June 22, 2017

5 Observations at M-Enabling from Someone New to Accessibility

Crawford Technologies recently joined many leading organizations such as Amazon, Disney, AT&T, Microsoft and Uber at the IAAP M-Enabling Summit in Arlington, VA.  As a former analyst, despite attending many conferences throughout my career, accessibility has not been a part of my previous experiences. As I reflect on this conference and accessibility, with my former analyst’s hat perched firmly on my head, here are my five key takeaways from the show.

  1. Incorporating accessibility is sincerely appreciated. Many people who require accessible documents recognize that implementing accessibility can take time and that it is not an all or nothing scenario. Compliance and accommodation are of utmost importance, but based on what I heard at the conference, this community is genuinely grateful there are organizations that make a concerted effort to incorporate accessibility.
  2. “Disability” doesn’t depend on level of sight (or hearing), but instead the right tools. It seems that people unaware of visual disabilities are quick to call them just that: disabilities. However, Gerry Ellis, an accessibility and usability consultant from Ireland-based Feel the BenefIT, said that it’s only a disability when the proper tools are not provided and that the level of disability depends on the right tools being provided to everyone who needs them. Being blind or partially sighted doesn’t stop someone from being able to contribute the same, if not more, than someone with their sight. It’s the lack of the right tools that allows him or her to be independent that makes vision loss a disability.
  3. One size does not fit all. Our industry is very focused on consumer channel preferences, which is why we developed CrawfordTech’s new PRO Preference Manager, one of the solutions we showcased at M-Enabling. However, for accessibility, there isn’t one solution or channel that can truly accommodate everyone. Providing options for braille, large print, eText, Accessible PDF, Accessible HTML, Voiceye Barcodes and more are all necessary to provide a complete, inclusive customer experience to everyone. A key part of that is being able to capture these customer requirements so receiving access to accessible communications does not have to be requested every month. Accessibility is not just outbound communication channels or websites though. It’s also providing software solutions that enable independence and removing disability barriers.
  4. Leadership on accessibility awareness is industry specific. There are certain industries that were widely present at this event, making it clear that some industries are much further ahead than others. Most of the major telco companies that I’m aware of were sponsors of this show, including AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. There were also quite a few financial services organizations in attendance. They appear to be leading the way when it comes to collaborating and forming together to understand accessibility and provide consistent experiences. Consumer technology companies such as Amazon and Microsoft had significant presence, which shows the tie between technologies that accommodate accessibility while also appealing to those who are sighted. Just because a channel may be necessary for one person, doesn’t mean it can’t provide a great experience for another.
  5. Automation is in high demand. Many people are well aware that there was a recent ICT Refresh to Section 508 and 255 in the United States Access Board; also commonly known as the Section 508 refresh, which requires all communications to be made accessible to meet these regulations. Since the start of this year, there has been a 37% increase in lawsuits from the Department of Justice versus 2016, and a 400% increase in demand letters (letters designed to make organizations aware that they are not meeting compliance). However, I did not see or hear of many automated conversion tools at the event. The handful of solutions that were present are designed to convert websites or accessible HTML on-the-fly or take documents and convert them to accessible HTML on-the-fly, but automated document remediation or PDF conversion to Accessible PDF or Accessible HTML solutions, which are still highly manual, were not present on the show floor. This means there is a market need for solutions like CrawfordTech’s AutoTagger for Accessibility, which we launched at M-Enabling. It converts PDF documents to accessible PDF documents without the need for manual tagging. Naturally, this announcement generated quite a bit of excitement for organizations struggling to convert every consumer and employee document for accessibility.

Overall, this conference was a great learning experience for me despite not being as familiar with accessibility as we all probably should be. For organizations looking to provide a complete customer experience and meet ADA regulatory requirements, understanding accessibility is simply a requirement.

If you missed today's webinar on Auto Tagger for Accessibility,  you can check out the recording here. We also have webinars about document accessibility on a regular basis, so be sure to check our website.

I look forward to attending M-Enabling in 2018 to see more innovations in this exciting space!