05.16.2019Policy

Building digital access for all

By: Mike Shebanek

Celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day at Verizon and Verizon Media

Friends take selfie on a hike

Today, we honor Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the eighth annual celebration where we’re called to learn, think, and talk about digital access and inclusion for people with disabilities. As the Senior Director for Accessibility at Verizon Media, I know that accessibility isn’t something Verizon only pays attention to one day a year—it’s a year-round effort. As the CEO of Verizon Media Guru Gowrappan recently put it, accessibility and inclusion “are more than ticking items on a checklist for compliance. They are integral to our design, execution, service, and support. This is fundamental to who we are and how we continually place our users first in all that we do.”

As part of this mission, we’re focusing internally and externally on initiatives moving toward a more accessible world. We seek greater accessibility in our products, workplaces, and society.

We start from within, continually testing the accessibility of our products, using the same assistive technology as our users: closed captioning, switch control, on-screen keyboards, alternate-input devices and screen readers. As part of an annual Accessibility Bug Bash, our product teams work to resolve accessibility bugs across our products. We’re opening our Accessibility Labs in New York, Boston and Sunnyvale to support this effort, and recognizing outstanding employee contributions. Our cultural investment in accessibility helps make our sites and apps usable for all, delivering a great, accessible experience.

As a provider of unique content, Verizon Media’s Yahoo Finance provides eight hours of live-captioned financial news every weekday. Yahoo Fantasy is optimized for use with VoiceOver screen reader, so anyone can join a league or create their own. Yahoo mail is optimized for VoiceOver and TalkBack and users can also change text and background colors for increased readability.

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CB - Yahoo Finance

Featured accessible apps
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An Android phone showing the accessible Yahoo Finance app,

The accessible Yahoo Finance app, showing an episode of The Ticker with closed captioning enabled.

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Verizon has long championed accessibility because we want to ensure all people have access to new technologies and great content. To create systemic change around accessibility, Verizon has developed partnerships to address unmet needs in the disability community. People with disabilities make up about 20% of the population, but are featured in less than 2% of media images. That’s why Verizon Media Services partnered with the National Disability Leadership Alliance and Getty Images to create The Disability Collection, a growing collection of stock images that break stereotypes and authentically portray people with disabilities in everyday life. The first 1,000 images are available on gettyimages.com for worldwide license and use.

Elevating representation of people with disabilities is not only good for the communities we serve, but it’s also good business. Our research told us that 70% of consumers would feel more positively towards a brand with advertising featuring people with disabilities. The Disability Collection provides authentic images, and elevates a necessary conversation about representation.

Verizon + The Disability Community + Getty Images

We’re also tackling a significant accessibility skills gap. Most businesses lack awareness about accessible design and development, and the workforce to execute it: subject matter is limited to a small group of experts. We co-founded Teach Access, a coalition of top tech companies, major universities, and leading advocacy organizations with a mission to infuse accessibility concepts and skills into higher education curriculum. Together, we empower students studying design, computer science, and human-computer interaction with the knowledge necessary to create a more inclusive and accessible world. Next week, we’ll host the second annual Teach Access Study Away program in Silicon Valley. It will provide twenty-five students from seven universities a week-long immersion in how Verizon Media, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Walmart practice accessibility as a core design and development value.

To help ensure the accessibility of future media technology, we are co-hosting the first ever XR Access Symposium in partnership with Cornell Tech on July 16. This event will bring together key researchers, technologists, and the disability community to identify issues, share best practices and lead the way toward making Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and 360 video accessible.

And, at the invitation of Accenture and Disability:IN, my colleague Zachary Bastian will present these and other initiatives on Capitol Hill today, joining other leading companies in a discussion about best practices and policies in support of disability inclusion.

People with disabilities are our family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. We can build a better world with them, and build a better world for all. Global Accessibility Awareness Day provides a great opportunity to reflect on our progress, and aim even higher.

Learn more at verizonmedia.com/accessibility

For related media inquiries, please contact story.inquiry@one.verizon.com

About the author(s): 

Mike Shebanek is the Senior Director of Accessibility at Verizon Media.