E089 – Interview with Amberley Romo – Part 2

About one thing everyone knows about accessibility… Amberley says: “I think everyone knows when something is not acceptable to them”


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Nic:    Welcome to the Accessibility Rules Podcast. This is episode 89. 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.

In this episode I’m continuing my conversation with Amberley Romo. Last show was really awesome. We had a good conversation about assistive communication devices and their evolution. We spoke about the fact that accessibility and HTML CSS is a continuing process. It’s not just binary.

Amberley, welcome back.

Amberley:    Thank you. Good to talk to you again.

Nic:    I want to take a moment to thank our sponsor, Gatsby. Gatsby is a modern website framework that builds performance into every website by leveraging the latest web technologies. Create blazing fast and compelling websites without needing to become a performance expert.

So, at the end of last week we were talking about your greatest achievement and you mentioned it was something around seeing the penny drop about…when you speak about accessibility ,in people’s mind. Let’s flip that a little bit and start by asking you what your greatest frustration is in terms of web accessibility.

Amberley:    I think my greatest frustration is that we can constantly make a really good case for why web accessibility is important. Both in a human rights access sense and in a business sense also. But it’s … despite that it’s still so difficult to get people to invest in it. Either personally, whether that’s an individual developer in terms of spending time on learning, or, if you’re talking about a business in terms of dedicating time and dollars on projects. And, that’s not to say there’s a problem of people not being aware of it but most people I talk to I say, “Actually, this is a thing, and this is important.” Most people aren’t turning around and saying to me like, “Nah, I don’t think so. Let’s not worry about it.” They’ll acknowledge that it’s important, and they get it but translating that into effort is hard. And then in terms of being a front-end developer it’s already kind of like drinking from the fire hose to try and stay current on front-end web technologies.

Nic:    Yeah

Amberley:     So, getting… convincing people what to spend time on…you know, what will make them hirable if they’re boot camping themselves trying to learn to get their first job or what-not. And, then in terms of company priorities people worship shipping at a high velocity. Which I get because they have to build businesses but, it has a cost – like, technical debt and inaccessible applications. So…

Nic:    Yeah, I don’t know how to convince people of that. I keep talking about the 3 legs of a tripod. You have performance, you have security and I think you have accessibility and those 3 are so important to get right. And, people seem to understand why security and why performance is so important but a lot of people don’t understand the importance of accessibility. That’s a frustration to me.

Amberley:    Yeah, and it’s really.. I mean, I guess I shouldn’t say it’s surprising to me at this point but one of the … but it does sort of still even know sort of surprise me because accessibility is so interwoven with some of those other concerns. Like, I’ve often said just good semantic markup is great for SEO… you know… making things accessibility to a wider range of people is better in terms of… you know… having a larger spending audience if you’re trying to sell someone or convert leads or what-not.

Nic:    Yeah.

Amberley:    Like why you would have… forms are notoriously, you know, super inaccessible. Why you would have a lead generation form that’s super inaccessible … you know, it just … you shouldn’t have to but you can tie back accessibility into so many other core concerns that people do understand. And that’s the part that baffles me.

Nic:    Yeah, it baffles me too. You mentioning accessible forms and it reminds me of an experience I had earlier this week. The Lonely Planet has put out a fantastic guide for accessible travel…

Amberley:    I saw you tweet about this which is why I’m laughing.

Nic:    Yeah… and the bloody form to actually ask for the PDF is … there’s no labels, it’s just… it’s not accessible. It baffles me. You know, lead generation forms in general not being accessible but a form specifically to request something about accessibility that’s not accessible. I … it befuddles me. I just don’t get it.

Amberley:    A rich irony to be sure.

Nic:    Yeah, a rich irony. I like that, yeah.

Amberley, what do you think there’s one thing that everyone knows about accessibility.

Amberley:    I think everyone knows when something is not accessible to them.

Nic:    Yeah.

Amberley:    The concept of accessibility becomes very clear to anyone when they’re faced with an accessibility that affects them. So, and that’s just like a human experience understanding thing. Like, you can try to explain it to people but the minute it affects them they’re just like… they understand that something is a barrier to them. You know?

Nic:    Do we need everyone to have an impairment or a disability for the web to get better from an accessibility perspective?

Amberley:    I mean… I think it’s very likely that most people will experience that. I mean, Chris Coyier recently broke both of his arms – which is terrible but I would be interested to see if he had something to write about accessibility after that experience.

Nic:    Mmmhmm

Amberley:    For example, so we talk a lot about the idea of a permanent disability versus a temporary, situational disability. And, when I said what I think one thing most people understand about accessibility like, in the moment… with the … especially for a temporary or situational issue… people might not tie that personal experience back to something lighter or larger than themselves, such as the concept of accessibility. But in that moment they understand it.

Nic:    Yeah, obviously they don’t have the answer. I don’t think anybody does, but I’d love to do some thinking around how do we take that moment of insight and translate it into a wider understanding of accessibility for each person that experiences that. That would be quite a nifty trick to have, I think.

Amberley:    Yeah that is a magic question for sure. And, I don’t think this is the answer but it makes me think of something adjacent which is the interesting things… I’ll pre suffix. I can’t do If you V.R – Virtual Reality, because it makes me feel sick but some of the interesting things I’ve seen or read about in the V.R area around creating experiences that allow people to sort of virtually experience something that let’s them empathize with someone else’s experience.

Nic:    Yeah

Amberley:    So, like I said, I don’t think that’s the answer but some things are happening to experiment with stuff like that. Which is cool.

Nic:    What’s the number one reason people fail to succeed with web accessibility?

Amberley:    And this is assuming that they know that it’s important, like they’ve already been convinced?

Nic:    Yeah

Amberley:    Okay, then I said it a little bit earlier but I think the number one reason people fail to succeed in implementing accessibility is because a) there are so many things to think about and learn about in front-end development. Especially now. Like, current front-end development. And then the other thing is learning about and implementing accessibility isn’t a step 1, step 2, step 3 process. Like, I think if it was… if it was so easy to define it might be easy… easier at least, to get people to sit down and do like 1, 2, 3 – I’ve learned it. But, it’s not a 100% clear laid out process to learn it. And then there’s the whole thing we were talking about last time with the continuum of support. So not only having that awareness to learn about something but having that awareness consistently through personal projects and through projects that you work on for work, your career… but then even if people are aware and are thinking about it continuously as sort of on that continuum it reminds me of … like, actually, I didn’t know until that WebAim report came out this year that only 25%… is it 25%? It’s somewhere around there of WCAG failures are programmatically attestable and identifiable.

Nic:    Yeah

Amberley:    So, even for someone who knows what they’re doing. They think they’re doing the right thing… they’re running Lighthouse, they’re running aXe, they’re running these different testing tools. And absence of detectable errors doesn’t meant the website is accessible. Again, I mentioned Manuel’s article earlier which I thought was stellar at showing that. So, on the one hand, I think it’s great that we have these tools but on the other hand the limitations of the tools themselves can give otherwise well meaning folks a false impression.

Nic:    Yeah.

Amberley:    And, then there are things like… you know, I think a lot of people, particularly… you and I met at AccessU this year and one of the sessions they were talking about… and, I don’t know a whole lot about the actual WCAG process and proposing new things – those conversations that happen, but someone was talking about a lot of things that were proposed in the area of cognitive disabilities were sort of tabled. For this iteration. And, people who are aware of web accessibility think of it as “Oh, it’s accessing the web with a screen reader” or maybe even having an experience with seeing color a different way, or something . But, there’s this whole other world that I’m really sensitive to because of my sister and growing up around people with ADD, but there’s this whole concept of accessibility in a cognitive space. And, part of that is the way that you craft content. Which is why it’s not just a developer concern or a designer concern… it’s also a content creator concern. And sort of at all levels it affects everyone who is building.

Nic:    How do we pass that message along? That accessibility is not just for screen reader users or just for people who are colorblind? How do we open that door to a wider understanding when it’s already difficult enough to get people to understand that – Hey, accessibility is a thing and it’s important.

Amberley:    I super wish I had the answer. I really do. I really do. Yeah… because it’s not like… for example, my sister’s not going to go on a banking website, right? I mean, you don’t know her but she’s not. So there’s this whole certain squishiness of like how do you account for a different cognitive disability? What… like, it’s so much harder to formalize and define. So, I understand the challenge there. So…

Nic:    Yeah.

Amberley:    If you can’t sort of formalize and define that. How do you persuade people to behave in a certain way or change the way they do something along that spectrum. That becomes even harder.

Nic:    Would you say that’s the greatest challenge the field of web accessibility faces? Or is there something else that would be more critical to us as accessibility experts?

Amberley:    I mean, for me personally I think the biggest challenge is we are failing to fix the issue of new folks entering the industry who never are exposed to accessibility. Like, the issue of cognitive disabilities is interesting to me personally. It’s important to me personally. But, like you said … again, we were talking at AccessU and you said something like “I’m still telling people about fricken Alt tags!” You know?

Nic:    Yeah.

Amberley:    So, it’s a conversation that’s so much further down that line and you’re still telling people about Alt Tags. You know?

Nic:    Yeah

Amberley:    And I looked at the website of that non-profit that I worked at years ago and I ran aXe on it and you know… missing Alt and color contrast and these are people who are the national office non-profit for people with disabilities. But it’s a whole…you know, I know they have a small web team. You would think like, of anyone… those are the people who have to have it figured out, right?

Nic:    Yeah.

Amberley:    And it’s not the case, but… yeah, bringing it back to what I was saying… front-end development continues to get more complicated and there are a lot of concepts and things to learn that are fighting for people’s attention. So, somehow we need to be doing a better job in College programs and Bootcamps and the way we teach online. I went through a Bootcamp myself, I can’t remember if I said that earlier.

Nic:    Yeah, you did, last week.

Amberely:    Mmm, and in the one that I went to… again, I had been building static websites for a long time so I had used HTML and CSS and I had learned about web accessibility from earlier experience. And, the Boot Camp itself, learning about HTML and CSS was pretty much just like pre-course work before the Boot camp. They were like ‘Here’s a HTML course, you should do that’, ‘Here’s a CSS course online, you should do that’ …. And then web accessibility was literally not once mentioned. The only accessibility content that was there while I was there was a presentation that I gave.

Nic:    Well, that’s cool.

Amberley:    I’ve since gone back to the Boot camp a couple of times. A couple of different Boot Camps, actually, and given sort of like an introductory accessibility talk. But, you know, it’s still not part of the curriculum on not any one particular Boot Camp. I’m not aware of any of them that have it as a particular focus of any part of the curriculum. But, yeah, all CSS programmes and all of that.

Nic:    Yeah. Years and years ago I was really befuddled – to use a term I used earlier, to learn that architects in their 4 year program have about 5 or 6 hours of tuition around accessibility. So, they learn a whole lot about a whole bunch of stuff but they don’t really learn a whole lot about accessibility. And, it’s no wonder we have buildings that are barely accessible. And, it’s the same thing when computer science programs and boot camps and code samples and all these things don’t include accessibility … it’s no wonder that people don’t have a chance to learn.

Amberley:    Even the best meaning people. People who absolutely mean well are just not exposed to it. Yeah, it’s no wonder.

Nic:    Who inspires you?

Amberley:    In an accessibility sense? Or in general?

Nic:    However you want to take it.

Amberley:     I’ll do both. Well, it might sound obvious but the first person that comes to my mind is my sister. Because she’s such a skilled communicator. People are always amazed at how efficient she is at getting her point across. Non verbally. And she just lives her life so fully. Without reservation. Like, she doesn’t have some of the filters of ‘maybe people will judge me for this. I should be embarrassed about it’. It’s just like, she just does her thing. So, I think about that and I try to sort of live like that as best I can. Because, she just lives with such joy.

And then in the web accessibility space Marcy Sutton is like such a … I always really looked up to her. It’s kind of really a dream to get to work directly with her and learn from her. I feel really lucky for that. And then other people who have taught me a lot like Aaron Gustafson, and Dave Kennedy and… you inspire me too! Because you keep at it. You know, we talked about how easy it is to get jaded in seeing the same stuff over and over again and you’re a long time veteran of working on this topic. So, you keep doing it.

Nic:    Are you saying I’m old?

Amberley:    No. You established your credibility that way at AccessYou and I’m giving you a compliment.

Nic:    I appreciate that. Thank you.

Amberley:    Because it’s true. You keep at it and you do this podcast and you keep moving and… you know… You keep working to put a dent in it and so…

Nic:    Thank you. Let’s wrap this up with one last question. What is the one thing people should remember about accessibility?

Amberley:     I’m going to cheat a little bit and just assume that we are past the one point where people are aware of it …

Nic:    Okay

Amberley:    Because the baseline is that people should be aware and know about it and find it to be … be convinced of it’s value and importance. But, the one thing past that, I think, especially aimed at developers… is that I think people should remember that perfect is the enemy of done. Or at least the enemy of progress. And, you know, there’s a lot of nuances to web accessibility and it takes a learning oriented, curious, open mindset. It takes consistency so… you know, have a growth mindset toward it. Don’t look away because it seems hard or unclear. Just keep chipping away, keep learning about it, keep caring.

Nic:    I love that. What a fantastic note to finish on. Keep caring. Amberley Romo, thank you so much for coming on the show and chatting with me about this, that and the other thing and we will see you around.

Amberley:    Yeah, thank you so much 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 patrons. 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. Thank you.