Good to Great: Evolution of the Nelnet Accessibility Program


Presented at 11:45am in Mattie Silks on Friday, November 18, 2022.



  • Marc Thorson, Lead Accessibility Architect, Nelnet
  • Stacy Sporie, Accessibility Architect, Nelnet
  • Rob Kaul, Accessibility Engineer, Nelnet
  • Ronniesha Samuels-Lawrence, Accessibility Engineer, Nelnet
  • Robin Eckelberry, Accessibility Engineer, Nelnet

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: All Levels
  • Type of session: General Conference


Learn how Nelnet turned one man’s passion for better UI code into a successful, organization-wide digital accessibility program. The Nelnet Accessibility Team will share their journey with you, focusing on key lessons learned over the years that have moved their accessibility program from good to great and strategies to encourage participation across roles and departments. Accessibility is a team game, and everyone has a role to play.


Building a successful, sustainable accessibility program from the ground up in a large corporation (or any organization, for that matter) can feel like a daunting task at first, but it can be done! Nelnet has done it. So can your organization!

The evolution of the Nelnet digital accessibility program didn’t spawn from a lawsuit or even from a pile of customer complaints. Instead, it started more naturally with a developer simply wanting to do things right — to consistently author better front-end code to be able to reach out to more people — to truly be accessible. This developer also happens to have a severe neuromuscular disability himself, which magnified his desire to continue learning more and more about digital accessibility. As he quickly became more knowledgeable about accessibility techniques, other coworkers soon took notice and started asking questions and wanted to see if he could help them evaluate what they were working on as well. As the questions began to multiply and the need grew, he and his teammates saw the light — they needed a full-fledged accessibility program and champions to get things headed in the right direction. And the rest is history.

In this session, the Nelnet Accessibility Team will talk about the journey their organization has taken in a relatively short span of time, which has elevated accessibility from an informal quality consideration into what has become an integral, significantly more formal component of the entire software development lifecycle — something all of our stakeholders (developers, designers, content creators, executives, etc.) can take pride in helping to achieve. By sharing some of the lessons we have learned and the steps we have taken along the way, we hope our story can offer insight to others interested in launching their own accessibility program or taking it to the next level.


  1. Establishing a successful organizational accessibility process takes more than just referring to WCAG.
  2. Learning about and using assistive technology is an effective empathy-building activity for everyone.
  3. Accessibility is a team game so keeping everyone aware and committed is essential.

Disability Areas

All Areas

Topic Areas

Administrative/Campus Policy, Faculty Development & Support, Uncategorized, Web/Media/App Access

Speaker Bio(s)

Marc Thorson

Marc Thorson is, as his teammates like to say, Nelnet’s Accessibility O.G. He’s not sure whether O.G. means “original gangster” or “old guy”, but both are relatively accurate, so he runs with it. With 20+ years of experience as a web developer and architect and a lifetime of experience using assistive technology (Marc was born with SMA.), he loves sharing his passion for accessibility and creating delightful user experiences everyone can enjoy. In 2011, Marc was awarded South Dakota’s Outstanding Employee with a Disability, but he hasn’t been given the same award since, so I guess he’s been slacking off!

Stacy Sporie

Stacy Carston Sporie started her career as a full stack web developer. A passion for clean code, semantic HTML and highly usable interfaces quickly led her to specialize in digital accessibility. Now a member of the Nelnet Accessibility Team, she advocates for inclusive digital experiences and supports product teams through training, evaluations and guidance. Sometimes she even gets to have a little fun and write code herself! On weekends you might find Stacy out hiking or skiing with her husband, or snuggled up with one of her four legged friends at her home near Denver, CO.

Rob Kaul

Rob Kaul graduated with a degree in Software Engineering, and rather than actually work on software/hardware integration problems, he decided to write HTML emails. This was widely regarded as a bad move and made many people very angry. Eventually he found a passion for clean, semantic front-end frameworks and UIs. His commitment to helping others soon led to him becoming a certified member of his local Wisconsin community’s fire department and earning him a position on the Nelnet Accessibility Team. If you asked him how his two roles were related, he’d say it’s exactly the same job: You take a problem you’ve never seen before and solve it for someone you may never meet, while trying to minimize any negative impact.

Ronniesha Samuels-Lawrence

Ronniesha Samuels-Lawrence started her career as an intern on the Nelnet Accessibility Team and has blossomed into a full-fledged Accessibility Engineer. She loves sharing her insights with others so websites and documents can be enjoyed by everyone.

Robin Eckelberry

Robin Eckelberry joined the Nelnet Accessibility Team in 2022 after working in disability services in higher education for over 5 years. She has experience in accessibility, assistive technology, ADA accommodations, and occupational therapy in both educational and healthcare settings.