Global Accessibility Awareness Day

May 19, 2022

More than 1 billion people are living and working with disabilities globally today. As demand continues to grow for accessibility within the workplace, the interest in tools and advanced accessibility capabilities is rising. Is your travel program ready? 

Hello, I'm Harper Lieblich, vice president of product, Deem. It's great to be here today to honor such an important day of the year: World Accessibility Day.

I'm here now with accessibility expert and CEO Deborah Ruh, and Alexa Buffum, our director of product management, at Deem. It's great to have you both here.

What does accessibility mean?

So, first question I wanted to ask you both. What does accessibility mean both from the perspective of websites and also physical locations? And I'm curious, especially when it comes to travel, what does accessibility mean? Alexa, you have a lot of experience working with accessibility within the context of interactive apps. Why don't you tell us a little bit about that?

Alexa: Yeah, thank you. So, I would say, given that we're a travel company, accessibility for us is a really broad category.

So, it encompasses things like making sure our website and our mobile apps are accessible, but also how do we help people who have disabilities travel more easily? So, that could be everything from using voiceover in an app or a screen reader to things like can you select an ADA compliant hotel room at this hotel, or can you get wheelchair accessibility to get on and off the plane?

So, it's really a super broad spectrum for us, and we're trying to hit all aspects of that, both with our digital products and then with the actual travel experience for that user. 

Harper: And Debra, you're an expert in accessibility across the board. I know that one of the big challenges that we talk about a lot is accessibility in the supply or in the actual content. We talk about a travel management program. What does that mean for travelers out in the world? 

Debra: Well, first of all, I really, really appreciate how Deem has made accessibility part of your process. That is something every single brand needs to do. But in travel, it's essential because as we get older, more of us travel and we want to travel.But as we get older, we also start acquiring disabilities. I know once I turned 40, I started having problems seeing, but I think you bring up just such a really good point, Harper, because the reality is also this is about making sure that all of your benefits are fully accessible. 

So if you're a large corporation and your benefits, including your travel, or I've got to do my travel expense report, or all of the different things that come with travel, including making sure you're accommodating your employees with disabilities that want to travel.

So it’s as Alexa said, it's a big word and it's a moving word with a lot of different pieces, from physical accessibility to digital accessibility and all of the moving parts at the same time. So I think travel accessibility is one of our most important in conversations that we're not having. We're not having it. And I applaud you all for having this.

How are people impacted by lack of accessibility?

Harper: Debra, I want to learn a little bit more about what that what that actually means out in the real world. When a traveler with a disability encounters a problem, either while they're flying or staying at a hotel or even getting ground transportation. What is it? What is the effect or what is the impact on them when there aren't good accessibility options? 

Debra: Well, you know, think about any time any of us have traveled and you've run into a problem. I remember traveling to a foreign country, and the hotel that I was supposed to go to was not the one that I had actually made the reservation. And so it can be really scary being in any travel situation where things go wrong. But if you're a person with a disability and you're traveling and say that your wheelchair gets damaged, which happens all the time, or you get to the hotel and the ADA room, if they even know what an ADA room is or an accessible room has been given to somebody else.

I know so many people that want to travel. They're eager to travel. They have the money to travel, but they're afraid to travel because of all of the moving accessibility parts. And so that's why we need so bad for the industry to understand, like Alexa had said earlier in question one, once again, there's so many moving parts, but okay. “It's too complicated. We can't do this.”

But the reality is we have been doing this as travel. If you think about Disney, everyone is welcome to have the magic, right? So the reality is the travel industry has been doing this in some ways better than other industries. Another quick example is the cruise industry. They want everybody to cruise. And so once again, we need leaders in the travel industry like them saying, wait a minute, no, this is part of what we're going to do.

We're going to make it private, we're going to make sure we have security. But we're also going to make sure all the guests that travel get to travel where they're going to. They can move around and, you know, really have an accessible travel experience. You're saying we know how to solve this problem. We really do. Willpower. We need leadership, which I believe you're showing and I applaud that. I really applaud that. 

How does accessibility fit into corporate goals?

Harper: So, Debra, we've been hearing from a lot of folks that their companies are starting to set more aggressive diversity equity and inclusion goals, as well as environmental, social and governance goals. But I want to hear a little bit about how accessibility fits into those kinds of goals when companies are setting them.

Debra: Yeah, and I agree, there are so many different acronyms, you know, but companies should also be looking at the Sustainable Development Goals the United Nations has created. And it's very interesting when you talk about DEI—diversity, equity and inclusion—because often when I hear that term used, we're not including people with disabilities, even though people with disabilities are the largest of all of the minority groups and they go across all of the other groups.

We say that women are the largest minority group, but that's not true. There are actually more women in the world than men, but women are just treated like a minority group. That's a whole 'nother issue. But then we look at all the intersections of women with disabilities, women that are part of the LGBT community. But I see a lot of corporations really wanting to prove that they're not the bad players. They're good companies. ‘Yes, we do want you to work for us.’ 

And we mentioned the great resignation, but all of these things are happening. I wrote a book in 2018 called Inclusion Branding, where I was really talking to a corporation about the need to show us that you care about our world. We have corporate digital responsibility. We have corporate social responsibility.

But what does that even mean? And so one way that you can tell is especially the younger generations because they really care. They know that they care about these issues. One thing you can do is you can show them that you do care about DEI and you're including the intersections of DEI—diversity, equity and inclusion. And by the way, you can't do that if you're not talking about accessibility because if your systems, your technology, they're not fully accessible.

Well, it would it's ridiculous. You know, are you not going to consider privacy and security? Accessibility is one of those because humans have to be able to use your technology. So it is a very complicated issue. Which is why I really encourage the corporate brands to work with the providers that understand the complexity of this, like what you are doing with Deem. You've made this part of your DNA, but not all companies have.

And I know that often when you're trying to lead these conversations with other travel leaders, maybe they don't want to hear it. Right, because it's too hard. No, it's not. It's really hard to make sure your systems are fully secure and private, but I don't care. Do it. Well, it's the same thing with accessibility.

So I'm really impressed when I see leaders like Deem really understanding this is not a nice to have this is not a—it's the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do for technology and for your customers. So I think there's a lot of opportunities here, but we need to look towards leaders like Deem that are already doing it.

Part 2

Building accessibility into products

Harper: Alexa, we talk a lot about building accessibility into the product from the start. I'm wondering if you can talk to us a little bit about the first things that we consider when we're getting into that and when we decided to implement accessibility in our product? 

Alexa: Yeah, sure. So, I actually wanted to even take a step prior to that because I'll talk about how I do think it starts with design.

However, there's really the prior step to that, which is you have to understand the space a little bit better. So, if you're new to this or you're just starting to learn about this area, I think it's important to realize that there's a lot of great resources out there. So hopefully it doesn't feel too overwhelming, and you can go to those sources.

And one of the things that I would recommend is a great place to start is actually taking some time to watch videos of people with different disabilities interacting with websites or apps and you can find those on YouTube. And I think that will really give you a better idea of the bigger picture and really why this is important and then the different challenges that people will face.

It's really powerful to watch someone actually interacting with a website using some of these tools. So I would recommend that as a first step. And then once you have that kind of background in place, then I think it really starts with design so that the app or the website has to be designed with accessibility in mind.

And so, it's really important that your design team understands that and has people on the team who understand the best practices in that space and are continually learning because these things change pretty often. And then, of course, the engineering team as well. So, it isn't just about design. It also needs to be implemented correctly. 

Everyone needs to kind of understand why we're doing this and how to go about it. And one of the things that we've done, at Deem, is we have a couple of people on the design and engineering team who are really passionate about this and have a lot of knowledge. And so they've done knowledge share sessions. 

But I'm hoping we can kind of bring that to the rest of the company to really explain kind of what the best practices are here. How can we go about doing this so that everybody's aware and it just raises awareness across the whole org about how this is a really important area? And lastly, I'll just mention that evaluating accessibility is really hard.

So, there are tools out there that you can use, and there are some great tools. But one of the things that we have been able to do, and it's been really lucky for us, is that we've had some people with disabilities have actually been able to test our app and give us feedback on the usability. And that's really key because a tool can tell you things.

But having someone who actually has a disability use your app and go here and give you feedback on it is so much more powerful.

Debra: I often am talking to corporations about how important it is to make sure they're accommodating their employees throughout their entire geo footprint. So, when you're talking about the efforts that are made to be accessible, do you mind just giving us some examples of what you're doing?

Design examples for accessibility

Alexa: Yeah, sure. I can give a few examples. So, I think technology and design can really play a big role in improving the user experience for our users with disabilities, but it can also be very overwhelming at first. I'll just call out a few areas that we tackled kind of initially just to give you some idea.

So, one of those is around colorblindness and contrast. So, if you think about when you're using an app or a website it's really important to make sure that you can distinguish between different types of information. And so, if you're only doing that using colors, that can be really hard for someone who is color blind because they can't see the difference.

Having things like other signals, like text or icons in the UI, so that you can differentiate things is really important. There's also with the use of color, you don't want to have colors that are too similar to each other because again, you can't see the contrast between them, you can't see the difference. So those color pairings are also quite important.

And then in terms of contrast some people will use a high contrast setting on their phones. And so if you're not careful with the design, this can make your app look very good or it can be hard to see the screens when you have high contrast mode on. So that's another area that we've tested to make sure that all the screens still work in high contrast mode and that they're easy to read.

And one other area I'll call out is for people who are blind. So if you're blind, your people will often use a screen reader or tools like voiceover and talkback, which are mobile tools to be able to access apps or websites online. And so what this does is it goes through and it reads the screen to you.

So, building this out is really hard. It's really hard to get it right because you need to make sure that the screen reader is reading everything in the right order. But you also have to give the right context because a lot of the time the context is in visual cues, right on the page or the order that things are shown. And that won't be clear if you can't view the app. So you have to make sure you've got the context clear. So when someone's tapping a button, they know what that button's doing and they know that they're tapping a button. So that's another area that we've focused on. And that's a really important one to get right.

Why should companies focus on accessibility?

Harper: And it takes a lot of iterations to get that. So I'd like to ask both of you this, actually, why is it so important that the companies have a focus on accessibility? Debra, why don't we start with you?

Debra: Well, I just also want to comment on the Alexa’s—the conversation was having about the designers and the engineers, because it sort of also will answer your question, Harper, and that why is it so important?

Well, why do we have technology and shouldn't technology work for human beings? And the reality is that sometimes as humans, we don't see as well. I remember the day it seemed I turned 40, which is a long time ago. I just couldn't see as well anymore. But luckily I had a 16 year old, so I could show my phone to him and say, Who's calling me?

But that was inconvenient for me. So we've got to make sure that technology is addressed all throughout the process. Which is what Alexa said when she was talking about the designers and the engineers, but the testers. 

And I think we can't think about accessibility as compliance. I know here in the United States we often think about that because we're suing companies over this, but we have to think about it. How do you have the best experience? How do your customers have the very best experience? 

And when you make things accessible, it is going to improve the experience for every single one of your customers. It is also going to allow your customers to age with your products and services. So this is no longer nice to have. Human beings need to be able to use technology.

We need to have access to technology, but also to our buildings, to our transportation, to our homes. And so accessibility is not a ‘nice to have’. And you cannot talk about DEI—diversity, equity and inclusion—if you're not talking about accessibility. So I think it's just really important for leaders like Deem to step up and say, “no, we're proud that we have made security and privacy and accessibility part of what we're doing because we want everyone to successfully use this technology.”

So it's just not no longer, “I wish we could do it. It's too hard.” No. It's just part of doing business now. Technology should work for human beings. 

Harper: Alexa, we approach this mostly from a technology perspective, but just in general, I’d love to hear your take. 

Alexa: I agree with what Debra said. My first time that I kind of heard about accessibility was at a previous company when we were dealing with a lawsuit.

So I think that's how maybe some people have kind of learned about accessibility, which is unfortunate. But I really think we've moved to a new point now where it's not just about avoiding a lawsuit, or compliance. As you said, Debra, it's really that we want our products and our services to be inclusive.

And that means that we need to be able to serve this part of the population that has a disability or, and as you said, I think it's really interesting to think about it as it's people who, as they get older, you know, they need to get glasses.

I have ten large things on my screen. It's things like that that we need to be able to address. So I agree with you that it's really about building a product and whether it's a digital product or physical, but making that accessible to everybody, I think is really key. 

Harper: Well, Debra and Alexa, thank you so much for joining us today.

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Deem Editorial

The Deem editorial team brings important, informative commentary and data to travel managers and everyone interested in technology and the corporate travel industry.

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