I’m talking with Jamie Knight, an autistic developer at the BBC. One of the things that I loved was Jamie saying that “At the BBC, we don’t make it accessible because of the number of people that need it, we do it because it’s the right think to do”.
We also make reference to the “spoon theory”. If you aren’t familiar with this metaphor, Wikipedia has good information and further links: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoon_theory
Nic: Welcome to the Accessibility Rules podcast. This is episode 31. I’m Nic Steenhout, and I talk with people involved in one way or another with web accessibility. 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.
This week, I’m speaking with Jamie Knight. Hi Jaime!
Jamie: Hello, how are you doing?
Nic: Pretty good. Hey, thanks for joining me on the podcast and talking about web accessibility.
Jamie: Cool, yeah you’re more than welcome. It’s always a pleasure to be asked to get involved with things.
Nic: And I like to let guests introduce themselves. So in a brief, elevator pitch style answer, who’s Jamie Knight?
Jamie: So Jamie Knight, that’s me. I’m an autistic developer and accessibility specialist at the BBC. Most people know me as Jamie and Lion, because I’ve got a four foot lion that goes everywhere with me. And I’ve been involved in the web and accessibility for about 15 years now. Yeah, how’s that?
Nic: That’s wonderful, that’s a good nutshell presentation. To get started, tell me one thing that most people would not know about you.
Jamie: One thing that most people wouldn’t know about me. That’s a really, really good question, because I tend to be quite open about everything. So I’m building a kit car with a friend of mine. I’m also a student pilot at the moment, and I’m slowly, very, very slowly going into the process of learning to fly light aircraft. Mostly because they wouldn’t give me a driving license. So I got refused a driving license because I couldn’t make decisions quick enough, basically. And then communication side was too difficult.
But there was nothing in it about the pilot’s license saying that I had to be able to make quick decisions, and of course in a plane, everything is very structured. Audio radio calls have a certain format to them. So we then looked up flying lessons and they said, “Yeah, sure, jump in the plane. Give it a go.” So we did, and now I’m a student pilot, as you do.
Nic: That’s awesome. That’s just awesome. The bureaucratic conflicts from one thing to another just never cease to amaze me, but I love that you’re gonna be a pilot. Something I’ve always wanted to do but never really pursued, so.
Jamie: Yeah, it’s an amazing sensation. I described it to somebody as like 3D go karting. There’s quite a significant delay between what you do in the instruments and stuff, all catching up. So you have to fly it by what you can see out the window, and I can remember in the first lesson I had and the instructor said, “Pick a cloud and we’ll fly to it.” And I was like, “Sorry, what? That doesn’t fit in my head. Pick a what now? Clouds are things you can go and look at?” So yeah, it was quite amazing. It was a very surreal experience, and I’m looking forward to more flying in the future.
Nic: Awesome. So we’re talking about web accessibility this morning, or this afternoon for you, as the case may be. And there’s several different variation of the expression, of the understanding of the word. How would you define web accessibility?
Jamie: I’d define it in terms of what the activity of my team is. So the purpose of the BBC UX&D, which is user experience and design accessibility team, is to ensure that the apps, products, and services of the BBC do not disable our audience. It’s not that we work for audiences or audience members with a disability. Our job is to make sure that our digital environments are not disabling, and they are usable for everybody.
Nic: I love that concept of the environment disabling users. I’ve been a long time disability rights advocate, and that was one of the things that we were talking about that the disability isn’t really within the person but it comes from the person’s interaction with their environment. So I think that’s a fantastic approach from the BBC, hats off to that.
Jamie: We like it as well, because it empowers, it helps, I think we get this point with a lot of designers and developers where we say to them, you know, “Actually it’s the work we do that disables people. They don’t come to us disabled, that’s our action.” And in fact, most of the tools we use are accessible by design, so it’s when we do our jobs badly we disable people.
And that tends to make people think. It’s referred to in the UK as the social model of disability. And I’m autistic, and it was one of probably the biggest moments of my life when I first understood the challenges I have are not actually the autism. The autism is just how I am, you know, I also have brown hair and I’m male. They’re all parts of my identity. The challenges I have are a result of poorly designed environments. And that empowers me to change and modify those environments, and to advocate so that my needs are met.
And it’s really the same thing online, you know. Now for me, it might be websites that have a lot of content or auto-playing videos that disable me, but for other people it might be a technical reason. You know, images missing, all text, or pages without any structural headings. But really it’s the same concept, and that kind of covers all of my work. I do a lot of work for the autism world, and really the autism world and the accessibility world are, they kind of overlap in this focus on the environment.
Nic: So day to day, you said you were a developer in accessibility and work at the BBC, but what does that look like day to day?
Jamie: So my job comes down to three areas which we separate out into tools, teaching, and technology. So as a team, we work across the entire business, or the entire organization. So we get involved in anything that faces the audience, be it an application or a website or even down to things like we’ve recently got involved in things like there’s a set of concerts called the Proms and we’ve been talking to the team who make the braille time tables for the Proms. So basically anything accessibility wise that touches the audience.
Within the team, there’s four of us, and our approach is we use something called the Champions Network, which I’m sure I’ll talk about a bit more later. The Champions Network is where we embed somebody in every major project. We’ll have an accessibility champion. And most of our team’s time is spent supporting the champions.
So my role within the team, as I said, comes down to these three things. So tooling means that I work on things like our team website and our admin tools. That’s where I get my developer hat on. If a tool needs SSL certificates or back end work or things like that, I’ll tend to be the person who does it. The second part would be teaching, so that covers both supporting teams kind of out in the field and supporting champions, but also developing guidelines, developing training materials, developing workshops.
And then finally, technology. So I do a lot of the BBC R&D linking back to the accessibility team. So for example, at the moment, we’re looking at VR accessibility. And that’s a project that I’m kind of looking after. So it’s a very broad role, and from week to week my job can be almost, I don’t know, unidentifiable to the week before. But I enjoy it, and it keeps me very busy.
Nic: So you’re one of these people that enjoy the variety and doesn’t need routine, then?
Jamie: Oh, no, I need lots of routine. But I don’t get the routine from my work. So in my day to day life, I have a lot of very strong routines. So the way that I go about my mornings are the same every day. I eat pretty much the same food every day. I have incredibly strong routines in the evening. So you know, from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, sorry, 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM, I have a routine that covers literally every single minute of that time.
And that really acts as a foundation for the rest of my life. So have you ever come across something called Spoon Theory?
Nic: Yeah, absolutely.
Jamie: So basically in a nutshell, it’s like I get given 10 spoons worth of energy a day. I optimize the rest of my life so I can spend as many of those spoons as possible on autonomy, on having autonomy in my life, and completing my work. So I kind of, rather than having routine in my work, I have routine in the rest of my life. And effectively, during my work hours, it’s very unstructured. But actually that lack of structure means it is very flexible.
So it kinda works quite well for me. If I’m having a low spoons day, I can pick a task that doesn’t involve much interaction with people. And if I’ve got lots of spoons, I can do things like talk to you on a podcast. And that flexibility is a key enabler for me to maintain my employment, really.
Nic: That’s excellent. I like the way you explain it, and I think it’s important for people to understand that kind of thing and I look forward to hear the reactions of our listeners to that, because it’s an important concept, I think, for them to grasp.
Jamie: Yeah. I think part of it is I spent the first 22 years of my life trying to be as un-autistic as possible. I slightly misunderstood, so I always was taught that almost all progress, progress was looking less autistic. So if I manage to fake eye contact, I was praised and told, well, “Great work,” you know. “You can now do eye contact.” But what people didn’t realize is that the cost of that mask, the cost of that pretending was a huge cost in energy. And that energy cost was unsustainable.
You know, about two years ago I almost died because I pushed my body so hard I’d developed gallstones and I’d lost all my communication. And over the last two years, I’ve had to completely re-engineer my life to focus on being autistically happy, so to speak. You know, how can I make my life, you know, my goals are autonomy and productivity, how can I achieve those goals with how I am, rather than trying to change who I am? And I don’t think I’ve ever been more stable or productive. So it’s certainly working for me.
Nic: Cool. So you mentioned, obviously, being autistic. And you mentioned earlier a couple of things that, auto-loading, auto-playing videos and big amount of contents have an impact on your ability to interact with the web. Autism isn’t really the typical disability, when people think about web accessibility. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that impacts?
Jamie: Okay. So this idea of cognitive accessibility, which is what autism is part of, it affects me in lots of different ways. But generally speaking, when I come to explain it to people, I try to explain it in a bit of a model. And the model that I’ve got for cognitive accessibility is that I split all of the things I do, effectively, into three stages. So I need to be able to receive information, process information, and then act on that information. And then the way that the web disables me kind of falls into those categories.
So when I’m perceiving information, I need the information to be accessible to me so that I can see it, so that’s things like contrast. But I also need the content to be well-structured and understandable. So a good example of this would be the use of iconography as well as text. So if there are standardized icons for something, I’m gonna have a much better chance of understanding the page. So that’s kind of perceiving information on the page.
Perception, I think one of the strongest things that any organization can do to help perception is to introduce better consistency. So I really like the rise of pattern libraries, because effectively a pattern is a thing you learn once and use multiple times, and that works really well for me. I can learn a pattern and use it in many places. So that’s kind of perception.
The second part is the processing of information, and I split that into kind of two sections. I split it into filtering information and then reaching decisions. So on the web, I struggle to filter information. I actually use a screen zoomer so that I can zoom into the text that I want to read and move all the rest of the text and adverts and stuff out of my view. Because it takes me a lot of time to process information, if there’s lots of information on the page or a page is very jumbled and complicated, it’ll take me a huge amount of energy to deal with it.
I quite often take a look at a page and go, “It’s not worth the energy to try and read that.” I then try and hit something like Safari reader, where it simplifies the page. Try reading it with that. But if that’s not working, I’ll quite often just go somewhere else for the information. This works very well when there’s lots of people selling the thing I’m looking for, and it’s less useful when I’m trying to pay something like my council tax. So then I might need to access support to get me through that process.
Things like, filtering comes in all these different ways. So filtering might be literal filtering, like if I go and buy LEGO on Amazon, I can set a price, I can set an age range or a theme. That’s one type of filtering. But there’s also filtering in terms of prioritization of content made by others. So this comes in the form of things like recommendations. I really like recommendations because it can tell me about connections between things that I might not necessarily spot.
For example, if I’m looking at, I don’t know, Season 1 of Star Wars Rebels, I won’t immediately assume to go and look for Season 2, because I might not know Season 2 even exists. So having it recommend it to me is very useful. And the kind of like the last type of filtering would be editorialization, which can be as simple as things like the news on the BBC home page which has an editorial, and personalization as well. So an editorial angle for the BBC home page.
But also, if I go to Apple and I go to the iPhone pages, it will tell me, you know, here are the most popular accessories. That’s also another form of filtering. So once the information is filtered, I then need to be able to reach a decision. And in order to reach a decision, I need to know what the options are, so just the first part of it, and then I need to know kind of what the implications are.
So for decision making, the things that help me are things like the easy ability to undo things, or clear information about what will happen next. That enables me to make decisions, whether that decision is where I go next on a website or what I put into a basket or how I fill out a form. You know, this sort of clear information about what’s expected and what will happen next helps me with decision making.
And then the third and final part of that model would be completing actions. So I’ve now, I’ve had some data, I’ve filtered it, I’ve made a decision. Now I need to actually use it for something. And that’s kind of like the third area where I have challenges. So I need to be able to know what I have to do, and sometimes I won’t pick up on, you know, something like literal language.
In the UK, we tend to be terribly polite, and we might say to someone, “Ooh, can you do this please?” To which I might just respond, “Yes, yes I can do that.” And not realize I was being asked to do something. So sometimes web pages can be really confusing, because they think they’re giving me an instruction and I think they’re asking me a question. So I need to be able to do the thing I’ve decided to do.
And you know, extra structure, clarification of the process, those little things that tell you where you are in a process, they’re really useful to me. Because if I know that I’m on stage two of six and I’m already starting to run out of spoons, I might stop, wait until I’ve got more spoons or wait until I can get help, and then come back to it when I know that I’m able to complete the process. A process that I don’t know when it will end, I probably won’t start. Because I don’t want to risk running out of spoons for the day over something that isn’t essential.
So I think that covers most of it. Auto-playing video and stuff like that, they’re just a type of situation where I’m unable to filter information. If I can’t filter information, I can’t make decisions. So if a page auto-plays video at me, I’m probably just going to close it and go somewhere else. Because it’s overwhelming my ability to decide. And frankly, there’s very little on the internet that I can only get in one place. So I’ll just go somewhere else for it.
Nic: I find it interesting you say that, because I have several friends who are blind who tell me, you know, if a site is not accessible, if I have to struggle with my screen reader to access the content, I just move on and go somewhere else. And I wonder how much businesses and organization realize how many people just come to their website, hit a wall, and just move on.
Jamie: Yeah, I think it’s difficult to know, but one of the interesting things about cognitive accessibility is that we tend to think of cognitive accessibility in terms of kind of medicalized conditions, like autism for example. But we found at the BBC what we do to help someone who’s autistic will also help someone who’s busy, or someone who’s in a rush.
What we do to help people with limited physical dexterity will also help mothers who are currently holding a baby and using their left hand, which they’re not left-handed. So we get this kind of rising tide lifts all boats effect, and we find that autistic users and users with a cognitive need, they’re almost just a more extreme version of user testing. And often, the challenges that they find will affect a much larger percentage of the audience than necessarily those conditions.
At any one time in the UK, we think about 30 percent of our audience will make use of some form of assistive technology or an assistive feature, although when you consider over the lifetime of an audience member, everybody will end up using it at some point. You know, I think it’s Léonie Watson who says that it’s not the able, it’s the temporarily able.
You know, and remembering that this time element to accessibility is present is a good way of, I don’t know, reconsidering how you approach accessibility and remember that numbers don’t drive it. At the BBC, we don’t make iPlayer accessible to blind people because of the numbers, we make it accessible to blind people because it’s the right thing to do.
Nic: Thank you.
Jamie: But underneath, you know, underneath the skin, if you do want to have a numbers argument, well, everybody will need it eventually. So even my own selfishness means that I know that eventually one day I’m going to need these technologies, so I may as well start the work to make them work for me then now.
Nic: Yeah, that’s a great way to look at it. The steps you were talking about reminded me of the four guiding principles of WCAG, you know, the perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. In WCAG, to date, there hasn’t been very much work done to include the needs of people with cognitive impairments. But in 2.1 there’s a little bit more of that. Are you keeping aware of what they’re doing with that kind of work?
Jamie: I’m broadly across it, and certainly I have a huge amount of respect for the cognitive accessibility working group. I was a member of it, and I couldn’t, due to being ill and stuff, I couldn’t really contribute as much as I’d like. I think Lisa and the team are doing great work. It won’t really affect my day to day life, because at the BBC we don’t use WCAG, we have our own guidelines. And our guidelines do consider cognitive stuff.
Because we’re not building … at the BBC we don’t do audits. We don’t audit against our guidelines. We take an almost goals based approach. And whereas for WCAG guidelines have to be quite black and white, yes or no, does it do this or not, we can leave quite a lot of leeway and room in our guidelines because the people who are interpreting them aren’t trying to pass or fail a piece of work. They’re trying to understand what’s needed in order to give the best experience. So I can’t say I’m 100 percent up to date on the WCAG stuff. I’ve kept an eye on the drafts.
I think it overlaps with us, I believe one of the new ones is choice or adaptability, so. I’m out of date on this already. But they’ve been elements of our guidelines for three years already. So kind of in a way it feels like WCAG is kind of catching up to where other people in the industry have been for a while. Although, sadly, they have to do it in the WCAG way, which may or may not actually result in better accessibility. You know, it depends on so many other factors. So, yeah.
Nic: Yeah. There’s no doubt in my mind that WCAG has a lot of benefit, but it’s also got some definite negatives, because when we work with clients that actually, you know, they wanna know if they comply, yes or no, it’s just so much more than a series of check boxes, you know. It’s not just yes or no, there’s all these it depends and if you start thinking about accessibility in terms of compliance, I think you’re missing the point quite significantly.
Jamie: Yeah, there’s actually a lot we can learn from other industries.
Nic: What kind of barriers did you personally face, and how did you overcome them when you started in this work of development and technology?
Jamie: God, you know what, this is a very long time ago. So I’ve been what we’d now call doing development since I was nine. And actually, one of the biggest barriers at that time was everybody telling me it was a waste of time and I should be doing my homework. So you know, I started, the first time I coded was when I was nine. My dad works as an electronics engineer, so I’d grown up with electronics around the house. The kind of resistors, you know, resistors, capacitors, that sort of thing.
And then when I was 11 or 12, my main obsession was my mountain bike, and I built, or a friend had learned some web development stuff, and I ended up building a website about my mountain bike. And then I kind of went from there, so I had my first paid website when I was what, 13? Or maybe 14. So I think I’ve been doing it as a paid thing for about 15 years. And at that time, you know, I’m autistic. My speech wasn’t tremendously reliable. But kind of friends of friends and family kind of gave me work.
So by the time I got to kind of finishing secondary school and starting, we call it college but I think you call it further education or perhaps high school. But by the time I got to 16, 17, I actually had quite a stable web development business running. Now, I the middle bit, I’d actually become homeless and some other bits and bobs. So you know, there’s a story for another day, there.
Yeah, I got work from people in the industry, so, you know, people like Alan Roe and Paul Boag, you know, I was really active on the Boagworld forums. And of course, on the forums, nobody knew that I was autistic. So I’d make friends there, and then they’d end up giving me work.
So yeah, by the time I finished college, I had a pretty good business running. I’d worked for some quite major British broadcasters and charities. And then it was actually a chap from Apple who kind of convinced me that considering a job was a good idea. So I’d been doing an event called BarCamp, and the chap from Apple invited me to, you know, come and present for him.
After, we sat at Paddington Station eating a burger afterwards and he was like, “So, you know, have you thought of working for people?” You know. “You don’t have to freelance, there are other options out there.” So he kind of planted the seed in my mind, and I was chatting to Apple about potentially working for them. I’d spent the day doing some autism and accessibility training for them.
And then, yeah, that conversation evolved into, “Well if I’m gonna move to London, why don’t I move to somewhere like the BBC first?” You know, get a house right by the office, give it three to six months, maybe a year, see how I get on and then see how I’m doing for living skills. And then from there, kind of move on. And I never got around to moving on.
So I started with, so from freelancing I kind of built up a client pool using the trade name ‘+ Lion’. And for people who are wonder, that’s pluslion.com! So I’d built up this freelance business down in Somerset, which is in the south of the UK. And I got this opportunity to, I got the confidence to move to London after the interactions with Apple.
I have an amazing friend, a chap called Ian Pouncey, who’s astounding, really. He was the person who said to me, “Hey,” you know, “The BBC’s always hiring.” You know, “Come and consider us.” So I applied for a job in the radio and music team. And actually, Ian was amazing. Because at the BBC, there’s no kind of like, you can’t hire your friends, that’s not how it works. He did everything he could do to make that day a success.
So he did things like came and picked me up from the station, made sure that I got into the building. It was actually the first time I’d ever done a big rotating door, and I can remember now walking straight into the spinning door with him and us both getting stuck. Because I’d never used one before. So you know, so he did everything he could to make that a success, and the interview itself was really amazing.
And you know, I kind of got chatting to them and they liked me, and they offered me the role. So I did that for a few months, and in that time I was working with one of the creative directors to build a prototype for testing. That prototype kind of ended up turning into iPlayer Radio, which is the BBC’s national radio kind of project, their radio on demand stuff and their live stuff. And then I kind of ended up being a senior engineer on that and taking on a bit of a tech leader role in the front end area.
We got that launched to 8 million plus users. And then I was like, “Okay, I’m good with the BBC now, I’m starting to get bored,” you know, “I feel a [inaudible 00:28:59] where do I go next?” And an opportunity opened in the platform engineering team in Frameworks, which is the team that builds all of the headers and footers and all the shared libraries and all of the platform level stuff. And that was a whole different problem. You know, you’re dealing with billions of pages of requests, you’re dealing with cashing, you’re dealing with scale like crazy. And that tickled my pickle, so to speak. So I did that for a couple of years.
And then when that department moved away, I’d always done accessibility stuff, it’s what I was kind of known for. And an opportunity arose in the accessibility team, and I joined the accessibility team about three years ago. So yeah, and then of course I got really ill. Had an operation, and the anesthetic went wrong. Woke up without my speech and movement and stuff, and then kinda like two years ago, my life changed completely.
I’ve continued working for the BBC throughout the lot, so there goes – sorry, it’s a bit of a potted history, there.
Nic: No, that’s, actually it’s quite good to illustrate how wonderful and varied backgrounds can be, and how people get to where they’re at. I think it’s fascinating. I was telling my wife yesterday that I do this podcast, and about 70 percent of the questions I ask people is generally the same, but every single conversation ends up being different and interesting and fascinating, so I really enjoy that.
Jamie: You know, I wrote a blog post many years ago called “Accessibility of an Industry”, and it was a question about how the accessibility industry itself can be accessed. And I think one of the conclusions that I had from it was that the accessibility industry, at the time I was thinking auditing and stuff. But the accessibility industry was well placed for somebody who couldn’t speak, or somebody who had lots of challenging social issues, as I would’ve called it at the time. You know, weak social skills.
Because a lot of the work was about precision, observation, memorizing, you know, knowing a set of rules back to front. A lot of technical skills. So I always thought that accessibility was quite a good industry for autistic people, and I kind of slipped into it. I wouldn’t say by accident, I slipped into it because I used these things. You know, I use screen zoom all the time.
Actually, the very first time I ever got asked to talk about accessibility was by Henny Swan, who again, another amazing person in my life who really influenced my life in great ways. Ian and Henny, effectively, they made my career. There’s no other way to put it. They were the people who saw what I was doing and gave me the guidance I needed to turn it into a job.
And I remember having a discussion with her once, and I just mentioned in passing that I’d built a screen reader, and at the time I didn’t really think anything of it, because I needed a better way to access material, because, you know, I was homeless at the time and for various reasons I didn’t have a great internet connection. And what I’d basically done was build a screen reader that would download the html for a website, pull out all the stuff I wanted, and then send it to me via MSN messages, because I had MSN for free from my phone.
So I had this little Nokia E61, and I lived in, effectively, a homeless hotel. A hostel. And I had free unlimited MSN messenger. So I ended up building this little web service that would go to web pages, scrape all the content, and I turned it into these files and then read the files to me. And at the time, of course, I didn’t realize what I’d done was something other people had done, it was kind of a necessity, because I didn’t have the internet connection.
So for a while, my Nokia phone was my only digital device. And in a roundabout way, I kind of, this is back in maybe 2007, 2008. I kind of caught the cloud of the smartphone right before Apple kicked off. You know, so probably 2006. And my only internet connection was my only connection to the world. I lived hundreds of miles away from anybody who I knew. So it was quite an experience to experience the world through this little digital straw.
You know, eventually I made connections in the area, I had a small office. I went to college. And you know, I built up connections. But for a while, this little Nokia E61 was everything. It was how I communicated, because I didn’t have speech. I’d write text messages and show them to people. It was how I talked to everybody in my life, it’s how I got work. You know, I can tell you now, editing html on a Nokia E61 is not for the faint of heart. But people would pay me to do it, and I needed to eat. So that’s what I did.
You know, and I’d go into the local library and use their computers, and then you know, a very kind chap gave me a MacBook as payment for doing some work, so my first Mac was a gift. And I kind of used it to do some work, and then kind of built up my company from there. I don’t have any qualifications in what I do. I don’t really have any qualifications at all, apart from in accounting. Because somebody decided that the autistic kid should learn how to be an accountant.
So you know, if you wanna talk about double entry bookkeeping or the pros and cons of IR-35, I’m entirely the wrong person, but I can certainly have that conversation. Which is kind of ironic, actually, because one of my side projects these days is transaction monitoring. So transaction monitoring, so this doesn’t relate to accessibility, but I’ll bring it round to that topic in a moment.
So transaction monitoring is one of those things where you take a huge amount of data and you’re looking for the needles in the haystack. So what you’re doing is you’re applying rules, rigid rules, in order to try and surface things that could be fraud or could be something dangerous, like terrorism. So what we do is we connect to a banking partner or somebody, we download all of the transaction data.
We analyze it, and we look for things like, I don’t know, care homes. You know, if it’s a known care home and they’re sending lots of money abroad, you know, over a certain limit, then we should flag that and then somebody will investigate it to make sure that nobody’s being manipulated or that the care home manager is aware that £20,000 a week is leaking out of the care home to, say, I don’t know, Poland or something.
So it’s these sorts of mechanical rules. And this actually relates to accessibility, because it’s fundamentally the same problem in that the financial world has regulations, and in the past the regulations were rigid. There were a set of rules. Something like the fourth money laundering directive. You know, they’re very WCAG-y in how they work. There are a set of rules to be applied and audited against.
So this didn’t really scale very well. So they moved in the early 2000s to something known as principles-based regulation, where what would happen is you’d have a high level principle like ‘customers are treated fairly’, and then every organization would have to explain to the regulator how they went about meeting that principle. So I think it was HSBC who have, if you make a complaint to HSBC and the product’s worth over £10,000, I think it’s a 7-day turnaround, it’s worth under £10,000, it’s a 14-day turnaround. That sort of thing.
So it took the problem and made it the other way around. Rather than here are a set of prescriptive rules, it was here are some guiding principles and please can you explain to us, the regulator, how you’re going to meet those principles in your interpretation for your business. And I think is a very effective, well, certainly very effective for financial regulation, which has to be very flexible. And I think it’s probably quite effective for accessibility as well.
In fact, the friend of mine that I’m working with on this transaction monitoring system, we joke that we basically have the same job in that we’re both, he’s a money laundering reporting officer. He’s like a strange combination of a lawyer and an accountant. And his job is to ensure that people follow regulations, and our job is to make sure that people make things that are accessible. We’re both kind of non-functional requirements in the kind of agile sense.
And another friend of ours who works in information security, he has the same experience. The, you know, the goal is the same thing to change behavior in a group of people or to meet a certain set of goals. Wow, sorry, that’s a bit of a side line there.
Nic: No, that’s good stuff, good stuff.
Jamie: And certainly, if you’re a small bank and you’re looking for transaction services provider, please contact me!
So we’ve been building this tool, and there’s this principles based regulation. And that’s actually ended up coming into my work in a multiple of different ways. So one of the ways it’s ended up informing my kind of accessibility work is that part of my job is this tools, teaching and technology. The technology side of that is looking towards the future. And part of looking towards the future is looking at technologies like VR, AR, and other types of immersive experience.
And it’s something that the BBC is doing, and we’re looking to do it scale. So we’re now in the process of building those tools, but we didn’t have a good accessibility side of it. Rather than taking an expert opinion and running a series of trials to test a theory to produce some guidelines, we’re trying to actually apply principle based regulation to the accessibility of VR.
So at the moment what we’re doing is we’re taking a bunch of different – this is what we’re doing over the next month and a half, it’s quite exciting. We’re taking a bunch of different VR experiences with different narrative types. So if you think about it, a linear narrative is like watching a 360 video. You can’t affect the story. An interactive narrative is like a pick your own adventure game.
You know, which way you look drives which bit of the story you see, so maybe you’re exploring a mine under road, and you can pick which tunnels you go down. But once you go into a tunnel, the narrative is fixed. And then you have kind of staged stories, which like a video game, where you play through a level and there’s no real story within the level, and then at the end of the level you have the boss and then after you complete that you then move on in the story.
So we’re taking VR equipment into care homes, we’re going to schools, we’re going to autism centers and learning disability organizations. And at this stage, all we’re doing is observing. So we’re setting the kit up and we’re letting people play with it. We’ve got a wonderful researcher called Amber Whitby who’s designing all the research sessions. But our goal is to have a wall of post-it notes of things that we’ve observed. And then from that we’re gonna try and pull out a set of principles for what we think makes for an accessible, immersive experience.
And I’m sure in the future, those principles will lead to specific guidelines or specific patterns, but we’re starting with that set of principles first. Or it could all go completely wrong, and we just end up needing to re-do the whole lot. But that’s the cost of experimentation, right? So you know, so. I can’t remember your original question, but I’ve chatted on about lots of things.
Nic: Yeah, you’ve jumped from one place to another, but this is really fantastic.
Yeah, it’s great. But let’s wrap it up for this week. Thanks Jamie, and thanks everyone. But 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