This week, we continue the conversation with Arthur Gouveia. Just as exciting as last week!
One of the things that many people talk about is the idea that the word “accessibility” is passé. Arthur doesnt’necessarily agree. He thinks that changing the word to describe what we do won’t fix anything, it’ll create the same stresses we’re finding now.
Nic: Welcome to the Accessibility Rules podcast. You’re listening to episode 14. This episode has been sponsored by patrons like you. I really do appreciate your support. I’m Nic Steenhout, and I talk with people involved in one way or another with web accessibility. This week we’re continuing our conversation with Arthur Gouveia. You really should check the first part of the discussion if you haven’t already listened to it.
Hi again Arthur.
Arthur: Hello. How are you doing?
Nic: Pretty good. Should we continue our discussion where we left off last week?
Arthur: Absolutely. It’s great to be here again.
Nic: Yeah, great. Thank you for being here. We were talking a little bit about how to make sure that companies really implement accessibility, and how this concept of having generalists that have a good grasp on it … but also experts that can really help the generalists. That sounds like a really great approach. Looking at that structure as an achievement, I’m going to follow up and ask you. What would you say your greatest achievement is in terms of web accessibility? What’s the best thing you ever did or achieved about accessibility?
Arthur: I definitely feel it was the awareness with the whole thing we spoke about last week. The whole aspect of getting an outside user to come here, try out their product and have them record it for people to watch it later. Even during the session, allow people to join the stream and check it out. That awareness raising is really interesting. It was really touching, and the feedback that I got was really nice. I guess just spreading the word was the best thing that I’ve done in accessibility. It doesn’t come to the technical implementation of anything … or the fixing of any feature. It comes to the education, that’s all.
Nic: How would you suggest people could replicate that in their own outfits?
Arthur: Funny you should ask this. I actually wrote an article on Medium. We have a Shopify group, and we published several things … I think it was last year … on accessibility. One of the posts was actually how to run accessibility downwards at your company. There I actually described the whole process, and what we got from that. How to actually set up everything. I would say it’s just a matter of getting involved with the accessibility community. Try to go to meet ups, and meet some good people. Do some networking, and maybe try to just schedule one day. Make it a very educational, and invite someone that has a specific set of abilities, and then try out your product and make sure you record that to be seen in the future for other people as well. Something that is so easy that you can do it every 3 months, but not so complicated that you need to do it only every 3 years. If you can have that recorded so that people can from time to time … or even new hires they can actually see that first hand. Even if it’s a recording it’s still very touching, so having that recording available for new hires is a good thing.
Nic: Yeah. I like that. Now, you mentioned a Medium post after our discussion. Can you send me the link to that? I’ll include it in the transcript for listeners that are interested in seeing it.
Nic: That would be great.
Arthur: I don’t remember off the top of my head, but definitely I’ll look it up and send you the link.
Nic: Fantastic. Jumping the topic a little bit, what would you say is your favorite word?
Arthur: My favorite word. I’m torn between coffee and beer.
Nic: Those are things, not words.
Arthur: Oh, but they are beautiful words.
Nic: Yeah, that’s cool.
Arthur: If we’re talking about accessibility, I would say inclusion.
Nic: Inclusion? Rather than accessibility, what’s the difference to you?
Arthur: No, when it comes to the topic of accessibility, I’d say that inclusion is your best thing. It’s not … it’s just making sure that you have this single word on top of your head at all times. It’s all about getting people together. Getting people to be experiencing either the same thing or similar experiences all together. Which, in the end ends up being somewhat the meaning of accessibility, right?
Arthur: It’s the ability to have access to the same things, no matter what your set of abilities is. Yes, that would be my word.
Nic: I like that. There’s more and more people that are saying that the word accessibility is a bad word in context, because it just doesn’t really say very much. A lot of people are pushing for the concept of inclusive design. That really ties into what you’re saying.
Arthur: Interesting. Yeah, that’s pretty cool. We have terms that have been out there for over a decade such as universal design, right? We’re trying to make these terms more user friendly, but to me it doesn’t feel that it’s a problem of the term. It’s a problem of what the term implies. Even if we have beautiful things such inclusive design, it doesn’t mean that it won’t get seen badly in the future. If we’re talking about inclusive design, and the process of making your design inclusive is painful … one, there’s something wrong with your process; two, the process is going to become stressful, and therefore inclusive design is going to become a word that may affect people the same way that it would accessibility. The problem with that is because we’re so little exposed, I can’t say that there are little resources … because with the internet there are a lot of them. Because we see so little care for accessibility overall, you just look at the web, and you see that many websites are not even closest to whatever accessibility means. You see that it’s always a struggle to adapt to something that you never even thought of.
Arthur: It speaks back to what we spoke about last week. This trying to do a blueberry muffin by first baking the muffin, and then throwing blueberries at it. You can’t do that, and that’s what most people do … therefore that’s why people struggle with that. It’s like, “Oh, Now I’ve finished my product. Let’s make it accessible.” That’s when you actually have to use a lot more time. To be honest, we spoke about that last week if I’m not mistaken, or two weeks ago. The cost of accessibility, and the process of development. If you do accessibility at the end of your process, after you launched your beta. You’re going to have to use a lot more time to actually make your product accessible. Verses being accessible at birth. If you have that from the very beginning (of course things make take more time), but it will pay off if you decide to only add accessibility at the end.
Arthur: That’s two things. One, if you add accessibility at the end it’s going to take you much more time. Two, the accessibility that likely you are going to be adding to your product is not going to be great. You already have some constraints that you don’t want to break to make sure that you make your thing accessible, right? Usually you have the design already there, and things that don’t necessarily work on the business side you don’t want to review because either the cost is too high or you already have an identity there and you don’t want to change that. When you have that from the very start you have a lot more to gain than only thinking about accessibility at the end of a process.
Arthur: I think that’s why changing the word accessibility to inclusive design is not necessarily going to be a great thing. It’s just going to renew the stress around that word. It’s going to become stressful at some point afterwards.
Arthur: In 10 years if people say, “Oh. Let’s talk about the inclusive design of your application.” People are going to be freaking out like, “Oh, damn. I’m not WCAG compliant.” Then it’s going to become stressful.
Nic: Yeah. I think that may be bit cynical, but not an entirely wrong perspective. I appreciate that. I’ve never heard it, so I like that, I’m going to have to ponder it for a bit. Thank you.
Arthur: You’re welcome.
Nic: That was actually somewhat controversial. Would you say that would be your only controversial statement you would like to make about accessibility?
Arthur: What do you feel was controversial?
Nic: Well, the idea that using inclusive design instead of accessibility is not actually solving any solutions long term. I think that’s going to cause a little bit of controversy, and I like that. Is there anything else about accessibility that you think you’d like to say that is controversial?
Arthur: No, like if you come to think of the grade of the word, the literacy grade of the word accessibility, it’s definitely going to be higher than inclusive design, but the stress over accessibility and inclusive design I believe is going to be the same in the coming years. If we’re trying to pick out a word of inclusive design to remove the tension that accessibility has, it’s going to be understandable … much more easy to understand (like inclusive design) versus accessibility. I just feel like the stress that people will have with that is going to be likely the same. Maybe I didn’t make myself clear, but it’s mostly about the stress of the word.
Nic: Yeah, I think I get where you’re coming from now. What’s your greatest frustration in terms of web accessibility?
Arthur: Last week we were talking about the good and the bad of accessibility, and my frustration is that I can never find … actually, I would say that I can’t consistently find the solution for the problem. There’s always mini solutions for the situation, and it makes it harder for me to be 100% safe with my decisions. That also touches a lot of my own personality, but it just is hard for me to have the call on accessibility that is 100% bulletproof. It just feels like there are so many ways of achieving one single thing, that it’s hard to be confident about a choice. Do you know what I mean?
Nic: Yeah. It’s your biggest bear, but it’s also your biggest frustration.
Nic: I’ve spoken to people who have said that this aspect was actually great, because it gives so much creativity and it’s a bit of a challenge. It’s interesting to hear that there’s not just good aspects of that, but there’s also some real impact on people that are there trying to make accessible sight. It can become a really frustrating experience, because there are so many ways to make it happen.
Arthur: Yeah, like I said it’s good and bad. It depends on how you decide to actually face that, but overall if I had to be binary and say if it’s good or bad I’d definitely say that it’s good because it allows you to come up with many solutions for the same problem. I would rather have many solutions than just have a single solution.
Nic: Yeah, that’s fair enough, because there’s always going to be at some point a need to adapt and customize and make a solution really fit with what you’re trying to do … and maybe the one size fits all approach doesn’t really work in all situations.
Arthur: Yeah. We’re talking about people, it’s going to be different for everyone. Even if you have the same set of abilities, it doesn’t mean that you have the same nurturing. You’ve been raised in a different way, and you perceive things in a different way. In the end, it all comes down to the fact that we’re all human. That’s going to reflect the quality of your work. It’s going to reflect on how you code. It’s going to reflect on how you design. It’s going to reflect on many aspects of how you face a problem, and a solution. I guess in a sense it’s the beauty of it. It’s all about being human.
Nic: I like that. It’s about being human. Thank you.
Arthur: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nic: What would you say is one thing that everyone knows about web accessibility?
Arthur: Tough one. I’m inclined to say that they know that they need to care. Just because they know that they need to care, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to fix it. It doesn’t mean that they’re actually going to care for it. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to educate their companies, and their teams. It doesn’t mean that at all. It just means that they need to have that in the back of their heads. They may not need it (for legal purposes), because of their target audience, but they know that it’s a good thing to have. They may not even know what that is completely, and what the many nuances of accessibility are for making a product accessible … but overall they know that it’s a good thing … and that’s it. It’s very shallow knowledge.
Nic: Yeah. I think you’re right. Everybody knows (at least vaguely) that they need to care, even if they don’t know what shape, form or color it takes. There’s that knowledge there.
Arthur: Yeah, but it’s hard to sparkle that thing to make your product accessible out of the blue. Everyone is not going to be raised in the same way, that’s going to allow them to be a little more empathetic. We don’t have control over the experiences that people are exposed to, and therefore it’s hard to say when accessibility needs to kick in, right?
Arthur: We have some regulations around accessibility. Like if you have … if it’s the government. If it’s … your application has whatever users. There’s some regulations that are going to (by law) make sure that you are making an accessible product. While I do agree that that is a good thing (because you’re at least forcing some level of thought on accessibility), I would also say that you’re doing accessibility for the wrong purposes. As a result, what usually ends up happening is that you just do a lot of checks on this document that says WCAG compliancy is here … but it doesn’t mean that the experience is great.
Nic: Yeah. There’s a big difference between compliance and great user experience. Absolutely.
Arthur: Yes. Absolutely, and that’s why I’m like, “Yes. Legally it is accessible, but it isn’t really.” That difference is really hard.
Nic: What’s the number one reason people fail to succeed with implementing web accessibility?
Arthur: Implementing it for the wrong purposes. Not caring for what they’re doing. Definitely. For me, if you don’t understand why you’re doing this … if you’re never exposed to how people may get frustrated by using your thing, you’re never going to do a good job at it because you yourself are never going to put yourself into the other person’s shoes. Therefore, you’re never going to try and fix it from their standpoint. That’s the worst. If you’re fixing accessibility because you want better SEO. If you’re fixing accessibility because you need your videos to be transcribed and you don’t give a shit how people with dyslexia are actually going to also have a problem reading the transcript, therefore you don’t look at the font sizes. The font family that you’re using. Things are just going to be there by law. You’re just going to do that because you are obliged to, but you’re not caring about the whole experience that the user is going to have. If you don’t care then your product is not going to care.
Nic: How can they avoid failure? How can they avoid that trap that you’re talking about? You mention that you organized a workshop where developers actually had a first hand experience on seeing how someone who is a screen user interacts with the product. Not everybody has access to that type of experience, so how can people learn to give a shit?
Arthur: The first thing is that it’s very hard for us … it’s not very hard, it’s impossible to control what people are going to think and perceive. Even if they get exposed to an experience, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to change your life and the way that they see things, right?
Nic: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Arthur: What I do feel is that when you see a broader amount of people with different sets of abilities testing your product, it does raise some awareness to the way that you are coding your things. For instance, with the whole Accessibility Montreal, I’ve seen people come here and they have (for instance) a problem with their vision … and therefore they need to be zooming or using binoculars to actually see 6 meters or 8 meters in front of them. When you come to the meet up and you’re only watching the talk, but you’re not watching the work around you … you’re actually missing the little nuances around you that can actually add up to your experience as a developer, and your code in the end. When you’re looking at someone that needs to be zooming on their phone all the time to see things, that makes you feel like, “What can I do (on my interface) to make sure that person doesn’t need to be zooming, but they can actually increase the size of everything and actually have a good experience.” Getting exposed, and getting connected to the community … it’s super important. It’s super important. I know for a fact that there’s many videos online of how people use StreamReaders. I don’t think it will ever replace the real deal. If you have the option, if you have the opportunity to do that in your company I would highly encourage you to, but if you can’t just try to go for accessibility meetups. The one in Toronto, I didn’t go this year. I went last year to the bootcamp. Just going there and seeing different people with different sets of abilities interacting, and how they live their daily lives is really important. Don’t just go there for the talks. Go there to actually see how people are going to be trying to solve their problems, and how they’re facing everything that life throws at them.
Nic: I really like your philosophy of stepping away from the technical, and step into the human aspects of accessibility. I think that’s so important.
Arthur: Yeah, I think that’s the primary reason. If you don’t connect to that first, then nothing else is going to really matter. You’re going to have a smaller amount of care if you’re just being obliged. I actually I don’t think it’s fair to say that … but I just feel that when you have a deeper connection you’re going to have deeper care. You may be a person that (because you’re obliged by law) you want to make sure that you have vast experience in whatever, but yeah. I think that’s not necessarily the case for everyone, but then again it certainly is for everyone that empathy is going to be enough to make sure that you care for your stuff.
Nic: Yeah. What profession (other than the one that you’re doing) would you like to do? If you couldn’t be a developer, what would you do in life?
Arthur: Oh my god. I’d love to be a designer. I would love to be a designer, but I am one of those people who not only is bad at expressing whatever my brain is thinking … like, I can’t really design a great interface or anything of that kind. Also, I would love to draw, like do nice drawings … but every single hand that I draw … you can’t distinguish that from a cloud. It’s going to be terrible. It’s going to be horrible. I would love to do design. I think in the end it’s that I like to have that connection with the user, and making sure that they experience great things on the web. I feel that design is definitely the entry point for accessibility. When everything is you on your sketch, Photoshop or whatever. That’s the first entry point, and then it becomes the work off the front end developer to actually code. The entry point for me is the design, and then code. But first is the design, so I’d love to get connected to that. If I wasn’t on IT, I would love to work with wood. I would love to do wood crafting.
Nic: It’s still something very creative. You’re a creative kind of guy.
Arthur: I think I have a good mind for terrible jokes. I think I’m pretty good at that. If you’re not going to laugh from the joke, you’re going to laugh out of pity of me.
Nic: Right, I don’t think there’s any chance that we’re going to pity you. You’ve been giving some fantastic answers. Let me wrap things up and let me ask you one last thing. What is the one thing people should remember about accessibility?
Arthur: Sorry, you cut off.
Nic: Let me ask the question again. What is the one thing people should remember about accessibility?
Arthur: If you’re in the role of being something that is going to reach a large amount of people, in my opinion it is your duty (as someone who has that capability) to make sure that whatever you’re putting out there is accessible. To piggyback on good old Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. I believe that for all of us who are builders and educators of the world of the web it’s really important that we have the conscious that whatever we’re putting out there needs to be an example for other people to build upon. Also, to make sure that whatever we put out there is also going to be seen by millions and millions of people, and therefore we need to make sure we’re addressing everyone. We already live in an exclusive world, so don’t make that even more exclusive.
Nic: Thank you. Thank you Arthur. Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me today and last week. You’ve really been super interesting, and super thought provoking. Everyone out there, thank you for listening. Until next week, that’s all folks.
Arthur: Cool. Thank you very much again Nic for having me. It’s been a pleasure. Let’s make the world more inclusive.
Nic: Fantastic. Thank you.
Nic: Before I go, I want to thank my patrons once again. Remember that if you need a hand ensuring your accessibility I’m available. Contact me on my website at incl.ca