E45 – Interview with Elie Sloïm – Part 1


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Nic: Welcome to the Accessibility Rules podcast. You’re listening to Episode 45. I’m Nic Steenhout and I talk with people involved in one way or another with web accessibility. If you’re interested in accessibility, this show is for you. Note that the transcript for this show is available on the podcast website, https://a11yrules.com. Thanks to Twilio for sponsoring the transcript for this episode.

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This week I’m speaking to Elie Sloïm. Bonjour, Elie.

Elie: Bonjour, Nicolas.

Nic: Thanks for joining me for this conversation around web accessibility. I like to let guests introduce themselves. So, in a brief introduction, who’s Elie Sloïm?

Elie: I am the CEO at Opquast, a French company who works on the quality of the web. If you ask me who am I, I’m a chemical engineer. So I don’t have an initial training about IT or internet. First I worked on quality management in the oil industry and in the wine industry, because I live in Bordeaux. And when the web arrived … After the web arrived, but a few years after the creation of the web when I understood that the web was going to be something huge, I started a company, which is called Opquast, and we work about the quality of the websites. And we’ve been working on this question for 20 years now, nearly 20 years. Opquast was created in 2000.

Nic: Okay.

Elie: I’m a consultant-.

Nic: So-.

Elie: And, I give talks on various conferences. This is what I do for a living.

Nic: That must keep you busy.

Elie: Well, I’m quite busy, yes, I must admit.

Nic: To get warmed up, tell me one thing that most people would not know about you.

Elie: Wow. Well, maybe I told you first that I was a chemical engineer. When you work in the web industry, you’re not … an IT people, it’s not so obvious. So, I think not many people know that I’m a chemical engineer, and that will be enough for this.

Nic: That’s good, that’s actually very true that we look at you and we don’t immediately see a big sign above your head that’s flashing that says, Chemical Engineer, Chemical Engineer. So, yeah, it’s cool.

Elie: Yes. I ran a wine laboratory for a few years. This is something people don’t know about me also. For five years, I’ve been working, running an oenology laboratory.

Nic: Cool.

Elie: Wine, putting some strange things, some strange products in wines, just to understand the way they are, and to analyze them. It was another-

Nic: Excellent. So, we’re talking about web accessibility, but your main focus is web quality. How would you define web accessibility, and how does it tie to web quality?

Elie: When you talk about web accessibility, it’s directly related to web content accessibility guidelines that are the main standards when we just talk about people with disabilities. And, we’re talking also about content because web content accessibility guidelines are all about content. When we talk about web quality, we talk about content, we talk about people with disabilities, but we also talk about the whole experience, which doesn’t … who requires good contents, but not only good contents. It requires a global experience around contents and services. This is one main difference with this vision WCAG gives us.

The second difference is that, when we talk about web quality, we don’t look especially about what happens to people with disabilities. We just try to understand directly, what people need, and what we have to do, to ensure that everybody access the web, the contents, and also the services.

So, this is the two main difference. Quality is about people with disabilities, but quality is about people, and about their whole experience.

Nic: I like that. I think maybe quality is about inclusion, without focusing specifically on people with disabilities. Would that be the right? Inclusion of everyone, not just disabilities.

Elie: Inclusion of everyone. It’s also about taking care about risks in the project. Because sometimes you have projects that gives risks to the people. For example, you may have problems working on websites. So, we just need to identify the risks we have in all the web projects. It could be risks about production, about conception, about design, and also about the life of the project, about what happens when it’s online.

And what happens when it’s online, it’s only a part of the problem. So it would be the web quality, the way I present it, it’s a global view, which is about accessibility, obviously, but not only. It’s about security, it’s about preference, it’s about processes, it’s about SEO. It’s about everything we need to do, to ensure that a website works. And to ensure that the website does what it’s meant to do.

Nic: Right.

Elie: Tell me if I’m not clear.

Nic: Thank you. Yeah, no I think that’s quite clear. Thank you. So, what kind of work specifically do you do towards accessibility?

Elie: Towards accessibility? I must admit, I don’t want to work towards accessibility specially. I mean, we work on accessibility every day, but we don’t want to say that we work only for people with disabilities. We just consider everybody can have some problems. Can have some difficulties that could be permanent or temporary. And we don’t want to focus on disabilities. We want to ensure that everybody may go on the web and do what they want to do.

So, it’s hard for me to tell you that we do something that’s really special about accessibility. It could be more … I don’t know if … You’ve probably read the first principle of the Web4all, the principle of the WCCC who says regardless, giving access to … I don’t remember exactly, but giving access to everybody regardless their connection, their equipment, their material. It’s more like this … it’s more like giving everyone.

So, sometimes there’s special things we have to do to ensure that somebody with a screen reader for example, can access the web. But this is a part of what we have to do. We have to do it, but it’s not the only thing we have to do. So, I don’t know if you see it’s more like inclusion. It could be more like an inclusion vision of accessibility.

Nic: I’ve had discussions with people in the past where they get very upset when I promote accessibility and I say, look, you know, if you make something accessible, it’s also going to benefit people that don’t have accessibility issue, for example I know … I use the examples, if we are working on good color contrast it’s gonna be helpful for someone on a mobile phone outside in the sun, because they’re going to be able to see the text. Therefor talking about writing things in simple language is gonna be good for people with cognitive disabilities, but it’s also good for people that are maybe not native speaker of the language, or a mother that is trying to read information about babies while her baby’s sick. All these kind of things, people get upset about trying to make accessibility a more global thing. How do you feel about that?

Elie: Well, it’s not too easy for me, because when I do that. I mean explaining that when you do something to give access to people with disabilities, sometimes it’s interesting because you’re going to give access to much more people. What I see that sometimes it’s necessary to do that, to ensure people decide to do something. That’s really sad, because the rights of people with disabilities should be enough. But, in the field, it’s not always the case. So sometimes I have to tell people, okay, you’re going to work for people … you’re going to work for a SEO, even it’s not your … sometimes it works.

Sometimes that’s not a thing. Sometimes people know that, talking about the rights of people with disabilities, is the only way to ensure that accessibility is taken in account. I don’t think that it’s the only way. I need people … I have a lot of friends who do that, talk about the rights of the people that have accessibility. I don’t want to do that because my work is more technical, and not correctional.

You says, “Okay, what do we have to do to ensure that the website does what it’s meant to do?” And now, let’s not question if it’s interesting or not. Let’s not question if it’s right, or not. Let’s say it’s necessary for people, so let’s do it. I don’t feel comfortable. I have my own communication, I have my own way to talk about accessibility, about quality, and I think we don’t need one only discourse. You say discourse, you’re one only way to talk about accessibility.

There’s not much to talk about accessibility. We need people who works on rights, we need people who works on accessibility and the content. We need people to work around quality, but they’re going on the same way. I don’t want to be seen as a traitor, you know. When I say it’s gonna be useful for everybody. That’s quite simple, because I feel people with disabilities, it’s not somebody else, it’s me also. It’s me, in ten years. It’s my son, it’s my daughter, it’s my wife, it’s my friend. It’s me in another time, so I don’t want to make a … I don’t like this invisible frontier between you. Because you have to define that. Just tell me if I talk too much Nicolas.

Nic: No, it’s good, it’s good. I love it.

Elie: You just feels that you gonna say, okay, I’m recognized as a disabled people. So now you have to work for me, but I’m not recognized as a disabled people because my national administration doesn’t agree, and I don’t … I’m not recognized officially. So now I don’t have the rights. So it would be an invisible frontier. What would be this invisible frontier? The … you said that you have to see-

Nic: Impairment.

Elie: Yeah, impairment, sorry. You don’t have to be recognized as a disabled people to have the right to access the web. So, for me it’s more simple to say, okay let’s not discuss this, let’s do that.

Nic: Yeah, I like that. I like two things about what you say. The first thing I really like is this aspect that we need more than one way to present accessibility. I think that’s really important because people understand different things in different ways, and if everybody talks about accessibility the same way, there’s gonna be people that don’t understand.

The other aspect is, if we say it’s only people with disabilities that can talk about this, or that have accessibility needs, how do you define a disability? Is it a question of census data, is it a question of health registration. Is it a question of service, or what is it? So I think these two aspects are really important. And no, you don’t talk too much Elie, you bring some really interesting points, thank you.

Elie: One more thing about what you just said. I have a few friends, I have a lot of friends who talk about accessibility with different ways, different levels of engagement. Some are … they just work for our social justice, other ones are talking about business, other ones are talking about legal aspects. We can’t have for any subject, I mean what I’m going to say is about accessibility, it’s true about everything in the world.

You can’t have the good and the bad. You can’t have just two views, I mean somebody who’s against accessibility, or who’s against people with disabilities because it doesn’t accept one way to talk about that. We need nuance. We need to have rich discussions. So, it’s obvious on Twitter. Sometimes talking on Twitter, you quickly get on one side or the other. I mean, I think I spent half of my life working for people and obviously for people with disability. Talking with some people I may feel I’m a traitor, I don’t do the right thing. I don’t want that, and I don’t accept this, so, for me it’s very important to talk very often with a lot of people with disabilities and to check that they need what we are doing about inclusive design and web qualities.

So early, when we talk about security issues, when we talk about disability issues, when we talk about web performance, when we talk about the services, when we talk about the delivery conditions of goods on the web, people with disabilities, they leave that. There’s no question. So it’s a way to talk about the right thing, but we need everybody.

Nic: Yeah. How did you become aware of the importance of web accessibility? Obviously you know, you started with a quality mindset you moved to the web. How did accessibility come to your awareness? How did you not realize suddenly, hey, this exists and it’s important?

Elie: Well, I must admit that I spent a few years working on evaluation sheets, especially in the education or in the health sector. And you know, we’re talking about quality of the contents, quality of the website, technical quality, but usually they didn’t … I mean, I’m talking about the period between 2000 and 2003 around. And all those evaluation sheets they weren’t talking about web accessibility, they were talking about people with disabilities.

And then thanks to the work of community and a non-profit association organization which is called Drynet, I heard about web accessibility, and then I came in a project which was called Openweb, which I ran. It’s a non-profit project when we wrote a lot of articles, a lot of posts about making a better web. And so I just realized that not only working on web accessibility is something important, but also that it was the hearts of the value. That it’s something technically and philosophically interesting to work on the web.

I mean, working on accessibility, working on special needs, it gives you a way to think about the way you conceive, the way you design, the way you think a service. It’s a very interesting way to think. That’s what’s really interesting in the inclusive design movement and in the UX movement. I mean, we need to think our UI’s our experience is not for a medium user, but for all the users.

I think that’s quite productive, it’s quite interesting. So, I started in 2005 and then I was a specialist. When you work on quality, and when you’re a quality manager, there’s always a standard, there’s always a checklist, there’s always some documents behind. My job is to objectify, to objective, how would you say that?

Nic: I’m not actually sure.

Elie: To give less objectivity to a subject. So, we work on documents, and we try to “objectivate” the subject. We had this knowledge, we had this know how, so we worked first on quality standards, and then we chosen to … we’ve been chosen to write the first version of the National Standards in French. It’s what they called [inaudible 00:23:11]

Nic: Okay.

Elie: So we took that like a quality standard, and this standard still exist, now it’s maintained by another company, but it’s still the National Standard in French.

Nic: And I’m gonna wrap up this segment of our chat for this week, and thank you for listening. If you enjoyed the show, please do tell your friends about it. You can get the transcript for this and all other shows at accessibilityrules.com.

And thanks once again to Twilio for supporting the transcript for this episode.