When you hear the word “accessibility,” you might at first think it affects few people. Consider though, for example, how many people you know who wear glasses or contact lenses. Without corrective lenses, it would be much more difficult for these people to access the content from the screen. This is just one point I thought about when Nicole Windmann, SAP Accessibility Expert, presented the topic to UX colleagues. Intrigued by the topic, I asked her to meet so that I could find out more.
Nicole, what does accessibility mean? What does it mean at SAP?
In general, accessibility means that a device or product or anything you can think of can be used by everybody. In the case of SAP, our product is software, and accessibility relates to the possibility that people who have physical impairments can use the software. To give you an example, for some visually impaired users, supportive technologies might be needed in order to make the content and services of the software accessible. From a business perspective, accessibility is also a competitive factor: if people can’t use the software, they won’t buy it.
Tell me a bit about your role at SAP. What does a product standard owner do?
I am product standard owner for accessibility, which means I am responsible for the guidelines that are to ensure and maximize the quality of accessibility in SAP software. My role doesn’t end there though. I am also a bridge between our customers, product teams, and support and design teams to make our software compliant from an accessibility perspective.
Does your background have to do with accessibility?
I applied for this job at SAP in summer 2012. In my previous position, I worked in business development for publicly funded projects, for example, for the World Bank or the European Union. I led international expert teams which worked out legal frameworks for certain economic topics. Governmental ministries then adapted and implemented them. Whereas my previous position focused on the legislative side of things, my position at SAP focuses more on analyzing and putting regulations into practice. I bring external legal regulations into SAP’s development guidelines and work together with customers and stakeholders. So, my background actually fit quite well even though I had little knowledge of enterprise software at the time.
Do you see accessibility gaining importance?
Definitely. Over the years, more than 150 countries have ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities from 2006. In a sign of solidarity, SAP has also published its own Global Human Rights Commitment Statement. If our customers have a certain number of employees, they have to fulfill this supporting act.
In the U.S.A., for example, the public sector and local authorities need to ask for a VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) to make sure that they purchase the most accessible software. So it is a competitive factor. If, for example, a competitor product was more conformant than ours, the local authority would have to buy it, even if they have a full SAP landscape.
My SAP colleagues are really open minded in regard to accessibility. At the end of the day, though, there is often the decision on what to work on first: accessibility or new functionality. And, sometimes, customers have different opinions on the subject as well. The IT department at the customer might prefer new functionality whereas end users might prefer accessibility. Supporting them to find a balance in a reasonable manner is one of the jobs we do.
Read more in part 2, where Nicole talks about SAP Fiori and acccesibility.