October 03, 2022

Reading time minutes

Accessibility matters

We went to the Cleveland Sight Center to better understand what it would be like to be blind and use our products. Here’s what came of it.

Photo of Joe Shearer

Joe Shearer

Research analyst specializing in product accessibility and compliance

Close-up of hands coding on a laptop.

Like many Hylanders who work at our headquarters in Westlake, Ohio, I was pretty excited about the new wing of Building 3.

When Rick Kirk, Hyland’s director of real estate, sent out an email telling employees we could check out the new space before everyone settled in, I jumped at the opportunity – probably like three or four times altogether.

The last time I visited, I started paying attention to some of the details of the landscape. For example, I noticed we constructed this building with accessibility in mind – that is, ways to accommodate people with disabilities.

It made me think, “Wow, a lot of us would agree navigating a building is an important part of everyday life.

But I’ll bet many people at this company – especially people in the R&D department – would argue navigating a computer is just as  important – if not more – than navigating a building.” And yet, we didn’t always consider how we can accommodate users with disabilities when building our products.

Field trip!

So, a small group of Hylanders – Marc Majers, Anna-Dawn Maynard, Kelly McCourt, Brady Giles and I – went to the Cleveland Sight Center to better understand and gain an appreciation for what it would be like to be blind and use our products.

Not to go all cliché on you, but yeah, it was kind of an eye-opening experience. We observed as two blind users, Annette and Nicole, navigated ShareBase, our online file sharing solution.

Quick level set: Many people hear “computer accessibility” and automatically think “screen reader,” which is that robotic voice you hear in the video intro.

And, while screen readers play an important part in accessibility, they aren’t everything.

For instance, when watching the video, you may have noticed a keyboard prominently featured. Being able to do everything on the keyboard is so essential for accessibility: navigation, task execution and anything else you can do with a mouse.

This not only benefits people who are blind, but also people with limited or no arm movement. Another thing you may have noticed in the video: visual focus as the user navigates the interface with the keyboard.

Visual focus – and logical flow of that focus – assists individuals relying on the keyboard for navigation. I’ll mention one more benefit: appropriate color contrast between text and background, which assists sighted individuals who are either colorblind or can’t see too well.

(Bonus point: Check out the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker to test for accessible contrast.)

Accessibility in everyday life

I like to tell people that everyone can benefit from accessibility.

For example, maybe you are one of those users who prefers a keyboard to a mouse and is annoyed when a new application doesn’t incorporate simple keyboard navigation.

Think of accessibility in everyday life.

Say you’re at a loud bar or restaurant, look up at the TV and find yourself reading the closed captioning because, well, you can’t hear in that environment. Or, think about how many of people use automatic doors, escalators, and elevators every day because they’re carrying something heavy.

So, I’d like to challenge you to think about disabilities in, maybe, a different way than usual. Because they’re not always permanent, and they’re not always the worst possible scenario. Disabilities can also be:

  • Situational: Like in the examples above.
  • Temporary: Maybe you break your arm skateboarding and need to learn how to use a computer with one arm for a few months.

Why is all this important?

I hope I’ve already answered that, given we are talking about providing access to all our users. I doubt the original intent of our second core value only includes users with perfect sight, hearing and motor capabilities.

That’s why we’re always talking about how important it is for the solutions we develop to be adaptable and flexible.

Core value #2:

We deliver configurable business solutions that are intuitive to use.

Our customers are confident when navigating our solutions. Our customers do not require significant training on the user interface because it flows naturally. Our customers are able to configure a robust, rapidly deployable solution without programming.

Like most things, though, there is a “dollars and cents” side to all this. Our customers, especially those in the higher ed and government verticals, have a legal obligation to accommodate disabled employees, students and constituents.

Naturally, when they seek out a vendor, they want to know:

  • What are you selling?
  • What are you going to stand behind if something goes wrong?

Simply put, they can be fined when they are not providing the appropriate accommodations. One thing we can do as a company is to provide them Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs), which are essentially conformity matrices outlining a module or product’s accessibility.

We get many requests for these from both prospects and customers to provide an expectation of what we can do for them. For example, last year, I was involved in discussions with a prospective higher education customer.

After many calls and demos, the institution was still unconvinced we could help. The issue? The university had been fined for an accessibility failure, and whatever solution it was going with needed to be solid in that area.

It culminated in a group of five of us traveling to do an onsite visit to observe and again demonstrate how OnBase delivers this functionality. The university agreed.

We’re now working together to deliver on our promise: Better information access – for everyone. There are many more accessibility examples out there. In fact, recently, we held a higher education CIO forum.

The CIOs in attendance wanted to ensure we are thinking about this as we continue to develop our content services platform and other solutions. In fact, after the forum, two attendees separately contacted me to ensure we know accessibility is a big topic of discussion.

What are we doing about all this?

Excellent question.

While we can’t change everything overnight, we have a lot of great things happening in R&D to move forward with accessibility.

And it’s safe to say VPATs are only step one of the process. Here are few initiatives:

  • We launched a VPAT course for testers. While simply having VPATs doesn’t make our products accessible, it does provide a baseline. The more our testers are involved with this process, the better we can create, update and maintain these documents in the future. And the better we can track our nonconformities and do something about them. After three classes, I’m happy to say we now have VPAT-trained testers representing OnBase, ShareBase, PACSgear, Brainware, Enterprise Search and Perceptive Content. Not a bad way to start a new initiative!

  • We are doing third-party testing with the Cleveland Sight Center. Last year, we commissioned the Cleveland Sight Center to test and provide a full report on the accessibility of ShareBase. The User Experience team, the ShareBase team and I am working together to address shortcomings and concerns the Sight Center identified in the report. We look forward to working with this great local organization in the future as we look to test our other products in the future.

  • We are launching an employee resource group for accessibility. Back in May, Hyland observed Global Accessibility Awareness Day, where we again partnered with the Cleveland Sight Center to give employees an idea of what it would be like to have a vision impairment and use software and other modern technology. Working with HR, we are looking at expanding this concept to continually provide awareness and promote change within the entire organization through an employee resource group for accessibility. We hope to continue working with the Sight Center and other local organizations to help us create a culture of accessibility at Hyland.

Since 1991, our goal has been to help people and organizations achieve their full potential by making the information they need easy to find. Working with the Cleveland Sight Center is going to help us take that accessibility to the next level.