E50 – Interview with Bri Norton – Part 2

Continuing my conversation with Bri Norton. She reminds us that making accessible sites is good for people with disabilities, but it’s also good for our future selves who may have impairments in the future!


Thanks to Twilio for sponsoring the transcript for this episode.

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Nic: Welcome to the A11y Rules podcast. This is Episode 50. I’m Nic Steenhout, and I talk with people involved, in one way or another, with web accessibility. If you’re interested in accessibility, hey, this show’s for you. To get today’s show notes, or a transcript, head out to https://a11yrules.com.

Nic: Thanks to Twilio for sponsoring the transcript for this episode. Twilio, connect the world with the leading platform for voice, SMS, and video at twilio.com. Before I talk to my next guest, I have to say, I’m quite excited to tell there’s Accessibility Rules branded products now available. There’s t-shirts, hoodies, hats, mugs, and more. Check out the Accessibility store at https://a11y.store.

Nic: Hello everyone. So, in this episode, I’m continuing my conversation with Bri Norton. Last show was really awesome. We spoke about how augmented reality could free some of people that may have limitations, and being stuck at home. We talked about empathy, and how developing empathy by talking to users, to see actually who uses your system, will make you a better developer. So, if you haven’t checked out the show last week, do check it out. And, welcome back Bri. Thanks for bearing with me while I grill you with questions.

Bri: Thanks Nic, I’m really enjoying it.

Nic: Cool. Let’s get started with something really positive. What would you say your greatest achievement is, in terms of web accessibility.

Bri: Oh. I was going to say, since I’ve been back … The last three years I’ve been a conference convener for Aussie Way, the annual Australian accessibility conference. It’s been amazing. I’ve learnt so much more about the wonderful community that’s out there. It’s introduced me to the larger, more international community, when I went to CSUN this year. I think that, in itself, is just understanding that community, and being a part of it, and understanding that I can make a difference there, I think is pretty cool.

Bri: But, one of the things that came out of the OZeWAI, and I think one of achievements, is that my children are understanding a lot more about what it means with web accessibility. My daughters, the last three years, have helped at Aussie Way, as volunteers. And I think they’ve learnt a lot, just by being there, but also found those connections, as well. So, I think that’s a pretty good achievement, when you feel like you brought your kids up right.

Nic: Yeah. Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see, in maybe 10 or 15 years, if they become geeks, and work in accessibility too. Or, if they just have that general knowledge that makes everything better, when you think about accessibility.

Bri: Yes. I can a little bit of that in there already, just in the way that they’re … They’re just open to new ideas, and understand how diverse people can be, and just being aware of it, it’s good.

Nic: So the flip side to your greatest achievement. What would you say is your greatest frustration, for web accessibility?

Bri: I think it’s when people think it’s not important. When they just kind of sideline it. We did some empathy mapping with our local accessibility community last week to kind of get an idea of what does it mean to be an accessibility practitioner? To learn, and then also through an experienced one. And one of the things that came out of the experienced practitioner was the lack of value and recognition for that. The idea that you’re not a front-end developer, building those UI interfaces, but you’re making them accessible for people. So, you might not be building them, but you’re working with them to build it right.

Bri: So, it is really, really important, but, yeah … Whether that’s seen as something that’s … It’s gonna take a while, still, to educate people, probably. But, yeah, I think that’s frustration. I think we need to be aware that it is really important. And when we talk about it, to not just kind of move it to the side.

Nic: Yeah. I share that frustration with you, I have to admit. And, every time I talk to people, I manage to chip at this block of resistance, a little bit at a time. And, the question I’m asking myself is, how do we make that change happen faster? Because it’s not really sustainable to change the world one person at a time. It’s better than nothing, of course, but I would like to have a better reach to figure out how to reach people, at large, and make them understand how important it is. I don’t think you’ll have an answer, because nobody really has an answer. Otherwise, we’d have done it. But, I like to ask that question at large to people, and they’re listening to you, Bri. I don’t know if you have a flash of insight to tell me how do we reach more than one person, or a dozen persons, per workshop, at a time?

Bri: Yeah. It’s a really difficult one. One of the things I think we’re trying to do here, the Australian government, is to bring people along on that journey. And that includes everyone in the team. So, when you start bringing everyone in the team, in that journey, and they build that understanding of why they’re building something, then they’re more likely to take that to other systems, and other projects. So, kind of that snowball effect. But, it’s going to take a long time, unfortunately. But, we still, as you say, have to keep chipping at it, ’cause it’s worth it. And, as we talked about previously, it’s rewarding, and we need to know that we can still try and make a difference.

Nic: Do you think there’s one thing that everybody knows about web accessibility?

Bri: Oh. I think there’s the idea there’s conformance, or the compliance, the WCAG. That doesn’t necessarily mean they … They don’t necessarily know what that means. So, they’ll say, “WCAG,” but it won’t click. So, I tend to call it accessibility conformance. We need to make sure it meets those kind of criteria that are in there, but then they just think that that’s it, and it’s automated, and it’s easy. And it’s actually not. So. Yeah. I think that’s one of the things that’s a mindset that needs to change. And that’s also gonna take a while.

Nic: What do you think the number one reason most people fail to succeed with web accessibility is?

Bri: I think it’s not considering it earlier on. You know, we’ve been talking about bringing in the whole team early. In the Australian government here, we’re working towards a more agile way of working that accessibility criteria into the definition of done. Or, what is good? What is that success criteria that we need in there, for those kind of small sprints that you go through? Making sure that it’s embedded in there. I think that’s useful. Yeah. I think, mainly, just to engage, and also to engage a diverse range of users, early on. Don’t think that you can just, “oh, you know, I could just ask a few people.” You’ll get so much more information if you can … And I guess this is, how to avoid that, I guess, the failure is, yeah, just by talking to a lot more of your user base, and a diverse range of them, rather than just a select few.

Nic: I like the idea that people would do much better with accessibility if they really implemented it from the start. I have this example I tend to give when I do workshops. It’s comparing web accessibility to the building enviroment. You know? If you build a house, and you have two steps, and a narrow door, it’s gonna cost you an arm and a leg to make it wheelchair friendly, because you’re gonna have to remove the steps, build a ramp. You’re gonna have to do a big hole in the wall, and remove the narrow door, put a wider door. But if you had done it accessible from the start, your extra cost my have been maybe an extra two or three percent, because a wider door may be more expensive now than the narrow door. Although, that will change over time, because more and more people will demand wide doors, and that’s going to become the norm.

Nic: So, in the same context, might be a little more expensive to build something accessible from the start, because maybe not all your designers, not all your developers have these skills. But as we go on, and more and more devs and designers have accessibility skills, suddenly the extra costs become negligible to make that happen.

Bri: Yeah. I agree. And, I think, too, just by designing, and bringing that in early, it comes down to those different kind of situations. You’re talking about the larger door. I had twin girls. I needed a larger stroller. I’d want a [crosstalk 00:10:20] put that through. So, it’s gonna benefit a lot of other people. And I think digital, and digital products, and systems, are all similar. You’re gonna benefit a lot of other people if you consider that accessibility, and embedding that in earlier.

Nic: It’s a conversation I’ve had quite a bit lately, this concept that accessibility is good for everyone. That, if you address … good color contrast is gonna be good for people with low vision, but it’s also gonna be good for people that are trying to read your website, on their mobile phone, outside in full sun. If you use plain English, it’s gonna be good for people that have, maybe, cognitive disabilities, but it’s also gonna be good for non-native English speakers, and for someone who maybe played rugby, or football, and got hit on the head once to many times. Or, maybe the mother with a struggling infant in her arms, that’s trying to get information and has her attention divided. So, yeah, accessibility does benefit everyone.

Bri: It does. Yeah. And I think, when you look at that building analogy, there was a show … I’ll need to send you a link for this show, called Q&A, that last night I watched. They had a panel of people with a variety of disabilities. And one of the things that came up was the lack of special housing for them, because people are just not building them right. And where are these people going to live? They need a wide variety of options in how things are built, and digital’s the same. We do need to be considering this earlier on, because it’s gonna come back and bite us later. In Australia, we’ve got an older population. They’re gonna need a lot more of that support, and we’re not setting ourselves up to provide it, unfortunately.

Nic: What are the greatest challenges for the field of accessibility, moving forward? You know, the community that does day in/day out accessibility. What are our challenges, do you think?

Bri: Well, I think it’s keeping up with any new tech, so that we … And I think that’s why that community is wonderful, because you’ll find someone who’ll jump on quickly, and become the expert. And they’re willing to share, which is wonderful. So, everyone shares what they learn. There’s a wonderful guy here, in Australia, Ross Mullen, who has done a lot of work around chat bots. And he’s now someone I call on, “Come on. Come and help us out here. They’re jumping ahead with all these chat bots in government. Let’s talk to Ross. He’ll show you how to do it right.”

Bri: So I think there’s keeping up with the new tech, and finding those people that find their interest, and working on them, as a community. But it’s also keeping the accessibility, kind of, aspects of this in the front of people’s minds, all the time, as this new technology comes along. That’s gonna be really important.

Nic: Yeah. So, we can’t just rest on what we’ve done. We have to continually remind people about the importance of accessibility.

Bri: Yup. It’s an ongoing thing. You kind of think, well, we’ll get to a stage where we don’t need to do this anymore, but then the new tech, and some … Unless it’s kind of in our education process, and just a change of society, where we just think of everyone, it’s still a little bit of an uphill battle for us. But, keeping it in front of people’s minds, I think we can do that, and we can do it the right way, so it’s positive.

Nic: What’s the right way?

Bri: I think bringing them along for that ride. Getting them to connect, and network, and understand who their users are. Who people in society are. That everyone is valuable. And I think, just by continuing that, and doing that with a positive mindset … I think we’re friendly. I know the community’s wonderful and supportive. There’s no lack of, “Come and join us. Come and join us. Be a part of this,” so, encouraging that. And I think it would be really beneficial for everyone, even new people who want to get involved.

Nic: Approach it positively, rather than with a big stick. “Hey, you should do this, because otherwise, if you don’t do it, you’ll get sued.” Yeah. That’s not very pleasant.

Bri: It’s not. That’s still there, in the background, and that’s where maybe our policies and legislation can say, “Don’t do that.” But, we still have the guides of how to do it. Like give them the advice to do it right, and that guidance and that support that they need.

Nic: If you were to not be a geek, not be working in government, not be working with accessibility, what profession would you like to attempt?

Bri: I think I would, and I’ve done a little bit of this before, I could definitely go back to doing this, is be an event organizer. I love organizing Aussie Way. And yeah, I think that that’s something … I’m a very organized person, according to my children tell me. Otherwise, a travel agent, I think. I think I’d be a travel agent. One of those two.

Nic: Travel agent, or event organizer. I’m trying to draw links between those two professions and geeky accessibility kind of person, and I’m having difficulty. Sometimes the links are obvious, but right now I’m actually not seeing that link.

Bri: Yeah. I don’t know, I think it’s more to do with my love for travel. I do enjoy that. I love meeting people. I love connecting. So, I think there is a lot of … that part of it, I think I would enjoy. And events, as well, it’s about connecting the right people together. So, yeah. I don’t know how long I’d last. I think I’ve found my niche, at the moment. I’m really enjoying it. But yeah, those other aspects still kind of pop up. The travel and the events.

Nic: Who inspires you, Bri, and why?

Bri: There’s actually a few people. Especially the people I’ve met through the community themselves. The Aussie Way, the CSUN, the working groups. There’s so many people that give so much more of themselves than they really have time for. I don’t know if it’s necessarily one person, but I think there’s definitely the aspects of the people in that community that do some pretty amazing things, that inspire me. I want to be like them, and do the right thing. And there’s a sense of support, and camaraderie, that “we can do it together.” I think the accessibility community networks themselves inspire me.

Nic: Yeah. I think it’s quite amazing how many people in the community do give of themselves beyond just a nine to five job. For many of us, it seems to be a passion, and the day ends, and we don’t just wrap it up. We gon on Facebook. We go on Slack. We go talk at conferences. We share knowledge. And I do think that’s fantastic of the accessibility community, as a whole. And it is inspiring.

Bri: Yeah. Definitely. I like being a part of it, and I love meeting the people in this community. And I encourage any of my colleagues, or workmates, to join and be a part of that as well. ‘Cause everyone gets benefits from it.

Nic: Let’s wrap it up, and finish with one more question for you. What is the one thing people should remember about accessibility?

Bri: This one is difficult. Probably, think about their situation, or the aspect of that it might affect you. It affects everyone, at some stage, whether it’s permanent, or temporary. It’s about your situation. And I think that’s one thing we all need to remember then. It is important, and one day, it could be even more important for ourselves, or someone close to us, or friends, or colleagues. It’s something that we do need to remember that your situation can change, and we need to be aware of that, and plan for it. And we can do that, and make it more comfortable, and convenient for everyone, if we do this right.

Nic: I like that. It’s one of the things that, in the disability community, we often say. People aren’t able-bodied, they are temporarily able-bodied. And I sometimes wonder if that’s not trying to push accessibility with a bit of fearmongering. I mean, it’s reality. At some point we will have a functional impairment of one way or another. Whether it’s a broken arm, or a hip replacement, as we grow older, but-

Bri: And it’s sometimes long-term. So, I think of, as people get older, their eyesight can decline, and there’s aspects of that that’s about your situation. And you’ve got no control over that. Or, sometimes you do, but really you don’t. And I don’t know if it’s fearmongering, it’s just being practical, and using your common sense that, you know, things can change. And we should be able to provide services, products, whatever we need to, to make sure that everyone can access what we need, no matter what their situation is.

Nic: Yeah. So, basically, you’re saying design for your future self. Right?

Bri: Yeah. It is a bit of that, but understanding that there’s people out there that need it now. So, it’s about anyone’s situation but, considering that yours could change though. And we need to be aware of that, and plan for it.

Nic: Wonderful. Bri, thank you so much for being such a good sport, and answering my questions. And, for those listeners out there, thank you for being a faithful listener, or a new listener, and I’ll catch you around.

Bri: Thank you Nic.

Nic: Cheers.

Nic: Everyone out there, thank you for listening to the show. I hope you enjoyed it. And if you do, please do tell your friends about it. You can get the transcript for this, and all of the shows, at https://a11yrules.com And, a quick reminder, you can get yourself some neat Accessibility Rules branded swag at https://a11y.store. Catch you next time.