 Automated or bulk entries from third parties will be disqualified.
2.6 We reserve the right to exclude serial competition entrants who have entered more than 4 competitions in the last month.

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3.1. There will be 4 prizes of a Kindle copy of ‘Include your missing 20 by embedding web and mobile accessibility’ by Jonathan Hassell.
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