E20 – Interview with Carie Fisher – Part 2

In the second part of my conversation with Carie Fisher, she expresses that one of her frustrations with web accessibility is that people haven’t “quite adapted to the idea of web accessibility”. She also says that as a community, we all have an important role to play, whether we are newcomers to accessibility or have been doing web accessibility longer than some newcomers have been alive!


Nic: Welcome to the Accessibility Rules Podcast. You’re listening to Episode 20. 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 Carie Fisher. I invite you to listen to the first part of our conversation if you haven’t already done so.

Hi again, Carrie, shall we continue our discussion where we left off?

Carie: Hi, sure. Let’s do it.

Nic: All right. Jumping right into it, what’s your greatest frustration in terms of web accessibility?

Carie: Oh man! I don’t think that this podcast has enough time. But I think the short answer to that question, complicated question, is that people who maybe haven’t quite adapted or haven’t gotten on board with the whole idea of website accessibility, meaning that they don’t understand why it’s so important, that frustrates me. We can give them all the steps that we want, we can tell them things like, It’s the smart thing to do, and it helps things like SEO, and even though it’s different, you can do things like appeal to their happy karma side and say, “Yeah, this will help benefit people, users. You’ll get more users. You can say even things like, “It’s the lawful thing to do,” and you might get sued if you don’t do this, but sometimes none of that works and that frustrating to me.

I want people to care as much as I care. But translating that, evoking that kind of emotion and then adding some action following that, is frustrating to me. But, I try not to go there. So, let’s not go too dark, but that’s what I get frustrated the most.

Nic: Okay, let’s not dwell.

Carie: Okay, good!

Nic: What’s the one thing that everyone knows about web accessibility? What’s the conventional wisdom of accessibility, would you say?

Carie: I don’t know that we all know the same thing. I’m coming from, like you’ve been doing it for 20 some years, and so you’re very advanced and maybe talking with people who have been also doing for their careers, but I’m new enough where I still see the beginners. I see the issues that they’ve had, and the struggles that they’ve had, and it runs the gamut. I feel like we have people who can support the experts and get into the esoteric guideline considerations and fight over toggles and buttons and links and all that. But then, I really see the other side of it, where we need to help people who have the passion and the ability to get into accessibility.

I don’t know that we do all have one standard thing that we all know. I think we all kind of come at it from a different angle.

Nic: Yeah, I like that. I think that’s probably accurate.

Carie: Well, yeah, I mean, you’ve been living it for a long time. I think, again, like the momentum shift, I think, recently in the public eye and the support that we’re starting to get and the momentum that a community has is getting more and more of, that just means that there are more people being exposed to the idea of it that hadn’t been before. And I know that might be a little foreign concept for somebody who’s been doing it for so long, but there’s a lot of people out there that I know of, personally, that didn’t even know it was a thing until yesterday, or the day before. It’s still new enough where there’re a lot of different sites to consider.

Nic: It’s important for those of us who have been going around the block a few times to remember that we were beginners, we were newbies at one time. We really shouldn’t lose track of that, and we should remember that other peoples are coming at it with different level of experience, but also different backgrounds, different lifestyles, different everything. That really comes down to this concept of inclusion we were talking about last week. It’s not just about what you know and what you’re remembering.

I was joking with someone when I was at the W3C conference last week that I had forgotten more about accessibility than they ever knew about. It was a big joke, really, in context. But I think a lot of those of us that have been doing accessibility for fifteen, 20, 25 years, I think that it’s a trap that we have to avoid falling into, this idea that …

Carie: Well, yes and no. I would argue also that you are one of the leading experts in your field, and the knowledge that you have and the experience that you have is something that should be harnessed, and shouldn’t be necessarily dumbed down. You shouldn’t necessarily have to write beginner to accessibility kind of things. That could be something newer people to the field could do. But blazing that trail and continuing to blaze it, and thinking the deeper thoughts that maybe the rest of us aren’t quite ready for, I think that’s also very important.

I think it goes back to the whole idea that we’re a community, and we all have different pieces and roles to play. I think it’s great that you know the things that you know, and it’s not necessarily that you need to be helping all the beginners. You know what I’m trying to say? I think we all have a way to contribute.

Nic: I definitely agree with you; we all have a way to contribute. I think we need to avoid the trap, though, and I’ll say this right there. Most people I know that have been doing accessibility for a long time have not fallen to that trap, but we really have to avoid the trap of becoming divas. Oh, I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’m really a leading expert, and nobody else matters.

Carie: You’re such a diva! No, it’s true. I think that’s true of every field, though; it’s not just accessibility. Remembering where you came from and the fact that at one point you didn’t know what the heading order significance was, or why it needed to be … a button needs to be a button, and only needs to be a wink. There are some things that are fundamental to who you are, and you shouldn’t lose that, for sure. Especially for, I know that, I’m very honored to be on this podcast because again, I am newer to the community. It’s hard sometimes, I think also, for people like me who are trying to see how you fit in, see how you contribute, and having that momentum and that enthusiasm. And I’m hoping that the people who have been around for a little bit longer can help us harness and train that in the right direction, versus saying “it’s just a little newbie,” and not pay attention.

Because I think it’s really important that we all have a way to have our voice being heard and support each other. I don’t know. And I have seen that for the most part, but I’m just reiterating that we all have the roles to play, and hopefully we can all find … there’s room enough for all of us, especially as the pockets are expanding and the jobs are increasing. We need more bodies, and people enthusiastic, and working hard to make this a more accessible world.

Nic: Yeah. Carie, what’s the number one reason most people fail to succeed with web accessibility, do you think?

Carie: I think there’s a lot of reasons, a lot of myths around what an accessible website is. People buy into those myths a lot, that accessible websites are difficult, or that they’re ugly, or that who cares? We don’t even need them. The numbers aren’t supported. But I think that … I’m not sure if that quite answers your question, but I think that that is part of the issue.

Nic: So if I were to rephrase your answer, I heard you say that the main reason people fail is that they don’t understand?

Carie: Yeah, I think part of it is education, but also it’s that they give up before they even try. They just automatically assume a website, accessible website, is gonna take more time, or it’s gonna cost more money. They don’t necessarily have all the facts available at the time. I’m thinking more of clients and wanting to add that to their website, but maybe are afraid to because they are afraid of, again, budgets or timelines or something that really affects them as the stakeholder in the project.

Nic: I like that concept of, they don’t even try. I think you’ve verbalized it quite nicely. How can we, as web accessibility experts, specialists, SMEs, however you call our field, how can we help these people avoid failure?

Carie: I think part of it is that education piece that we’ve been talking about. So things like tweeting and writing blog articles, and tweeting podcasts, and doing the discussion, the online discussions, and videos, tutorials. There’s a lot of ways that we can educate both clients and developers that are out there that are wanting to know more. And I think we’ve all done a really good job of that so far, and we just gotta keep doing that. And especially as technology changes and advances, and keeping abreast to the new technology, and showing how accessibility fits into that new technology. I think a lot of times in the tech world, we’re just kind of always talking about the latest and greatest, and I always call it the “New Tech Hotness.” Finding a way, I think accessibility could really benefit from finding a way to harness that level of enthusiasm, and the money that is thrown at those new technologies, and also benefit the users who need it the most, combining those two aspects of it.

Making accessibility sexy again, right? It never was sexy, but that’s essentially what I am saying, is that we need to find a way to do that.

Nic: I love the idea, and I wonder how much of a barrier it would be to do that, considering that as a whole, society doesn’t really see disability in a good eye. I’ve personally been told that people would rather be dead than disabled. Considering that negative perception of disability, how do we overcome that to make accessibility sexy?

Carie: You’re always gonna have those people that are just narrow-minded. And there’s really, I honestly think there’s just nothing you can do or say to change their minds. But the one positive thing that I’ve seen recently is a lot more focus on inclusiveness, and diversity. And I think that accessibility is one aspect of that community. I think that that momentum and being part of that, and saying “Hey, people with disabilities are also part of this group,” and reminding people that being inclusive and being diverse, that means everything, not just talking about gender and skin color. We’re talking about also physical limitations.

But I haven’t quite figured out how to turn the tide. But I feel like there’s a shift coming. I’m hopeful. That’s the problem. I’m always hopeful, and I’ll do what I can to push that along. But I am one person.

Nic: If you think of the magic solution, please make sure to let me know as soon as you think of it, and we’ll record your solution for the podcast because …

Carie: Okay! You’ll be the first one.

Nic: Yeah, the first one to announce it.

Carie: It’s kind of more of a world issue, a societal issue. But I think that what we’re doing just in our small way is helping. I’d like to think that it is.

Nic: We have to chip the block a little bit at a time.

Carie: Yeah. What is that phrase, eating the elephant one bite at a time, or something? As a vegetarian, I’ll change it to like, tofurkey or something? Or tofu-based elephant? I don’t know.

Nic: What are the greatest challenges for the field of accessibility moving forward?

Carie: I think honestly it’s about keeping up with the latest technology, and keeping accessibility in the forefront in that sense. How to integrate the two. Because technology is moving so fast, code is moving so fast. New languages and programs and whatnot are always coming out, it seems. Especially in the front end development world, it seems like we go through it even faster than maybe some traditional back end developer types. But just keeping current on that, and then showing how to make it also accessible. I think that is a challenge, but also pretty exciting.

Nic: Yeah. Technology is moving fast, definitely.

Carie: I think that’s the definition of technology, right? It’s moving fast. But I think the problem that accessibility has sometimes is that there are so many rules, and there’s so many nuances, and so many specific case scenarios to consider. And assistive technology’s also different, and obviously we have the issues of browsers being different, and on top of that, whatever programming language, Javascript or CSS or whatever it is that you’re trying to optimize for accessibility. There’s just so many … you’re juggling so many balls right in the air. It’s easy to drop one; it’s easy to forget one. Finding a way, or finding that kind of balance, but also keeping up. It’s complex.

Nic: Yeah. You blink, and things have changed. New Firefox come out, and Jaws and NVDA stop working, and that kind of stuff.

Carie: It’s true. Yeah, or if you’re working on specific bugs, and you have to get very nuanced. Okay, what exactly are you using? In what way? It’s almost like, what time of the day? How’s the wind blowing? It can get very specific.

Nic: One of the answers I really loathe giving is, “It depends,” but I have to give that answer so many times because it really does depend.

Carie: It really does depend. And I think that’s probably one of the barriers to accessible coding in general, is it’s so nebulous. There are specific rules, but it also depends, like you said, on the specific situation.

Nic: If you weren’t doing web accessibility and front end development, what profession would you like to attempt?

Carie: This is a true story. I think I would want to be an alpaca farmer, and have … obviously you don’t farm alpaca, you can shear them for their wool and whatnot. And also have fancy chickens. Basically I wanna be a hippie living on a farm, growing organic vegetables and just going about my merry day. But instead I’m in the world of technology, which is completely the opposite of that. I see it as, again, talking about the different sides of yourself and the way to be grounded. And for me, technology is, again, so complex and fast paced, and you have to be online all the time. But I try to balance that a lot with nature, and being outside, and family. And the things that ground me. So I would assume that at some point, I’m gonna burn out on technology and I’ll just become the opposite, complete opposite.

Nic: Can’t you find a middle, a healthy middle?

Carie: Actually, I thought recently, I had this conversation with a friend that we should start a business where we would have the hippie farm with the fancy chickens and all that, but then we would also have a room dedicated to coworking. So if you like, a technology farm, or something. Probably should trademark that before this podcast goes live.

Nic: And then you could take a break by going to feed the alpacas.

Carie: Yes! Yeah, why not. And then it’s that whole … I’ve been learning a little bit more about deep thinking, and how that can help your productivity. And one of the things the studies that I recently read was about, at the University of Michigan, if you go outside and take a walk through nature, doesn’t matter if it’s negative 20 below, or whatever it is sometimes in Michigan. And you come back to solve a problem, you’re more efficient and you’re more likely to solve that issue than if you went someplace like downtown, busy street. And part of that is that deep thinking part, that subconscious part of you that you don’t really understand that’s going on. But when you’re in a city, you’re always thinking about “I don’t wanna get run over, what street am I on, I need to stop, it’s a red light,” or whatever it is that you’re doing subconsciously. Whereas when you’re in nature, you take that mental rest and then you have more ability to come back and focus on a problem and solve it. It’s really fascinating stuff, but it’s a little bit of a tangent.

Nic: No, tangents are good. I was amused that you chose alpacas, because I think they’re nasty critters. But then, my dad raises Angora goats, so …

Carie: Oh, nice! Yeah!

Nic: Yeah, I’m familiar with the concept of being at a farm and dealing with animals.

Carie: Both of my families, they grew up as farmers. My parents were both part of a farming community, and I’m one of the very first non-farmers. In fact my brothers and I are all programmers. I don’t know what that means, but there’s something in there. It’s kind of interesting to me that that’s kind of my roots, and those are the things that I gravitate towards when I need to ground myself and have a mental break.

Nic: Growing carrots would be literally going back to your roots.

Carie: It would.

Nic: Bad joke. Bad joke. Who inspires you, Carie?

Carie: Bad joke.

Well, you are one of the people that inspires me, for sure. There are a lot of people in the community, the accessibility community, that inspire me. Everything that you guys do, and for so many of you veterans who’ve been doing it for so long, and maybe not have been supported financially as much as you should’ve, because you are breaking the barriers and all that. In the past, obviously. Now, hopefully, you’re getting … hopefully now you all are getting paid well for what you do. But yeah, to me it’s that. It’s that selflessness, it’s that passion, it’s that drive that inspires a lot of us to continue, and to start becoming accessible developers.

Nic: Thank you. What’s the one thing people should remember about accessibility?

Carie: I think one of the things that I like to remind clients is that it’s not a one-time thing. You could build a completely accessible site in theory, right? And you do it in a vacuum. And then you give it to the world, and you’re adding content, or you’re adding new features, or like you said, a browser gets updated. So you have to continually make sure, sprint regressions, making sure that in your code you’re not introducing bugs. But also that you’re re-testing the site periodically, or you’re giving the users a chance to tell them, “I found this bug and it needs to be fixed,” and that sort of thing. It’s a continuous process, it’s not a one time thing.

Nic: Yeah, I think that’s a very good point. We’re talking about a continuous process. Accessibility is never really done, especially in view of what we were talking about earlier, that technology changes and things change, and everything evolves. There’s always room for improvement. But couldn’t you say that about most every other topic on the web, apart from accessibility?

Carie: Yeah, probably. But I think it’s important that, I think some people think though, that it’s just you do an audit, you fix those bugs, and then it’s done. And I think that’s the wrong way to go about accessibility. In a perfect world, I want the accessibility to be built in from the beginning, before even one line of code is written. I want the designers and the UX/UI people to understand that, and integrate that into their designs. And I know a lot of them do now. And then the front end developers take it, and they add their code, and then the back end developers come in and they add whatever they need to add. And that also, content editors and creators are also knowing that having this in mind, and they’re writing things in an accessible way, and they’re adding media in an accessible way. And that at the end of the day, it takes all of us, and that’s it’s a continuous process. Everyone has to be on board to really make it right, and make it as perfect as possible.

Nic: What would you recommend to a front end developer who has heard about accessibility, but isn’t quite sure what it is, what it means, how to implement it? How would you suggest they go about getting involved in learning about it?

Carie: There’s a lot of people who actually ask me those kind of questions in the Drupal community, and then also at my new organization. The first thing I tell them is, join Slack channels. Join the Twitter feeds, and follow certain people. Look at the GitHub repos. Look at all … the problem is, is that there is a lot. Once you know, once you unlock the door, you can see all of the things, and it’s like a cluttered closet. Things are toppling down on top of you. So you have to also tread carefully with newbies, and in the sense of, you don’t wanna overwhelm them, because there is so much to know. It’s one of those things, even myself, the more I know, the more I know I don’t know. So I want to introduce them to the community and to the resources, in a positive and non overwhelming way. So I wouldn’t throw everything at them, but I would throw a few things at them. And then obviously, if there’s something specific like a CMS documentation, or anything that’s really specific to their job or their task, then I could help them, direct them towards that.

There is a lot. I think accessibility people like to talk, and they like to write. We like to fight over the nuances of all the little things, but it’s good. We do that, and then hopefully we can translate that and make it more everyday. And I think that’s kind of one of the reasons why I really got into the whole concept of the style guide, is that I call it the Cliff’s Notes of accessibility, in a sense. Because people do write very esoteric, lengthy blog posts about these really tiny little things, that are important. But a lot of people doing their daily front end development tasks don’t have time to read 20 articles like that. They need the condensed version, the translated version. Read this, translate that into code, and show me an example. I need to see the code. I think that that’s one of the things that I tried to do, at least with that project. And I know other people have done similar things with their projects as well. But to me, that’s what it is. Making something useful for everyday tasks.

Nic: Wonderful. Hey Carie, I think we’re gonna wrap up. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. In your fantastic thoughts and answer, I think you nutted out some things that hadn’t been expressed before on the show, so that’s really cool. And for people out there listening to the podcast, thank you for listening. And until next week, that’s all, folks. Thanks, Carie.

Carie: Thank you.

Nic: Before I go, I want to thank my patrons once again. And remember that if you need a hand ensuring your site’s accessibility, I’m available. Contact me on my website at incl.ca.

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