Kris Anne tells us that accessibility is possible, it’s not that difficult, and it’s not earth-shattering!
Nic: Welcome to the Accessibility Rules podcast. You’re listening to episode 28. This episode has been sponsored by patrons like you. I really do appreciate your support. If you aren’t a patron yet, and want to support the show, please visit patreon.com/steenhout. I’m Nic Steenhout, and I talk with people involved in one way or another with web accessibility. This week, we are continuing our conversation with Kris Anne Kinney. I invite you to listen to the first part of the conversation, if you haven’t already done so, because she spoke wonderful things about accessibility in online testing, which is something we don’t hear about very often. Hi again, Kris Anne.
Kris Anne: Hi, Nic.
Nic: Shall we continue where we left off?
Kris Anne: Of course.
Nic: All right. Tell me one thing about accessibility that you think most people would not know about.
Kris Anne: Besides the fact that there is such a thing as web accessibility?
Nic: Well, that’s a biggie. That’s a biggie. Yeah.
Kris Anne: It is, and I think that people just automatically assume too much about the web. They assume if they drop all text in an image that it means that it’s accessible, right? I mean, that’s what people think unfortunately. They don’t understand the intricacies of assistive technologies, whether it’s a device or a program that runs in tandem. They don’t understand how it interacts. I think just one of the biggest things is that people don’t understand that there is an extra step, let’s say, to accessibility. Like I said last week, they believe that if you buy this accessible widget, that everything will work, right? That’s sometimes not the case, depending on who it’s from. Sometimes there are a lot of gaps sometimes just in general changes in assistive technologies, make things a little bit harder, but I think one of the biggest things is that people just don’t know that there are steps to take in order to make sure that your site is accessible.
They make assumptions about, “Oh well, it looks clean and I have a focus ring around things.” But the focus ring goes to something, but when you actually try to invoke that element, nothing works. Well, if you don’t have keyboard access or if your tab order goes haywire around the page, who can follow it? Sometimes simple things like that are often overlooked. Tables that present information are one of the things that I think people don’t do correctly when it comes to web accessibility far too often.
Nic: Yeah. What would be your greatest frustration in terms of web accessibility?
Kris Anne: We’re going to need more than half an hour, Nic.
Nic: Not all your frustration, Kris Anne, just your greatest one.
Kris Anne: All right.
Nic: Pick one.
Kris Anne: Greatest one. My greatest one, my greatest frustration, okay. I have it. I have my greatest frustration. My greatest frustration about web accessibility is a search engine, because a developer will type in accessible dropdown box. I’m going to use a dropdown box as an example because I hate them. Just because of some of the problems that they cause. They type in the word accessible dropdown box, and they find an article that tells them how to implement code for an accessible dropdown box. That’s what they type up, and that’s what they hand you, and they say, “Google told me that this is what you do, and so this must be right.” Little did they know that it was an article from 2005. There are definite changes in HTML, there are definite changes in ARIA, and all of the other things that are new are not implemented in this.
My biggest, biggest is just web search engines in general, because I feel like it gives people false sense of security. Everybody thinks, “Oh well, I’ll just Google it and find the answer,” but sometimes they’re not getting a good answer or an answer from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. They take it to the bank. They say, “Oh well, someone said this. It must work. I must be right.”
Nic: Playing devil’s advocate here. Is it really the search engine’s fault or is it the searcher’s fault that doesn’t engage a critical thinking brain?
Kris Anne: Absolutely it is. It is not the search engine’s fault, and I don’t mean to blame Google, and I don’t mean to blame anybody. I’m not blaming them. What I am blaming is the fact that people are used to that, “Oh, the first page of hits must be right,” and not continuing to do research. Maybe it’s because I’m in a research division. I feel like that’s what I do. The job of the people around me is centered around doing research for a greater good. When someone finds an articles from [JAWS 00:05:47], from JAWS 10, and says, “Well you just have to set this in JAWS,” and I say, “Okay, well we’re using 18 and these settings are baked in already because they know that it’s an important thing to do, so try again.” Look at me like I’m the jerk, when really, they thought that it was just snap your fingers to find an article and everything will be fine without actually testing it as well.
They’ll hand us stuff and say, “Will you test it?” Its like, “Well, where are your checks? Where are your checks and balances to test it on your own before you hand it to me?”
Nic: Yeah. I think the subject of information fragmentation and information timeliness or updatedness, that’s not a word, but we [crosstalk 00:06:40]
Kris Anne: No, but I know what you’re talking about. Yeah.
Nic: I think these two issues are topics that come back over and over throughout the accessibility community, and it would be wonderful to be able to find a solution. But I’m not hopeful that we will because a little bit like patter libraries, you have 10 out there and then you see that there’s lack in the 10 so you build your own. You have 11 out there. Another person comes in and looks at the 11 and see, “Oh well, that’s not quite what I think I would have done, so let’s build a 12th one.” The fragmentation keeps going.
Kris Anne: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s hard to know who you can trust and what information you can trust. I think that’s why I like being part of W3C and education and outreach, because we know that people are looking for it, and it’s important to make sure that what we’re giving is right and correct.
Kris Anne: It’s my little plug for EOWG.
Nic: Yeah, that’s a good plug. We spoke about the things that people don’t know about accessibility. Do you think there is conventional wisdom about accessibility? Something that everyone knows about it ?
Kris Anne: About web accessibility or just accessibility in general?
Nic: Let’s focus on web accessibility for now.
Kris Anne: I think everybody, simple things like people know that if you have an image, you should describe what that image is because maybe someone can’t see it. They assume that the text that they write will be readable, when sometimes it’s not, because of how it’s framed or if it’s in some type of actual element. They don’t understand those things. They think text is text, because in a piece of paper, text is text. In brail, brail is brail. But on a computer, transferring those words into something that is spoken to someone is completely different. Search engines, no … Text-to-speech engines …
Nic: You’re stuck on search engines.
Kris Anne: I’m too stuck on search engines. It happens. But text-to-speech engines have come so far, and we both know how far they’ve come, but there is still a lot more that they could do. I think people just think it’s easy and they know that if they put text, it will be fine, someone could read it. A lot of people also don’t understand the difference between a read-aloud tool and a screen reader. Excuse me. They assume that if on a website, if someone has a button that says, “Speak this content to me,” well that, that will mean that a screen reader will read it to them as well. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that enough that we have that button that says, Speak the content to me?” Well, no it’s not. If a person doesn’t know how to get to the button and activate the button.
Nic: Yeah. What if they don’t know the button is there in the first place?
Kris Anne: Exactly. What’s the point of putting captions on a video if your video player doesn’t have an accessible play button.
Kris Anne: Like, “What?” They think that … I will give people credit, they try with captions. Everybody throws everything on YouTube and YouTube does its best to auto-caption things, but auto-captions are sometimes hilarious because they’re completely incorrect. I sometimes find them even funny, they make the video even funnier because they’re just so horrible. But at least YouTube is trying. They’re trying to offer something, because people aren’t thinking about captioning a video before they put it out there. It’s kind of this halfway thing that people do with web accessibility. That they think it’s enough but it’s actually kind of the starter point or maybe even a quarter way, not even halfway.
Nic: What’s the number one reason most people fail to succeed with web accessibility, do you think?
Kris Anne: I think it’s because of the lack of education. I’m not going to blame every developer for not knowing how to code accessibly or write accessible code because they’re not being taught any of these things. Web accessibility, if it’s taught in a web design class, it’s like maybe half a chapter. It needs to be taught to students now. It needs to be part of professional development that IT sends their developers to now. Finding the professional development, I think, is a little bit easier because there’s lot of companies that offer training. But we shouldn’t do it after the fact. Someone shouldn’t walk in to their job, you think of that college student who’s so excited to have their new job, and they walk in on the first day and someone says to them, “Okay, we’re going to design these websites. They need to be accessible, they need to be this.” That student goes, “I’m sorry, they need to be what? What’s accessible?” They don’t understand, they don’t know.
It’s really not their fault. Students now, a lot of them don’t go above and beyond to learn that extra something unless they know a person who needs it. That’s unfortunate, is that unless they know someone who needs a screen reader, they’re not going to think of it. Because they think inside of a box. They think inside the box and the context of their world. They have a person with a disability in their family, maybe their box is bigger, but sometimes their box is only as big as whatever that disability that the person has. If it’s a physical disability, they’ll be more worried about building structures or physical plant things in a building, rather than keyboard accessibility because maybe someone can’t use a mouth.
They’ll think more along the lines of them getting into a building rather than accessing the content once they are in the building.
Nic: Yeah. It’s been a pet peeve of mine for a very long time, this concept of including education about accessibility in the curriculum. It started when I learned that architects going through a four-year architecture program only had something like one day of tuition on building accessibility. I thought that was appalling. It continues with computer science programs that if they mention accessibility at all, it’s really in passing, “Oh, and by the way, there’s this thing here that you want to be aware of, that maybe perhaps you should look into.”
Kris Anne: Right, but so much is poured into special education and teaching teachers who are going to teach children with special needs, and so I don’t know how it’s not filtering into other areas, because in some schools, special education departments are amazing. Speech pathology departments, but yet we’re not teaching it across the way. It’s almost as if the faculties within these schools are not communicating the needs of the future for their students to the other faculty members.
Nic: That’s a good way to look at it. You think it’s too siloed within the school system?
Kris Anne: I do. I do, because I think there’s a lot of schools of education that are doing wonderful things. I mean, I’ll take the College of New Jersey for example, and I’m not calling them out for any other reason than it’s my last place of employment, but at the College of New Jersey, there is what’s called the CATIES Center. It’s the Center for Assistive Technology and, I always for get the E, but basically it’s a lending library, if you will, for the state of New Jersey and all of its state institutions. That if a student goes to a state institution and they do not have assistive technology that they need to complete their degree, they can loan it from this center, at TCNJ, so that they can have access to a typewriter if they didn’t have one or software. There’s boxes of software all over the place. They have that. It is centered at the College of New Jersey, but yet accessibility being taught in the school of art in terms of web design or in computer science, it’s not there.
It’s just an interesting disconnect where you can have a center that’s so focused, so highly focused on assistive technologies and giving access, and some that are not.
Kris Anne: I think you’d find that in most higher education institutions.
Nic: Yeah. I think that would be right. I remember working at Massey University and we had some great advocates for accessibility and the people that were working in the disability department, but they were not managing to make any inwards in terms of proving the accessibility of the courses, the assessments, and all then all these things.
Kris Anne: Right. We’ll notice that too, is everybody’s moving to online classes, and if those aren’t accessible, then when are we going? You’re moving backwards. They’re doing a lot to try to make classroom experiences more accessible, but if you take those online course work and make it inaccessible, again, it’s like two steps forward, one step back.
Nic: Yeah. Your wisdom as the new kid on the block, what are our greatest challenges? What are the challenges for the field of accessibility itself moving forward?
Kris Anne: I think that challenges are the ever changing innovation of technology. Because as soon as you finally grasp how to make something accessible, somebody comes out with the newest, greatest thing. You feel like you’re, you let out a big sigh and, “Okay, we’re going to do this all over again.” I think that’s one of the biggest challenges that accessibility in general faces, is the ever changing technologies. Assistive technologies as well, they change rapidly. There’s new versions, there’s new ways of doing things. Now it’s a lot of things are moving to Cloud-based versus computer-based. That ever changing landscape is really challenging to try to keep up with. I mean, just trying to keep up with technology changes in general, as a person who works in information technology is a full time job, let alone keeping up with, “Okay, well how is that going to change the accessibility of our company?”
Nic: Yeah. If you weren’t working in IT and accessibility, what profession would you like to do?
Kris Anne: Well, I kind of do, but I would love to be a teacher. I’m an adjunct, but I would love to teach full time. I would love to teach older students with disabilities, whether it be learning disabilities, physical, and teach some amazing kids. If I wasn’t working in IT and accessibility, I would love to be teaching them full time.
Nic: Any topic in particular?
Kris Anne: No, I can’t think of a subject besides possibly teaching them to be self advocates. We’re starting to see the parents, and again, I teach wonderful kids and a lot of them are, but some of them aren’t because their parents are such wonderful advocates for them. It’s almost as if they don’t feel like they have to be for themselves. I would love for them to know that the only person who really can advocate for themselves is them. They know their needs, they know what they need, and they have to use the voice that they have. So many kids that I teach, when they come in as freshmen, they’re very timid, they’re very quiet, and they find their voice. It’s a wonderful thing to watch as they grow. I think if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now, I’d be a teacher, but still, I don’t think that I could ever leave what I do.
Nic: Isn’t doing accessibility in part doing teaching?
Kris Anne: Everyday. Everyday, but I think I like to be a classroom teacher, because I think sometimes those relationships that you build with the students are just as important as what you teach them. Being a person that they can talk to as well as learn from, it’s a pretty special thing. Having that all the time in my life would be very, what’s the word I’m looking for, worthwhile.
Nic: Right. Who inspires you, Kris Anne?
Kris Anne: Oh God, everyone I meet who works in accessibility. My boss, Mark Häkkinen who’s worked in accessibility for many, many years. Had a company of his own. Everyone I meet. My colleague, Cary Supalo who has a PhD in chemistry and has been blind since seven years old. I lit myself on fire with a bunsen burner in sophomore chemistry, and I’m fully excited. When I met him and he told me about all of the work that he had done in chemistry and making sciences accessible, my jaw hit the floor because that, to me is just … I mean, I love seeing people succeed and they inspire me to continue to move forward and do what I do so that the next generation of students can be as successful, if not more so than they are.
Nic: Thank you. To wrap this up, what would you say is the one thing that people should remember about accessibility? Just one.
Kris Anne: Oh, come on, Nic. You know how good I am with one thing.
Nic: Yes. Well, that’s why I’m challenging you here.
Kris Anne: Okay. I would say that the one thing they should remember about web accessibility is that it is not as hard as they think it is to achieve.
Kris Anne: It is possible, and it is necessary, and it’s not earth-shattering. It’s not life changing. It doesn’t have to be, as long as you plan for it when you start your design.
Kris Anne: What will be earth-shattering, and life changing is when you are about to put it out the door and someone says, “Is it accessible?” That it’s not as hard as they think it is if you design for it, if you think about it, if you are aware of it, and the need for it. I’m a person who does web accessibility because I believe strongly in equal access. I have that compassion and humanitarian nature about me. I know not everyone has that, but they at least have to have the understanding that there is significant part of the population of this world that needs to have access. It’s not as hard as they think it is. If they think it’s hard, I would like them to live one day in the shoes of the person that needs that access, and then they can tell me how hard their job might be.
Nic: Yeah. It’s wonderful bit of insight, Kris Anne.
Kris Anne: Thank you.
Nic: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me today, and to everyone out there, thank you for listening.
Kris Anne: Thank you so much, Nic, for having me.
Nic: You’re very welcome. It was my pleasure.
Kris Anne: Thank you.
Nic: Until next week, folks, that’s all. But before I go, I want to thank my patrons once again. Remember that if you need a hand insuring your site’s accessibility, I’m available. Contact me on my website at incl.ca.