All Stories, Leadership, UX Research

Erica Ellis

Erica Ellis smiling at the camera, while wearing a blue cap, with green  fir trees in the background

“Inclusive Design wasn’t an opportunity that was out there… it was an opportunity that we created. We became an asset to the team.” – Erica

Inclusive Design Lead at Workday

Years of Experience in tech:11 years or more
Level of Accessibility Expertise: Intermediate

Erica’s Story

My personal connection to disability was my great grandmother, who I was lucky enough to have around all the way into college. She had become deaf later in life and so she would read lips and thus, my first understanding of disability and assistive technology was through her… I saw the things that she would interact with on a day to day basis, and seeing the power that assistive tech can bring to not only to her, someone who has a disability, but to me and my family, was truly impactful. When we acquired a specific assistive technology, I could finally talk to my great grandmother whenever I wanted to! I believe that we need to build equity and dignity into our products, which is that step beyond accessibility.

My concept of accessibility work has changed over the years. I have a background in visual design, and my degree is in graphic design, print design to be completely honest. As a visual designer, I had to jump the hurdle of ‘accessibility may make my design ugly.’ As Designers, we sometimes get stuck in the aesthetics and create things that are appealing to us on Retina Mac screens. Whereas the users, may not always have that technology. If it is not usable, it doesn’t really matter if it’s pretty! To me, the most frustrating thing is that we’re not all there yet. People have been fighting this accessibility battle for many years, and while it is gaining that mainstream support, there are still people who don’t quite get it yet—to no fault of their own, as there is not enough education and exposure around it. That is what we are trying to change at Workday.

Interview Highlights

What are you doing to build support for accessibility in your organization?

It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure what we build is accessible and what we build is inclusive. We focus on building awareness and education.
We have an accessibility team of around 30 people and an Inclusive Design team of 2 people. The entire company is over 10,000 people strong so, we really focus our efforts around awareness and education. A lot of what we propose is this is everyone’s responsibility. Yes, we are this inclusive design team but it is not our job to make every single thing inclusive because that’s impossible and wildly unrealistic! We want to enable and educate the rest of the people in our company on how these practices work and what they need to be doing to incorporate those practices into their day to day jobs. It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure what we build is accessible and what we build is inclusive. We have a design clinic to give people feedback, trainings for accessibility, and tying accessibility into our success metrics.

What advice do you give to them so they can be more effective change agents for accessibility?

Do whatever you can! You don’t have to be an expert.
It’s hard to get a foothold sometimes. When we started out on this journey, we had no influence – we were just product designers in this UX organization with no background in accessibility. We started educating ourselves and bringing it up in conversations. You don’t have to be an expert and I think that’s probably the biggest thing that’s hard to overcome! You need the ability to at least ask the right questions to start the conversation around accessibility and educate yourself. It could be something as simple as, “Oh, I just read this article that shows the most accessible solution. I’m going to share that article with you so that you can read it too and then let’s talk about it!” It’s important not to be negative about it, “Oh, that’s not accessible!” Just start with “Let’s have a conversation about it.”.

What is one thing you can go do today, to achieve accessibility in day-to-day life?

It reads out as gobbledygook on screen readers, so capitalize the first letter of every single word and then that hashtag will actually be read out as a statement as you intended it to be read for folks on screen readers. I think it’s super simple, and a really great way to start building a more inclusive, more accessible community because a lot of us are all interacting on the internet right now because we can’t meet face to face! So instead of #accessibilityforall, say #AccessibilityForAll.

Erica shares some wonderful stories about creating impact at Workday through her work within accessibility. Want to learn more on how Erica is influencing the culture at Workday, and how you can learn from her experiences to create change at your organization? Watch the entire interview or read video transcriptions below!

Erica Ellis, Inclusive Design Leader at Workday.

Learned something valuable? Share this story with others with the hashtag #TheShaktiCollective #EricaEllis

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