Prior the Digitally Accessible Finance & Insurance Event on July 19. Ana Matic, Innovation Designer at Chaordic talks with Jake Abma, Accessibility Lead at ING Bank

Accessibility 101:
with Jake Abma of ING Bank


[Ana:] So welcome to Accessibility 101. Uh, we are really excited today to host Jake Adma of ING Netherlands, and we’ll be discussing everything accessibility, of course. So welcome Jake. 

[Jake:] Thank you so much Ana, I’m happy to be here. 

[Ana:] Happy to have you. All right, so let’s get into the questions. All right. Please tell us a bit about you and how you got started in accessibility. 

[Jake:] Okay, good question. Of course, to start with, um, well, I, I’m the Accessibility Lead of the I.N.G Bank It’s the biggest bank in the Netherlands and, uh, the bank itself, um, is active in more than 40 countries worldwide. Um, besides my work for the bank, I’m also the chairman of the W.T.I. That’s the working group for inclusivity and accessibility for the Dutch payments organization. So on the national level, I’m part of a little bit of different working groups and also part of the W3C the, the WCAG working group. The WCAG is the, the web content accessibility guidelines, and basically it’s the global standard. So it’s, it’s, it’s a, a topic, which is on the mind of a lot of people in Europe, specifically last week as the European accessibility act just kicked in. And for now we have three years to make sure that all our new products will be accessible in near future, which is very nice, of course. So if you, if you look at my background, I have a background in design, web design, interaction design,  UX design, and during my path within creating digital products, I also became a front end, the developer within a specialty on modular CSS Systems a little bit like for the people who know bootstrap, uh, we didn’t call it design systems at the time, but we do it right now. And that is also how I started within the bank I’m working for right now. So I introduced the first design system and there was a moment in time when, I just wanted to go to the next level and, and, and really focused on quality and accessibility. And I got a lot of pushback from within my team and from within new organization, that was like eight, nine years ago. They did not even know what accessibility was. So I, I realized we needed a, a more of a strategic approach to make it happen. Um something on, on the side at, at the same time, my- my, my mother who had thrombosis needed to learn using digital products again from scratch and also reading and writing. So there were a little bit of more than one circumstance, why my focus became accessibility. Um, but we, we internally started with a working group for accessibility, which resulted in a separate team within a year. And from that moment on, full time on the topic.

[Ana:] Wow, so it sounds like you’re doing a tremendous amount of valuable work with incredible, widespread impact uh, to lots of different people. And since you’re part of this, these different accessibility working groups, uh, where accessibility standards are being created, how do you bring that information into your day to day job? Into your day to day work? 

[Jake:] Um, well, let’s, let’s divide it in some different categories. So, I’m part of the WCAG working group, where the global standard is written. Um, but, but underneath the, the, it’s more of an-an umbrella term, there’s a lot of subgroups, there’s task forces underneath. There’s a lot of work done also from different places within the W3C. And, and so, um, the, the, the- the expert knowledge of the success criteria as being delivered, uh, they, they are internally within the bank, just translated into training and audits and support. And what, what a lot of people  don’t realize is specifically when they’re not well acquainted with WCAG is that, WCAG doesn’t tell you how to design. They don’t tell you how to build something. Uh, WCAG is more of the, the known barriers guide. Um, so, the, the, the main focus is that you explain what barriers there are, for whom and how to prevent those barriers. Directly, that takes me to the- to the next topic, and that is, uh, the, the,  the functional needs subgroup. So, um, we try to create success criteria, to prevent barriers, but for why are we doing that? Eh, what’s the reason behind the reason? and this is where users that, that the real human needs come into play. WCAG only covers part of the needs of all humans. WCAG makes products more accessible, but not fully accessible. So within the functional needs group, we explore more than only the functional needs covered by WCAG, but we also focus on more of cognitive needs. Uh, we try to see what kind of, high level user needs are applicable to different situations. And, and, and so that’s a lot of information. Um, it’s also, we are always looking at intersections between functional needs  and use needs and examples, for instance, one that resonates a lot is okay,  you are blind, but you still want to perceive content. What is that intersection? What needs to happen when you have an image and still someone who can’t see the image needs to perceive that information, you need a text alternative. So with the functional needs group, we, we do not only digest all the functional needs and the user needs of people,  but also within the bank, I try to translate that within the training to make sure that people really understand why they need to follow WCAG and not only tell them follow WCAG, here’s a checklist, and we will  see you at a later moment again. Um, I, I’m also doing some, some other… um, um, I’m also part of some other subgroups from within the W3C the mobile accessibility task force, which focuses more on, on, on devices and device options. And what are the problems when you have devices, you can bring along like tablets, like, the mobile phones. And of course there is another subgroup, which is very interesting, which, um… which provides, and we are very happy that, that, um, that, that document is in a stage that we can show the rest of the world. It’s not part of the WCAG working group anymore. It’s called, uh, it’s part of APA, APA from within the W3C is the accessibility, the accessible platform architecture. It’s like a second working group focusing on all the different, um, uh, technical standards delivered and makes sure, um, accessibility is part of the technical standards, but that to the documents themselves are also accessible, of course. So everyone can uh, can enjoy all the beautiful work done. And, um I, I’m talking about the majority model working group where,  majority modeling accessibility, majority modeling is just breaking down organization in different dimensions. Like there is the development life cycle dimension, the support dimension, there’s a dimension for knowledge and skills. And then we are just looking at what are proof points to see what needs to happen within an organization to change processes and to change cultures.

How can a financial institution integrate accessibility early on in the development life cycle of a project?

[Ana:] Wow, it sounds like you’re taking part in quite a number of initiatives and projects. Uh, so you would be the perfect person to ask this next question. How can a financial institution integrate accessibility early on in the development life cycle of a project, rather than too late? 

[Jake:] Oh, that’s, um to start with this in an early stage is really easy and it is just make it part of the conversation. Uh, just make sure that it’s part of the requirements, and talk about the feasibility of the IDs, discuss and check it with the,  the next in line. Uh, we, we need to educate all employees and use checklists as part of your toolkit, but, specifically people, of course,  within accessibility, accessibility is not a checklist. it’s not about the checklist itself, but it sure helps in the conversation as not everyone is an expert and, probably not, everyone will be an expert for accessibility. So besides your testing and your training, uh, just make sure that, uh, yeah, you, you make it part of the conversation. You do the tests, you try to even do some user testing up-front, uh, test with real people and test with people having a disability. Um, of course we all know the saying: “No-, nothing about us, without us.” Um, but that’s specifically, uh, very important and it’s not only for a financial institution, it’s for every company. If, if you want to integrate accessibility early, um, just start making part of the conversation, but also, every conversation. 

[Ana:] That is a fantastic answer. Uh, and you touched upon the next question a bit in that answer as well, but I’ll ask it anyway and we can build, uh, how might we get people at an organization involved with accessibility? 

[Jake:] Ah, yeah. Well, that’s the $64,000 question. [Ana laughs] 

[Jake:] I think the answer, the answer is that all answers are correct. Um, we, we, we all know that, we start with awareness sessions, presentations, uh, what are the responsibilities in the roles? Uh, and there is of course a risk factor also, depending on which country you are, but it’s more like missionary work. Uh, you should just never give up. And, uh, you work with the people first motivated. Uh, I, I can tell you something very interesting. Uh, it was years and years and years ago, and the previous head of accessibility of the BBC, Jonathan Hassell, um, we were sitting somewhere in a bar and just having a very good cup of coffee. And I asked him the same question and he told me, he said, “Jake, it’s, it’s like popcorn. Uh, you just heat up the corn, you heat up the corn. And the first one who pops, that’s the one you should  place your focus on.” So basically that’s also how I, I approached, um, how I, how I still approach it even, so show and tell inform, but also try to get close to the way people are already working. So there, there’s isn’t one answer. Uh, when you talk with someone from legal, your story probably is a little bit different than when you talk to a designer or developer. And also here, I can give a small example. I do a lot of training. I give a lot of training and that’s specifically screen reader training. Uh, but within my screen reader training, I almost never mention that it is, uh, only because of, uh, the persons who are blind. Uh, I, I try to get closer to the developer itself, uh, to the work he does himself. So it, it, it’s more of, so, when you do your testing, what are you doing? And then of course, they tell me they go with their mouse and they click on all the things, and sometimes they even make their screen bigger and smaller. Um, but there’s a lot more to do. So what else can a computer do? Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We also have a keyboard. Okay, so you need to check with the keyboards and, uh, oh yeah, it can be spoken also, Okay but then you need to turn on  a screen reader, but when you are on a mobile phone, you need to swipe on that screen. And so I’m selling a product to them where I say, okay, so… it’s possible to dictate to a computer. It’s possible for a computer to talk to you. Uh, you need to test your keyboard and you need to test your swipe. Ta-Da! Here we have the screen reader and all your testing is covered, and you can even test your own quality of your work and improve your own quality just by using the screen reader. And so often that resonates a lot more than, um, having a presentation, uh, of someone using the screen reader who is blind and he presents his way. And then he turns on his screen reader, probably with 300 words a minute and you don’t understand it. And so, um, for some people it works. So it really depends on who’s in front of you, but for a lot of people, it also doesn’t work. And then you just need to try to fix it in a direction.

Thoughts on Overlays

[Ana:] Sounds like you’re really, um, repositioning some of your language and your presentation style based on the audience. That’s really valuable. And, uh, here’s another $64,000 question, which is, what do you think about overlay tools? I know that a lot of organizations are using them now. What are your thoughts? 

[Jake:] Uh, well, there’s a lot of discussion about overlay tools but, in my opinion, overlay tools by themselves are, are not always bad. If it helps a person who are we to say that they are good or that they are bad. The problem with overlay tools is with the promise, or what they achieve, how they are sold. The, the misleading information that they can make products accessible. That is not true. It’s also bad if they are used as an excuse to not work on your own skills and create accessible products by birth. But as a temporarily fix, before issues are solved, th-, the-, they might be, or can be a welcome addition in the toolbox, but only temporarily in that case. So they serve different purposes. Uh, there’s also another purpose for an overlay tool and that is, for personalization or for customization purposes. And that’s a completely different ball game. In, in the future, we might see how it develops but often one state or one version of a product, one design, it doesn’t fit all. An example is contrast or, or, or font size and zoom. What is good for one, might not be so good for others. So some people want extra contrast, but there’s also people with photo-sensitivity who want less contrast. And there’s people who want bigger fonts on their screen, but there’s also people who want smaller font on their screen because they can only focus on one area at a time and they want to have more of an overview of what’s on the screen. So um, I see a future in overlays where, where specifically there’s personalization work also done within the W3C. Where they serve as a kind of assistive technology for people who need it. So, um, but, but that’s not the whole story. The problem to be solved will be, do we get all kind of different overlays for all kind of different sites? The learning curve and the cognitive breakdown of all the good of the overlays, um 
will, will diminish the, the, the, the, the, the pros. And maybe it will just be too much of a cognitive burden to learn those overlays. But if one overlay can be used on different kind of websites, I see it more as an assistive technology, where you just have to learn one time and maybe store that information in the cloud and it will be reusable on other websites. Um, well, there, there might be a lot to explore on that area in, in the near future. A lot of accessibility is not solved yet, and it will not be solved by WCAG as is right now, but it will probably be solved by personalization. So in, in, in short, um, I’m not sure exactly what your definition of an overlay is. Um, but, but they, they, they, they do good and they do bad at the same time. Again, the biggest problem I think now,  is the promise. And uh, some companies who for instance say that when you use their overlay, you are WCAG compliant. That’s, that’s just ridiculous. That’s not possible. So in that case, uh, overlays are, um, uh, then they, they have a little bit of a bad taste at the moment, but I hope it will be fixed in the in near future when Overlays are introduced, who really help a lot of people and who are not a burden for others. 

[Ana:] So it sounds like, um, perhaps not yet delivering on the promise, but lots of opportunity. 

[Jake:] Yeah, exactly, yep.


[Ana:] All right. And you’ve thus far had a very rich and impactful career and you continue to grow. Uh, what is your advice for someone that is just starting accessibility? 

[Jake:] Um, the best advice is of course, you need to think big, but just start small step by step, learn and keep learning. You need to learn every day, just a little bit. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help and make mistakes along the way. Um, in the end, accessibility is just the understanding of, of human needs and usages of humans, um, but also of technical possibilities and lots of different devices used and even assistive technology. So there’s a lot of to learn, uh, before you can grasp the, the, the, the, the complete broad scope  of accessibility. So as professionals, we just need to keep up, and just make it part of our professional learning curve. So that just means that you need to start today and not thinking like I have to spend one or two months, and then I know it all. Um, it, it should just, just be part of our lives. And, um, it’s true for all people involved in creating digital people, all people who are involved in creating digital products, um, just pick it up, see  where your interest lies and make, make it part of your standard learning curve. And… it… it’s like playing an instrument in the beginning, you think, oh, where did I, how do I start?  Why did I start with this? There’s not, not so much beautiful music coming out of this instrument, but in time it gets better and better and better. And in the end you don’t  even think about it, You just do it. So, um, just start with “NGU”, “Never Give Up” and you’ll get there. 

[Ana:] That’s fantastic advice. Well, thank you so much, Jake. Uh, again, we’re here today with Jake Adma of I.N.G. Netherlands. Uh, who’s provided an incredible amount of valuable information for us. Thank you so much. And do you have any parting thoughts, something we perhaps haven’t asked you that you’d like to share? (silence) 

[Jake:] Um, no. Not for the moment not, um we will, uh, we will be back and give a nice presentation. And so, um, let’s have that conversation afterwards. And if there is some very interesting information to share, we make sure you’ll get it.

 [Ana:] Fantastic and see you all at, uh, our DAFI event on July 19th, 2022. And thank you again, Jake for joining us. 

[Jake:] Thank you so much. Have a good day.