E083 – Interview with Stephanie Walter – Part 2

Stephanie Walter says there’s a lot of things she thought everybody knew about accessibility that actually not a lot of people knew. So, she thinks in general people know that somewhere on the internet some people are blind.


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Nic:    Welcome to the Accessibility Rules podcast. This is episode 83. I’m Nic Steenhout and I talk with people involved in one way or another with web accessibility. If you’re interested in accessibility, hey, this show’s for you.

To get today’s show notes or transcript head out to https://a11yrules.com.

Thanks to Twilio for sponsoring the transcript for this episode. Twilio, connect the world with the leading platform for voice, SMS, and video at Twilio.com

This week I’m continuing my conversation with Stephanie Walter. We had a great chat last week, spoke about all kinds of things including the differences between regulations in Europe and North America, and Stephanie was telling us how she managed to use the color yellow in her portfolio and keep it accessible. So, that was kind of interesting. Stephanie, welcome back.

Stephanie:    Hey

Nic:    We were talking last week about really positive stuff. Let’s look at something that might be fun but also can show a little bit of the problems with accessibility. What would be your greatest frustration in terms of web accessibility?

Stephanie:    Generally it’s the lack of knowledge. And, like, design decisions you can change. For instance, when you arrive on a project and they use this really pretty but super like, green or orange color. And, you’re like, okay I’ll have to deal with that. And, then the client really wants to see this color because it’s the color for the graphical identity. So they kind of expect that if for instance, the color of their graphical identity is orange or light green they expect the call to action to be in this color, and things like that. But, if you want a call to action with an orange color you end up with having dark text on it which is cool for Halloween… but not super fun for the rest of the year, you know?

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    So when you have to deal with these kinds of things… sometimes you can cheat a little bit. Sometimes, for instance, I add, like, this visual identity with different shades of grey, and they were using one which was called light grey, as a text on white background. And, you wouldn’t pass the contrast ratio. What I did, I just changed the grey because I knew that nobody was going to check this. So, it was on internal products. It wasn’t like something that was going to be public on the stores, and things like that. Because I think you can’t do that, for instance, you have marketing people checking in every color. But, this was for an internal product, so, I kind of took the liberty. I asked the project owner and we decided to do it together, and I said “yeah, I’m going to change a little bit the grey so it will pass the contrast ratio. It will be easier to read. If you need to kind of go top and down all of the different level of hierarchy to manage to change your grey or change it, nobodies going to notice.”

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    So, for somethings sometimes you get lucky. Especially in, like, internal projects they don’t really care. But, if you’re working for other companies with, like, super light colors or things like that…

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    … it can be really, really, really frustrating. And, also, like, another thing is when you arrive at the beginning of the project and they’re like, “yeah, we don’t care about accessibility“ and you tell them it’s a legal requirement and you insist and you insist but at some point you need to know, also, how to pick your battles.

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    I’m usually like…if I warned you 3 times I consider that as a consultant I did my job. So if you’re still want to go against my advice, in the end, you’re the client. So, I’m not going to force you and what happens is like, 3 years later the client comes back and complains because someone arrived and said yeah, this isn’t accessible. You’re supposed to be accessible and you’re like, “yeah, told you so” la la la la la.

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    And then the issue with that is that you have to correct all the accessibility issues of the website. And, usually, it’s the worst because you should do it from the start and you put it into your process, usually it doesn’t cost that much money, but if you had someone that built a whole website and then you need to fix all the code to make it accessible…

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    … that’s when it’s going to cost you a lot of money.

Nic:    How do you protect yourself as a consultant against these kinds of clients that don’t want to know a thing, and then, you know, 2, 3 years later come back and they say “hey, we got sued and we have complaints and it’s all your fault.” How do you document that so you can really protect yourself?

Stephanie:    In Europe, like, not in the UK, I know there were legal suits in the UK, that’s why I’m saying in Europe. But, I haven’t heard of a country in like France, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, where there was a legal suit because of accessibility issues. I’ve heard this in the US, like, have actions. So, that’s maybe another thing. It’s like the threat isn’t real so they don’t really care but what we usually do is like first I do an email, then I escalate it to the manager and usually, it’s the manager or project deliverer… someone higher in the hierarchy who is sending the email.

Nic:    Right

Stephanie:    At some point it’s like, you keep the emails and you have someone say, “Okay, this is what our expert told you. If you don’t want to do it, well we won’t do it.” But, yeah, have like email and things like that to make sure a few years later you can say, “Yeah, but this isn’t our fault.” Or even contracts, I don’t think you can sign a contract to say you don’t want it to be accessible.

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    That one reaction is awful.

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    But, I have signed documents. I know designers who do that. When their client wants to do something they don’t really agree with or they’re afraid it’s going to backfire they make them sign a document telling that it’s the client’s responsibility if something happens.

Nic:    What do you think is the conventional wisdom about accessibility? You know, the one thing that everybody knows about accessibility?

Stephanie:    Wow. There’s a lot of things I thought everybody knew about accessibility that actually not a lot of people knew. So, I think in general people know that somewhere on the internet some people are blind. That’s kind of level zero so they acknowledge the fact that there’s blind users. But, that’s pretty much it. They… I don’t think most of the people kind of understand the range and spectrum of different disabilities. They see blind people because they kind of, I think, in their mind understand that someone who is blind can’t process a website in the same way. But, even that there’s some misconception. I remember there was an article… I don’t remember if it’s Buzzfeed or something else, it was basically, like, top ten fails and one of those fails for them was a blind girl, she had a cane, and she was looking at a phone screen. It was like, ha ha ha blind people don’t use a phone screen… yes! They do!

Nic:    Yeah, I remember that.

Stephanie:    It was awful and backfired. But, that’s the thing. There are so many misconceptions. And even with like, blind people, I studied languages with someone who was blind. Everybody assumed he couldn’t see anything because he had a cane. He could see things, he just needed to have examiner events in a super big font so he could read it. If he put it pretty close to his eyes he could read it. So, even that. Like, it’s not black or white, it’s not like… even for blindness, like people understand some people are blind but they might not imagine that even there-there are a huge variety of disabilities.

Nic:    I think the misconception is definitely something that is a problem, you know?

Stephanie:    It’s the same for wheelchairs. I knew someone who, I don’t remember the name of the syndrome but she’s super exhausted. So, sometimes she needs a wheelchair to rest because she can’t walk but the issue is she can stand… well, not the issue but for the people around she can use her legs so when they see her standing up and going out of the wheelchair but they don’t know her, it’s the same thing. Like, “oh, you’re not really disabled,” yes she is. She can’t stand up for 15 minutes otherwise she will be exhausted so she needs the wheelchair, but, just because she’s in a wheelchair doesn’t mean she can’t sometimes use her legs. So, it’s kind of the same issue.

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    People imagine the extreme… They imagine it’s like black or white. And, they can’t really… they usually don’t see what’s in between, and that’s the complicated thing about accessibility I think.

Nic:    What do you think the number one reason is for most people to fail at succeeding in implementing web accessibility? Do you think that’s the issue of misconception or something else?

Stephanie:    They just maybe don’t know. It’s the same for my developer who didn’t know that they could link the label to the input in your form and add it. So they… once you’ve told them they will do it because it’s kind of easy and doesn’t cost a lot of time to do that. But, most of the time they just don’t know, and they also might not know where to look for information. I had someone ask me about the accessibility of native apps.  And, frankly, I didn’t know where to look. I checked little bit US guidelines…

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    …but, it was a React app…

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    .. to be honest, I’m so much used to frameworks not caring about accessibility that I didn’t think about checking The React documentation for accessibility guidelines. And, actually, they have a page on accessibility. But, I’m so used to frameworks doing whatever they want and not caring that’s… yeah… looking at the documentation of the framework wasn’t the first thing I thought about. And someone on Twitter was actually like, “React has a really nice page on accessibility “ and I was like, “yeah, that makes sense.”

Nic:    Yeah. That’s interesting because I’m also a little bit like that where I think frameworks are indeed doing whatever it is they want and not necessarily caring. Or, perhaps not really knowing… I don’t know if it’s a lack of care but I would not have.. My first reaction would not be going to look at the documentation for the framework.

Stephanie:    Yeah

Nic:    Yeah… What do you think the greatest challenges are for the field of web accessibility moving forward?

Stephanie:    Making people care about it enough to build accessible frameworks.

I’ve got another issue, it’s like I’ve certain times read tutorials on React or Angular and stuff like that and the code isn’t accessible. Like, a simple form isn’t accessible. And, then you tell the author and they’re all like, “Yeah, but this tutorial is about the javascript, not the HTML. If you want an accessible HTML you can add your forms and your ideas.” I’m like, “Yeah, I can. But, the issue is like, a lot of people learn by copy-pasting code so if you’re writing a tutorial with non-accessible code you are kind of spreading these… not misconception but you have a lot of developers who will learn by copy-pasting this code, and yeah, it’s totally normal to not know how to bind a label with an input if you’ve never seen it in any tutorial.

Nic:    Yeah

Stephanie:    It’s silly but it’s the same for CSS tutorials. When someone is writing a tutorial again… I think I have an issue with forms on the web because this is where I see the things you could really, really quick fix. And they don’t do it. So, it’s the same as in this article and the CSS was amazing and then someone in the comments just told the person to add the right attributes into the form, and the author was like, “yeah but this is about CSS” and, yeah… same answer. Okay, but people will copy-paste your HTML as well.

Nic:    Yeah. That is a problem. I think education in a computer science degree’s and definitely tutorials all over the place, that don’t include accessibility, will cause a long term problem.

Stephanie:    Yes

Nic:    If you weren’t a designer what profession would you like to do?

Stephanie:    I don’t know. Hair colorist

Nic:    Hair Colorist.

Stephanie:    Yeah

Nic:    Would you use yellow and orange as well in hair coloring? As you did in your portfolio?

Stephanie:    Yes. It’s actually my current color is like purple, pink, orange and yellow.

Nic:    People can see you come from a distance.

Stephanie:    Yeah. But it’s a nightmare because when you wash them it kind of merges and mixes. Sometimes it bleeds out, like, the purple is especially annoying one and bleeds on the yellow one. So, yeah, I think I will have also a lot of issues with hair color. Not the same one as a web designer but still. But, it is fun, you can do a lot of stuff with hair color.

Nic:    Who inspires you, Stephanie?

Stephanie:    A lot of people. I follow a lot of people on Twitter and, yeah, usually. I don’t know. I’m really bad at names. I can see the avatars but not the names. I’m sorry.

Nic:    That’s okay. A lot of people inspiring you, that’s fine. So, let’s wrap up with one, perhaps critical, question. If there was one thing people should remember about accessibility what would it be?

Stephanie:    It will cost you a lot of money if you do it at the end of the project, so do it at the beginning of the project. Something like that

Nic:    Yeah, that’s a good thought. I like that. Thank you.

Stephanie Walter, thank you for being such a great guest and I will see you around on the internet.

Stephanie:    Yeah, sure. Thank you for having me.

Nic:    Thanks for listening. Quick reminder, the transcript for this, and all other shows are available on the show’s website at https://a11yrules.com.

Big shoutout to my sponsors and my Patreons, without your support I couldn’t not continue to do the show. Do visit Patreon.com/Steenhout if you want to support the Accessibility Rules podcast. Thanks you.