Proud Winners of the Spirit of the ADA Award 2022

26 Oct 2022

On October 24th, the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities in the State of Vermont presented Accessible Web with the Spirit of the ADA Award. The Spirit of the ADA Award rewards individuals and businesses who reflect the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act in employment practices. These practices include: accessibility, recruiting, training, and retaining people with disabilities as an overall employment strategy.

At Accessible Web, our commitment to accessibility extends beyond the digital world. We lead with inclusivity in everything we do, and prioritizing hiring people with disabilities is just a fraction of that. As our COO, Pete Bruhn, stated, we also show our commitment by creating solutions to help other companies make their websites accessible, building accessible websites and internal tools of our own, subscribing to accessible tools for other business needs, and ensuring any office space we chose was physically accessible.

Accessibility is at the forefront of everything we do, and we are proud to be recognized for our efforts.

Watch the recording of the award ceremony below!

Bob Burke 0:00

Thank you everybody, we’ll kick it off. As I said, good afternoon, I’m Bob Burke the Director of the Office of Veterans Affairs and I’m also a member of the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.

The committee’s mission is to promote equal opportunity for employment for all Vermonters by advising the governor on issues affecting employment of people with disabilities, and through fostering partnerships among the business community, government, and people with disabilities.

For over a decade, the Governor’s Committee on the employment of people with disabilities has recognized Vermont employers who reflect the spirit of Americans with Disabilities Act in their employment practices, including accessibility, recruiting, training and retaining people with disabilities as an overall employment strategy with the spirit of the ADA award.

Every year Vermont employers are nominated for the Spirit of ADA Award, and winners are chosen for the commitment to employing people with disabilities.

The Spirit of ADA Award winners, excuse me, are an inspiration and role model for all Vermont employers. And today we’re proud to honor recognize Peter Jewett, and Accessible Web.

So if you’re not speaking, please keep your microphone on mute. I’m going to read the nomination that Fred had done. And then Fred is going to speak and a couple of others. So here we go.

The Governor’s Committee on the employment of people with disabilities recognizes Peter Jewett, and Accessible Web as the recipient of the 2022 Spirit of the ADA Award. This award is presented to individuals and businesses who reflect the spirit of the American with Disabilities Act in employment practices, including accessibility, recruiting, training and retaining people with disabilities as an overall employment strategy.

Accessible Web provides employment opportunities for people with disabilities at all levels of the company. They actively recruit people who use assistive technology and employ them to evaluate and perform user testing on websites. Their customers are nationwide and the company is growing the range of digital accessibility services they provide.

Accessible Web deserves recognition for the important mission of digital accessibility, and for recruiting and hiring people with disabilities at all levels of the company, including, excuse me, including user testing, and website evaluations, Fred Jones, division of the blind and visually impaired, nominated Peter Jewett and Accessible Web for this award.

The Governor’s Committee on the employment of people with disabilities proudly presents Peter Jewett, and Accessible Web, the 2022 Spirit of ADA Award for their mission and belief in the power of an inclusive community in training, hiring and retaining people with disabilities. So congratulations, Peter, and Accessible Web, and Fred, I’ll turn it over to you for some comments.

Fred Jones 3:09

Yes, thank you, Bob. So I wanted to just start off by giving a little bit of context for why I think this is so important. And I, I really have been trying to think about how to share the feeling with the rest of the group about what it’s like when you experience a website that’s not accessible.

And so, you know, I’m really not sure I can do it justice. But Piper and I were doing a little pre planning for this meeting, and the word that came up was frustrated. And it’s really a feel a strong feeling when you, you get to a website, and you’re using your assistive technology. And you can’t get to the places and the information that you want to get to. It’s extremely frustrating, because we know what it’s like when it works.

You know, I use a website where I can access newspapers from around the country. And I can get in and out of newspapers as quick as a sighted person and read what I want to read and skip what I want to skip. And it’s a very good feeling to be able to access that information so quickly and so efficiently.

On the other hand, I also experience a lot of websites that are not accessible. And you know, quite frankly, a lot of times they say that they are and technically maybe they are but it adds an extra 15 minutes or a half hour to navigate through all the information and graphics and things aren’t labeled properly to actually get where you want to get to. And that that feeling is very frustrating.

So you know, I’ve been aware of the work that Peter’s company and Accessible Web have been doing. And, you know, I just, I’m so excited because I think it’s, it’s good in three ways.

Number one, they can take a website, build it from the scratch in a way that’s accessible, like I described where somebody can get on there efficiently cruising around, get the information they need.

Two, they can also fix a website that, you know, may appear to be accessible, but really not. And, you know, they can, can help with that.

And third, I love the fact that they’re actually doing user testing with people that use technology. And give you give the site a real user test, because like I said, I’ve been to lots of federal sites that say they’re accessible, and they are technically. But when you do a user test, it’s very clunky, and could be done a lot of a lot more streamline a lot more efficiently.

So anyway, I I applaud your work. Peter, I know you told me your story about how you kind of have a personal connection to want to make websites accessible. And I also really applaud that. So I have with me today, Piper Rolfe, she’s a student. I just wanted her to share a couple minutes of why she thinks accessibility is so important. So Piper, are you there?

Piper Rolfe 6:35

Yes, I’m here.

Fred Jones 6:36

Okay, go for it.

Piper Rolfe 6:38

Okay. My name is Piper. I’m a student at UMass Boston studying political science. I’m from Vermont, I’ve been receiving services from DVBI for many years, and I’ve been a part of the LEAP program for like six years.

Um, I’m excited to talk about what how important web accessibility is, to me, as a student, pretty much everything I do for school is online, and I need to access many different websites to do my work and turn in my work. And I use many like accessibility features, including like, Zoom, voiceover, speech to text, invert colors. But even with these tools, a lot of the time, I still come across websites that are not accessible. This this is very frustrating, like Fred said, and college is already very difficult when you’re visually impaired and having to navigate accessibility issues and accommodation issues. So this. So when websites are unaccessible adds another layer of frustration and difficulty.

All I think all blind and visually impaired students know the feeling of in class when a professor like tells us to go to a website, and we do, and it’s inaccessible so we can’t participate in a class activity, as well as doing homework.

When something isn’t accessible, I have to start the process of reaching out to professors and Disability Services, just to figure out how to do something that my classmates already have access to, before I can even like, start doing the actual assignment have to figure out how to access it.

So this is why websites being accessible is really important to me, and helps a lot of blind and visually impaired students, so that we can actually focus on our education and learning and getting the college experience instead of just having to navigate a bunch of inaccessibilities and getting the access we deserve.

Fred Jones 9:00

Thank you very much, Piper.

Piper Rolfe 9:03

Thank you.

Fred Jones 9:05

Yeah, we appreciate your time. We know you’re in school, and thanks for sharing your, your thoughts with that. So Bob, I turn it back to you.

Bob Burke 9:17 Yeah, thank you, Fred and certainly thank you to Piper. It’s always good to hear firsthand and experienced people, because it makes the process a whole lot better. And that’s why we’re here today. Peter, would you like to share your thoughts?

Peter Jewett 9:34

Yeah, for sure. I’ve got some, you know, brief thoughts to share, but I’m really gonna turn it over to Pete Bruhn here, our COO and then Heather Berg, who’s our accessibility UX testing coordinator because they’re the ones that have you know, really, they should be the ones getting this award. They’ve been doing a lot of the hard work on this front.

But you know, Fred, thank you for nominating us. It’s it’s great to kind of have that acknowledgement of the hard work we’re doing.

And Piper, thank you for so succinctly kind of summing up the the experience and the unfortunate lack of web accessibility that is so prevalent, you know, not just in education, but in, in healthcare and fintech in, you know, kind of in the web as a whole, you know, there’s still still a lot of work to do.

So we really, you know, it’s a mountain to climb, but, you know, we’re working through it. And, you know, our goal, at the end of the day is to have a web that is, you know, fully accessible, so that everyone has the opportunity to access goods and services and information, communication, entertainment, all of it.

So I guess, stepping back, you know, we started this business, you know, I kind of came up with the idea in 2016. We just built this amazing website, for Hubbardton Forge down in Southern Vermont, and I was there at Thanksgiving in Maine with my mother in law Annette and she’s got some degenerative vision issues and showing her the website, I’ve been really working hard, it was more amazing than anything we’d ever built and sort of showing her the final product. And she’s sitting shoulder to shoulder with me on her laptop, and it was apparent she was just pretending to use the site. So it’s like Annette, what’s what’s going on? Can you not see this? And she says, No, Peter won’t scroll up. I’m trying to scroll my mouse wheel, but it won’t get any bigger. And then I know, there’s text here, but there’s, it’s gray on black, I can’t I can’t see this. But I’m sure it’s a sure it’s a wonderful website that you built.

And so, you know, kinda, you know, all of a sudden, feel a little, you know, hadn’t hadn’t ever thought about it, and came back to work on Monday, and sat down and tried to figure out how to make this website zoom up. And, you know, we had we’d had an agency had built hundreds of websites for businesses at that point, I’ve been building websites since I was, you know, a high school student, and it literally never crossed my mind. And you know, after all, the schooling like no one had brought it up.

So anyway was digging into this and found Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, I was trying to figure out how to fix this site. And immediately kind of, you know, entrepreneurial mind, clicked that said, “Wow, this is this is a good opportunity.”

You know, if we don’t know how to do this at, if I’ve never heard how to do this, there’s got to be a huge opportunity to train other people out there that are building websites, building web apps. You know, this, this could be a whole nother company. Much, much my business partners should grin.

But But yeah, this is, this is a big opportunity we’ve got here, so. But of course, like, we didn’t know how to do web accessibility, you know, we we had to figure it out. So from that early kind of founding time, Pete Bruhn came on board with us in 2019. And as we were sitting down, figuring out how to how to do this work, right. And, you know, we really wanted to make that commitment to hire folks with disabilities, we wanted to practice what we preach.

And there’s no better perspective, there’s no better testing, than having folks using their actual assistive technology, you know, screen readers, Braille keyboards, you know, the whole variety of different tools that people use to access the web and computers, there’s no better way to see how websites are actually working for folks, than using those tools.

So, you know, we figured out web accessibility, and that’s been a whole journey in and of itself. And, you know, along the way, we also had to really learn about how to employ folks with disabilities and how to create that workplace, you know, with, and Pete and Heather will talk to talk about this, but, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s been a challenge, but it’s definitely been a challenge.

It’s 100% been worth it. And, you know, the diversity and the perspectives, and just the overall experience, you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, you know, again, thank you for thinking of us. You know, hopefully this is a 100%. I want to say this is a full team award, because we’re all contributing every day to making this happen. But yeah, I’ll turn it over to Pete, to give his take on this.

Pete Bruhn 14:13

Alright, Thanks, Peter. Like Peter Jewett said, my name is Pete Bruhn, I’m the COO here at Accessible Web and co founder with with him as well.

Definitely want to start off by saying big thank you right for recognizing us for this is award and our efforts here. It’s as mentioned, it has definitely been been challenging in some aspects, but it’s been incredibly rewarding. And I’ve learned a ton and it’s been, it’s amazing. And, you know, when we started this business, we kind of, we made a commitment, you know, overall to accessibility. At the time, we didn’t know exactly what that meant. But like, over the years, we’ve kind of defined that right. And at this point, it’s kind of like five, five points.

The first being like, offer our own professional services that allows us to help our customers upgrade their websites or web applications to make them accessible.

Two, hire folks with disabilities that can help with that process.

Three, build our own accessible website and internal tools that we use.

And four, this is probably one of the most challenging ones was to subscribe to accessible tools for other business needs. So payroll, project management, document management, video conferencing, etc.

And then five is to lease a physically accessible office space. And so it’s interesting as like, looking kind of preparing for this, this chat here and looking at the eligibility criteria for the spirit of ADA award, I’m like, holy crap, these things are very much aligned, right in terms of what you all are looking for, for this award, and kind of what we kind of committed to as a business, which is really cool.

Now, like I said, to be honest, like it has been challenging, like I said, especially on that, that software procurement side, we’ve had to spend a lot of time evaluating different software’s out there to ensure that these tools work for everybody on the team, regardless of which technology is being used to access them. And, you know, we’ve certainly made some mistakes along the way. But I’m a big proponent of you know, you learn the fastest from your mistakes, and it’s the best way to kind of be better in the future is to recognize those mistakes, and again, learn from them.

And related to that, like, luckily, we have a really great team. And we have, we have employees who are empowered to provide us with raw feedback, however, broad that may be right, and because they’re willing to give us that raw feedback, we’re able to make meaningful changes quickly, so that everybody’s, you know, on the same page, and we’re all working on the same, has access to the same things.

So, you know, through conversations about our lived experiences, as it relates to digital and physical accessibility, you know, we’ve, we’ve been able to gain a really much better understanding of how to approach workplace situations, you know, especially providing guidelines for the company at how to use Slack, right, Slack is incredible communication tool. But if you don’t use it in a way that includes everybody, it can be a place that people miss information.

So for example, right, like providing image and video and gif descriptions, like our team, anytime those things are used, right, we’re providing descriptions of them so that, you know, regardless of who’s using the who’s accessing that message, it’s going to get that same information.

Another really simple example, that you all are familiar with is just stating your name right before talking during a conference call. Super easy thing to do. But if you don’t know about it, like, it’s probably not something you think of so like learning about those things, and implementing those things are, are just really, you know, in some ways are really easy, but just we need some like experience to help us understand why it’s important, right to get it going.

And so, you know, while it can be hard to run a company that that meets commitments, such as the ones that we’ve kind of dedicated ourselves to, I really implore other business leaders out there to start making progress, right?

Progress doesn’t have you know, it doesn’t have to happen all at once increment, incremental improvements are like great things to do start making progress. I’m really surprised by kind of how much progress can be made with just a small amount of dedicated time to improving these, like the accessibility of the tools and services and things that you as a business you use on a daily basis. So anyway, so thanks again, I’m gonna pass the mic over to Heather. So she can provide some additional comments based on her experience here at Accessible Web.

Heather Berg 18:42

Thanks, Pete, thank you all so much for the recognition. It’s greatly appreciated. And hopefully, we can make good use of this, to serve as mentors and leaders in the business community here in Vermont, to let other companies know that accessibility can be done. And it can be done right with the right commitment and team. So thank you so much for that.

As Peter mentioned, I am the Accessibility User Experience Testing Coordinator here at Accessible Web. And as I was kind of getting ready for this conversation, I was thinking, you know, here at Accessible Web, we honor the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act in a variety of ways, really. But I wanted to just kind of highlight two in particular for you today, because I think they align really well with the intention behind this award and recognition.

And so the first one is just simply by the nature of the essential work that we do. Right. So you’ve heard it before today. But in short, we help other companies and organizations ensure that their digital content and platforms are accessible to all users, and in particular, those with disabilities who might be using some sort of assistive technology to access that content. And so we recognize that that’s a great first step. But alone, it’s not nearly enough to have any sort of meaningful impact on reducing just the sheer volume of inaccessible content that exists on the internet today.

So knowing that we’ve taken the work to the next level, and put ourselves in a position to be able to provide our clients with education and training, so that they can then on their own began to implement some of the core principles of web accessibility into every single project, they touch beyond just that first project that maybe brought them to us. And this knowledge sharing component is really going to exponentially increase the number of companies and organizations that we can reach, in in turn, hopefully keep moving us all closer to that day when using the internet is inclusive, and equitable experience for everyone.

And then the second way that we honor the spirit of the ADA here at accessible web is through our intentional thoughtful, recruiting, hiring and retention of qualified individuals with disabilities to work on our team. We refuse to accept the low standards of society typically places on individuals with disabilities, when in fact, we know that there is great value added to our business by inviting employees with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences to join our team. An inclusive hiring practices like this, in the long run, only serve to strengthen and enrich the business as a whole. And by extension helps us to better serve our clients customers.

So in parallel with our inclusive hiring practices, we all also try to foster a really strong sense of ally ship amongst our colleagues and team members who are currently not living with disability. And we accomplish this ally-ship in part, through providing a safe space for our employees to have open and candid conversations, ask questions, learn about the disability, lived experience and other related topics, and to basically learn from one another.

So by now, you’re probably interested in knowing, you know, has this been difficult to implement these kinds of practices and concepts in our business model? You’ve heard a little bit from Pete and Peter, and the answer is yes, I think we would all agree that there have been some significant challenges along the way. Pete alluded to some of those.

But what I want to focus on is what I think sets Accessible Web apart from other companies. And that’s how we manage these challenges. And first off, we don’t shy away from the difficult conversations, right? You heard them talking about getting raw feedback, and having the conversations where we are vulnerable. And we admit that we don’t have all the answers. And we don’t necessarily know how to do it, right. We seek out stakeholders with lived experience that can inform our decision making, and just recognize and acknowledge the fact that we’re going to learn and evolve as we continue to build out the company.

And then another strategy that has just never failed us when it comes to navigating accessibility barriers in the employment setting, has been our collective willingness to just come back to the table time and again, to talk about potential solutions in a spirit of curiosity, and openness.

And along with that curiosity and openness, we also all bring a very closely held belief that there’s no room for mediocrity in accessibility business, and that we can always do better. And by kind of keeping our focus there, we’ve we’ve never that that strategy has never led us down. And it’s always been successful for us. So I think that’s what’s worth focusing on.

And then in closing, I’ll just say as a Vermonter with a disability, I’m so proud to work with Accessible Web. Although much of the work we do, is very technical in nature, and is conducted heads down in front of a screen every day. As a collective group, we never lose sight of the fact that beyond the technicalities, beyond the screens, there are literally millions of our fellow human beings whose lives are impacted every single day by inaccessible content on the internet. And if we can do our jobs, well, we just might have a chance to make life a little bit better for everyone else along the way. Thank you.

Bob Burke 24:47

Thank you for sharing Heather and Pete and Peter and Fred, and Piper.

So again, a hearty congratulations to Accessible Web. In the fantastic work that is going on there and will continue to go on there.

So all of the ADA award winners will get an invitation to meet sometime in March. It’s our luncheon to kind of brainstorm and share ideas and experiences to continue to make employment for all Vermonters a reality. And then it’s recognition on the House floor and a meeting with the governor. So we will be back in touch as we get closer. Anybody else have any comments? Before we close?

Peter Jewett 25:37

I would, I would just close by saying, you know, we’re happy to talk to any other Vermont business owners out there that want to, you know, want to try to figure this out. So it’s a small community. You know, we’re just a tech jam on Saturday, talking to talking to folks and, you know, anyone’s trying to figure out how to navigate this. You know, not every company obviously has the ability to test SaaS applications and payroll systems and all these pieces of software. And we’ve learned a lot along this journey and have a lot of good pointers that can get people going in the right direction and making that incremental change. It’s so important.

So you know, anyone, anyone that wants to email us call us knock on the door, where we’re always happy to have that conversation.

Bob Burke 26:22

Yeah, and that’s a great piece of it, and part of it, and that’s why we get even past and present ADA Award winners together because it is to share best practices and benchmarks and you know, what, how do we continue to move forward and keep keep this thing alive and going? Cool, so well, thank you for joining us, everybody this afternoon, and have a great week ahead of you.