Baby Steps Toward Accessibility with Nancy Hahlbeck

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This is a podcast episode titled, Baby Steps Toward Accessibility with Nancy Hahlbeck. The summary for this episode is: <p>On this episode of The Member Engagement Show, our former host Alex Mastrianni interviewed Nancy Hahlbeck, Account Manager at Higher Logic and certified ADA Coordinator. The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, prohibiting any type of discrimination based on disability.</p><p>Today, Nancy shares with us all things we need to know about the ADA and the process of becoming an ADA coordinator. She dives into the importance of web accessibility, including insights into how you can approach it with your organization. Listen now and find the AMP newsletter at</p>
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Nancy's journey with them
02:33 MIN
How to approach web accessibility
01:47 MIN
Actions an organization can take to start on accessibility
01:57 MIN
What goes into an accessibility statement?
02:36 MIN
Advice from Nancy
00:59 MIN

Beth Arritt: Welcome to The Member Engagement Show with Higher Logic, the podcast for association professionals looking to boost retention, gain new members and deepen member involvement. Each episode I'll bring on some experts, we'll talk shop about engagement, and you'll walk away with strategies proven to transform your organization. I'm Beth Arritt, an association evangelist with over 25 years experience in marketing and member engagement. And I'm so happy you're here. Now let's start the show. Welcome back to The Member Engagement Show. In this week's podcast we're going to be sharing a chat between our former host, Alex Mastrianni, and Higher Logic account manager, Nancy Hahlbeck. They talked about some important issues around accessibility and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act for associations. We always love hearing from you. So send us your thoughts over on HUG, or on this episodes LinkedIn post, but for now let's listen into the conversation.

Alex: Hi everybody. Welcome back to another episode of The Member Engagement Show. Today I have one of the newest members of the Higher Logic team joining me, Nancy Hahlbeck, and she is going to take us on a non- technical dive into the Americans with Disabilities Act, and what some things you might be able to do at your organization are to help make your association more accessible to your members. Hey Nancy, welcome to the show.

Nancy: Hey, thanks for having me.

Alex: So excited to chat with you today. Why don't you introduce yourself to our listeners, tell us a little bit about your role here at Higher Logic, and how did you get into accessibility?

Nancy: Yeah, sure. That's a great place to start. So a little background on myself. I have worked in staff solutions for the last almost decade. So I have worked with local and state level government up until this point. And I've been with Higher Logic a little bit over a month, so I'm definitely still green, but very excited to be here, very excited to kind of switch over and work with associations. My background with accessibility started back in 2019. So I've been in it for what feels like a long time now, because every year since then has been really nuts. But a few years ago, I started getting a lot of phone calls from my clients at the time, who were cities and counties across the country. And they were asking me about the ADA. They were saying," Hey, is our software accessible? Is our website accessible?" And I had no idea where this was coming from. It was very left field for me, and a very unfamiliar territory in conversation at that time. But little had I known, there was really a wave of lawsuits that were happening across government entities of non- accessible websites. And so a lot of our clients were curious if that was going to affect them as well. At that time, I had initially started forwarding emails to marketing and I was like," Can someone else assist with this?" But it became so heavily part of our client conversations that I really wanted to dive in on my own. So on the side of work, I decided to look into the ADA a little bit more, and what I could do to help my clients, but also be an ally. So at that point I started my certification process to become an ADA coordinator.

Alex: That's amazing. And definitely something that stuck out. I know when we have new employees here at Higher Logic sort of go on a listening tour with different folks around the company. And when I was chatting with you and found out about this accessibility background, it's very interesting. And like you said, it's very ingrained in so many things that our customers, and those associations and their members are dealing with on a day to day basis. So it's really just top of mind for a lot of organizations right now. Let's just take a quick step back and just define a little bit what the ADA is.

Nancy: Yeah, that's a great place to start. So the ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which you previously mentioned. It's a civil rights law that prohibits any type of discrimination based on disability. So it really is ingrained, as you mentioned, in every part of society. It's not just online solutions, it goes into employment, and just a lot of other areas. So it's going to be the law that really protects that community.

Alex: With this interest that you took sort of on the side of your job a couple years ago, tell us more about that journey. What has that been like?

Nancy: It has been wild. It started out with, I was doing a lot of the initial training courses on the side to get certified. That process is fairly lengthy and you take quite a bit of courses, you go to a lot of conferences, but it was pretty amazing. It was definitely an area I've never dove into before. And it was never really a true area of interest to begin with just because I haven't been exposed to it. But once I started getting my feet wet, having conversations with some of the instructors, and even members of the disabled community, it became very clear that there was a need for allies. And there was also a need for just a deeper knowledge, especially at software companies, as obviously tech is taking off. So it was a lot faster pace than I had expected. I thought maybe I'll leisurely do this on the side, but once my clients found out they were hungry to learn more, too. So I quickly wrapped up that certification and started doing a lot of different work with my clients that wasn't necessarily in the original scope of my job. I started hosting virtual user groups, that turned to in person user groups, that turned into live webinars for very large state level associations that were not even our clients. So it snowballed pretty dramatically. We were able to compile new consulting offerings at my previous company around accessibility, which was just a really huge involvement, I think, from various different departments. So it became very quickly a part of my day to day. Kind of charted who I am as an employee and just as a person.

Alex: I have definitely noticed the past handful of years as well, just the interests that our customers have had and how do I make my community be more accessible? What things do I need to be aware of? Even with hosting virtual events and stuff last year, that came up more and more. What are some of the most commonly asked questions that you get?

Nancy: I think a lot of the questions that I have heard come from a space of really wanting to learn and know more, but they're almost always worded incorrectly, which just goes to show the lack of educational resources that people have had access to, to learn more about this. So a lot of what I hear is, is my website accessible, is my portal accessible? And accessibility is not a really a yes or no. It's very much a spectrum, whether your system is highly compliant or if it's at a low level of compliancy. So I think a lot of it, the questions that I hear, are just based around, please tell me if I'm passing or failing. And it's a lot deeper than that. But there's so many small steps that you can take that will get you comfortable with having those conversations and asking the right questions, I think, to eventually get those answers they're looking for.

Alex: Yeah. I love how you just noted that it's a spectrum. It's not a yes or no answer. And I would assume, you can tell me if I'm wrong, but an ongoing thing. That it's not just a one I'm only activity or task that you take on. It's something that you need to be considering with everything that you do, with every program that you run, with every new tool that you introduce to members, whatever it may be.

Nancy: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's one of the main things that gets lost in accessibility is, maybe one year you score really high and you've got really compliant web presence, but then maybe you hire someone new who's never had to add alternative texts, or page description. And you can very quickly change your score to be at a lower level. And it's something that, anyone who is either organization who's involved with adding content, or changing content, or adding events, things like that, every single touch that goes to your portal online is going to affect kind of that spectrum. So yes, it's absolutely ongoing, especially as technology changes. You might think that you have a handle on it with certain tools, but then the tech industry rolls out something new, then there's AI, and you kind of have to start all over again. But the good thing about it, even though it sounds a little stressful, is that at the end of the day accessibility is all about people, and you are providing tools and resources that are accessible to every person in your community. And that kind of speaks for itself.

Alex: Yeah. And that's really powerful showing that you're there for your members in any way that you need them, in any way they need to access you. So let's talk a little bit about this spectrum of accessibility, because I know there's a lot that's involved, especially with web accessibility. So personally, I am not a very technical person. How would you explain to someone like me, what they would want to started with, if they are thinking about web accessibility?

Nancy: That's a great question. So I think first, we all need to take a second and just breathe, because it sounds scary. And I think that's why a lot of organizations sometimes shy away from it entirely, and don't really dive in because the web is a big place, and putting content out there, you want to make sure that it's accessible, and legal, and all of those things. So I would say first, just take a step back and realize that it's a lot of small steps that get you to a good place. We'll provide some resources after the podcast, I believe, as well, but there's a lot of great free resources online that the ADA provides to the public to get you a little bit more educated. So I think just learning some of the language, learning some of the slogan that goes along with accessibility is going to help you understand the content better when you see it. So if you go online and you type in tools to make my website accessible, you're probably going to get a lot of words that you're not familiar with using. So if you can research some of those ahead of time, as you start to put sentences together it's going to seem a lot less scary and a little bit more understandable for you. So first, I would always recommend just checking out any of the resources that are online. There's a ton. There really is. And then second to that, I would find an advocate of the accessibility area, I suppose, of the entire community of the ADA. There's a lot of free ones of those online, too. There're folks who do mentorships, there's people who will look at your website for free, there's people you can just talk to and ask questions, and we can always provide different resources around those. But I would try and get someone in your corner that can help you as you have questions along the way.

Alex: Because there will be questions, I'm sure. And there's probably going to be more questions from within the organization. So this is another thing that we hear from customers, prospects, anyone who's considering making a change at an association and introducing something new, that you have to get buy- in, or you have to talk about it with members of the, whether it's your manager, or your executive team, or the board, maybe. Someone's listening to this podcast, they understand the importance of why they want to take some steps to make sure that they're being more accessible to members on the web, but know they need to make some changes. How should they go about getting the buy- in, or introducing? Not even, maybe there isn't a lot of convincing that has to be done, but they have to introduce accessibility to other internal teams without scaring them away, because maybe it seems like it's a big undertaking?

Nancy: Yeah. So one of the things I did with my clients at that time, back in 2019, 2020, because what they were really doing is they were trying to learn more from me so they could go back to their staff and say," Here are the 10 things you need to do to get us to a better space with being accessible." One of the most important things I think I shared with them at that time were statistics of the disabled community that spoke to them individually. So maybe looking up the stats of the percentage of your local population that has a disability, or learning about the percentages in your industry, and kind of sharing those statistics. So you can really put a person behind that number. If you say that 13% of your city has a disability, well, how many people is that? That might be three, five, 10, 000 people, individual people that have issues. So I think if you can share with them some of those statistics around it, it really helps them just very naturally want to improve on behalf of those people. So that's a really great way to introduce it is to bring out things that will speak to that team that are not technical, that do not seem like another task on their plate, that does not seem like a new initiative internally, that now you have to pile on top of your daily work. But just say, hey, we have got to get better at this. There are 13,000 individuals in our city who really want to use our services and might not be able to because of the way that we have positioned them. And that seems to speak volumes.

Alex: Yeah. That could be really powerful. Adding the human or personal element behind it when you show them how it affects your exact member base or customer base.

Nancy: Certainly. And you can do that over time, because accessibility is always changing it's going to be something that you're focusing on all the time. It doesn't have to be a topic that you cram into one month, or into one week of training. You can really approach it in a more phased approach. So you can do lunch and learns every couple of months. You can do some different hands on tasks, maybe once a week. So it can be something that you just very naturally integrate into your organization's life, and their day to day work, that eventually it'll stop seeming like an additional initiative and it will just feel like this is part of what we do.

Alex: I love that. So in terms of physical action, what could an organization do to get started with accessibility?

Nancy: Sure. So there are some fairly non- technical routes you can take, and then there's a little bit more technical. So one of the things-

Alex: Let's start with non- technical.

Nancy: That's great, because that's where I started a few years ago when I had no idea what was going on. One of the best things you can do is run your website, or your platform through a screen reader. So even if you just pop it into one of the free browsers, you can see how many errors are on your website. And that just gives you an idea of how much you're working with. It might be a lot, it might be a little, it might be repetitive throughout the website. So if you, for instance, have a logo on every page that doesn't have alternative text, that's going to show up as maybe 500 errors, but it could just be one fix that you do across the board. So it gives you a good idea of how much lift is going to be in getting you to a better level of compliancy to begin with. That's always my favorite, because those are free tools as well. And then, of course, if you're working with a vendor or you can always reach out to that vendor and say," Hey, what are you guys doing on the accessibility front?" I think any really good partnership, they'll be transparent and say," Hey, we're working on this, or we are rolling this out. Here's kind of a timeline." And at least share with you what their journey looks like.

Alex: Cool. Yeah. It's definitely helpful to know that you have of a partner in this, and really just help guide you, maybe, or provide a little bit of a timeline in terms of what you can expect.

Nancy: Definitely. And I think from a technical aspect, one of my favorite things to do are hackathons. So if you have folks that like to break things, you could always do one of those where you put together a team of your technical staff and say," Hey, I want you to go out and try and run these through screen readers, or try to find if there's any non- accessible PDF's." And have them kind of play around with that. But it's really going to help the initiative as a whole. And it does give them some time away from, maybe, that that day to day work they have to do.

Alex: Another thing that I think we had talked about. I can't remember if it was earlier in this podcast or when we talked the other day, you mentioned an accessibility statement, and that that's something that you've seen organizations put together to provide to their community just about their stance on making their programs, their digital presence, whatever it may be accessible. Can you talk a little bit more about what goes into an accessibility statement?

Nancy: Yeah, for sure. I actually rewrote my last company's one after I got certified, so it's an area that's pretty near and dear to me. And it's a really easy addition. So really what the whole thing comes down to with accessibility is one, it is people. So it's not just trying to get software passing a grade, you're really trying to help and affect people's lives. And secondly, is that everyone just wants you to work on it. It's when you're not doing any work for it, and you're not putting in any effort is when you really start to get a sour reputation. An accessibility statement is proof that you are working towards something, even if you don't have it completed. And you can change that statement over time as your company or organization's initiatives change as well. So basically what would be in a basic accessibility statement would be a list of browsers that your system works best in. Obviously you would go test that and you would test it with each screen reader and just see which one kind of comes out the best, which one does it render best in? And you can even check that for mobile, too. So you would give out a recommended list of browsers. Always having a contact that they can reach out to if they aren't able to access some of the content. Maybe there's a video that doesn't have closed captioning on it, or maybe there're some pictures that aren't showing the alternative text. Who can they reach out to? If there's not a contact, even if it's just an email, they're not going to have any success with your system. So if you can have someone that they can always reach out to, whether it's via phone or email, I highly recommend both just because if it is someone from the disabled community, you want to make sure that you are catering to the potential of them not being able to email, or not being able to put in a phone call, if you can have some contact information in there. And then also you can put in a statement about what you guys are doing. So maybe it's an organizational initiative to have all PDFs accessible in the next four years. That might seem like a really long project for you guys, and maybe even something that you're not super proud of, but it does show that you're putting forth effort. So if you want to say, hey, all of the PDFs on this site from 2019 to 2020 are accessible. From 2020 to 2022, those will be accessible on X date. That's just showing initiative, and that's completely fine. So including any of those things that you guys are doing as a team is going to really improve that accessibility statement.

Alex: It really is that extra layer of, we see you, we care, we're doing our best to the community. Who have you seen within an organization sort of own that statement?

Nancy: Funny enough, I have met with hundreds of organizations on accessibility, and rarely is it the ADA coordinator that they hired. A lot of the time, if an organization has an ADA coordinator, which is fairly rare to begin with, they're usually focused on employment, or building codes, or some of the more physical aspects of the ADA. They might take on the web portion, but there's a good chance that they don't. It can be anyone that feels comfortable taking it. I think that's a big part of accessibility is, are you comfortable speaking to it, do you understand the importance of it, and are you actively working towards a better future for this? So it could be someone in IT if that person is comfortable, and is also working on that initiative. But it might also be a chief information officer, or a public information officer. It could be really anyone who wants to own it and would be comfortable having those conversations.

Alex: This has been such a helpful conversation, Nancy. I feel like I've learned so much about how to talk about it accessibility. And I hope our listeners, too, have found that this is a topic that they might want to open up at their associations and start, maybe, testing some things out to see where they might want to get started. If you were to give one last piece of advice to anyone out there who's interested, but maybe a little unsure of how to dive in, what would you say?

Nancy: I would say to take it slow, but make sure you do it.

Alex: Yeah.

Nancy: It's a marathon, it really is, because it's going to be part of our lives forever. And it's truly what some people's lives are made up of. There are people who need to use online tools, especially as just society goes more online. It's not an option for them to go into offices a lot of the time anymore, especially with COVID. So take the baby steps, find some resources online, find some people who can be part of that team with you, who can be in your corner and just start testing something. Look at some screen readers, check out some different accessibility statements, most websites have them, and find out where you're comfortable starting. And I think once you make a few steps in the right direction you'll get a lot more comfortable with the topic to where you want to take on more. So take your time, but make sure that you dive in.

Alex: And, of course, the more accessible your organization can be the more engaging and meaningful your relationships will be with your members. But this is The Member Engagement podcast after all. What's your biggest member engagement tactic, or your favorite member engagement tactic that's related to accessibility?

Nancy: I would probably revert back to the statistics. I absolutely love showing communities how much of their community needs them to really move forward on this front, I think. And a lot of the time I'm surprised by the numbers. So it's pretty telling. And you can also find resources, not only about how many folks are disabled, but if you just go on the census, you can also find what types of disabilities those are. So you can start to determine, is it easier, or is it more effective for us to start with, maybe, closed captioning over all techs, or things like that, because you can actually see the level of disabilities that some of your local neighbors have.

Alex: Thank you so much for joining us today, Nancy. If anyone has any follow up questions please join us in hug, or on the LinkedIn post for this episode. Feel free to make some comments, but we are, of course, going to be following up, or making available some additional resources in the show notes for this episode. But Nancy, if anyone has any questions for you, how can they contact you? How can they reach you?

Nancy: Yeah. So they can find me on HUG, I am there, but I'm always open to emails as well. So my email is nhahlbeck, H- A- H- L- B- E- C- K, @ higherlogic. com. You can also find me on LinkedIn. I'm very active on there with accessibility, and happy to send over tools, resources, advocates, anything that an organization needs. I'm happy to share some resources.

Alex: Thanks again, Nancy. And that's going to do it for another episode of The Member Engagement Show. We'll see you all next time.

Beth Arritt: Thanks for listening. I have some exciting news to share. I'll be launching an association newsletter early in January, and you can be one of the first to subscribe. It's called AMP, Association Marketing Pros. Want to be in on it? Grab the link from the episode notes.


On this episode of The Member Engagement Show, our former host Alex Mastrianni interviewed Nancy Hahlbeck, Account Manager at Higher Logic and certified ADA Coordinator. The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, prohibiting any type of discrimination based on disability.

Today, Nancy shares with us all things we need to know about the ADA and the process of becoming an ADA coordinator. She dives into the importance of web accessibility, including insights into how you can approach it with your organization. Listen now and find the AMP newsletter at

Today's Host

Guest Thumbnail

Beth Arritt

|Association Evangelist

Today's Guests

Guest Thumbnail

Nancy Hahlbeck

|Account Manager at Higher Logic