E34 – Interview with Lainey Feingold – Part 2

Lainey reminds us that accessibility is about people. She also says that every conversation we have about accessibility should mention the United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities, the UN CRPD, because that has very, very good language on information technology, on information access as a human right and a civil right.


Nic: Welcome to the Accessibility Rules podcast. You’re listening to episode 34. This episode has been sponsored by patrons like you. I really do appreciate your support. If you’re not a patron yet and you want to support the show please visit patreon.com/steenhout. I’m Nic Steenhout, and I talk with people involved in one way or another with web accessibility. This week we’re continuing our conversation with Lainey Feingold. I invite you to listen to the first part of the conversation if you haven’t already done so because there was tons of super-important information. Lainey, hi again.

Lainey: Hi.

Nic: Shall we catch up where we left off last week?

Lainey: Yes, let’s.

Nic: Fantastic. Thank you. We were talking about lawsuits and the implications of all that in the United States. I know you’ve done a lot of studies and looked at what’s happening outside the United States. What’s your take on, I guess, on where different countries are using legislation and regulations and how the cultural differences and approach to these kind of problem is? Do you think, for example, in Europe they’re more prone to approach things from a negotiation perspective or what’s the differences?

Lainey: That’s a good question. I’m not as much up-to-date on what’s going on everywhere as I would like to be, so I just want to start with that.

Nic: No, that’s fair enough. There’s a lot going on. You can’t have your finger in everything.

Lainey: There’s so much going on. I know. I try to keep up. I do have a post on my website where I try to just keep up with the kind of basic policies that are going on. You can find it on LFLegal.com. If you just search for the word “Japan”, that’s how I find it because it doesn’t stay on the top. I really should put it as one of the favorites, but that’s how I find it. In there I give credit to advocates around the globe who have helped me understand what’s happening in various countries. There’s a lot of policy work being done. Europe is moving forward on good legislation. I think it’s fair to say that there’s nowhere in the world that’s as litigious, likes to file as many lawsuits, as the U.S.

That’s like we were talking last week. It has its good and its bad. The bad part is no one really likes a lawsuit. No one likes spending money on lawyers, and it can give you a narrow perspective on accessibility where you’re just focusing on avoiding the risk instead of all the creative opportunity that thinking big gives you. That’s the downside, but the plus side is, I think especially in the private sector, we’re further along in the United States than in many other parts of the world. I know that there’s great advocacy efforts, like, I know the RNIB in the UK, the Royal National Institute of the Blind, they have really good legal initiatives. They can do lawsuits, they do negotiations, so there’s that. I was in Australia, and the advocates there, there’s great advocates working on these issues. They’ve had a couple of lawsuits.

I really believe that there is a global imperative for accessibility. I think every conversation we have has to include reference to the United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities, the UN CRPD, because that has very, very good language on information technology, on information access as a human right and a civil right. I think there’s more work that can be done on implementation around the world with all these countries that have ratified the CRPD, which, as you know, in the U.S. we have not. One of the early cases brought to the UN, I don’t even know if there have been other cases, but advocates in Hungary, blind advocates, went to the UN and said, “Hungary ratified the CRPD, but our ATMs don’t talk,” and they got the national banks, through that advocacy effort, to install talking ATMs.

Nic: I didn’t know that. That’s fantastic.

Lainey: Yes. If you look up “Hungary” on my search page you’ll find that, or I’ll send it to you. Yeah, I think that the foundation and the desire is there. I always say there’s an equation for accessibility, and the first part is the foundation. You have to have the foundation. You have to have the laws, the policies, but on top of the foundation if you don’t have the advocates and the strategies you’re not going to [inaudible 00:05:40] wins. Foundation plus advocates plus strategies equal wins, that’s the foundation. I think globally we’re doing well with the foundation. Of course, it can be stronger in some places, especially it needs to apply not just public sector. We always start with public sector. That’s how the U.S. started too, so that foundation. We really need the implementation.

Another good opportunity for this is the whole smart city initiative because all over the world cities are trying to be smarter, which has to do with digitizing and having everybody connected and information sharing. There’s a lot of new infrastructure being built as part of smart cities all around the world. It’s a good opportunity. You talked about kiosks last week, kiosks are a part of smart cities. You should be able to walk up to a device and get the information you need about where you’re going or safety or emergency information, stuff like that. All of that stuff has to be accessible. There are people working on making sure the whole smart city movement is going to be an accessible smart city.

Nic: Yeah. I was in New Zealand when there was a pretty massive series of earthquakes in Christchurch that destroyed the city. One of the things I was saying is, “Well, this is a fantastic opportunity for the city to rebuild and the phoenix rising from the ashes, and becoming fully accessible from a physical structure point of view, but also from a digital perspective.” I think we have to take that approach and look at digital accessibility in all aspects.

Lainey: Did they take that opportunity in Christchurch?

Nic: There was a lot of noise made about it at the time, and there’s been hit and miss, hit and miss. One of the things that I like is they started talking about this concept of visit-ability, so when building dwellings it’s not just a question of building an accessible home if someone has a direct need, but also talking about the fact that you have friends and family. Then other people with disabilities might come into the house, so you must build all houses to be accessible. That’s a very strong concept, I think.

Lainey: Yeah, very important.

Nic: Lainey, how has your view of web accessibility changed or evolved in the last 15 years that you’ve been involved in web accessibility?

Lainey: That’s a good question. Well, one thing is, like I said, it’s everywhere now. Originally, I was involved in the financial side of things. It struck me. I remember thinking like, “Independent access to finances is something people can get,” and how important that was. When we first started working with Major League Baseball and the blind baseball fans, many of them out of Boston, Massachusetts, came to me and said, “Oh, we’ve got to make this website accessible because we can’t listen to games.” I’m not much, and I’m still not much of a baseball fan, although, I come from a long line of Red Sox fans. I remember thinking, “Well, how important is that?” It’s not about financial, or we’ve done a lot of work with healthcare companies, healthcare.

I learned through that Major League Baseball case about how now everything is digital, everything has to be accessible. To tell you the truth, I think more people have cared about my work in the community on the baseball side than on any particular bank because it’s not just about healthcare and finance and privacy and independence. It’s about community, it’s about participation, so that’s one thing that I see. My thinking has evolved along with the web. We started working. We did our first case on the accessibility of mobile apps within a year of the app store opening. Well, when we stated with this there was no app store. I think we can forget how it didn’t always used to be like everything was online.

The other thing I think I’ve come to realize is that accessibility can’t really be separated from some of these other core values that the digital community generally recognizes, such as privacy and security. Nobody would let a content management system run amok and let anybody post anything, and it would create a security breech. If you don’t have accessibility, disabled people can’t independently use the content, and they’re going to have to talk to a family member, a stranger, a worker to help them do the job. That’s a security violation, a security risk.

I like talking about accessibility just as one of those core values that have to be built-in, yes, inclusion and civil rights, that’s key too, but also, and also, issues like privacy, security. We did work with the American Cancer Society who provided a lot of good information in maybe 25 different languages. There’s an awareness that, “It’s a global world. Not everybody reads English.” Well, you know what? If you can deal with languages you need to deal with accessibility. It can be seen in that same way.

Then I guess the other thing is a lawyer I originally represented labor unions when I got out of law school, and did traditional civil rights, gender and race before I did disability. As a lawyer kind of trained to see there’s one side, and then there’s the other side. One thing I’ve learned working so closely with the accessibility community all these years is there are champions in every single role. You can have the biggest company, and it’s going to be accessible because there’s going to be a culture created and carried out by individual people.

I’m very big on recognizing and appreciating all the roles that it takes to put out content and technology that works for everybody. I don’t see things in good guys and bad guys anymore. I think that’s one of the things I like about structured negotiation, which we talked about last week, I have my book on, is it let’s the good people get recognized more. Appreciation is a core value of the process. I should say about the book that it’s available on Amazon, it’s in Book Share, which is a library for people with print disabilities. In the U.S. it’s also now in the BARD Library of the National Library Service.

Nic: Fantastic.

Lainey: Yeah, so that just happened at the end of last year. I’m very excited it’s in accessible formats, plus there’s a Kindle version.

Nic: Yeah. I think that’s the version I’m going to grab. I’ve been thinking about grabbing your book, but I have a reading list so long that, yeah.

Lainey: As do we all, I know. That’s why last week I mentioned the Microsoft book. It’s an easy read, but there’s a lot of good nuggets in there by Satya Nadella, the head of Microsoft. It’s good. There’s also an article on line that the Drop Box people did about creating a culture of accessibility. It’s just sort of a blog post that Drop Box did. I like reading these things that show how we can build accessibility into companies. Let’s not talk about the law office and the general counsel’s office and the insurance risk and all that, but what are people doing on the ground in their empathy labs and their awards and making people feel good about this?

Nic: This reminds me of a discussion I had with Sina Bahram, he was saying, “We don’t have an accessibility problem. We have an awareness problem.” I think having champions throughout companies that are cheerleading for accessibility is a way to positively raise awareness as well. I think it’s … Hold on. Sorry about that. I was saying that having champions throughout companies is a good way to positively raise awareness and get people interested in accessibility.

Lainey: Oh, yes. I met guy, I’m not going to say the company because I’m not entirely what company it was, he was one person out of 45,000 employees with accessibility in his title, which, obviously, is not enough. But, it turned out that the company gave him an award, and so there was like a ripple from that. You don’t really know. I work with one company. Typically, I say, “There needs to be a web accessibility person in an organization.” Typically, there has to be a place where the buck stops, and that person has to be in a neutral position as high up as possible. I used to say, and I still sometimes forget, and I say, “Don’t put the web accessibility coordinator in the law department because that’s just going to, again, create this sort of risk approach, fear approach.”

However, I have one company that I work with, and it’s a very large company, and their whole accessibility initiative is really been driven by a wonderful person in the law department. Now, that person is not doing the whole thing themselves, but it reminded me that you can’t make assumptions. There’s no cookie-cutter approach to this. That’s why we talk about culture. Each company or government agency’s culture is different, and so who the accessibility person is going to be and where they sit and the scope of their responsibilities has to be native to the company. It can’t just be imposed from outside.

Nic: Lainey, you were talking about your first job with Bank of American, and then about all the work you’ve done with the baseball sites. What would you say your greatest achievement in terms of web accessibility is?

Lainey: Well, first I should say that in structured negotiation it’s a legal strategy. I’m a lawyer, and I wrote the book about structured negotiation. I put out a lot of information, but all the cases, every single one is successful only because of the blind people who have trusted this process to resolve civil rights claims. It’s not about my biggest accomplishment. It’s about what has the blind communities, like the baseball, for example? The best thing about structured negotiations at its best, now, it doesn’t work like this every single time, but at its best it can create an environment where the company people can meet blind people and get to know them, or deaf people, disabled people. It’s not just for disability rights, where there can actually be relationships.

I think in web accessibility I think one of the reasons I talk a lot about the baseball is because the relationships that were formed in that case with the MLB web folks and the baseball fans who are blind were very strong. Same with the early talking ATM cases. I think when the bankers got to know blind people who couldn’t take $20 of their own money out of an ATM, yes, it was a civil rights issue, and they wanted to change that. They are proud of the initiatives, and I think that’s probably the best thing that can happen.

Nic: Thank you. The flip side to that question is what’s your greatest frustration in terms of web accessibility?

Lainey: The greatest frustration is that we’re still here having to talk about how to convince people, you know? I’ve been saying for years that the goal is to put the lawyers out of business on all sides of this. Which, I shouldn’t really say that either because, like I said, accessibility is a civil right, and access to information and participation are civil rights. In all sorts of civil rights you need lawyers to enforce. There’s no doubt about that. I don’t like, for example, many of your listeners will know that the U.S. Department of Justice decided not to issue any regulations right now about web access. One of the things I like to say sort of tweet-worthy is the regulations are dead, but the ADA is not.

The ADA still requires websites to be accessible because without it people are not able to participate, and that’s the core. It’s not that complicated. You can’t have programs and services for some people and not others, it’s basic. Because the laws involved, and because they withdrew the regulations people start again talking, “It’s a gray area.” It’s not legally a gray area, although I do have sympathy for people inside organizations, especially smaller ones, who it would be so helpful to point to a regulation and say, “See? We have to do this. We need money in the budget for this.” We don’t have that, so I know it makes it harder for people inside.

I’m frustrated all around. I’m frustrated people are complaining that we don’t have regs because we don’t really need them. On the other hand, I’m frustrated that we don’t have them yet because it would because it would be helpful. In 2010 the Department of Justice said they were going to do the regulations, and I was just kind of looking at the archives of my website and found they had public hearings, and I made a statement. I helped file 20 pages of … No, 20, probably 50 pages of comments in 2010, and here we are 2018. We just have to move ahead without those regulations, but I guess it’s a frustration. It’s a frustration, yeah.

Nic: What do you think the greatest challenge for the field of accessibility is moving forward?

Lainey: Well, I think we have to be flexible and nimble. We have to really get accessibility baked-in so that when the next new thing comes along accessibility is part of it. That’s why we talked last week about should we even call it web accessibility because many places have one team for web and one team for mobile. If you don’t have the concept, like we said, integrated into the systems and the processes just like you do with security and privacy, the next time there’s a new thing you’re going to be back to square one, and someone’s going to forget about it, “Oh, yeah, that’s something we do with the web.” Who knows what the next new thing will be? Some of the things we know, like, AI and virtual reality and all the things that are new now.

That’s another good thing about the Microsoft book for people like me who aren’t really tech people learning about the future. Tech that we see as a future now, we don’t even know what tomorrow’s future is going to be, but we know that accessibility has to be part of it whatever it is. I think the biggest challenge is to get it baked-in. We’re still graduating thousands and thousands and thousands of people with computer science degrees and bootcamp certificates who don’t know anything about accessibility.

Nic: Aren’t we doing the same with architects? Over the course of a four year degree I think they have something like eight hours of tuition on accessibility.

Lainey: Yes, but I think the architectural piece, yeah, there are still problems, of course, but somehow I think there’s a more societal awareness on the basics. Like, you can’t build a new building that people can’t get into if they’re a wheelchair rider. We still have people not understanding at all about accessibility, which is why I like to teach access initiative to try to get this stuff into the hands of the young people, or the designers. I’m surprised in my regular life if I talk about this to people, a lot of people, we still have basic, “Really? Blind people use computers? What’s that about?” We have a lot of work to do, but we have a lot of really good people doing it. I’m basically an optimist. I write about that in my book. You got to be an optimist, otherwise you can’t do the work.

Nic: Yeah. Lainey, I’d like to ask you one last question. What is the one thing people should remember about web accessibility?

Lainey: Well, I’d say the one thing people should remember about web accessibility is that it’s about people. The idea of first principles, what is the core thing that everything else flows from? Web accessibility is about people, people being able to use digital content. As long as you always go back to that, everything else flows from that. When you’re doing the training or the QA you’ve got to be thinking about who, who is going to be using this? I always like to say, “Well, lawyers talk about our people as clients, or UX people have users or customers or patients or students.” whatever your people are in whatever sector you’re in, that’s what accessibility is about.

Nic: Wonderful. Thank you. Lainey-

Lainey: Thank you.

Nic: … thanks so much for taking the time to talking to me. To everyone out there, thanks for listening. Until next week, that’s all. Before I go I want to think my patrons once again. Remember that if you need a hand in sharing your site’s accessibility I’m available. Contact me on my website at INCL.ca.