The Accidental Accessibility Program Director

The text alternative to a PowerPoint presentation delivered by Peter Wallack, Accessibility Program Director in the Corporate Architecture Group at Oracle Corporation, at the September 23, 2009, meeting of Boston-IA.

Quick Links:

Slide 1:

Oracle (logo)

Slide 2:
The Accidental Accessibility Program Director:
Lessons Learned from 2.5 years on the job

Presenter: Peter Wallack

Slide 3:
About Oracle

  • The world's largest enterprise software company:
    • Database, applications, middleware, and services:
      • PeopleSoft, Siebel, Hyperion, Agile, BEA, (Sun),…
  • Founded in 1977 by Larry Ellison, Bob Miner and Ed Oates as Software Development Laboratories:
    • First project was to develop a data storage system for the CIA, code-named "Oracle"
  • 74,000 employees.
  • Public Sector sales:
    • Oracle is the largest applications solutions provider in federal government today:
      • Over 100 U.S. federal organizations run Oracle Applications.
      • 15 of 15 U.S. federal cabinet-level agencies run Oracle Applications.
      • The major Shared Service Providers run Oracle Applications.
    • 50 States.
    • 24 largest cities.

Speaker Notes for Slide 3:

Company Information

  • Founded in 1977.
  • First IPO in 1986.
  • FY08 GAAP revenues: US $22.4 billion.
    • Operating margin: 35% (GAAP).
  • Global reach: 145 countries.
  • R&D expenditure: 12% of revenue for FY2008.

Solution Offerings

  • Oracle Database
  • Oracle Fusion Middleware
  • Oracle Applications
  • Oracle Services: Education, Support, Consulting, and On Demand

Slide 4:
Accessibility Activity vs. Time

[A graph showing a steep incline since 2007, due to the following list of new issues:]

  • Rich Client Interfaces
  • Peoplesoft Lawsuit
  • WCAG 2.0
  • Mandate 376
  • OMB report
  • Acquisitions

Speaker Notes for Slide 4:

  • This chart represents my "effort" over time.
  • Accessibility work started mid-2000 when we learned about Section 508.
  • Quick effort to make existing products accessible— at that time, primarily Oracle Applications and Oracle Database.
  • Things seemed "well under control" in 2004 and 2005.
  • I retired at the end of 2005.
  • After driving my family crazy for 18 months, was offered job of Accessibility Program Director when current person retired.
  • Effort level quickly spiked due to items listed, most of which were unknown to me when I accepted the job.

Slide 5:

[Logos of over 50 companies acquired by Oracle.]

Slide 6:
Accessibility Activity vs. Time

Lesson 1: Quitting on a Friday, only to return to work on Monday morning, is not a very bold statement!

Speaker Notes for Slide 6:

Mid-2008 I quit, when work load was excessive: it all seemed hopeless. But people I was working with talked me into coming back. So I "quit" only for a weekend!

Slide 7:
Oracle's Accessibility Program

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Slide 8:
Oracle's Commitment

"Oracle is committed to creating accessible technologies and products that enhance the overall workplace environment and contribute to the productivity of our employees, our customers, and our customers' customers."

Safra Catz, President:

"Oracle's business is information— how to manage it, use it, share it, protect it. Our commitment to create products that simplify, standardize and automate extends to all users, including users who are disabled."

Edward Screven, Chief Corporate Architect

Slide 9:
Uniform Accessibility Process

[Diagram showing process: Design to Code to Test to VPAT, with parallel process for Documentation converging just before Test.]

Speaker Notes for Slide 9:

Each LOB is expected to insert appropriate role-based steps into their unique processes.

Slide 10:
How we address Accessibility:
Design and Code

OGHAG: Oracle Global HTML Accessibility Guidelines

  • Section 508
  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 "AA".
  • Standards broken out to improve comprehension.
  • Initially written in 2001.
  • Has gone through various revisions to:
    • Simplify
    • Modernize
      • uses WCAG 2.0 language, but does not cover all WCAG 2.0 standards.
  • Currently 58 standards.
  • Standards interpretation:

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Slide 11:
How we address Accessibility:

Several styles of tests, to cover all 58 standards:

  • Architectural
  • Visual
  • Tool-assisted
    • Jdeveloper audit: locates properties with no content at design time.
    • Oracle Accessibility Checker: locates missing content at runtime.
    • FireFox plugin: reveals content.
  • Manual.
  • Testing with AT, such as the JAWS screen reader.
  • Testing with Persons with Disabilities.

Slide 12:
How we address Accessibility:

  • Must itself be accessible.
  • Should include instructions for how to configure and use the product.
  • If it is a "tool", should include best practices for how to use it to build accessible output.
  • Ideally, there is a chapter or whitepaper that contains all of this content in a single location.

Slide 13:
How we address Accessibility:

  • The primary way we communicate product status to customers.
  • Central tool to author them:
    • Standardized response language.
  • Only "good" ones published to and used in sales situations:
    • Must indicate good degree of conformance for core functionality on critical standards.

Slide 14:
Promoting Accessibility

  • Collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind: Center of Excellence for Enterprise Computing:
    • Sharing and review of standards.
    • Testing with experts from the NFB.
    • Co-presentations at events such as Oracle Open World.
    • Sponsorship of NFB Convention, Junior Science Academy, and Youth Slam.
  • Awareness Days at Oracle sites.
  • Awareness articles:
    • Corporate Citizenship report
    • Profit magazine
  • HR outreach to diversity groups.

Slide 15:
Lessons Learned

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Slide 16:
Executive Management Commitment is essential.
But champions within teams are more essential.
And sometimes it takes Legal to step in.

Speaker Notes for Slide 15:

Basically, it takes both top-down and bottom-up push to keep accessibility a high-priority item, because it competes with the 100's of other mandates and requirements that pertain to enterprise-class applications, including functionality, security, performance, translatability, internationalization, etc.

Slide 17:
There is something very unique about accessibility.

Speaker Notes for Slide 17:

  • It is largely subjective. Many standards have words like "meaningful" and "logical". We know that we can test how 'meaningful' and 'logical' content is and make it work for 100 people, but the 101st person may claim it fails. "Usability" suffers from the same problem.
  • We rely on many things outside of our control, such as assistive technology, and the user's skill level with that assistive technology. Consider the issues we have making our code compatible with just the major browsers; assistive technology is dramatically more complicated, and created by much smaller companies.
  • Some of what makes it work is invisible to most of us. The internal structure of the page, and the values of certain properties that have no visual rendering, drive what a blind user will "see". But we've worked hard to develop tests that expose this hidden content for a sighted tester.
  • We spend 100's of hours refining the visual appearance of our screens, down to each pixel. But for accessibility purposes, most of that refinement is at best irrelevant, or at worst gets in the way.
  • Accessibility covers a broad range of users. The ideal test scenario would include users that are blind, are color blind, require high contrast, require large fonts, require screen magnifiers, etc. The full list is enormous, and finding such users that also have the required product knowledge, is a daunting task. Thus, we focus on users that are blind, and coding to standards, to minimize the need for testing (though it most certainly does not replace it.)
  • Pretending to be disabled doesn't really work. A person that is blind has a totally different approach to an application than a person with sight. If you are really up to the task, just try unplugging your mouse for a day and go about your normal activities with the keyboard only. It's hard, even if the application is coded perfectly.

Slide 18:
Standards must be Understandable, Unambiguous, Measurable, Reasonable, and Future-Proof.

Speaker Notes for Slide 18:

WCAG 2.0 = good
WCAG 1.0 and current Section 508: not so good

One example of a poorly written standard:
1194.21(j) When a product permits a user to adjust color and contrast settings, a variety of color selections capable of producing a range of contrast levels shall be provided.

It is impossible to fail that standard! WCAG 2.0 got it right:
1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum): The visual presentation of text and images of text has a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1, except for the following:…

That's why our standards use WCAG 2.0 language where possible, though we make no claims of meeting the entire WCAG 2.0 standards themselves.

Slide 19:
Having part of a product meet some of the standards is better than nothing.

Speaker Notes for Slide 19:

VPATs are honest assessments of product status. In some cases, we acknowledge that whole components do not meet the standards.

Slide 20:
I love automated test tools.
I hate automated test tools.

Speaker Notes for Slide 20:

We built an "automated checker" called OAC, but people relied on it as "the test".

Compromise: use the tool to expose content, but try not to report success or failure. Get people to think and use good judgment.

"Any accessibility testing must be viewed as a process that combines automated software tools with human judgment. There is no tool that you can run against your website in order to assert that it is accessible— no matter how much you are willing to pay. Software testing tools can only help you find out if your site is not accessible."

Jim Thatcher

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Slide 21:
Self-reporting of conformance via the VPAT is vital for enterprise-class products.

Speaker Notes for Slide 21:

  • What we ship is different than what a customer deploys, due to customization.
  • And 3rd party certification would focus on us "passing the test", rather than making it accessible.
  • We view testing as an integral part of the entire process, not something that we do "at the end".
  • "Yes/No" reporting does not capture the nuances associated with accessibility, or the impact on any particular user.
  • Having said that, we certainly make mistakes, and we are committed to fix them, through standard support processes.

Slide 22:
Failing a standard does not necessarily mean the product is not accessible.

Speaker Notes for Slide 22:

  • Some AT will "guess" when content is missing.
  • Not every user uses every feature of a every product; components that "fail" may not impact the ability of a person to perform their job.
  • Many functional areas have 2 or more ways to accomplish a task; one of them might be accessible.

Slide 23:
The entire accessibility ecosystem must be addressed
(a.k.a. anything that can go wrong, will go wrong).

[Interlocking puzzle demonstrating a sample accessibility ecosystem: Consultant Implementer, Support, Helpdesk, Standards, Application Venodr, Employer, Employee, Trainer, Hardware Vendor, OS Vendor, AT Vendor, Browser Vendor]

Speaker Notes for Slide 23:

For example:

  • PC specs.
  • Dragon users doing call center jobs.
  • HR reps using Dragon in cubicles.
  • PC security policies.
  • Adjust quotas (awful story of employee in a Call Center who was literally put in an office in the back and told not to touch the system since it would negatively impact their productivity numbers).
  • Most will self-identify as "Expert" with the AT, but many really only know the basics.

Slide 24:
Some AT could be a whole lot smarter.

Eliminate distinction between buttons and links.

Handle "programmatically determinable context". For example: labels of forms within a table should automatically get row/column headers added while in Forms mode.

Slide 25:
Large companies must always be concerned about liability.

[Sample contract language:]

"The products being provided under this Agreement are, at the time of delivery, capable of providing comparable access to individuals with disabilities consistent with the applicable provisions of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board standards set out in 36 CFR Part 1194 (known as "Section 508"), in effect as of the date of this Agreement, subject to the comments and exceptions (if any) noted on the applicable Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPAT) (available at for each product, when they are used in accordance with Oracle's associated documents and other written information, and provided that any assistive technologies and any other products used with them properly interoperate with them."

Speaker Notes for Slide 25:

Text listed is what Oracle writes into a contract when the products do meet the Section 508 standards.

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Slide 26:
Hands-on training is essential. You cannot just point people to reference materials about accessibility.

Speaker Notes for Slide 26:

That's why we are in the Boston area this week— conducting training for our employees on:

  • Overview of accessibility
  • Detailed look at our coding standards (OGHAG)
  • JAWS training

Slide 27:
Do some research before a job interview!

Speaker Notes for Slide 27:

If only I had known about all that had changed in the world of accessibility while I was out those 18 months…

Slide 28:
Oracle is the [Accessible!] Information Company

[Company slogan with the word "Accessible" inserted.]

[End of Main Presentation]

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Slide 29:

[Examples of humorous mistakes.]

Slide 30:
Blooper 1

Agency CIO to Oracle President: "The product is inaccessible".

Speaker Notes for Slide 30:

Employee had actually complained that their manager had failed to give them "access" to the system!

Slide 31:
Blooper 2

[Screen shot of a web site with an image instead of text for the number to call:]

Talk to Us Now

Speaker Notes for Slide 31:

This website was not accessible, but phone support was. However, the phone number was only listed in an image that had no ALT text.

Slide 32:
Blooper 3

[A heading image that says, "Oracle® Database Standard Edition One". The ALT text says "os_se_one_image". Luckily, the name of the product is repeated in full in the first paragraph.]

Speaker Notes for Slide 32:

A developer supplied the oh-so-useful ALT text indicated. Of course, it had passed an automated checker.

Slide 33 (last slide):
Blooper 4

[Image labeled with the following ALT text: "Man talking to 2 women holding chin".]

[An example training question:]

Paul; his manager, Carla; and another co-worker, Joan; are interviewing candidates for an open position. Following the interviews, the three get together to discuss the top candidates. Carla tells the team that although she believes candidate #1 was the most qualified for the position, she does not want to offer her the job because she thinks she might be pregnant and doesn't want to "train her and then have her out on leave for six months." Joan states that she is concerned that the candidate #2 will not "fit well with the group" because he is much older. Carla and Joan therefore want to go with candidate #3. Paul is instructed to contact candidates #1-2 and inform them they will not be receiving an offer.

What should Paul do? Click the most appropriate answer.

Speaker Notes for Slide 33:

This is text from a class all employees take. The UI designer had added a pretty picture to each page, which a developer had then marked up as if it was non-decorative. I particularly liked this ALT text.

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