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Enhance Accessibility in Cybersecurity Products: It’s Your Competitive Advantage | Justin Merhoff

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Inaccessible security tools and solutions pose security risks and hinder individuals with disabilities from accessing and using them effectively.

Integrating accessibility into security products and services can improve usability, inclusivity, and security for all users.

Companies that prioritize accessibility in their security offerings can gain a competitive advantage and build a loyal customer base.

Brutally honest insights from Justin Merhoff, Director of Security at Deque, a web accessibility software and services company.

In this episode of Audience 1st Podcast, Justin and I explore his personal journey of becoming a cybersecurity professional and how he discovered the need for accessibility in security tools and solutions. 

We uncover the impact of inaccessible software on individuals with disabilities and the potential security risks it poses. 

Justin calls for greater awareness and integration of accessibility in the design and development of security products. 

Justin also highlights the need for accessible security training and tools in educational institutions to support individuals with disabilities who want to enter the cybersecurity field.


Justin Merhoff is a cybersecurity professional and the Director of Security at the accessibility software company, Deque. He is passionate about making cybersecurity more accessible and inclusive for all individuals.

Justin's Journey to Accessibility

Justin shares his personal journey in the cybersecurity field, where he faced obstacles on his path to becoming a Chief Security Officer (CSO). 

Rejected for directorship positions due to a lack of a college degree and not being seen as "director material," Justin overcame these setbacks by pursuing a college degree and securing a director position in a cybersecurity program for an accessibility software company.

Why is Accessibility in Security Important?

Accessibility is of utmost importance in the security industry, according to Justin. He points out the lack of awareness and limited accessibility in security tooling, which poses challenges for individuals with disabilities. 

Many security solutions are not designed to be accessible for screen reader users, leading to potential security breaches and hindering proper security awareness training. 

Justin emphasizes that accessibility and security should be intertwined, and making security tooling accessible is crucial for protecting organizations and ensuring inclusivity.

Stakeholders' diverse views on accessibility and security highlight the need for increased awareness and collaboration

Justin notes that stakeholders within his organization and across the industry have varied reactions to the intersection of accessibility and security. 

Some quickly understand the importance of accessibility, while others need to see it from a different perspective. 

Justin believes that raising awareness is crucial, and stakeholders should be open to understanding the impact of accessibility on security. 

Additionally, he highlights the need to address the accessibility of security training and tools in educational institutions and workshops, as well as the importance of collaboration between tooling companies and education providers.

Prioritizing accessibility in security tools is essential for inclusivity, loyal customer engagement, and adherence to industry standards

When evaluating security tools and solutions, Justin highlights the need for accessibility to be a decision criterion. 

He suggests requesting a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) from vendors to assess the accessibility of their products. 

Following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and utilizing free accessibility tools are also recommended to ensure security tools align with accessibility standards. 

Justin believes that making security tooling accessible will benefit individuals with disabilities, attract loyal customers, and contribute to a more inclusive industry.

Breaking Product Loyalty for Accessibility

When asked about what would make him switch from a tool he has been loyal to, Justin emphasizes the importance of accessibility. 

He states that if a tool becomes accessible, he would be willing to consider switching to it. 

He believes that accessibility should be a priority for vendors and that making tools accessible will not only attract customers but also contribute to a more inclusive and secure industry.

The Future Outlook

In conclusion, Justin emphasizes the need for accessibility to be integrated into the design and development of security tools.

Making security tooling accessible breaks down barriers and creates a more inclusive and secure environment.

Justin also highlights the importance of global inclusion, mentioning the overlooked community of cybersecurity professionals in Africa and the need for opportunities and accessibility worldwide.

Vendors' behaviors and gestures deeply and personally impact buying behaviors 

Justin shares two contrasting experiences with vendors. 

He recounts a negative experience with an Account Executive (AE) from a prominent security solution firm who made inappropriate comments during a call, leading Justin to decide against choosing their product. 

On the other hand, he highlights a positive experience with Traceless IO, a messaging solution provider. 

Although he did not end up using their product, they sent him a Frisbee, which he now enjoys as a bonding experience with his son. 

This small gesture left a lasting positive impression on Justin. He noted that he will remember Traceless down the line when evaluating new solutions.

Becoming More Empathetic and Open to Feedback

Justin offers advice to buyers and practitioners in the cybersecurity industry on becoming more empathetic and open to feedback. 

He suggests setting fair guidelines for communication and being open to new technologies and solutions. 

Reevaluating tools every two years is also encouraged to ensure the best options are utilized. 

Justin believes that maintaining a positive and respectful approach and being open to feedback can lead to better relationships between vendors and buyers.

Closing Thoughts

The challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and the need for accessible security solutions are evident and prevalent. 

Prioritizing accessibility and integrating it into products and services is crucial for creating a more inclusive and secure environment. 

Stakeholders should be aware of the impact of accessibility and work towards its integration. 

Together, we can build a more accessible and secure future for cybersecurity.

Action Items for Vendors:

  • Prioritize Accessibility: Vendors should focus on making their security tools accessible by design, rather than as an add-on feature.
  • Awareness Campaigns: To educate stakeholders about the importance of accessibility in security, vendors can consider hosting webinars, workshops, or providing informational resources.
  • Provide Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs): To instill confidence in potential buyers, vendors should proactively offer VPATs for their products.
  • Adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Guidelines: Security tools should be developed and evaluated based on the WCAG standards to ensure accessibility.
  • Engage Positively with Customers: Vendors should train their representatives to be respectful and avoid making inappropriate remarks. Sending personalized tokens of appreciation, as seen with Traceless IO, can create positive impressions.
  • Seek Consistent Feedback: Regularly ask customers for feedback on accessibility features, and be open to implementing suggested changes.
  • Reevaluation of Tools: Vendors should consider releasing new versions or updates of their tools every two years with improved accessibility features.
  • Global Inclusion: Expand market research and accessibility features to cater to overlooked communities like cybersecurity professionals in Africa.

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