E46 – Interview with Elie Sloïm – Part 2


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Nic: Welcome to the Accessibility Rules Podcast. You’re listening to Episode 46. I’m Nic Steenhout, and I talk with people involved in one way or another with web accessibility. If you’re interested in web accessibility, this show’s for you.

Do note that the transcript for the show is available on the podcast website, https://a11yrules.com. Thanks to Twilio for sponsoring the transcript for this episode. Twilio, connect the world with the leading platform for voice, SMS and video. http://Twilio.com.

This week I’m continuing my chat with Ellie Sloïm.

Has your view of accessibility changed in the last 15 years?

Ellie: I think it has to change. I think it has to change. First, it’s not only a way … It’s only a goal. It’s not only a standard state that we have to reach. It’s more a track we have to follow. It’s more like a [foreign language 00:01:23], a way. This is the first thing.

It’s about continual, continuous improvements. It’s about improving the websites, and it’s not only something that we have to do on the website. I mean checking the code or checking the contents, or checking the ergonomy or the usability of the website around users with special needs. It’s a way to think the experiences …

It’s a way to take in account all the users. So for me it’s more like a philosophy than a technical standard.

Nic: Yeah.

Ellie: There is something else I’m interested in. Last year I gave a talk with a Denis Boudreau, somebody you know very well. I think …

Nic: Yeah.

Ellie: About artificial intelligence and accessibility. Very interesting things are going to happen in this field. It’s going to change, and I’m not sure that our actual standards and the way we work with them are going to be the right way to … I must not say the right way. I should say the only way. It’s not going to be the only way.

Nic: Okay.

Ellie: We are going towards UX. That’s quite clear. We are going to check the UXs. We are going to check the user’s experiences, and we are going to work on inclusive design.

Nic: Right.

Ellie: I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but we have to be really aware about what happens right now. We have to work on quality on web accessibility standard and all when you work on web quality standards. I don’t know if my story is clear, but that’s the questions … These are the questions I’m asking myself right now. What’s going … It’s going to be very interesting, but we have to be sure that we use the good tools and the right way to think.

Nic: Yeah. So you were instrumental in writing the French accessibility standard. Is that your greatest achievement in terms of accessibility or is there something else that you did that is making you really proud?

Ellie: I have two things I’m really proud of. The first is my model. This is a model which is called VPTCS, which I wrote in 2000, and that I presented in season last month. It is about, VPTCS is about visibility perception, technique, content, and services. It’s about the user experience in general. I think it’s … If I just leave one thing, it’s going to be this model.

It’s not perfect. But it’s really, really interesting when you use it to think the user experience and to think our jobs in the IT sector. That’s what I’ve done last month in season and I think I had a full room and I think people were really interesting about this model. This is a first thing I am proud of. Then, it’s a way to think about accessibility in general.

I’m going to give you an example. We talk about VPTCS, about content and services. When the people with an impairment, a visibility, goes on the web, sometimes what you want is not only the content. You want to access the content, because you want to have the good at home. You want something to be delivered at home. You want a software. You want something that’s not on the user interface.

That’s something that will come later. So this model was quite interesting. I don’t want to spend too much time about this. That would be the first thing. Then there would be the awkward good practices that aren’t quite interesting. But it’s not like a tool. It’s less original. It’s more like an evaluation sheet which is extended to other problems like security, like trust, like anticipating what’s going to happen next to a user, even when he left the user interface.

Nic: Yeah, that’s important stuff. I like that. Thank you for sharing that with us, and thank you for putting that information out there for people to use. It’s good.

Ellie: Thank you about that.

Nic: Is there anything that frustrates you in terms of web accessibility?

Ellie: As a quality manager, what frustrates me is the poor level of culture of global culture and common culture of the web professionals. It’s really only road for me to talk about people working on their silos. My frustration is not only about web accessibility. It’s about my industry in general.

When I talk about it with people, with accessibility experts, they don’t understand the basics of security that are really important for people with disabilities. They don’t understand the basics of performance. When I talk to a salesperson, he doesn’t even care about accessibility. Everybody works in their silo. There’s no culture. There’s no, “This is what I do now. This is what I do for a living.”

Promoting a global culture, a global vocabulary, something that we share everybody. That we stop working; everybody works in their silo, in their proper silo. I don’t know if I’m clear, but we are all at the centers. Maybe right now, in big IT companies we have people installing tools about, for improving accessibility. Those tools aren’t going to tell you, “Okay, set up a structure for your titles.”

Okay. So in another service, in the same company, we will have people working on SEO. Doing the same things, with other tools. They work on the same process. They do the same thing.

Nic: Yeah.

Ellie: When running the global view, maybe the UX could give you, could give us this global view. But right now, UX people, they don’t know the basics of performance. They don’t know the basics of security. They don’t know the basics of accessibility to disabled people. They don’t have this common culture.

They just think about one perfect user, but there’s a lot of users. We don’t have to discover them. We know them. We know we have a lot of context. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel all the time. So now you can feel I’m quite frustrated. I’m frustrated by silos.

Nic: Yeah, I’ve spoken to many people about this topic before for the show, and you’re the first person to bring up that aspect, that everybody knows what they know. It’s a very narrow focus, and I think if we were all able to lift our heads and look around us and gain awareness of other elements of our work, because it is our work, even if I’m an accessibility specialist.

It is my work to understand at least a minimum about performance and security and UX. So I do think that would be a wonderful improvement for the web in general, and for web users, if web professionals had a better understanding. I know one of my frustration along those lines is the number of developers who … No, they know React very well. They know Angular very well. They know this library or that library, but when they come to write HTML, they seemed to not even know the basics.

That frustrates me, and I think its maybe along the same lines that we really need to expand our horizons.

Ellie: We need to have a global culture. What I said in season this month is that in the medicine industry, when you have a problem, you have general practitioners. First, you talk about and you talk to your general practitioner. Then you may go to see your cardiologist or your neurologist. That’s every specialist in this industry, as a common trunk, this is what we try to do with our quests. We try to set up a common trunk.

I don’t know if it’s the right common trunk. But I feel, I’m sure we need it.

Nic: Yeah. What do you think the greatest challenges for the field of accessibility moving forward?

Ellie: Alternatives.

Nic: What do you mean?

Ellie: We are talking right now about no UI. We’re all talking about assistants. We are talking about vocal assistant. We are talking about technologies when you don’t need … Are you still here? I just … Yes.

Nic: I’m here. I’ve just had to mute my microphone for a second.

Ellie: So we have no UI interfaces. We have new interfaces. I think we are … Everybody thinks because it’s a huge fashion, it’s a huge movement right now, that we are going to be able to do assistance, to do vocal assistance like Alexa, and that they won’t need to be accessible, that they won’t need alternatives.

But every time we do a technology, we set up a new technology. Every time we release a new material, a new equipment, we have to think about the way it’s going to be accessible to everybody. I can feel that not everything we are going to do during the next years will have alternatives.

I mean if you don’t … If you are blind, you may have huge problems using your washing machine, because of the screen that doesn’t let you. So we have to be really careful about that. That’s why inclusive design is really important. Because we have to think first when we do new equipments, and new interfaces that we have to check that there’s alternatives for everyone.

The other danger I can feel is that everybody making that we are going to lose those streams and those user interfaces, stream based user interfaces. I think it’s … We will still need websites. Website is not going to die. So I’m quite afraid that as there’s a new fashion, as their connected object, as their new assistance that people go, “Okay, it solves all of our problems.”

Right now we don’t need web accessibility. We don’t need web quality. We don’t have to work on the website. I’ve lived that in 2007 with the Web two. And I’ve lived that with the user generated content, but I’ve lived that with Second Life. I’ve lived that … I’ve seen a lot of fashions. I’ve lived that with Pokemon. Every time there’s new fashions and we have to be really careful that if there’s something new, it doesn’t kill all the rest.

It doesn’t kill all the rest.

Nic: Yeah.

Ellie: We still have to work on web accessibility and we will probably will still have to work about the quality of the web in five years. I don’t know if you agree, but …

Nic: Oh, yeah. I totally agree with that. It’s something that we as a community tend to focus on the latest and greatest and shiny technology, but you’re right. We have to keep the basics in mind. We have to make sure that people have different ways to access content, different ways to access systems, and hardware and software. So yeah, alternatives is definitely something we must remember.

Ellie: I agree.

Nic: One last question for you Ellie, if there was one thing you would like people to remember about web accessibility, what would it be?

Ellie: Users. That would be users, because …

Nic: Users.

Ellie: When we welcome the web, we use very good connections. The customer, the client and the producer uses good connection they all have the same abilities, big screen. They work in full comfort. And a few seconds later, for example, in Paris they go in the cube, in the metro, and they have a huge problem because the webpage is 10 mega octet heavy. So we tend to forget the users. We need to be aware about users, about their needs, and not about a medium user, but about an infinity of context, an infinity of problems, an infinity of difficulties, an infinity of fears, of equipments.

It’s what’s wonderful working in this, because I don’t … It’s not like when I work on print or when I’m working on the car. I’m working on something that’s going to be changed, stretched, destroyed, vocalized by … So that would be my favorite one, users.

Nic: Yeah. Thank you. I’m interested because I was speaking to Sharron Rush last week. I don’t know if you remember Sharron, but I asked her this question. What’s the one thing people have to … What’s the one thing that people should remember about accessibility? She pretty much said the same thing. It’s about people. It’s about the user, and I think it’s nice to hear this similar conceptualization about accessibility from people that are in Europe, that are in the States, that are all over the place, but at the end, we come back down to what’s the most important thing.

It reminds me of a Maori proverb that comes from New Zealand. It’s basically asking, “What is the most important thing?” The response is “He tangata. He tangata. He tangata.“, which is it is people, it is people, it is people. So I love it when people I speak to about accessibility have this concept of importance that we’re not doing this for the fun of technology. We’re not doing this because we can. We’re not doing this because it’s the right thing to do or the legal thing to do. We’re doing this because we have people at the other end of the line that actually need to use what we’re doing.

Ellie: You spell “He tangata. He tangata. He tangata.”?

Nic: Yeah. “He tangata. He tangata. He tangata.“. It is two words. H-E and then another word T-A-N-G-A-T-A. I will send you a link to that proverb, Ellie. Ellie, thank you so much for your time today, and it’s been great talking to you.

Ellie: Thank you very much.

Nic: Thank you. 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 https://a11yrules.com. Thanks once again to Twilio for supporting the transcript for this episode.