Jake Abma, Chief Accessibility ING

22 May 2020

Starting out as a web designer, Jake Abma often saw his designs not executed to his liking. So he immersed himself in frontend development and started building his designs in HTML CSS himself. He became an expert in using the operating systems of desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones and knew how many browsers work. That is how he ended up at ING. He is now an Accessibility Lead, member of the international Accessibility Guidelines Working Group – the organization behind the WCAG accessibility standard and the Silver Task Force.

You started on the side of design and technology, how did your passion for accessibility arise?

'I started as a visual designer and because my designs were often not built exactly as I had envisioned them, I started doing the front-end development myself.

I have always designed and programmed from the users' point of view, from the experience of the website visitor. When my mother got a thrombosis and had to relearn a lot of things, I saw how much trouble she had with the use of digital products.

That was actually the ideal mix, to sit between designers and developers with my mother's experiences. I had experience with user experience and I'm a spec reader - I really like reading specs and thus the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). From then on, accessibility became a permanent part of my daily work and I started to give it more and more priority.'

How come you were given the space at ING five years ago to spend so much time on accessibility?

'At that time I had a manager who thought it was good for us to start a working group on accessibility, including various disciplines. So a designer, a developer, a UX-er, a product owner. And in the beginning we were given four hours a week to do that. Soon we asked for a whole day, that became two, then three, until you eventually get a separate team that can work on this subject full-time. That certainly took a year and a lot of persuasion. Not only from me, but also from my managers to the managers above them.

To really implement accessibility in an organization, you need people who continue to commit themselves to it without giving up. You have to be stubborn, know and feel that you are on the 'right side'. That you're right.'

Were your ideas about accessibility immediately adopted by the organization?

'No, on the contrary. I really had to fight for that and I still do. At first, people didn't understand what I was talking about. But when I explained it, there was a cautious 'yes'. So for the past five years I have worked hard to ensure that this topic is included in the entire design & development lifecycle, the working method and the culture.'

How did you get accessibility on the agenda at other departments within ING?

'In the beginning, you tackle this subject with the people and departments you deal with directly. That's where you start, with the people you know. But as you progress, you also increasingly have to deal with departments that are further away from you. Then you talk to people maybe once every two years, how do you ensure that your message gets through and sticks? Then the scope of your assignment becomes so large, and you have to deal with so many teams, that you have to change your approach. And then we set up the Champion model. In a train-the-trainer format, we started to spread knowledge throughout the organization, in the hope that new people would always move and take over from us. These Accessibility Champions as we call them will proactively get to work themselves and then you will see momentum arise where you see changes in the organization.

You are talking about momentum within ING, do you see that momentum developing more broadly?

'We also like to inspire other parties to take steps. For example, we are now in talks with the payment association to set up a group in which we can actually put this accessibility initiative on the agenda with various banks and communicate more about it, both internally and externally. So you can see momentum there now. After five or six years of hard work, we are now really getting parties involved in this story. Also within ING. And that is increasing exponentially. Both in terms of questions we receive from the organization and in initiatives that arise in the various departments.

Do you have a wish for the future?

'More than ever, there is collaboration in the world right now. Where can we find together the points where we can work together without competition to realize that accessibility. When I see that parties such as IBM, Oracle, ING, Microsoft, Google, Amazon really work together, then we have really achieved a lot because that would have been impossible ten years ago.

My wish is that other private sectors and companies will do the same among themselves. Decide together not to compete in this area, but rather to work together to give everyone access and compete in other areas.'

Web Accessibility Initiative and WCAG

The Web Accessibility Initiative involves major IT companies, accessibility specialists, government agencies, physicians, universities and interest groups. In various working groups, all information is collected that is necessary to arrive at the most complete possible picture of the functional needs of the target groups. These are translated into the functional requirements that must be imposed on web applications in order to meet the needs, and the guidelines are drawn up on that basis. The WCAG standard takes into account 7 billion people and all technologies around the world. That can also be overwhelming. Where do you start?

WCAG 3.0, the version currently being worked on, will be more user-friendly than the current version. Now the WCAG is a very large amount of information and developers are quite thrown in at the deep end. In addition, new insights into the needs of the target group and the possibility of benchmarking are also applied. The Silver Working Group is developing this new version.

Web Accessibility Initiative and WCAG

The Web Accessibility Initiative involves major IT companies, accessibility specialists, government agencies, physicians, universities and interest groups. In various working groups, all information is collected that is necessary to arrive at the most complete possible picture of the functional needs of the target groups. These are translated into the functional requirements that must be imposed on web applications in order to meet the needs, and the guidelines are drawn up on that basis. The WCAG standard takes into account 7 billion people and all technologies around the world. That can also be overwhelming. Where do you start?

WCAG 3.0, the version currently being worked on, will be more user-friendly than the current version. Now the WCAG is a very large amount of information and developers are quite thrown in at the deep end. In addition, new insights into the needs of the target group and the possibility of benchmarking are also applied. The Silver Working Group is developing this new version.