E090 – Interview with Emily Lewis – Part 1

Emily states: “Hardest part of the job is coming up with solutions. It’s one thing to identify what’s wrong, it’s entirely another thing to give clients an alternative solution that’s accessible to start with but also reasonable for them to implement.”


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Nic: Welcome to the Accessibility Rules Podcast. This is episode 90. It’s going to be a bit different because it’s been so hot where I’ve been that I could not go without turning off the air, ac unit, which means I could not actually record without making airplane noises in the back so I’ve invited Christopher Schmitt, a colleague of mine and previous guest of the show to be the guest host. So, I’ll leave that to them in a moment. 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.

I also want to thank Gatsby, a new sponsor of the show. 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.

Christopher: Hello, everyone. My name is Christopher Schmitt. I am not Nic but I do welcome you to the Accessibility Rules podcast. Nic can’t make it to the podcast this week, he is out traveling where it’s so hot he can’t actually have great audio. It’s my understanding. So he asked me to guest host today. So, I’m really honored to do that. And, with us, today as a guest is Emily Lewis. Hello, Emily.

Emily: Hi, Christopher.

Christopher: Hey, great. You are also where it’s really hot.

Emily: It is. I’m in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I think we’re going to hit 100 F today.

Christopher: Oh, well, nice.

Emily: But, I have air conditioning so…

Christopher: Yeah, we have air … we have silent running air conditioning, which is… which I am grateful every day as I am living in Austin, Texas now, so… yeah. We are actually celebrating the 28th day of 100 degrees Fahrenheit  in the summer.

Emily: Ah, good times. Climate change.

Christopher: Yeah, definitely. I think we have a parade a few months ago out here. But, yeah. Let’s just get started with you so… Welcome to the podcast, Emily. To get started just tell me one thing most people don’t know about you.

Emily: I don’t know. I’m a pretty transparent person and I’ve been fairly public within the web community in the past 10 years or so, so I guess if they don’t know it about me I don’t want them to. So…

Christopher: That’s Ari. I must admit, we have known each other for a long time, right?

Emily: Yeah, yeah.

Christopher: Right, I’m just checking in to make sure we are right on that one. We’ve known each other for a while.

Emily: Full disclosure.

Christopher: Did you know when we first met? Because I’m terrible with this.

Emily: I do. You reached out to me to ask me to do one of your online summits.

Christopher:  Oh really?

Emily: … and then I happened to be going to South by Southwest later that year and you and Ari took us to BBQ. We didn’t know you and it was a long road through backwoods and I was with Jason and he and I were looking at each other like, “I hope these people are safe”

Christopher: And it turned out we’re not. We …. No, actually, Texas chainsaw massacre was filmed like 45 minutes from where downtown Austin is so…

Emily: I believe it.

Christopher: So we usually do a … if we have people from out of town we … Ari, my girlfriend and so we should do… we invite people to BBQ. Especially for South by Southwest. So it’s not… South by Southwest is not the web geek mecha it used to be, right?

Emily: No, not anymore.

Christopher: So that’s like… I don’t know… 80,000 people descend upon Austin whereas when I first started going it was more like 4,000 people going. So, it’s a little different. Different scale of economies there.

Emily: Yeah

Christopher: So…And so yeah, one of the things we do… and, you know, you did a great job at the summit and you just have a great personality on stage. You’re so thorough and I just… you know… every time… because, before accessibility, before working with Nic and Knowbility we ran a conference, a web conference company and every time I could, you know, I thought you’d be a good fit. I’d try to get you involved in some way, in some projects like that. So, just because you’re very thorough and you have great stage performance. I mean, it’s not a performance, I don’t know what it is but it’s just you have a … going on stage you do a great job. So.. yeah.

Emily: Ah, thank you. It doesn’t feel that way inside.

Christopher: No? Oh no, it definitely does. It’s like, I kind of … I tried stand up comedy and just all the little things. I think everyone else is now because every comic ha a podcast now and they talk about the process a lot more than they could, like in the ‘90s and whatever. And so, it’s just amazing how much little things they have to do to win over a crowd and all the things they have to think about when you do that too. So, it’s kind of refreshing in a way when you think about it. We are just speaking at conferences isn’t our … it’ normal in our industry but for a lot of other industries it’s not normal.

Emily: Right

Christopher: Because our industry change so much. So, like,  when I was first starting out about it, there was 2 ways you could tell people you know what you’re doing. One, you could actually write books about it or you go to conferences about it and then somewhere along the way something called Blogs happened. So that was networking. Right…so enough about me and all. So I’m honored to guest host the podcast with you, actually.

Emily: Thank you

Christopher: So, yeah. There are many definitions of the definitions on web accessibility. How do you define it?

Emily: For me, it’s really simple and aligns with my new job with Knowbility. It’s equitable access. Making it possible for anybody to access digital information, digital experiences, commerce communities. All of it. Just making it possible.

Christopher: So is there a difference between equal access and equitable access?

Emily: Well, I think equal access equality is based on the same for everybody and equitable is providing the means for people to have accessibility maybe based on different needs. I think that’s accurate. It’s not … equitable is not making it the same for everybody, it’s about building experiences that different people can use different ways but they can still fundamentally achieve the same goal.

Christopher: Okay, sure. Okay. And where does your role fall within the work of web accessibility?

Emily: So, right now I’ve only just recently shifted my career to really, really focus on accessibility so right now I’m doing auditing and assessments of sites and making recommendations for improvements. I’m getting to do a little bit of client support and client training. And, most recently I got to do some usability studies which were just awesome. And, it hasn’t shown up too much because I’m still new to the job but advocacy and education that I think that is going to be a big part. So, social media, community engagement, writing, presenting…

Christopher: So you’re really excited about usability testing that you did. What about it did you like?

Emily: I’ve never had a chance to watch someone interact with a website with speech to text software or eye-tracking software or you know if you’ve ever done like a …you’re testing screen magnification on our browsers we just resize the text but there’s actual screen magnification software that’s very different and I got to watch someone use that on their phone which was mind-blowing. So, just seeing first hand how someone is using a site in a different way than I ever have or seen anybody. So, it was eye-opening

Christopher: How did you become aware of web accessibility and it’s importance?

Emily: It really kind of was just a job. One of my first jobs in web development was for a US federal agency. The USDA which is focused on agriculture, and I was a webmaster for one of their conservation sites and the bulk of that job as a webmaster, which tells you how old I am, was keeping the site up to date with 508 standards. So USDA staff would update the site and edit it and do things and I would go behind them to make sure that what they had done met those accessibility standards. It was kind of like an ongoing or rolling audit job.

Christopher: Nice

Emily: Yeah, so I at the time didn’t really have a complete appreciation for the accessibility part of it. Like, I knew it was about accessibility but I didn’t have that kind of connection I was just talking about with the user experience. But, I liked … it was a set of rules and I was a new developer trying to figure out how to be a developer so a lot of rules made a lot of sense and made my job easier. So, yeah, but I was attracted to the standards aspect of it before I really understood the accessibility aspect.

Christopher: And do you feel like there’s a difference between usability and accessibility?

Emily: Well, yeah. Something can be technically accessible and not really usable. So, I feel like… my partner Jason – my boyfriend, they don’t make a word for people who are in their mid 40’s and aren’t married but he does usability work for the government but accessibility is a part of it. So, fundamentally things have to meet accessibility and then on top of that, it goes through usability testing. So I guess that accessibility could be viewed as a part of usability.

Christopher: Yeah I always have a tough definition there. There’s a definition about it that separates usability from accessibility but when I started out it was always tough to separate the two as two distinct items. Because, I felt like if it’s not accessible it’s not usable, right? You can’t have a good user experience if it’s not accessible. It was always just like… it still is the barrier of what the difference is between those two.

Emily: I honestly feel like our industry is still defining it. I mean, I see it with Jason all the time with his work and he works with the government which are really large projects with lots and lots of people and they’re still trying to define this stuff. So, yeah, I think it’s ongoing. It’s sort of evolving as we understand this stuff.

Christopher: Right, and our industry changes so fast, right?

Emily: Oh my god yes.

Christopher: 5 years ago we were not even talking about tablets. Like, you know.

Emily: Yeah, and there’s going to be so much more. I mean, as we are seeing now people having these … Echos and … I don’t know, I don’t have them in my house but these voice-activated devices and, you know, the more that stuff evolves the more our role, our jobs and the aspects of accessibility and usability are going to change too. It’s hard to challenge it.

Christopher: Yeah, it is. The conventional UIs, I mean with Echos, yeah, That’s a bit of trouble, yeah. So, I do have them in my house So, um…

Emily: They’re watching you.

Christopher: Yeah, I call them peeping Toms. That’s what I call them. So… but, it is kind of weird but it’s basically how much I hate light switches. And so that’s why. I just like walking into a room and like, alright, turn it on and then sometimes I get a cold or the flu and you know, your throats sore or whatever and you’re like “Man, I wish I had a light switch right now!”

Emily: So that would be the thing that most people don’t know about you. Your hatred of light switches. But now they do.

Christopher: Now they do, yeah. I don’t know what they know or don’t already. Just, yeah, so…alright. What barriers did you or are you facing in terms of implementing accessibility? And how are you getting over them?

Emily: Well, I mean, in my job now that I’m focused on accessibility it’s a little different than when I ran an agency and accessibility was just … it really wasn’t a priority for my job. So, today I feel like the hardest part of my job is coming up with solutions for some of the sites and interfaces that we work with because it’s one thing to identify what’s wrong. It’s totally a different thing to give them alternatives solutions that’s accessible to start with but also pretty reasonable for them to implement and on some level I can’t help still being a client. You know, having worked with clients for so long. Like, you still have to support their overall design in business school.

Christopher: Right

Emily: I think that’s incredibly hard.

Christopher: Yeah I mean, it’s .. it was like, Friday, I left work and I was trying to figure out in the back of my head … we tabulate what we do each day but they’re kind of broad strokes. We don’t have to do like a timesheet like what we do every hour and so I was trying to figure out where did my afternoon go. And, part of it, I realized on my way home I was like, “Oh yeah, I had to deconstruct this bad code example the client had used and then try to reformulate it into an accessible standards-based solution” and it took forever.

Emily: Yup

Christopher: Just to do that, right? And, it was a total time sink.

Emily: Yup

Christopher: Not like… I mean, it was good. It was a good challenge to do it but it still takes a long time to do that if it’s not something easy code. It’s amazing. And, I said this sarcastically last week. I was just impressed with the ability of the developers to avoid Semantic HTML.

Emily: Yeah, I mean…

Christopher: Yeah

Emily: I was working on that same system with you and it was just, every day it was just an “Oh, that never would have occurred to me to do that.”

Christopher: Yeah. Exactly. It was kind of crazy. But, yeah, I think that’s also kind of our … like what we do is a benefit too. It’s like we actually give alternatives to clients. I guess that’s what we … that’s kind of neat too.

Emily: Yeah and I also like… you know we work with some really, really smart people who have a lot of experience and so, you know, watching what they do. How they make suggestions and solutions, really helps me expand what I might have considered in the first place, as a way to make a problem access… you know, solve it and make it accessible. So, yeah. I feel really lucky we have a lot of people who have so much more experience than I do.

Christopher: What is your favorite word?

Emily: Well, I don’t know if this is like a PG-13 podcast so Nic can … I’ll give you two options for Nic to choose from, but Christopher, you know this. Fuck is probably my favorite word. But, for the PG-13 listeners – ice cream. Ice cream makes me so happy. If someone says ice cream I’m instantly looking forward to it.

Christopher: Oh man, you are going to enjoy Access-U, which is the conference that Knowbility puts on. It’s for practical training purposes in accessibility. Ah, for the last two years they’ve brought an ice cream truck to the event. So, you will… Hopefully I made you happy and looking forward to May already.

Emily: Alright now I’m like – I’ve got to get some ice cream today.

Christopher: So, yeah. So like, I feel bad because Nic asked me this question and I just… I whiffed at it and so I didn’t answer the question. And so, now that I have a second chance of sorts. If you don’t mind me saying what my word is?

Emily: Oh yeah, do it.

Christopher: It’s moist.

Emily: Oh, you like that word?

Christopher: Yeah, that’s exactly why I like that word. Because everyone hates it. So, I feel like it says what it is in a way. It’s like… it’s kind of gross. Yeah.

Emily: I like it for cake. Anything else just makes me think of humidity and discomfort.

Christopher: Yeah, well I grew up in Florida. So I feel…

Emily: Yeah, you love that, right?

Christopher: Yeah, I just can’t wait. Yeah. The move from Florida to Ohio which didn’t happen in the end… I was just like, “What the heck. What’s going on over here?”

Christopher: What was your greatest achievement in terms of web accessibility?

Emily: I really don’t feel like I’ve achieved it yet. I mean, I’ve been doing front-end development, CMS development, project management for digital products for like 23 years or something like that and I’ve always built with standards of accessibility in mind but it’s never… it’s never been the focus. I’ve only just done that shift a few months ago so I haven’t had a chance to do anything great.

Christopher: I see …I see some of your issue reports. I think you’ve done some great issue reports.

Emily: You know, I will say that I used to have a podcast myself and it started, I guess about 8 or 9 years ago which was kind of early and we had transcripts right from the beginning. That was really important to me.

Christopher: Yeah

Emily: I don’t know if that’s a great achievement but it was a commitment that I felt was important.

Christopher: Yeah, just think about how many podcasts there are that don’t have transcripts.

Emily: I don’t understand that.

Christopher: Yeah

Emily: I really don’t understand that.

Christopher: Yeah, I felt bad because I don’t have transcripts for my own podcasts that I used to run and I just … there was all this content that was just waiting to be discovered and all this content that’s not been discovered. I mean, even though they have video of a podcast that they turn into audio and they don’t have a transcript for it.

Emily: Mmhmm, well I mean, it’s an accessibility issue. But, there’s business reasons for it. I mean, Google eats that up. Your podcast gets a tonne more exposure. I mean, our podcast was getting high… high up in the Google search results for almost all of our web topics. Because we had lots and lots of keywords.

Christopher: Yeah.

Emily: And also helps you consume the content in a different way. Like, maybe you can’t listen to it and you want to scan the transcript for saline information. It just makes sense.

Christopher: Yeah, I think so. Okay, cool. Well, that’s awesome. Well, that’s a good place for us to wrap up for now. But, thanks for being on the Accessibility Rules podcast.

Emily: Thanks for having me.

Christopher:  Okay, awesome. Until next time.

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.