Episodes

The Mad Blogger

13 Letters
March 5, 2020

Sheri Byrne-Haber self-identifies as a “no excuses type of gal.” The head of accessibility at VMware, public speaker and accessibility expert with degrees in law, business and computer science, Sheri is most well known for her outspoken accessibility writing on her personal blog. Publishing at a steady clip and always raising the bar to outdo her own personal best, Sheri churns out accessibility content covering principles, best practices and simple, actionable tips for those working the field. In this episode, Sheri talks about her blog, her current role at the biggest tech company most people have never heard of, and previous work overseeing accessibility for McDonald’s and others. Also discussed: miniature horses, peacocks, duck eggs, and self-driving wheelchairs.

Presenting sponsor: Google.

Show notes:

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Episode Transcript

Will Butler:
Our presenting sponsor is Google. Whether you have a disability or not, Google is always there to help. Did you know you could call the Google disability support team for help with accessibility on any Google product? Find out more at g.co/disabilitysupport.

Will Butler:
I feel like in this field, it's almost a requirement that you have to be able to really speak your mind about what is right, even if you find that to be very difficult you have to develop skills for overcoming that because there's so much stuff wrong when we come in to fix things.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:
This is why I take antidepressants so that I can have these conversations. You laugh but I'm serious. Yeah, but it's a tough field to be in because you constantly have to be an advocate for why your work is important. You constantly have to have these tough conversations with people who are often scared to have those conversations because you're maybe telling someone that the thing that they've been doing, the way that they've been developing a product for years missed a gap that they didn't even realize was there. A huge gap that they didn't even realize was there so it really… Yeah. It's tough. You have to really stand by what you're saying.

Will Butler:

The guest today is the absolute best at communicating about accessibility. It's not an easy thing to do without sounding grumpy or getting overly technical on people or whatever it might be but on her blog and in her talks in media, Sheri Byrne-Haber has done this incredible job of getting people to pay attention and giving people, breaking it down into really actionable steps like accessibility on a budget, accessibility how not to be XYZ, how to do this. I really admire the writing she does.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Absolutely. I also really admire how... This is going to sound weird but I like how short her articles are because it's very easily consumable for people who are working in the web accessibility space for instance or just in the web development, web design space, in general, to just get this article and walk away and be like, "Oh, I learned one new thing today."

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I really admire her perseverance with this blog. She's reading like a hundred blog posts in the past year-

Will Butler:

[crosstalk 00:02:46]

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

… it's how prolific she's being with this blog.

Will Butler:

She's killing the LinkedIn game.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. I'm super excited that we get to chat with her today.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Let's just let the interview play for itself, everything from duck eggs to 10,000 friends on LinkedIn, to self-driving wheelchairs. Sheri Byrne-Haber.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

[inaudible 00:03:13]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

WHILL, W-H-I-L-L.

Will Butler:

The name of the chair company?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

The name of the chair company.

Will Butler:

Really?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Oh, sorry. Did you think I was [crosstalk 00:03:23]

Will Butler:

I thought you were talking to me.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

You're such a cool company, Will. You're such great company.

Will Butler:

I thought you were talking about my personal brand. Wait. [inaudible 00:03:30] did you have-

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I'm less excited about the fact that they just got bought by Scootaround.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

They did?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

They did so they closed their San Carlos office and moved everything to Tennessee, which is really annoying because the airlines keep breaking my chair.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Oh, my goodness.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

You want to ask me about that I could definitely rant a little.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Why don’t you just rant… Why don't you kick us off? Because, first of all, tell us about your chair and why it's so cool.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

My chair is called WHILL Ci. It's spelled W-H-I-L-L. It's really cool because it breaks apart into three pieces and loads into the trunk of my Prius because I can walk short distances. I just can't walk a lot. It's approved by the Department of Transportation. You can take it on airplanes. You can drive it with a phone for people who are more severely disabled and they've got a self-driving version coming out I think in a couple of months.

Will Butler:

You can drive your chair with your phone?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

No. My husband could drive it for me, for example, if my arm was in a slinger. I had cerebral palsy and didn't have good hand control. Yes. It can be driven by phone.

Will Butler:

Whoa.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Eventually, by robots, it sounds like.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Not even robots. It will self-drive. That's what they're testing in the Tokyo Olympics at the Narita Airport so I'm told, where you go to the ticket counter, you say, "Here's my ID. I need a wheelchair." One will come up with no attendant. It will take you straight to your gate. Now, how you're going to stop and buy, sees chocolate on the way or go to the restroom, that I'm less sure about but from ticket counter to gate is supposed to be done like dinner.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Product of the year at CES two years ago, which is how I heard about it. My cousin was at CES and she took a picture of it and she's like, "You have to get one of these." I got the picture, I'm like, "I have to get one of these."

Will Butler:

Do you mind if we ask how… Was it pricey?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

The introductory model, it was $4000, which for an electric wheelchair isn't bad. If I had had to get a wheelchair van or get a trailer or a larger car to carry the chair in the back, that would have been way more expensive. I mean I was looking at Toyota Rav-4s at that point to see if I could get something that I could roll a chair into.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I drive with hand controls since I could break my foot just from slamming on the brakes of my car. But I love this thing. It allows me to travel a lot for my work. I love speaking at accessibility conferences. I'm starting to steer more this year into UI conferences because my whole thing is when you go to CSUN or M-Enabling, you're kind of preaching to the choir. When you go to ConveyUX, which is my next speaking gig, you're preaching to the heathens.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Exactly.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

It's the heathens that I need to get access to. This year I'm trying-

Will Butler:

Listen up, heathens.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah. Listen up heathens. I'm coming for you. I'm aiming for more UI/UX types of conferences this year. If anybody knows of anything they think I should be speaking at, shoot me an email.

Will Butler:

Nice. Cordelia?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I have lots of ideas. Yeah. I think that's-

Will Butler:

Toss them out.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I mean, that's something that the accessibility community needs to do better at it, in general, I think. It's just get out of our bubbles and talk with other folks. I've also been trying to speak more at UI conferences, clarity is a beautiful one. Smashing Magazine host a bunch of [crosstalk 00:06:46]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah. Smashing does a lot of good stuff.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. There's a lot out there.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I just got [inaudible 00:06:50] new book for Christmas. So, excited.

Will Butler:

One of the reasons we were so excited to have you on is because one of the things you do really well is get outside of the bubble and particularly with your blog and with all the writing you do about accessibility, I wanted to ask you a lot of questions about how do you reach people? How do you get through to people's heads? Really, I think just writing about accessibility, in general, because many people can practice it and many people can put into practice with their interfaces and experiences, but it's a whole other thing entirely communicating that I think.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

One thing that I've found that's really effective for me anyways is anytime I answer a question for the second time, be it out in public with my family or at work, I jot it down as a medium headline. I know Medium is not the world's most accessible blogging interface I mean, it's got alt text now. The authoring charts, in particular, are still quite bad but I find that that works really well for me because I don't lose the thought, right?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Then, the other thing I do is once a month I pick up everything that I blogged in the previous month and I dump it in my WordPress accessible blog, which is sheribyrnehaber.com so that the material is always available in two places. For people who are out of, their free articles for the month or just can't deal with the accessibility problems on medium. They can go read everything over, on the other site as well. It mirrors it.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

So one's nominally accessible and one's really accessible because the sheribyrnehaber.com is entirely WordPress accessible theme, but I do like some of the tools that you get with Medium as an author where it can say where your readers are coming from and things like that. I think in terms of where do I get the ideas from, I'm pretty multifaceted. I started off with the degree in computer science. Then, 10 years after that I went to law school. Then, 10 years after that I got an MBA.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I definitely kind of have the 360-degree view of accessibility. You don't have to do that much school to be an accessibility. That shouldn't scare people. I tell everybody accessibility is the best career to get into if you're just re-entering work, getting off a military stint, whatever because you don't have to go to college to learn it. There's lots of free stuff available and there's way more demand than their supply right now.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. In terms of the kind of skill sets that you developed through those three degrees, which degree do you lean more on in your work?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I would say the one that makes me the most unique is the law degree. I think there's only maybe 15 of us who have both CS degrees and are lawyers that are in accessibility. I think the CS degree is the most useful because whenever anybody says, "Oh, that's going to be hard." My answer is always, "Would you like me to code that for you?"

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

[inaudible 00:09:42]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Then, that usually gets them to shut up because they realize they really don't know what they're talking about or they do know what they're talking about but they're trying to exaggerate it to get off the hook and I'm pretty much a no-excuses kind of girl.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. I think it's interesting too. I studied computer science in school and there was absolutely no talk about accessibility [crosstalk 00:10:01]-

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

There still isn't. It still doesn't exist.

Will Butler:

Really?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Really. I mean, there's a few schools that will touch it, touch on it in HCI classes or maybe if you're lucky and you happen to take a design class though you're majoring in CS, you might get something on inclusive design or universal design but there are really only a handful of colleges that actually have a four-credit class that's entirely about accessibility.

Will Butler:

Wow. Tell us what an average day in your life is like or maybe your week because you do a few different things, right?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Sure.

Will Butler:

When it comes to accessibility.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I usually start and do a couple of hours of meetings at home at 6:00 AM, 6:00 to 8:00 before I actually go into the office. I usually go into the office four days a week, if I'm not traveling, obviously. Because I do a lot of demonstration of how assistive technology works and that's better done in person than over Zoom or by video. Lots and lots and lots of meetings.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I have had days where I've had nine and a half hours of meetings because I'm just getting a program started. It's very different when you're starting a program from scratch, especially at a company as large as VMware as opposed to going into a company where you already have a program and it's running swimmingly. Like United Airlines is advertising for a new accessibility manager. I would hope that the person who steps into that role might not have as many headaches getting the program kicked off as I do with overseas development and distributed people everywhere.

Will Butler:

You're basically working across all these different departments to educate everyone at VMware about accessibility?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

All these different departments. So sometimes people only look at accessibility as an IT thing, I actually reside in the design organization, which is awesome because-

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's great. Yeah.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

… good accessibility starts with good design. I've been able to influence that, but I work with acquisitions. We bought 11 companies last year. We just bought another one a couple of days ago. I have to look at the accessibility of every new company as they come on board because usually they're so small or they might be overseas that they don't know what accessibility is and I have to figure out, "Okay. How hard is it going to be to get them in line with what our desired standards are?"

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

We have remediation programs that we're running. We have a continuous stream of VPATs that were authoring that I always have to review or some people say, "Oh, Sheri they're not VPATs anymore. They're ACRs." Okay. Well, I've been around for a while, I'm still going to call them VPATs.

Will Butler:

What does that refer to?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

VPATs stands for voluntary product accessibility template and it used to be a standalone document, but now it's part of the accessibility conformance report, because you know the government loves its acronyms. It's just a section of a larger document now, which was actually a really, really good evolutionary step because, in the past, you could never tell, well, how good of a job did they do in testing? How thorough were they? How did they do it?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Now, there's sections that have to be filled out about testing methodology that weren't required before that lets you make a more informed judgment about how good the accessibility of the product really is. So, lots of VPATs, lots of remediation, acquisitions. I do Tech Talks at our work, which get webcast everywhere. I'm the head of the disability employee resource group for the US.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I work with facilities. I work with diversity inclusion. I work with HR. We're trying to expand our campaigns to recruit more employees with disabilities. We're working on a self-identification campaign right now. I'm kind of like at an all-you-can-eat accessibility smorgasbord right now and whatever I can cram into my schedule I do.

Will Butler:

What is a self-identification campaign?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

In the US when you get hired, and I don't know exactly what the rules are. I think the cutoff is maybe 50 people. If it's out in a company with more than 50 people, you have to fill out this form where you can either identify your race and whether or not you're disabled or you can choose not to identify as well.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

What we're trying to do is we're trying to make the employees understand that VMware is a place that it's okay to identify as somebody with a hidden disability, which is really important since 70% of disabilities are actually hidden. I mean, you can see my wheelchair, you can see my daughter's hearing aids but you can't see somebody with dyslexia, you can't see somebody who's colorblind, and there's actually way more people with hidden disabilities and including mental health issues than there are people with visible obvious disabilities.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

So, trying to get those people to identify themselves so we can really understand, "Okay, what is our true employment rate of people with disabilities?" Then, when we start doing these outreach campaigns then we've got a good baseline for before-and-after measurements to see whether or not our campaigns have been effective.

Will Butler:

What is a reason that people don't identify?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

It's literally fear more than anything else, especially for people with mental health disabilities. They just don't want the stigma associated with it. They don't want to be thought of as being part of the stereotype, that they're unreliable, that they're going to cost the company more, that they're not going to be able to travel, all the bad things that are completely wrong that people who haven't been exposed to people with disabilities sometimes think.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

So, sounds like you have these nine and a half hour days of meetings, when do you find time to write your podcast, speak at conferences, do all of the external work that you're doing for the accessibility community?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Have a very understanding family. I usually work at home on stuff that makes me happy but it's always usually related to accessibility for a couple hours a day sometimes. Sometimes I take days off. I have hobbies too. I live on one of the last working firms that's within a half-hour commute of Silicon Valley. We have horses. We have livestock. We have a one-acre garden so there's always lots of work to do to keep that up.

Will Butler:

Cordelia called me on Wednesday night and she was like, "I'm looking at her LinkedIn page and says something about mini horses. I need to know about the mini horses."

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

We need to know so can you tell us about you volunteer with mini horses, sounds like you might live with some of them, around you to-

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Well, all of my horses are Maxi horses. They're not really my horses. They're my daughter's and my husband's horses. But my daughter's 4H Club raises miniature horses, and some of the horses receive service animal training. I was upset about the new legislation where they're trying to restrict service animals on planes to just dogs because some people legitimately use miniature horses.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

They have a 30-year working lifespan instead of an 8-year working lifespan. They're sometimes hypoallergenic if somebody has a really bad asthma reaction to dog dander, they might be good with horses, and some religions don't like dogs. They would prefer to work with horses. I'm totally in favor of miniature horses being allowed as service animals. Service peacocks, no. I mean, I think there are limits to even the system that I'm willing to advocate for but horses and dogs definitely.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

In fact, this weekend, I am going to be checking out service dogs looking for a mobility dog, and the Kennel Club show is in San Francisco this week. I'm going to be talking to some breeders.

Will Butler:

Very cool.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

You just opened up my mind though to the idea of a service peacock and I'm very intrigued by that for some context, I just got a peacock tattoo so I'm very passionate about peacocks.

Will Butler:

Yeah. [inaudible 00:17:41]. First, you're going to tell us about your peacock tattoo and where that came from.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Oh, well, I grew up in the middle of a city, in New York City, but my school had peacocks roaming around just randomly within Manhattan so I grew up around peacocks and they're very comforting animals to me so I got a tattoo-

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I don’t know. When I hear them make their calls so I live four miles away from a winery called Paquette, which is peacock in Italian.

Will Butler:

Really?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

They have peacocks and the peacocks occasionally get lost.

Will Butler:

We have should have recorded at Sheri's house.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Oh my god. The noise that those birds can make…

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I find it very comforting.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Sorry, Mary. I love your winery but the peacocks occasionally get to me.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Well, I see that though. Yeah.

Will Butler:

But there was a literal news story about a peacock at an airport, right?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yes. Some woman tried to claim that her peacock was a comfort animal. [crosstalk 00:18:42] It was an emotional support animal.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I think emotional support animals are kind of much more gray area than service animals so, yeah. I don’t know what I think about that.

Will Butler:

But you can understand where she's coming from?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I do. I love peacocks. I mean that's why I got one tattooed on my body for life so I always have it with me.

Will Butler:

So that you can [inaudible 00:19:03]

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. I always have him.

Will Butler:

He can go on the plane.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Is digital accessibility your realm or do you think more broadly about accessibility? Do you have expertise in ADA and things like service animals or does it start to turn into a much bigger conversation?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah. So, a while ago before I had completely transitioned over to digital accessibility, I wrote the service animal policy for Kaiser, which is a local chain of hospitals/insurance companies because it's both. The way I explained it is digital accessibility is my job, physical accessibility is my life. I do know a fair amount about ADA. I can tell just from looking at a ramp whether or not it's compliant at this point.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I do know a fair amount about the seven different intersecting service animal laws. There's actually seven different laws that all occasionally conflict with each other, which is all kinds of fun. Anything relating to equal access I'm kind of all over it. The Sheri fun fact is I worked on a case when I was in law school that Apple cited in its brief to not be forced to unlock the San Bernardino shooter's phone. I worked on a case that said that source code was free speech. I'm also a First Amendment wonk.

Will Butler:

Wow. I mean, maybe it seems like an obvious question since physical accessibility is your life. How did you get into digital accessibility?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Funny you should say that, people look at the wheelchair and they make assumptions and it's actually wrong. I got into digital accessibility because I have a daughter who's got a substantial hearing loss. She's almost completely deaf on one side and has some hearing loss on the other. So, after helping her fight the system and listening to her feedback, I realized that having to use a wheelchair, having had at this count, 24 surgeries. That cuts me off from stuff, being deaf cuts you off from a lot more than just stuff.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

It really broadened how I thought about accessibility, and then because God has a sense of humor, I also have glaucoma. My mother and my grandfather both had glaucoma, and I've had to have several eye surgeries as well and hoping things have stabilized, knock wood. Definitely a very broad perspective. I don't recommend getting glaucoma to learn, to be more empathetic about [inaudible 00:21:28]

Will Butler:

Wow. Yourself and your family has quite a [crosstalk 00:21:35]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I had a three week period of time after my last eye surgery where I couldn't see at all, and if I didn't know how to use voiceover, I wouldn't have been able to work. I just would have had to take the three days off as disability-related leave from my previous job so voiceover is useful. Everybody is either disabled or going to be disabled, you're one or the other. Nobody makes it through this life without having experienced at least a temporary disability at some point along the way.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. Shortly after I started working in accessibility, I started getting these migraines with aura that would just ruin my vision for about an hour. I was like, "Thank goodness I know how to use voiceover. I could still be productive." Then, I finally learned that those were migraines and maybe it doesn't help to just work through them, maybe it helps they go sit in a dark room but for a while, it was just like, "My eyes are doing something weird. Just turn on voiceover and do my work as usual." I think a lot of folks in the accessibility field learned so much from it personally.

Will Butler:

Is accessibility just a career that people should go into when they become disabled and have not no other job prospects or how do you make accessibility a career that's interesting and sort of appealing to people who consider themselves to be "able-bodied" or whatnot?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Well, I think sometimes we have too many people with disabilities in accessibility because it attracts so many people with disabilities into it as a career. I think we do need a broader perspective on things so accessibility is really under-taught at college and because most people don't hear about it when they're at design school or CS school or business school or whatever school they're going to.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

They don't know it's a thing and if they don't have a disability themselves they might not see it as a valuable career. Given where the court cases are going in the US, it's pretty much a full-time job ticket indefinitely as long as you're decent at it. My favorite thing to do, and I went and talked to the kids at Harker, which is an academy down in Saratoga. It's a high school, one of their CS classes. I talked to Georgia Tech. I talked to UC Irvine.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I loved getting the kids when they're young, young being freshman for me at this point, and really turning them onto the fact that this world of accessibility exists and they should be building it into how they think about their future, even if they never go into it as a career, at least, they know what the word means.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah, and my kind of dream is that even if they don't go into it as a career they bring it somehow into their career.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Exactly.

Will Butler:

Do you have to be a coder or a technical to go into accessibility as a career?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

It certainly helps but it's not required. At larger companies accessibility they need business analysts, they need people who can look at the analytics and the statistics, and people who could do user research with people with disabilities. There's all kinds of opportunities for people who can't code. There's also quite a large number of opportunities for people who can code and well-paid opportunities at that.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

There's no pity pay here. You earn your money but the demand is there, the pay is reasonable, and you just have to be smart, and you have to care. That's why I always tell everybody when I interview them, I'm like, "I can teach you tools. I cannot teach you to care." I always look kind of for the soft skills and figure, "Fine. I'll teach them whatever. I'll teach them JAWS. I'll teach them Zoom, whatever they need to know." Once they start, if they don't know the tools that we use.

Will Butler:

When people assumed that what you do is just serving a small niche group of people with disabilities, how do you respond to that?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I'm a lawyer, I usually pull out the statistics. The last census 18% of people who answered the census had one or more disabilities. The target rate for employment for people with disabilities in the US, the goal that the federal government puts out is 7%. There's only one company that I'm aware of who's meeting that 7% goal, which is Northrop Grumman.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

There's a huge body count on the left-hand side of the equation. On the right-hand side of the equation, these people have money. People have always associated or for a long time have associated disabilities with poverty and, yes, it is true that people with disabilities have a higher poverty rate than people without disabilities but there is still the ability to spend and we all have friends and family and not all of our friends and family are disabled.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

So, if you look at the total spending capital of people with disabilities and their first-generation relatives and friends, closest friends, that's 51% of the GDP.

Will Butler:

it would be interesting if they ran a study to see how many families had an individual with a disability because that might be 100%.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

You could probably get at least a first cut at that statistics through the house holding data on the census. I'm not sure that's been done or not. But, yeah. It's got to be high.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

You said the 18% who reported on the census, that's also people who self-report so there's still huge groups of people who-

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

That's people who answered the census. You don't get the homeless, you don't get people who are undocumented, you don't get people who live in places that don't like government people and just slam the door as soon as the person says, "I'm here from the Census." There's a lot of people that are left out there.

Will Butler:

So by the most conservative estimate there's like 50 million Americans with a disability?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah. That sounds right.

Will Butler:

Likely two or three times that number if you're really…

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I would say at least 50% or 75% higher than that. I would say my best guess if I was licking my finger and sticking it up in the air would be somewhere between 80 and 85 million people in the US.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's a lot of people.

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I mean, just look at the statistics, sorry. 4% of people are colorblind, a third of 1% of children are born deaf. You just start adding those up and you get to some pretty large numbers pretty quickly.

Will Butler:

Did I hear correctly? Did you say the unemployment rate for people with disability is 93%?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

That's in Armenia. That was a complaint of mine. I wasn't able to travel to Armenia because our facility in Armenia wasn't accessible. I looked up some statistics on that for the person who went to Armenia to teach my class for me, and in Armenia 92% of people with disabilities are unemployed.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Wow.

Will Butler:

How does that compare to America?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

America, it depends which way you're slicing the data because, of course, you're in San Francisco so Mark Twain quote, "Lies, damned lies, and statistics." I know that isn't exactly the quote but it's close to that. So, if you look at the current unemployment rate for people with disabilities and people without disabilities, which I think is the fairest way to look at it. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is two-and-a-half times higher so it's over 8% where the unemployment rate for people without disabilities is below 4%.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

The reason why I think you will hear statistics thrown out there like 40% of people with disabilities don't have jobs. Well, 40% of people with disabilities might not have jobs either because they're so disabled that they can't possibly work or they're over 65 or they're under 18. There could be all kinds of reasons why they have a disability and they don't have a job. I think the right number to look at is the comparison between on the unemployment rate.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense.

Will Butler:

I want to take a quick break but when we come back, I want to ask you about being an accessibility Grinch and what it was like to ride a wheelchair through the golden arches?

Will Butler:

At Be My Eyes, we do everything with Google. We schedule meetings, we collaborate on documents. We'd honestly be so sunk without it, and our team is diverse. We have people accessing Google products through screen readers, magnification, and large texts, you name it. We recently onboarded some new team members and some of them had accessibility needs and we're switching to G suite after years of using other productivity software.

Will Butler:

Now, we all know change is hard but Google was there to help all along the way. Our new team members were able to call the disability support team sometimes multiple times a day for help getting set up using Google tools with assistive tech. Google disability support is super easy to reach. They're actually available through the Be My Eyes app if you're blind or have low vision so you don't have to explain the problem and you can always reach them your preferred way by visiting g.co/disabilitysupport. Thanks again to Google for making this episode of 13 letters possible, and now, back to our interview with Sheri Byrne-Haber.

Will Butler:

You wrote an article on your blog about this holiday season about how not to be an accessibility Grinch, and I wanted to ask you, do you ever worry that you're perceived that way?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I don't worry that I'm perceived that way. I think the intent of the article was to say don't cut money foolishly out of the budget. That was certainly what I was driving at. For example, about a third of the people with disabilities have some form of hearing loss, ranging from I listen to the headphones with the music too loud, all the way up to being completely profoundly deaf, and so all those people could benefit from closed captioning.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Closed captioning is dirt cheap. It's what we used to refer to when I was a coder as a checkbook engineering problem. You wrote a small check, you solved the problem. You could write a teeny-tiny check for closed captioning, make all your potential deaf audience happy or you could save 32 cents not caption your 30-second video and tick people off, and put yourself at risk for lawsuit.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

The idea was that the Grinch might want the 32 cents more than he would want the happy customers with hearing loss, and that's what it was supposed to be about. I think people use a different five-letter word occasionally to describe me. I am okay with that. I have a very clear and very vocal position about what I want. I don't take no for an answer.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That five-letter word is angel. A kind of related question and this is something that I struggle with when I'm really passionate about accessibility and really passionate about getting these points across to people but sometimes I can scare people away. I think, in general, this is a theme in the accessibility community where we're telling people what not to do and what to do, and it can be very overwhelming or alienating so how do you tackle that in your work, in your writing to make it approachable but also clear what the next steps are?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

A lot of what I'd like to do is I like to always give people two options and not doing it is not an option. The two options are what is minimally compliant? As in what will reduce our risk of getting sued? What I would really like to see? I will allow people to start with what's minimal as long as we look periodically at how we can do it better.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I look at accessibility as a continuous process improvement program. One of my recent articles said it's a program dammit, it's not a project for that very reason because nobody ever stops developing software and especially as we look today at the massive migration to mobile and SaaS, which is something I have to deal with every day at VMware. Our people could update software 200 times a week.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I had one team tell me literally that was how many times a week they updated the software. That's not the way software used to be developed. Software used to be monolithic releases and you had major releases and you had minor releases and you could actually control which releases had UI changes. That's not where it's going anymore.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

So, a lot of my personal research these days is into how do we do things that work better with the continuous integration pipeline that developers are starting to migrate to? How do we tie automated accessibility tests to Docker? How can we get people who are adding stuff into our open source GitHub to run some stuff before they check it in? Things like that.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Nice.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Obviously, the automated tests are only going to get you so far but it's still a good starting point. If you're failing things like bad header structure because you skipped a level or missing a skip to content length, chances are you didn't look at anything else.

Will Butler:

Are the approaches toward remediation or for companies who are just new to accessibility, in general, are they very different from someone who's just trying to improve their customer-oriented website versus someone who's fully in the mobile app or SaaS space?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

For people who already have released software, I have likened it to trying to change out an engine on a 747 while it's in flight because you don't, you can't stop new feature development but what you can do is you can draw a line in the sand and say, "Okay, after this point, we are not going to introduce any new code that's inaccessible." While you're frantically getting out the screwdriver behind the scenes, swapping out your engines on the code that's already been released that's inaccessible.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

The other thing that's really important is making sure that you have accessibility dedicated sprints. In the agile development environment, you work in two-week chunks and if you have a sprint, a two-week chunk that's entirely focused on accessibility, that means you're going to get every brain that's working on that sprint thinking about accessibility and I find that's kind of a really good immersive kind of experience where other people come out of the two weeks knowing a lot more about accessibility than they did when they went in.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

How do you get people to commit to in accessibility sprint?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Well, it's either that or sprinkling all the defects throughout, and I find that the, it's more efficient is a good article and gingerbread cookies sometimes help when they're still not convinced. There are-

Will Butler:

You mean literal gingerbread cookie?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I baked a double batch of gingerbread cookies last week.

Will Butler:

Oh, I thought that was like a GitHub term or something like that.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

No.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

More like gingerbread is like an Android release or something.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

No.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Those gingerbread cookies.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Having program managers on your good side is a really important thing and program managers do like their treats. I always make sure that everybody's well-fed. [crosstalk 00:36:15]

Will Butler:

Good advice for [crosstalk 00:36:18]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

We joke when my ducks are laying, which they just started laying again a couple of days ago, people get on a waiting list. "What favor can I do Sheri so that she'll give me a dozen duck eggs?"

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Sheri what-

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Because I work with a bunch of foodies.

Will Butler:

Wow. Oh, okay. Yes. So ducks eggs are like a-

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Ducks eggs is not a code phrase, they are really duck eggs.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

What favor can I do for you?

Will Butler:

What does a duck egg taste like?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I should have known, I would have brought them to the podcast. They're like regular eggs they're just slightly higher fat because there's a bigger yolk.

Will Butler:

Wow. I don’t think [inaudible 00:36:53]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

About 50% larger than chicken eggs usually.

Will Butler:

Whoa.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I'm learning a lot right now.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I had no idea.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yes. We've got-

Will Butler:

I would have never even think about it.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

We got eight ducks in there happily laying away. They like the longer days.

Will Butler:

I want to stay on this topic of socializing accessibility at work. I think it's so relevant to so many of our listeners.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. Absolutely. One thing I am curious about is, so you mentioned you do internal Tech Talks, you do a lot of hands-on assistive technology training, sounds like you're doing all these really awesome accessibility sprints. Are there accessibility issues that still keep getting overlooked like the same kinds of issues?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Well, when you have as many developers as we do, it's hard to get everybody at the same level of accessibility. One of the things that we're looking at doing right now is building an accessibility champions program. At McDonald's, this used to be referred to as who can channel their inner Sheri? Which meant who could go into a meeting and speak and not be on the accessibility team but speak to accessibility as if I were there?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I'm trying to build a whole bunch of people who can channel their inner Sheri at VMware and talk about accessibility when I'm not there in time zones, I can't be in buildings I can't get into.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. One of the very first things I learned when I joined the accessibility space, my mentor in this field he was like, "We will know we're successful when people are discussing accessibility in a meeting and we're not there." Yeah. The Champions Program is a really cool way to do that. Nice.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

You'd be surprised what people will do for a $20 Starbucks or Amazon card so if we have an accessibility bug bash, we'll put out prizes.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

You can throw in those duck eggs.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I could throw in duck eggs. I don't know if that would be first place or second place but we'll have to figure it out. Just getting people doing it, talking about it until it's literally second nature. To meet that 7% goal that the federal government has set for people with disabilities, that means I think the statistic is 1 out of every 30 people has to have a visible disability, and 1 out of every 15 people has to have a hidden disability that they're willing to talk about.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

When you think about 7%, you think, "Oh, that's not that much." But when you think about it in terms of the 1 in 30 and 1 in 15 and ask yourself, "How many places have I worked where that's been the case?" The answer is probably zero unless you've worked at Northrop Grumman.

Will Butler:

You've written that compliance is not always the best argument when it comes to convincing people to implement accessibility. Why is compliance not a good argument?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Compliance isn't a good argument because then it's always about what you can minimally get away with, and then you stop. You don't do user research, you don't worry about whether or not you're recruiting enough people with disabilities or retaining them once you've recruited them. People hate compliance.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I was in compliance when I started in accessibility and I know that they're considered kind of the internal affairs of the business side of large corporations. I think when you teach people to care then it doesn't matter if they remember that the header requirement is 2 point 4.6. They'll just know, "Oh, yeah. We need headers." That's always what I focus on.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

It's kind of like the same reason why I focus on caring and not whether or not you can use JAWS, which was actually my very, very first article. I started blogging partly because I wanted to write a book on accessibility, and I thought it would be a good way to meet my writing goals, and the other reason why I was really, really super pissed that somebody who worked for me at McDonald's didn't get a job because he didn't know enough JAWS and that was just a shake my head moment because I'm like, "You guys lost out on the best accessibility tester you could have ever had because you're so focused on the tools that she didn't ask the questions about the motivation for being in the career."

Will Butler:

You've mentioned a couple times, you used to work in accessibility at McDonald's. I think someone who wasn't familiar with accessibility they would think, "Why would a company like McDonald's require accessibility?"

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Sure. Well, McDonald's has a lot of websites, for starters in … God, 120 different countries I think, 80 something languages, vertical languages, right-to-left languages as opposed to left-to-right languages, which presents all kinds of interesting accessibility challenges. They have kiosks. The kiosks need to be some level of accessible.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

The mobile app for ordering, the Security and Exchange Commission filings, every company has those kinds of needs, not necessarily the same needs but when you start digging a little bit deeper, any company of more than 500 people regardless of whether they make widgets is going to have accessibility needs. They may just not know it.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. On that topic over, I would say in the past decade or so, we've really seen that accessibility has moved out of this kind of like very niche assistive technology companies, into being a mainstream thing. That mainstream companies are tackling which is really great for just improving accessibility, in general, and also providing lower-cost accessible technology because, what does a Braille reader cost right now?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

The $2500 for the ones that Freedom Scientific sells.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. They're super [crosstalk 00:42:13]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

They're awesome but they're really expensive. Somebody that my daughter went to high school with patented I think and did a Braille printer out of Legos.

Will Butler:

Oh, yeah.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Because his father told him how much a Braille printer cost and the kid was horrified and he did this when he was like 14.

Will Butler:

I remember. He was the youngest kid ever to received venture capital I think.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

He was like 12, he got a million dollars from Intel or something like that.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I don’t think he finished high school. I think he went straight to college probably.

Will Butler:

Yeah. He turned a Braille printer from being a $3000 thing, $300 [crosstalk 00:42:45]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

$300 thing. Yeah.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's incredible.

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Wow.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Well, so what are the pros and cons of that? I mean, suddenly you have OCR or document scanning through a free app that was made by Microsoft or Google or someone as opposed to your $1000 Kurzweil scanning software that you grew up using. What are the trade-offs there? Is it all positive for end consumer?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

You would think so but the answer is actually no. It begs the question, and I'm sure I'm going to get some hate mail over this. Is somebody who doesn't know Braille who can't read text, are they literate? Because you have the situation where if you're relying on the technology to read for you and you can't read Braille, it's not the same as understanding how to construct a sentence and what grammar rules are and everything else that actually derive from the use of Braille.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

The Braille literacy rate in North America has been plummeting. It's somewhere around 10% or 11% I think if you sort of average it out between the US and Canada. I think that's sad. Every blind person I have ever hired has known Braille. I really feel that it's an employment plus for kids to have Braille knowledge. I wish there was more of it.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Back when you and I were kids that was all there was, and so every kid learned Braille and it's just not the case anymore. I think on the flip side there are more older people who lose their vision than children who are born with congenital issues, either age, diabetes, macular degeneration, whatever and retinitis pigmentosa I know is a big one.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

It's hard to learn Braille as an adult. I'm a type one diabetic and if I lost my vision between the glaucoma and the diabetes, I don't think I could ever learn Braille, and so I would have to rely on the technology.

Will Butler:

Well, it makes me think of like how parents these days are worried that their kids aren't going to know how to spell because they have-

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Because they spell correct.

Will Butler:

… words auto-correct things, stuff like that. I mean, as technology moves forward, we make these huge advances, things become cheaper, things become easier to do, and then-

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

This is an argument as old as calculators. I remember getting my first calculator when I was 12 and let's just say that was more than 40 years ago and leave it at that. My father still made me learn how to use a slide rule because he wanted me to understand the math. He didn't want me to rely on the machine to spit out the right number for me.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

My dad just gave me his whole slide rule collection because he wants me to learn how to use them so-

Will Butler:

Really?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I don’t even remember [crosstalk 00:45:23]

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

[crosstalk 00:45:23]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

It sounds like your dad was an engineer.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

He started as an engineer, and then wound up as Sanskrit professor so an interesting journey.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

My dad was a EE so I remember being really little and seeing he never went anywhere without it.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

They're really cool technology, and then it's interesting that the slide rule has already become this relic when it-

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Right. It's retro.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

… was less than 100 years ago, it was like 50 years ago that people were using it.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Or when I see an HP RPN calculator and I have flashbacks to my calculus days in high school. It's the same kind of thing.

Will Butler:

Well, I guess what I was asking with that last question was, it used to be the screen reader with $1700. Now, you can get a screen reader for free out of the box or you can get some accessibility functionality for free from the app store. What are the trade-offs there?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I think all you need to know about the free screen reader software, you can tell by looking at the last seven years of WebAIM surveys so this very last year was the first time that NVDA passed JAWS in terms of popularity. The question is, do I use NVDA, which is free, or do I spend and between $1000 and $1600 depending on the licensing constraints on JAWS? Or sometimes the third answer, do I reboot my computer every 45 minutes and use the JAWS demo license?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

But don't tell them you're doing that.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

But don't tell them that you're doing that. Sorry, Matt. So, if I am testing software, I am a sighted person but I am testing accessibility to make sure that the screen reader works, okay? I can get away with using NVDA. I have only seen a handful of times, maybe three or four tops in the eight years that I've been doing this like consistently where it worked on NVDA and it failed on JAWS. That's very uncommon. Usually, it either works on both or it fails on both.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

What JAWS gives you for the $1600 is all the really great bells and whistles that people who are blind need so that you could set up special templates to work for when you want to do a really fast stock trade on E-Trade for example or something that works with your bank for reading out complicated PDF files for bank statements. I think there's a place for both of them but from my perspective, I tend not to buy JAWS. We do tend to use NVDA and voiceover as our two primary screen readers that we test on.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Now, because of the expanded VPAT templates, we actually disclose that in the methodology used and we also talked about what I call, and I'm making air quotes here, "Best experienced on." So best experienced on means this is what we exhaustively tested on. If you report a bug on our best experienced on combination, we will fix it. If you report a bug on IE7, chances are we're not going to look at it just because that's so far ago that it's not even being maintained by the manufacturer anymore.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I think across the say like the big three or four screen readers, there's a really different learning curve in terms of getting familiar with it both as a user who's using it all the time and as a tester so like I guess that's kind of fine, right? Because they serve different purposes.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I tell everybody they can learn everything they need to know to test on voiceover in 45 minutes. I always point people to the LookTel tutorial that's on the App Store. It's really, really good. It's really fast. I had this one product manager in a previous job that I just couldn't convince that accessibility was important, just couldn't get it through him. I'd been working on him for six to nine months, and then he texted me one day and he's like, "I got stuck in the airport. I started looking at the app. Oh my god. I'm so sorry. Now I get it. Now I realize why this is important."

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

It's a good tool I think for building the aha moments but TalkBack has a reasonable tutorial now that things have standardized. They've coalesced a little bit more on the Android environment and certainly, you can learn most of the stuff that you need to know to test on NVDA and JAWS on one laminated cheat sheet that you can put your coffee cup on, and it won't melt through the paper. That's the way I usually do it.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah, and it seems like JAWS is almost like an iceberg where the tip of the iceberg is all of the basic navigation but then they have that huge feature set of all these other…

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah. One of the reasons why I've never tried to pass the JAWS certification test because I hear the certification test covers the entire iceberg. I only need to know the tip.

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I wanted to ask you about certification because I noticed one of the first things I see when I go to your website is that you are certified as… What is it? IAPP.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

IAAP, so that's the International Association of Accessibility Professionals.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I should know what that is.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

They could have picked a better acronym. It's CPACC, which is Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies. I was actually in the first group of about 25 I think that took that test at CSUN when it was still in San Diego maybe five years ago.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

All right.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Now, I'm on the IAAP committee that is developing other accessibility certifications like for procurement, how to read the VPATs, how to procure accessible software.

Will Butler:

The IAAP does the CPACC in order to do the VPATs?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

No. They have-

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

How many acronyms have we got?

Will Butler:

Yeah. I'm just [crosstalk 00:51:04]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

That is a lot of letters. But remember when we're talking about VPATs, we're talking about our friends in the federal government and they do like their acronyms.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

We're not talking about VPATs, we're actually talking about ACRs.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

ACRs. Right.

Will Butler:

This is why this podcast is called 13 Letters it's because it was like making fun of the fact that all these things are so hard to spell and so hard to remember. We're not the only industry that does though.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

It should be called TMA, too many acronyms.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Exactly. Let's make another acronym.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

In my job, we have an acronym glossary and we have a whole Google extension, Chrome extension so you can type in an acronym that it will tell you what it means because there are just too many.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah. We have one at VMware as well with all of our business unit acronyms and everything.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

So, I've just been noticing over the past few years in the accessibility community, there seems to be this really big debate about whether or not we should be certified and why that's important and just wondering if you could comment on where you fall on that to date.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

In order to tell how good somebody is at accessibility, you can't rely on a college transcript because as we've already discussed, it's not there. You can't get a B-minus in accessibility 101 at San Jose State because that program doesn't exist. I actually like the certification exams to a certain extent. Like I said you still can't teach people to care, right? It's not testing whether or not you care, it's testing whether you know that there's a flashing limit for epilepsy, for example.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I don't think I'm giving away any trade secrets by saying that that was one of the questions on the test that I took five years ago. I think it's like the automated test. You can get a certain amount out of it. It's not going to give you 100% of the picture. My favorite interview technique is to point somebody to a really, really inaccessible website. Give them an hour and say, "Tell me everything that needs to be fixed."

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Because I think it tells you how did they synthesize information, how did they do when you're dropping them into something completely new that they had no exposure to? What do they think is important? Did they test keyboard first? Did they test color contrast first? Because then what you're looking for is, A, what do they know? B, is their approach to accessibility aligned with my approach to accessibility? Because it's really hard to change people's alignment once they've decided colors are the most important thing, if that's not important to you because colors are a double a requirement. Then, that testing approach might not work.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I'm not a huge fan of checklists. I wrote an article on that as well. I write a lot of articles when I'm ticked off about something. That was one of my I'm ticked off articles that people rely on checklists, and when they rely on checklists, they're really not asking, is this useable? One of the tools that I use at work right now, which I'm not going to name. Yes, it's accessible but I have to hit the tab button 57 times to get to the footer. It's accessible, but it's not usable.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I think that's important too. If you're coming to interview with me, those are some of my trade secrets about what it is that I'm looking for.

Will Butler:

Certification is a way to know that someone has really dug deep and [crosstalk 00:54:15]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

It's a way to know that they've invested the time to, at least, have enough knowledge to pass the test.

Will Butler:

But presumably, if you're knowledgeable enough and you care enough and someone isn't certified, you can suss out whether or not they have that skill set.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Having the certification is going to float your resume to the top of the pile, whether or not we decide that you know enough or you're a good fit is a whole different issue entirely. Trusted tester is really important so if you're working in the federal area or section 508 at all, you need to have Trusted Tester certification.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

That's a completely separate program which is free that's run by the federal government. It just has a god-awful waiting list. I don't know what the waiting list is at right now. When I took it, which was last May, the waiting list was 2100 people.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Why does it have such a long waiting list?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Because it's free.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Okay.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Because the government can only take so many people at a time through the program and because it's valuable for people overseas to have where they might not be able to shell out the money that's necessary to take the IAAP test, they might have more time than money and they will invest their time in the Trusted Tester program.

Will Butler:

You wrote a great article about accessibility on a budget and I was wondering if you could maybe tell us some of the most valuable low-cost approaches and tools. Also, when to know when to go from the budget approach to hiring a team or a consultancy or some outside professional to do the work sure.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Sure. That's kind of the opposite of the Grinch story. The Grinch story was don't cut back too much and this story, which was a very early story was when you start a program, you might not have a budget. Somebody just says, "Oh, I need somebody to do accessibility." They WAVE a magic wand over you and you're the accessibility person but you can't spend any money. You have to build up your successes slowly, and then when you get into the budgeting cycle for the following year, then you can ask for money.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Because I've been in that situation several times because I've started up several accessibility programs, I started to look at, okay, what works when you can't spend any money or when you can't spend a lot of money? Some of my recommendations are kind of obvious like, "Well, use WAVE because WAVE comes from WebAIM and unless you're integrating it into your continuous pipeline, it's largely free as far as I know."

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Some of them are not so obvious like buying used devices off of eBay. That was something, I actually had to get permission to do that at one of my employers because they're like, "No. No. No. You can't buy from eBay." I'm like, "But look, I need the older devices. They don't sell them in the stores anymore because people with disabilities tend to hang on to their devices. They don't like upgrading because they've gotten used to how it works." So, eventually, I convinced them but that's a great way to get a thousand-dollar phone for a couple hundred bucks, especially because you don't need to hook it up to a phone plan.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I think you can use consulting overseas with a few caveats. Obviously, you've got issues with time zone, issues with language, issues with the people who are testing not necessarily being on the same continent as the people who actually have to fix the bugs, but it's a lot cheaper than it is doing it in San Francisco, which is literally the most expensive city in the country to be operating out of.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

What I would have to pay $150 an hour for in San Francisco, I can get in India for between $18 and $26 an hour. There is a time and a place for that and sometimes if that's all you can afford, then you just have to deal with the side effects. Same thing by using WAVE. You're not going to get accessibility trends, you're not going to get an engine that tells you exactly how to fix the code but what you are going to get is a big stack of bugs that you have to sift through and separate out the wheat from the chaff, and then say, "Okay. You, we over here, you're what we're going to fix." Then, you have to manually put them all into the ticketing system.

Will Butler:

If you're a big company looking around at maybe your competitors or other peer companies experiencing accessibility lawsuits, and you're trying to get ahead of it, is it reasonable to think that you can just go to your development team, and say, "Hey, guys, we really need you to research accessibility and learn about it and start implementing this stuff," and kind of brushing his hands off, and say, "Okay. We're making steps in the right direction."

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

You definitely have to have the developers on board. Is that approach going to be successful? Less likely because you're more likely going to be getting back into the compliance mode where they're measuring whether or not success is based on whether they're minimally following the rules, where my measure of success is, is the person with the disability having an equivalent experience to the person who's not using assistive technology?

Will Butler:

What would you personally or in terms of your work like to get accomplished this year or in the next year? What would you like to see happen?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

We're rolling out a pretty significant training program VMware, company-wide, both for disabilities, in general, and accessibility in particular. This is where my day job and my employee resource group job go quite nicely together. A co-worker of mine is in charge of the autism at work program so we did a targeted hiring campaign for people with autism. They have recently been onboarded.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I think a year from now where I would like to be is further along our journey. We've got an 11 step process to get from, not accessible at all to pretty decent accessibility, and so since I've only been doing this for a year a little bit more early on in some of those phases, on some of our products, but just if I had to pick one thing that I could do, it would be that everybody in the company, at least knew what accessibility was or if they didn't know what accessibility was, could say, "Oh, accessibility. That woman in the wheelchair she does it." That would be definitely count as a win as in my book.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

How do you succinctly describe accessibility to someone who doesn’t know about it?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

That's funny. Your accessibility elevator pitch. My accessibility elevator pitch, you still work a lot better about a year and a half ago. My accessibility elevator pitch was Stephen Hawking needs to be able to use your software. Unfortunately, he's not with us anymore so he wouldn't be able to use our software but now I say, "Stephen Hawking, if he were still alive would need to be able to use our software."

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Slightly longer elevator pitch but still communicating the message.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

It's still short but more importantly, it creates a mental image. You're not talking about regulations. You're not talking about the General Services Administration and whether or not you can sell software to a particular government-controlled entity. You're talking about a human with a significant disability who was probably the smartest freaking person on the planet.

Will Butler:

We were just talking about accessibility at the NAMM show, which is the biggest trade show for musical instruments and software. The way I always put it is, "Who are the most famous blind people you've ever heard of?" Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Helen Keller. There aren't going to be any more Stevie Wonder's or Ray Charles's if you don't make your software accessible because technology is integral now with music performance in producing music.

Will Butler:

It sounds to me like we're on the same page. It's about playing off of people's reverence for really high achievers and saying those high achievers are amongst the disability community and you are completely stifling them.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

The only reason why you know about them is because somewhere along the way whatever it was they got an equal experience.

Will Butler:

I want to ask you one final question. You've been doing really well on LinkedIn and just the blog, in general, I know you made a commitment to yourself to write more about accessibility. How do you get people to read your stuff?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

My first article that I wrote about things to look for when you're interviewing somebody for an accessibility job, I think on day one, I got 18 views, and probably 9 of them were my parents. It really did come from nowhere, and at that point in time, I think I had about 500 LinkedIn connections. In the last year, I am now averaging about 10,000 views a month, which is 300-ish views a day. Occasionally, on a really good day, if the articles get curated, I'll get more like a thousand views on a particular article.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

This is on Medium?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

This is on Medium. Yeah. My LinkedIn connections, which are exclusively either disability-related, accessibility-related or UI/UX and diversity inclusion. I guess there's four groups of people I accept invites from. I'm up to almost 10,000. That's grown 9500 in the last year.

Will Butler:

LinkedIn will allow you way more connections than Facebook ever allowed friends.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Facebook [inaudible 01:03:12]

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Oh, sorry. Did I say LinkedIn? I don't post my articles anymore on Facebook because of the limit to growth on that.

Will Butler:

Wow.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I've never tried to connect with that. I don’t know 5000 views. How do you have that many friends on Facebook?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I am terrible at Twitter. I definitely need to get better at Twitter. But I did recently do a poll so I've started writing this book now five times on five different kind of segments of accessibility. Then, about a third of the way through it'll start to drift into something else, and then I lose focus.

Will Butler:

You have 10,000 connections on LinkedIn?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yes. They allow you to have I think 30,000 max.

Will Butler:

What percentile does that put you in? Have you talked to anyone at LinkedIn?

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

No.

Will Butler:

Is that normal?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

We should you should ask Jennison.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah. You should ask Jennison. When you find out, have him tell me.

Will Butler:

That's really rad. It sounds to me like you've gotten readership and you spread awareness by simply by building your network.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah. Building my network, people sharing the articles, me always saying thank you when they shared my articles. I mean, a lot of it is just slogging through the networking side of it just like you would if there weren't a computer involved.

Will Butler:

Producing at a regular pace I presume also.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah. One time, I went two or three weeks without writing an article and I started getting these messages from people going, "Are you okay?" I'm like, "Oh my god. I actually do have readers.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. That's how you know you've made it when people miss you.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's great.

Will Butler:

What's your brand as a accessibility blogger? I mean, you're obviously known in this community.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I am and I wrote possibly my favorite article of the 120 or so I've written in the last 15 months, which is I'm an Accessibility Badass. Somebody actually sent me that in an email saying, "Can you put all those letters after your name, CPACC, JD-MBA badass?" I'm like, "Oh, badass." That's the best title anybody's ever given me.

Will Butler:

You can try but they'll probably think it's an acronym for something.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

They probably would.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

[inaudible 01:05:22] if you change the-

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

The S is to S?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

… [crosstalk 01:05:26] or if you change them into fives.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Fives? Okay.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

[inaudible 01:05:30]

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I don’t know. I used to know but I don’t remember.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

I think my Radical Candor article, which also got a lot of reads, Dona Quixote, put the Don Quixote picture. That was my picture for that article because sometimes you do feel like you're tilting at windmills.

Will Butler:

Yeah. We'll link to that article and everything else that we talked about today in the podcast in the notes and the transcript. Thank you so much, Sheri, for coming to San Francisco and chatting with us.

Sheri Byrne-Haber:

Thank you for doing the transcript. I can't wait to show it to my deaf daughter.

Will Butler:

You've been listening to 13 Letters. Thank you so much to our presenting sponsor, Google. Google disability support is available 5 days a week, 16-1/2 hours a day. Visit g.co/disabilitysupport to find out how to get in touch. Thanks so much to my co-host, Cordelia McGee-Tubb. Thanks to our consulting producer, Sam Greenspan. You can get in touch by sending an email to 13letters@bemyeyes.com. We want to hear from you with all of your suggestions and feedback and we'll be back again next week.