Tech Section: HP, IBM& Anthro Tronix
Most people who surf the Web never think twice about being able to access
their favorite sites. For people with disabilities, however, going online
can be a confusing, frustrating and wholly unsatisfying experience. Around
the world, millions of people with disabilities are gaining recognition
as a significant and growing market for products and services, and they
are making their needs and expectations known. The expectation for information
technology (IT) to be accessibility for people with disabilities came
to the national forefront last summer when consumer websites Priceline.com
and Ramada.com agreed to high-profile settlements with New York Attorney
General Eliot Spitzer over noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities
Hewlett-Packard (HP), the world’s largest consumer IT company, has
been implementing accessibility design and features into its website for
several years. More recently, members of the HP Web accessibility team
have been actively promoting to other businesses and organizations the
importance of accessible websites and sharing key learnings and best practices.
ABILITY Magazine talked to Natasha Lipkina, HP’s manager of global
Web accessibility, about what drives HP’s commitment in this area,
how the company made accessibility a top priority, and what HP has learned
in the process.
ABILITY: Tell us about your role at HP.
Natasha Lipkina: I joined HP six years ago, and I am responsible for managing
accessibility for our global Web presence as well as HP’s e-business.
We’re talking about a huge site—thousands of pages, hundreds
of products, dozens of languages, and new content coming in on a daily
basis. It’s all got to be accessible to everyone. My group works
closely with the HP Accessibility Program Office and the Web development
team to oversee strategic planning and implementation.
ABILITY: When we talk about Web accessibility, what exactly does that
NL: There are many different definitions of Web accessibility. To HP,
it means ensuring that anyone with Web browsing capability can not only
access and clearly understand Web content, but also has the ability to
interact with it. The bottom line is, regardless of a person’s disability,
he or she should have virtually the same experience online as anyone else.
Our commitment extends beyond HP.com, as well. For example, our Web-based
business-to-business functions, e-mail, online advertising and promotions
are all fully accessible. We try to ensure that everything we touch is
accessible for all of our employees, customers and partners.
Our Web accessibility standards integrate Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C)
Guidelines and Section 508 Web standards [Section 508 is an addition to
the Rehabilitation Act requiring full accessibility for all federal IT
purchases]. We do our best to ensure that all our customers can easily
access information on our website and accomplish the tasks they need to,
from learning about our products and our company to applying for a job
ABILITY: Why did HP take this approach?
NL: As a technology leader, we couldn’t be late to the game. We
recognized the huge market represented by people with disabilities. We
really started in 2000 by updating our Web design standards. We were ahead
of Section 508 enforcement and took a proactive approach to building in
accessibility. As quickly as we could, we developed plans and strategies
that could be put into place immediately, knowing we would address systems
for ensuring compliance later. HP made accessibility a priority and provided
to our internal Web development teams the tools, resources and knowledge
ABILITY: You mentioned ensuring compliance—how does HP do that?
NL: It was critical that we develop not only the policies and standards,
but also a robust system for enforcing them. We require regular self-assessments
from HP Web publishers, asking them to take responsibility for the outcomes.
Ensuring accessibility is a never-ending task, requiring us to constantly
stay abreast of changes and developments in technology as well as ways
to make those new features and applications usable by everyone. With continual
changes in standards and regulations, we are constantly training new team
members. We also invite external organizations, such as the National Federation
for the Blind, to help us monitor compliance.
ABILITY: What kinds of challenges do websites that aren’t designed
with accessibility in mind pose for users with disabilities?
NL: For most people, the Internet is a gateway to the world. It can be
so liberating and make life so much easier and richer. But for people
with disabilities, it can be just the opposite. Navigating online can
be an extremely frustrating experience. Take, for example, users with
impaired vision who use screen readers [devices that use a synthesized
voice to explain content on the screen]. If a website isn’t coded
to interact with screen readers, then the screen reader can’t work.
The user won’t get accurate context for images or information on
the page and won’t be able to move around the site. We understand
these frustrations. Our Web team includes people with disabilities and
is extremely passionate about ensuring that people with different kinds
of disabilities have full access to our site.
ABILITY: Why should a company bother with Web accessibility?
NL: There are several driving factors, including business benefits, legal
requirements and social responsibility. From a legal standpoint, although
the requirements and regulations started out in the United States and
Europe, they are becoming increasingly prevalent in most parts of the
world. Everyone saw what happened with the settlements last year, so companies
are realizing that they expose themselves to legal liability if they are
ABILITY: Can you talk more about the business benefits?
NL: There are numerous business benefits. Millions of people around the
world have some type of disability. When your website isn’t accessible
to them, they will never be your customers. And we’re talking about
many types of disability. For example, age-related impairments are a growing
trend. Studies have shown that more than 50 percent of working-age computer
users in the U.S. are affected by some form of vision, hearing, dexterity
or other impairment
More than that, the same improvements that make your site accessible for
people with disabilities make it better and easier for people without
them, too. For example, providing alternatives to visual images for people
who are blind or have low vision also allows users with slower connections
to download information and navigate your site more quickly and easily.
Additionally, new platforms like PDAs and Web-enabled mobile phones have
limited support for complex programs and large images, and providing accessibility
features facilitates Web use from these modalities. These platforms are
the future of Internet access, so to keep your content from getting to
people who use them makes no sense.
Another benefit an accessible website brings is improved search engine
functionality, making it easier for customers to find the content they
are looking for. And when sites become more accessible to search engines,
they appear higher in search engine rankings, providing a competitive
advantage. Accessibility also creates efficiencies in managing website
content. Using simple design allows users to view the same content on
a variety of platforms without the designer’s having to recreate
it each time.
ABILITY: You also mentioned social responsibility as a motivating
NL: Yes, it’s a significant motivation, a huge part of everything
we do at HP. Making the Web and other information technology accessible
to everyone is the right thing to do. Business and legal benefits aside,
HP has a strong legacy of advancing diversity in all its forms and using
technology to make life better for people around the world.
ABILITY: Are there any other ways that HP has implemented its commitment
to Web accessibility?
NL: One of our main goals is to integrate accessibility from the beginning
into our product development process. Our Web-based Accessibility Toolkit
for product designers provides information about accessibility requirements,
legislation and best practices, giving designers the tools needed to ensure
that products are accessible to everyone. To help customers interested
in product accessibility, HP was one of the first companies to document
the accessibility features of our product portfolio—our desktops,
notebooks, handhelds, printers and other products. This information is
publicly available online on our voluntary product accessibility template
ABILITY: What results has HP seen from its efforts?
NL: We’ve had great feedback and input from users with disabilities.
We look at our commitment to accessibility as a learning process. When
we get suggestions, we go right in and find out how we can improve features
and site design. Our global website was recognized by the U.S. National
Federation for the Blind (NFB) in 2004 as an e-business leader for Web
accessibility. NFB’s Nonvisual Accessibility Web Application Certification
program recognizes websites that can be used equally as well by people
who are blind as by people who are sighted. HP is the only company to
earn certification in two consecutive years.
To help spread the word, we’re promoting to other businesses the
merits and importance of Web accessibility and sharing our experiences.
We’re members of W3C and sponsors of the Web Accessibility Initiative
(WAI). I serve on the WAI Steering Committee and on the Education and
Outreach Working Group. HP also makes presentations and joins panels at
industry conferences, such as the California State University at Northridge
(CSUN) adaptive technology conference.
ABILITY: If you had to give one piece of advice to an organization
that wanted to make its website accessible, what would you tell them?
NL: It’s critical to get a long-term commitment from the upper management.
This type of program requires an investment of time, money and people,
and getting buy-in from the top helps ensure the right resources are in
place. HP’s top leaders have made it clear that accessibility is
a priority and have put resources in place to support that commitment.
I know you asked for one piece of advice, but here’s another—it’s
crucial to address accessibility issues during the design and development
stage. If you know the requirements going in, you will save time and money
and avoid many late nights and huge headaches. It’s an investment
of time and resources up front, but when you weigh the business benefits
and avoided legal exposure, it’s worth every penny. HP puts this
investment into everything we do on the Web, so we spend little time going
back or catching up. It’s really part of our culture now.
continued in ABILITY Magazine subscribe
Read the rest of the interview with your order of ABILITY Magazine.
Other articles in the Robert David Hall issue including-Interviewing
Skills, Letter From The Editor - Gillian Friedman, MD, Humor-Cell It Somewhere
Else, Headlines-MS, Alzheimer's, Flu Benefit, Tsunami Relief, Senator
Harkin-Disability Rights Abroad, Media Access-Pursuing Inclusion and Representation,
Behavior-Based Interviewing-Identifying Ability, Innovations-Balance Sport
Wheelchairs, Motor Vehicle Accidents-Frightening Statistics, Test Drive-Get
Off Your Knees, Recepies-Coats to Coast Cusine, World Ability Federation,
Events and Conferences...subscribe!,