Salesforce: The new Office of Accessibility – Explained (sponsored breakout)
DESCRIPTIONIt's been a year since Salesforce announced the launch of their Office of Accessibility, a new corporate team that partners with internal stakeholders to highlight accessibility needs and develop improvement plans, build workforce development programs, and evangelize Salesforce and their employees, customers, and other important work across the industry, all under one roof. In this breakout session, Kristian Burch, Senior Manager of Global Accessibility Compliance, and Richard Boardman, Senior Director of UX Engineering, Accessibility will discuss what led to this groundbreaking move, how the Office interacts with other teams and more specifically Product Accessibility, what’s worked, and what they would change looking back.
- Kristian Burch, Senior Manager of Global Accessibility Compliance
- Richard Boardman, Senior Director of UX Engineering, Accessibility
LISA MILGRAM: OK, so if you are here for the Sales force the new Office of Accessibility Explained breakout, you are in the right place. I’m going to turn this over to our speakers in just a moment. But a couple of quick housekeeping notes first.
I’m Lisa Milgram. I’m with the Sight Tech Global crew, and wanted to make sure that everybody was able to access the features that they need in the breakout. You’ll see that we have closed captioning available. We ask that you keep yourselves on mute throughout the duration of the panel discussion.
We do want you to be able to ask questions, though, so we’ve set it up so that you can use the Q&A box or the Raise my Hand function. So when the time comes for questions, you can either use that box or raise your hand and we’ll call on you and unmute you. If you’re using a screen reader, the keyboard shortcuts are Option-Y on a Mac and Alt-Y on a PC. And with that, I want to turn it over to Ned Desmond, the founder and executive producer of Sight Tech Global. Thank you.
NED DESMOND: Thank you very much, Lisa. And welcome everyone. This is a session focused on Salesforce’s new Office of Accessibility. And we’re very fortunate today to have with us two important players in that office, Kristian Burch, the global accessibility compliance manager, and Rick Boardman, the senior director of product accessibility.
Now, for those of you who are unaware, the Offices of Accessibility at Salesforce is quite a corporate innovation. And I think, at least in my interpretation, the bedrock of what this office is all about is the realization that accessibility really touches all phases of a corporate existence, from the products to the employees to recruiting to you name it. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
So I’d like to begin with just the very simple, obvious question. Can someone give me an explanation, Kristian or Rick, about the origins of the Office of Accessibility, how it came to be, and how Salesforce sees the importance of this important office?
KRISTIAN BURCH: Yeah, thanks, Ned. Hi, everybody. I’m Kristian Burch. I’m the Global Accessibility Compliance Manager. I’m dialing in today from my home office, which is a gray room with white trim. I have a blue recliner next to my desk.
And in the background, I have a poster from Star Wars, a poster from the band The National, and a poster from Dave Matthews Band hanging on my wall. I’m wearing a white and purple plaid shirt in celebration of International People with Disabilities Day. And I’m very thrilled to be here.
The history of the Office of Accessibility really was started as a grassroots effort from our Ability Force Equality Group, or Employee Resource Group as other organizations refer, and the need for an aligned strategy and vision around what accessibility means for Salesforce as a whole, whether that be our product and ensuring that product accessibility aligns to accessibility vision, with even real estate, events, employee experience, and Ned, you mentioned recruiting. Absolutely, these are all areas that I have purview over from the Office of Accessibility. And I’m lucky enough to be in this job because of that vision from our members of Ability Force.
I have five peers, so the Office of Accessibility is led by Catherine Nichols, our senior director; Tom [? Franz, ?] our senior manager for Communications and Partnerships; Sara Mark is our manager for External Workforce Development and improving and increasing the number of people with disabilities in the Salesforce ecosystem, hired by customers of Salesforce admin through Salesforce developers; and Jessica [? Franz, ?] our new Disabilities at Work manager, focused on programs to really make Salesforce a great place to work for people with disabilities. And in partnership, I think a lot of our work that we do is focused with Rick’s team in Product Accessibility. And in fact, he has people on his team who helped create the Office of Accessibility, so I’ll let him talk a little bit more about that.
RICK BOARDMAN: Thanks, Kristian. Just a quick intro on myself. I’m Rick. Thanks, Ned, for hosting us here today. I’m in my mid-40s. We’ll leave it at that. I’m white, I’m British, hence my accent. I have lurid blue glasses. And I’m also working from my home office. It’s much less tidy than Ned’s and Kristian’s.
I have a corporate backdrop behind me. And I’ve got a bad mustache that I’m growing for Movember, and it’s due for it to come off. I’m just lazy.
So yeah, Kristian did a great intro there on the Office of Accessibility. And I think one of the transformations it’s really made for Salesforce is that a lot of the work that the Office of Accessibility is really doubling down on was what’s happening. But it was happening piecemeal at the grassroots.
And there was a lot of 20% work, volunteering going on, which people were doing on top of their day jobs. Which they had much success at, but it wasn’t their paid job. So it’s a really important step in any organization when they mature in terms of accessibility to devote headcount to these important roles. And that’s benefited all areas of the company, including product.
NED DESMOND: Great, great. Well, I should have introduced myself a little more thoroughly at the outset of this. I’m Ned Desmond. This is your moderator. And I’m sitting in a back bedroom in my house in Northern California. And behind me is a white shutter and a blue wall, and a pretty painting that’s a favorite of mine that’s a beach scene from Southern California with some nice surfboards.
So let’s move on to the next question and ask about partnerships. Any corporate office like this really thrives if it has strong partnerships across all the functional groups inside a corporation. What are the important partnerships that the Office of Accessibility has developed, will develop? What does that partnership story look like?
KRISTIAN BURCH: When I joined this team about eight months ago, I had the privilege of having worked for Salesforce for about 7 and 1/2 years in a support organization role. And with that, I met a lot of people and made a lot of connections.
And so coming into this role has helped us provide a lot of influence based on those relationships, and building relationships with every organization at Salesforce, whether it be employee facing organizations, like Employee Success, our Accommodations Team; external facing, our Events Team, corporate strategic events like Dreamforce, all the way to team specific events that are created in house; our real estate team focused on our building accessibility and strategy there; and then our partnership with folks like Rick. And so it was just finding the Ricks in each of these organizations and the people that really care about accessibility. And what we found is that pretty much everybody cares.
But what we need is we need a champion, someone who’s willing to go a bit above and beyond their normal day job to integrate accessibility into their normal workflows and processes and policies. And we’ve really had a lot of success there. And there’s always the challenge of prioritization. And so that’s really where the Office of Accessibility comes in is as a partner to each of the folks in the organizations who we’ve identified as our champions to help us deliver the message of accessibility and drive our initiatives that are going to really make Salesforce a great place to work for people with disabilities, and to really focus on customers and our customer success around accessibility.
And that partnership with Rick has been absolutely instrumental. I’ve even pulled him into conversations with other organizations outside of Product so he can share his success stories. And I very much value our partnership with Rick overseeing Product Accessibility. Our products are used internally, right? So whenever we make improvements on the product side for our customers, they, in turn, make product better for our internal employees as well.
NED DESMOND: That’s great, Kristian, thanks. How does it look from your side, Rick?
RICK BOARDMAN: I mean, it’s been seriously very transformative. Before the Office of Accessibility– Salesforce is a huge company, and like all huge companies, things are complicated. Hierarchies are complicated. Even if you’re in the same city, you might be in a different skyscraper, on a different floor, and paths rarely meet.
So the Office of Accessibility has really greased the wheels in connecting with support in particular. It was a challenge for Salesforce, something we were not mature with compared to other large technology companies. And they have really helped grease the wheels and establish a dedicated support team.
And we actually had a ringleader in charge in the form of Kristian, who actually moved in from the support organization. And that’s been a great, great win for the Office of Accessibility, whereby people have joined from around Salesforce and brought their networks together. And that’s really created a central networking point.
NED DESMOND: So this sounds almost as much like a movement and a cultural shift as it does kind of conventional corporate command and control.
KRISTIAN BURCH: Yeah, that’s the biggest thing I found in this compliance role is if you approach it from that cultural point, Ned, it’s a lot more successful. And changing the company culture is not easy, by any means, and we’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s absolutely critical.
NED DESMOND: Great. Well, as we all know, sadly, we’re in the grip of a pandemic. And I’m sure that that was an interesting new challenge for the Office of Accessibility. How did you approach this, especially from the standpoint of being inclusive, from the Office’s standpoint, of people with disabilities?
KRISTIAN BURCH: Yeah, absolutely. When I joined the Office of Accessibility, about three or four weeks later, we closed our offices and moved our entire 60,000 person workforce purely remote. So I’d say about a week, within a week of closing the offices, we started hearing from employees around accessibility challenges, all the way from instant messaging within teams and everybody hanging out there and sharing photos of their weekends, and without alt text and things like that, all the way to corporate all-hands with captioning, and everything in between. Vice president meetings, team organization meetings, our processes, our policies, our platforms in using certain products to collaborate and communicate with one another.
And it was really like all over the place, from meetings to events to policies to procedures, like I mentioned. And there was a very clear need that we needed to create a strategy and some guidelines around how we were going to succeed in this virtual work world, and making sure that we’re including everybody. So what we did is within two weeks of our offices being closed– this is back in March– we published our guideline for Accessible Virtual Experiences to cover everything.
And this is a living, breathing guidelines document. So we’re adding things regularly. And this covers when you’re in an instant message room and you know you have a colleague on your team who has a disability, make sure that everything you’re doing is inclusive from the beginning. And talk about your image that you’re sharing, right? And when you’re holding meetings, make sure you’re using a service that has captioning.
When you’re creating a policy or working with a vendor to bring in a new tool, make sure that it’s accessible. These guidelines were very well received. And in fact, our executives agreed that they were so important they were actually placed on our corporate V2MOM. Our V2MOM is Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, and Measures.
This is our corporate guiding light for the entire year. And so we were able to get a measure that requires all meeting organizers, all leaders, all people working virtually to follow these guidelines. And so this really not only enabled us to go deliver that message of making sure that we’re being accessible in the virtual work world, but it gave managers, it gave employees the ability to say, hey, this document or this process that you’re sending me is not accessible for my team. On the corporate V2MOM, this is a requirement to be accessible.
And so it’s enabled managers to have that ability to advocate further for their own team’s employees with disabilities. And that’s been a big win for us. My boss, Catherine Nichols, who oversees the Office of Accessibility, is sitting on the task force and daily meetings for our return to office strategy, and ensuring that when we do go back into the office that that accessibility momentum we’ve gained during this virtual work world maintains when we do go back to the office.
NED DESMOND: That’s great. Thank you, Kristian. As you look back over the past year or so, what are the wins that you’ve had and the challenges that you’ve had? I’m sure that there have been both. And what advice would you have for other corporations who are thinking about following Salesforce’s example and creating an entity like the Office for Accessibility?
KRISTIAN BURCH: Challenges, on a personal aspect first and foremost, I think for me moving from a support role into this role was, I forgot the emotional aspect of, I’m working with colleagues. I’m working people that I’ve known for years. And I’m working for them, right?
And so in support, when you get it wrong, you might have an upset customer for a couple of days. And it feels bad. When you get it wrong in the accessibility space, you’re impacting your colleagues, you’re impacting your friends. And so there’s an emotional aspect to that.
And that’s been a challenge for me personally. As an organization– and so that’s something I think I want to mention, because anybody that’s looking to get into these roles, there is an emotional aspect to this. And we have to be human, and we have to know that we’re doing good work. But there’s times where you get things wrong, and we have to be prepared for that.
Resources are key, right? Once you’re up and running, people want a lot. And we have to make sure that we’re building partnerships, like we talked about earlier. This isn’t something we can do alone.
The Office of Accessibility is an influence organization, and we enable, we provide resources, and we drive our accessibility strategy. But those resources are key. You can’t really come into an organization and say, hey, go be accessible. You have to tell them what that means, how to do that.
We also have found through our journey that it’s very important to get in on the ground floor of mergers and acquisitions. And so when I joined the M&A team, it’s been very clear that we have an opportunity to look at any company we’re bringing on board, accessibility from the product to their facilities to their processes, and making sure that they continue aligning. And then I think the biggest thing with M&A is there’s funds there to make these things happen and to set the trajectory so that a year down the road you’re not having to scramble to go find money to bring their product or offices up to our accessibility standards.
And so that’s a bit of a big challenge, and a win for us, actually, at the end. Rick, I know you had a couple things too.
NED DESMOND: Rick, you’re more on the product side. So how does it look from your standpoint?
RICK BOARDMAN: Yeah, from the outside looking in, I think the big challenge I saw was that there’s so much that needed doing. So many worthy causes, both inside the company, but also thinking about the needs of our customers in our ecosystem.
And so I think you did a really good job of just– and this is like the golden rule for any new program. Very strong prioritization, build a list, strong executive buy-in, and just ruthlessly prioritize and start making breakthroughs in a small number of areas, rather than spreading yourselves too thin. So I think that’s involved some hard decisions in places where you haven’t been able to get started. But it’s exciting to see the team steadily grow and will expand further in the future.
NED DESMOND: Can you call out any specific product initiatives that have gotten going under the auspices of the new office that sprung from this initiative?
RICK BOARDMAN: Yeah, there’s a couple of big impacts that they’ve had. Our team is relatively small. Speak to any accessibility team in the industry, they’ll complain about being too small.
NED DESMOND: [LAUGHS] That’s so true.
RICK BOARDMAN: But the Office of Accessibility’s actually helped scale. We have dozens and dozens of product teams who we’re not always able to embed dedicated accessibility engineers in. And the Office of Accessibility, it’s been able to step in.
They do live within legal organization. So from time to time, this happens to any organization– very rarely at Salesforce, I have to say– that there may be a product team who are less committed to accessibility than they might be. Often for good reasons due to other priorities. But it’s always helpful to bring in somebody from legal to join the meeting, just to help prioritize.
NED DESMOND: Yeah, I can imagine that. Well, one of the reasons we were so excited to have this breakout session in the first place is that Salesforce’s own products are, in the enterprise software world, considered to be among the most accessible available. And that is not an accolade that is widely distributed in the enterprise software world.
So we’re hoping that everyone’s listening and ready to take the example of Salesforce. But as you look across the industry–
RICK BOARDMAN: I might– I just want to add to that as well, is that I think we definitely have many strengths across our product range. But it’s important to be humble. Accessibility’s really hard, and the more complex your products get, and some of our products are basically more complex than entire desktop operating systems were a few years ago, if you look at our core center software, and many others, it’s really tricky. So we do also try and be humble and admit that we’re not perfect. We try– it’s a learning journey that we’re on.
NED DESMOND: Yeah, I certainly can relate. Even producing an event like this, which is quite simple by comparison with the types of products you roll out, it was nothing if not humbling. [LAUGHS] It’s hard work, but very worthwhile.
As you look across the industry, or any kind of corporate or product landscape, are there companies and organizations out there that inspire you, whose example you keep an eye on?
RICK BOARDMAN: Yeah. And Kristian, I can start here. Two of the massive technology companies– at least one of them is a competitor in some ways, but in the field of accessibility, we’re actually less the competitor, more of a happy collaborator– would be Microsoft and also Google, I think, are really leading the way in terms of having very mature accessibility organizations, an office of accessibility, and then just a track record of outreach and engagement.
Microsoft has actually really impressed us of late with a focus on innovation in the community. The hackathons they’ve done with open source projects. And that’s been very inspiring for us, and we hope to do something similar.
NED DESMOND: They are great companies. And of course, they’re well represented at the show as well. We’re going to leave a little bit of time to answer a few questions from the audience, but maybe we can just tackle one more, and then we can take those questions. So looking ahead, what are the priorities for the team? What does 2021 look like, and how are you benchmarking the year ahead?
RICK BOARDMAN: Well, I’ll start off by making the quip that it’s going to be a lot better than 2020.
NED DESMOND: Let’s hope so.
RICK BOARDMAN: And then, Kristian, do you want to [INAUDIBLE]?
KRISTIAN BURCH: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to next year, from product accessibility as well as support. We just, October 12, launched our very first accessibility support team. And to Rick’s point earlier, I worked with Neil from Microsoft who build their disability support desk. And it’s been a very good partnership with them, for sure.
But we’ve launched our support team, and we have Rick’s team that focuses on product accessibility. So now we have the infrastructure in place to really help our customers move to the next level. And that’s really where we’re going to focus a lot of efforts next year is having our field, our success managers, our technical account managers talking to their customers about what their accessibility roadmaps are going to look like, and their strategy to ensure that they’re creating accessible experiences on the Salesforce platform for their employees and their customers.
And so that’s really working with the field to talk to our customers and begin those conversations. That’s going to be a big area of focus. And then we’re working with a couple of organizations to begin looking at building out an internship program for students with disabilities through a few different organizations.
We want to make sure that we’re being inclusive and we’re not focused on just one or two different disabilities. And so there’s a couple organizations we’re going to work for to really help our students and folks that are going to be getting out in the workforce with disabilities to be able to find gainful employment. And whether that’ll be at Salesforce as interns, and maybe eventually in the ecosystem of our customers as well.
NED DESMOND: Well, it certainly sounds like you’re going to have a busy year ahead. So here’s a question from Jerry. Does the Office of Accessibility take calls from users? I’m assuming that means customers.
KRISTIAN BURCH: Yeah, so I actually am, right now, the kind of dotted line program managing our support organization. And that team does take calls from customers. We don’t have a direct line to call them directly, but if you create a support case, and when you’re creating the support case, if you choose the topic Disability and Product Accessibility, those cases will come directly to our Accessibility Support team.
And these folks are JAWS certified. They are WAS certified, and they’re certified on the Salesforce platform. So they’re not only experts around assistive technology and web content access guidelines, they’re experts on the Salesforce platform. And they’re here to help any customer.
NED DESMOND: Great, great. And we have a question here from Darren. Says, is Salesforce open to exploring partnership opportunities with course providers and organizations supporting VI people?
KRISTIAN BURCH: Yeah, so we’re working with a couple of organizations now. We are definitely open to having further conversations with other organizations. We want to make sure that we’re looking at everything so that we can choose the best strategy in training and utilize resources. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.
NED DESMOND: Great. And this is from Ted. I used Salesforce three years ago and I found it very difficult to use both JAWS and the NVDA screen readers. I tried both Classic and Lightning interface. What have you done in the last three years to upgrade the experience for screen reader users since then?
RICK BOARDMAN: Good question. Like I said, accessibility’s a journey. I mean, the number one thing is Classic is unsupported, so we guide all our users towards Lightning. And Lightning is continuing to improve over time. So we’ve made a range of ongoing improvements, everything from improving keyboard to support, doubling down on automation, and standards compliance.
We’re in the process of completely revamping our base component set, on which everything in Lightning is built. And many of those components include enhanced accessibility. so all of this is adding together to a better experience.
All of that stated, Salesforce is a complex product. And assistive technology is complex. And browsers are complex. And you have all three, issues are always going to come up.
So we are investing in training via Trailhead. And also, as we’ve talked about a lot today, the support, the dedicated support team is huge, because if people have problems– and to Ted, I hope if any issues come up, please reach out to Kristian. He said reach out to him on LinkedIn if the customer case doesn’t work.
We actually have people now to work much more hands-on when issues to do come up. And they get funneled right back into the product teams where we work to prioritize and then advise the teams on best practices, and make sure they get [? feedback. ?]
KRISTIAN BURCH: I want to add, three years ago we didn’t have the support team. So if you were to have encountered accessibility challenges, even in Lightning experience where we do prioritize accessibility, there wasn’t the right team in place to ensure that that feedback was given to Rick and the product manager for that specific feature or product. And we have that now.
And so I encourage anybody who uses Salesforce, if you’re encountering challenges with accessibility on the Lightning side, definitely create support cases. We’re treating those bugs, accessibility bugs, with high urgency as customers are impacted. So there’s going to be a lot of improvement made just by having the support team in place and creating those bugs and identifying those problems.
NED DESMOND: Yeah, that’s fantastic, because then your support team can be advocates too, right?
RICK BOARDMAN: Yeah. And it’s not just bugs as well. We want to hear about feature ideas. So leverage idea exchange. And you can also reach out by the Trailblazer community with ideas. We want to move beyond fixing bugs to actually providing features which really make a difference and make our products truly usable for people with disabilities, not just complying with the standards.
NED DESMOND: Right. Craig has a question. He says, I’m a blind Salesforce admin, and you’ve done a great job with accessibility with JAWS. But what are the gaps for Salesforce accessibility today, and what do you hope to do going forward?
RICK BOARDMAN: That’s a big question. So–
NED DESMOND: [INAUDIBLE] question. Sorry to drop it on you with about no time left.
RICK BOARDMAN: I should share my other window, which has got a dashboard, or an internal quality dashboard. There’s a lot of areas that we want to improve. So what I would say is that– I mean, the best official record of the states the products are accessibility compliance reports, which we share publicly. We audit both to look at 2.0 and to 2.1 at the double A level. And in terms of particular areas, we have a lot of products. So it really depends.
In the admin experience, our goal is very much that everything should provide an equitable experience to everybody, whatever their assistive technology. There are some visual drag and drop builders which aren’t where we want them to be, so those would be two priority areas for us.
NED DESMOND: I see, great. Well, thanks for that response. Then I think we have time for one more question. This is from Keith.
He says, we are a relatively new Salesforce customer. We have accessibility issues and we would like to talk with Salesforce about them, but our managers are hesitant to bring them to the company. Is there a direct contact we can send these concerns to so they’re on the Salesforce list of issues? I think we might have already touched on that, but from a corporate partner standpoint, how would you address this?
RICK BOARDMAN: I would say– I would say, well, yeah, if you don’t want to [INAUDIBLE].
KRISTIAN BURCH: Create support cases. Sorry to interrupt, Rick. I’ve just got to say, create support cases. We’ve got to make sure that all the customers were treated equally. I’ve had customers left and right asking to meet with us to talk about accessibility.
What we want to do is we want to make sure that we’re not providing this level of support to this customer and this level– on accessibility, everything’s the same, regardless of how much money you pay us, right? Whether you’re $10 million or $10,000. If you’re having an accessibility challenge, we’re going to treat that with the same level of urgency.
And so create the support cases and we’ll get them addressed and answers out to you guys.
NED DESMOND: OK. Can I throw in one more question, a very narrow, very specific question?
RICK BOARDMAN: Fire away. [INAUDIBLE].
NED DESMOND: I know [? waiting ?] for this. This is probably the sort of thing you hear from time to time. Dark Mode Chrome extension, any ideas when it’s coming back?
KRISTIAN BURCH: You want me to take that, Rick? When that was removed, it not only impacted customers, it impacted employees. And so I’ve been heavily involved. it did impact page performance pretty dramatically.
And they’re working efficiently to try to bring that back. And we’ve actually been in constant communication with our VP of that product and future. And thank you for the reminder. I’ll actually follow back up and see if we can get a more specific response. But that is needed not only from our customers, but our employees as well.
RICK BOARDMAN: And I would say, back to cases again. File a case. That goes, it gets registered, it creates noise, the right useful kind of noise, draw attention, and will get right to that product team. So that truly is the best way to ask that question,
KRISTIAN BURCH: Absolutely.
NED DESMOND: Well, thank you gentlemen. We’re out of time. So I just want to begin by saying it’s remarkable that you have such crisp answers to these questions, to be honest, because I know that it’s not always the case in the corporate world. So hats off to you.
And thank you very much for joining us at Sight Tech Global. And we deeply appreciate Salesforce’s support for the show.
RICK BOARDMAN: Of course, thank you for hosting us. And thank you for Sight Tech for putting on such an amazing agenda of brilliant speakers.
NED DESMOND: Thank you very much.
KRISTIAN BURCH: Thank you, everybody.
NED DESMOND: Thanks, Kristian.
LISA MILGRAM: If you want to return to the main stage, you can just click the link in the chat.
NED DESMOND: And thanks to our attendees. Thank you very much.
RICK BOARDMAN: Yeah, thank you to everybody listening.