Neil Blecher – Capgemini
Purchasing a new outfit for a night out or trying tapas at a hot new restaurant shouldn’t be thwarted by something as seemingly ordinary as stairs or a paper menu.
However, many Americans experience these daily obstacles. The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in July 1990, seeks to lessen these by legally requiring companies to be accessible and accommodating for people of all abilities. For example, businesses must offer ramps for wheelchair access or braille menus for the visually impaired.
Yet, even before the 2020 global pandemic and resulting quarantines boosted online sales in the retail sector, consumer-oriented businesses and services were moving online—think movie streaming and online shopping. While convenient for many, it also set into a motion a new set of accessibility concerns, Neil Blecher says.
For the past 25 years, he’s been the associate general counsel for Capgemini, a global technology services and consulting company with over 340,000 employees worldwide. Offering expertise in cloud services, data, artificial intelligence, connectivity, software and digital engineering, Capgemini helps its clients—companies in a plethora of industries from consumer products, automotives, electronics, health care and manufacturing—to better serve their customers through technology.
“As digital services become more ubiquitous and even necessary, businesses must ensure accessibility,” Blecher says. “My role is to help Capgemini assist our clients in understanding these evolving regulations.”
Navigating the online accessibility realm
As lead attorney for Capgemini’s consumer products and retail client sector in the Americas, Blecher was one of the first to identify the need for digital accessibility. He recalls the issue coming to his attention in 2017 when Capgemini acquired the global e-commerce service provider Lyons Consulting Group and developed its Digital Customer Experience practice.
This division of Capgemini develops technology that facilitates online shopping through a retailer’s website or an e-commerce platform—or advising clients on digital accessibility solutions and requirements.
“This is especially important when a company is transacting business through a website or mobile application, especially when its clients are not other businesses or groups but individual consumers,” Blecher says.
For example, he says someone with a visual impairment may not be able to use a standard website or mobile app to conduct a transaction. So, legally, digital stores must provide options like larger text, alternate text for pictures (this describes the picture) or an audio screen reader that reads text when someone hovers the cursor over it.
“Companies that don’t maintain these forms of accessibility options are at legal risk and open themselves up to government and other investigations, as well as private lawsuits by individuals who feel a site or app excluded them,” he says.
The complicated business of helping businesses
According to Blecher, these accessibility regulations don’t directly impact Capgemini as it’s not dealing with individuals, but rather businesses that interact with the public.
Still, when Capgemini provides technology services like developing, maintaining or upgrading its clients’ mobile applications, team members guide the client to ensure all legal requirements and regulations are addressed.
Further complicating the situation is the lack of standards for digital accessibility. There are only a few court rulings on the subject matter, Blecher says.
Yet, help comes in the form of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, published as part of the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, the main international internet standards organization. The only issue is that these are industry, not legal, guidelines.
“Still, I believe that if one adheres to the WCAG AA standards that should pass legal muster,” he says.
The silver (digital) lining
Blecher says placing such an emphasis on digital accessibility aligns with Capgemini’s increased focus on diversity, equality and inclusivity. He’s leading these efforts from a legal perspective by developing trainings and learning modules.
He created an interactive training for the legal team that covered potential risks and how to avoid them, including case studies based on real world examples. He also collaborated with the company’s Digital Customer Experience practice to develop training for other departments, including divisions handling retail and manufacturing.
“Opportunities to create these types of trainings and the focus on DE&I initiatives is why I love working for Capgemini and am in my 25th year here,” he says.
Blecher has been working with Capgemini since he graduated from Rutgers University in 1996. He obtained his juris doctorate degree from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2001 and his master’s in law from Georgetown University Law Center in 2005.
Since September 2007, he’s been teaching as an adjunct professor at St. John’s University of School of Law. He says that it overlaps with his work while giving him something different to do—and he finds it fun to interact with young lawyers as they begin their careers.
“The legal landscape is always changing—take digital accessibility regulations—and I’m glad that I’m lucky enough to both learn and teach every day of my life,” Blecher says.
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer IV 2022 Edition here.
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