Introducing: Christine Serdjenian Yearwood, ERI’s Chief Accessibility Strategist
Q: How has your experience, from UP-STAND to ERI, shaped your strategies for implementing accessible digital environments in institutional settings?
There’s been so much I’ve learned over the past nine years leading UP-STAND. I have my personal experiences with disability and caretaking and aging that are inherently limited, and then I’ve added years of serving on larger coalitions and committees, community outreach and advocacy, and consulting for various clients. In these roles, I’ve led and been a member of focus groups, tours, and working groups centered on accessibility, alongside coworkers, colleagues, clients, and users with a wide range of access needs.
Christine, pictured kneeling at center, is the Founder and CEO of UP-STAND, leading a nationwide movement to make life more accessible for pregnant people and families.
Once you know your community and its needs, you can start to improve your digital accessibility. ERI understands that being accessible is a moving target, because the standards and populations you’re serving are ever-changing. But compliance is just the baseline, and so with ERI you’ll get to go beyond that basic software check to make sure information about every way your institution is accessible is available to anyone interested in visiting your location(s) or engaging with you online. That information is key – people browse first and decide based on that information whether or not they are able to use your services. We want every effort you make to be accessible to be showcased.
Accessibility in Action
Q: In your perspective, what are the critical elements for achieving true accessibility and inclusivity on institutional digital platforms?
Beyond what’s been outlined above, it’s about being forward-thinking. Who isn’t included right now? How can you improve your digital platform so they can be included? A lot of people you may think aren’t interested or don’t currently engage with your institution simply self-select out because they don’t think their engagement is possible or wanted. No one person or office can predict or brainstorm every accommodation out there on their own – Collecting information in a variety of ways and asking people what they need to participate is the key to advancing toward true accessibility and inclusivity.
Q: What are the most prevalent challenges you encounter in ensuring institutional websites meet accessibility standards, and how do you propose to address these?
Most institutional websites understand the importance of using software tools to check the basic digital compliance of their website, but they lack a comprehensive evaluation process and presentation for their overall accessibility. Meaning, when someone goes on to look up information about your institution or company, they want to see a page that describes your commitment to accessibility and how you’ll accommodate them online and/or in-person. You already know the ins and outs of your institution, but we serve as testers on the other end. We check which digital, cognitive, and physical access needs will be met if someone wants to attend a conference, register for a panel, enroll in a course, speak with a representative, or visit your locations. We go through your website and provide you with an audit that includes what you’re doing well, a competitive analysis, gaps, propose sitemap locations where additional information could be included, and even offer sample website copy.
An expert in identifying pain points triggered by overlooked instances of inaccessibility, Christine has vast experience collaborating with key decision makers to advance accessibility projects and policies.
An Outlook on Accessibility
Q: Considering the evolving landscape of digital accessibility, what key trends should decision-makers at institutions be aware of?
There are so many exciting, evolving trends in digital accessibility! Some advancements you really need to implement immediately, like voice assistants or screen readers; others, like AR and VR or AI, are more experimental and might not actually reach everyone yet. With trends, it’s important to remember to engage with your users along a scale. There will always be a range of people using different types and iterations of media. During my time with DFTA and the MTA’s Advisory Committee for Transit Accessibility (ACTA), I’ve learned that no one wants to seem behind the times, but you can’t leave people out trying to move on to the latest thing, either. Continue to use standard tools and platforms that meet evolving web accessibility standards, and add to that.
Q: What advice would you give to decision-makers looking to enhance accessibility in their institutions?
Get buy-in, invest in it, and prove that it works! Most leaders know that planning ahead serves as litigation insurance to avoid legal issues, but making increased accessibility a priority also makes for a larger pool of potential participants and employees, increases diversity in your initiatives, and leads to more satisfied and repeat engagement. Those are all things that institutional leaders already want, and data will show that improving accessibility works toward achieving those goals.
More about Christine
Q: Can you share something about yourself that often surprises people when they learn about it?
I was a two-time All-American, Gatorade Player of the Year, McDonald’s All-American, and Division I soccer player. I’m small, older, and now have three children, so people in my professional life are usually surprised to learn this about me!