Digital Accessibility: Working to Further Inclusion in the Workplace
April 7, 2017
LinkedIn’s vision is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce and that includes making it possible for individuals with disabilities or impairments to access our sites and mobile apps. Unlike race or gender, disabilities are not always something that can be seen by the naked eye, which may be why they are often overlooked or absent in conversations around diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and more broadly, in the digital world.
In today’s highly connected digital world, accessing opportunity can be a simple push of a button away. But for millions of people that simple action can become complicated if the individual in question can’t see, hear, physically navigate, or cognitively make sense of the website or mobile app in front of them. That’s where digital accessibility comes into play. Digital accessibility is defined as the ability of a website, mobile application or electronic document to be easily navigated and understood by a wide range of people, including those with disabilities. 
At LinkedIn, our Accessibility Team works to ensure our products are as inclusive as possible. I recently sat down with my manager Jennison Asuncion, Engineering Manager and lead of our accessibility efforts, to talk about some of the basics of digital accessibility. Jennison was recently named Employee of the Year by Careers & the disAbled Magazine after being nominated by members of ‘EnableIn,’ our Employee Resource Group (ERG) focused on awareness, inclusion, and the hiring of people with disabilities. Jennison is widely respected for his work within the accessibility community and at LinkedIn, and his perspective has inspired many, including me to get involved in accessibility efforts both in and outside of LinkedIn.
Q: How would you describe digital accessibility to someone who might have never heard of it before?
A: Digital accessibility is about designing and developing experiences so that they can be independently used by everyone, including people who happen to have a disability or impairment. It’s not only about developing solutions at the code level (although that’s a big piece of it), it’s also about embedding accessibility throughout the design and all other product development processes. A huge part of it is strategically and deliberately thinking of ways to make it a part of your culture and values, so it’s at the forefront of everything you do, and not something treated as a nice-to-have weeks before a launch.
Q: Who benefits from digital accessibility?
A: As someone who is blind and who works in digital accessibility, I need to stress that accessibility is not exclusively about addressing the needs of the visually impaired. The work aims to address every disability or impairment you can think of including, but not limited to: auditory, visual, speech, physical and cognitive disabilities. I am a beneficiary and advocate for digital access and inclusion. However, If I’m only advocating for blindness-related issues, then I’m not doing my job.
In addition to those who have disabilities, there are also individuals impacted by temporary disabilities. For example, someone who has seriously injured their arm may temporarily need to rely on technology such as voice recognition software to send emails for work until they are healed.
For the non-disabled, it’s sometimes a personal preference and provides flexibility. Many accessibility solutions were created for the disabled, but the solutions have become useful for all. Think about the times when you’ve tabbed through a site instead of scrolling or using the mouse or relied on closed captioning to watch TV either out of necessity or preference. Both are examples of a benefit of digital accessibility work and how it can benefit us all.
Q: What are some other examples of digital accessibility?
A: Examples of digital accessibility include: assuring that all actions you can perform with a mouse can be accomplished using the keyboard alone, adding an asterisk (*) to accompany red that may be used to indicate which fields are required, making sure there are sufficient foreground and background color contrast, and provide transcripts/captioning for video content for people who are deaf/hard of hearing.
Q: How did you become a part of LinkedIn’s Accessibility efforts?
A: In 2012, I was planning to attend a conference on technology for people with disabilities and reached out to LinkedIn to see if they would be interested in seeing what it was like to use their site using a screen reader. They took me up on it. A few months later, they asked if I would be interested in moving from Toronto to lead their accessibility efforts. At that point, LinkedIn had an accessibility task force committed to making the site accessible, but it was a percentage of people’s time. When I came on board it became 100% of my focus, and I was able to form a team of software engineers who are 100% dedicated to digital accessibility.
Q: What are you most proud of in your work at LinkedIn?
A: Three things come to mind: First, having our team involved in the new LinkedIn desktop redesign from the beginning. It wasn’t an exercise in course correcting, we were embedded with the engineering team from the start.
Second, our collective efforts, specifically your work, Renato, in making the LinkedIn Android App that much more digitally accessible. You’ve really become the subject matter expert and before this neither Android or accessibility were your focus!
And last but not least, being able to expose and teach engineers and designers, many of whom are early in their careers, about accessibility makes it more likely inclusion will become a natural part of the way they design and build products going forward. Having this opportunity makes my job, without question, that much more meaningful.
My goal is to continue generating interest in digital accessibility, as a set of skills and a mindset worth pursuing because it is a rare opportunity to truly make an impact in the lives of people around the world. If you’re reading this and wondering how you can get involved or learn more -- I’d recommend something as simple as visiting your favorite website and trying to navigate it with the keyboard alone, no mouse. If it doesn’t work, take a few moments to reach out and let them know their site is not accessible. Once you are aware of digital accessibility, it makes an impact, and it’s not something you will easily forget!
 From whatis.techtarget.com
Editorial Note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring LinkedIn employees who are passionate about finding solutions that help provide access to economic opportunity. These change makers are self-motivated and are often defining roles and programs with full autonomy.