The First Girl Scout to Create a Computer Science Badge is Helping Make Workplaces More Accessible
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Overcoming obstacles has always been a part of Sheri Byrne-Haber’s life. Ever since she was young, the Girl Scout alum has taken on unique challenges that have helped define her life today. In fact, in 1977, she became the first Girl Scout to ever receive a computer science badge.
“I had to create my own badge and then embroider the blank one when it came in,” she recalls.
In her adulthood, Byrne-Haber went on to earn a degree in computer science. She also earned degrees in law and business — all while living with congenital mobility issues. Today, she applies all these skills as a senior staff accessibility architect at VMware, a cloud computing company that allows businesses to better manage their internal resources, applications, and operating systems.
Her passion for advocating for accessibility in the workplace — especially for those who are deaf — was inspired by her daughter, who has progressive hearing loss. At VMware, Byrne-Haber is in charge of digital accessibility innovation and outreach, and she runs the Disability @ VMware employee resource group. She also helps ensure that all employee-facing tools, websites, and customer support are accessible for all. While her strategies have helped her company internally, it has also provided a model for other companies to follow to improve their own accessibility standards.
When fighting for accessibility, Byrne-Haber’s law degree comes in handy as well. In an interview for Eyeway Conversations, she says she found there were over 3,500 lawsuits filed pertaining to digital accessibility in 2020 alone. “As that is starting to become better understood as a business risk in the U.S., it's become a little bit easier to make the case for accessibility.”
Outside of VMware, Byrne-Haber is involved in many networks that advocate for better accessibility standards in the workplace, including W3C, ITI, and G3ICT/IAAP. “I also do volunteer accessibility projects outside work for nonproviders,” she adds. “The one I most recently worked on was the accessibility features for the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo rebuild.”
While Byrne-Haber has spent her career fighting for accessibility, she knows the road is long and that there are many challenges along the way. “Most people don't consider disability as part of DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] initiatives,” she explains. “And you shouldn’t rely on volunteers for your DEI initiatives. It's discriminatory, unfair, and your audience will become burned out.”
As she continues to create more accessibility within her own company and others, Byrne-Haber knows one of the biggest steps includes ensuring proper representation is provided. “When you argue for accessibility, if you're not disabled, you're arguing for your future self,” she explains. “Make every employee responsible for accessibility. Reward and recognize employees who deliver accessible products on time. This way, accessibility gets integrated organically.”