E56 – Interview with Becky Gibson – Part 2

Becky talks about accessibility needing to be in the curriculum for all computer science courses – and I couldn’t agree more!


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Nic:    Welcome to the Accessibility Rules Podcast. This is episode 56. 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 transcript, head out to 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 at Twilio.com.

So in this episode, I’m continuing my conversation with Becky Gibson. Last show was really awesome. We spoke about Lotus. We spoke about IBM and the formation of WCAG 2.0 and ARIA. So all kinds of really great stuff. Do check it out if you haven’t already.

Becky, welcome back.

Becky:    Yeah. Thanks, Nic. This is great.

Nic:    Yeah, so are you ready for more grilling?

Becky:    Sure. Why not.

Nic:    Why not. Alright, so we ended up last week on a fairly positive note talking about your greatest achievement and that was your involvement with ARIA and making the Dojo toolkit accessible.

If we were to veer toward maybe, not negative but not so positive thing … What would you say your greatest frustration is in terms of Web Accessibility?

Becky:    I think it’s attitude of people. I guess part of it too is that we don’t make people aware of it. We don’t educate students, right? It’s like you learn so many things when you go to school and you learn a different programming language, why is accessibility not built into the curriculum? And I know that Teach Access is trying to work somewhat toward that, the group. But I just find that frustrating that people have no idea about it. I mean you still– like I mentioned in the last time … I was never going to stand up and tell people about Alt text on images and labels on form elements but when I look at websites I feel that I still have to because it– people don’t know that. They still– it’s not common knowledge which, when you’re in the industry is– it’s like, those are so simple. That’s the simple stuff, you know? Just keep it simple stupid, do the easy stuff. So …

Nic:    Yeah

Becky:    I mean I keep having in my mind I want to write a book. Well, yeah unless I dedicate myself into that. And then you’ve got to get someone to read it. So I’ve been thinking a lot about how to help bring accessibility education into Colleges and Universities. And it is a pretty daunting task, but, it’s something that I’ll keep working on in my subconscious.

Nic:    It is something that’s mission critical. You’re not the first person to bring that point and every time I talk about that I can’t help thinking, this was a battle that I was having in the 90’s with architecture schools. But architects are going through four, five years of training and they get an average four-hour tuition on building accessibility. And we’re facing the same thing with Computer Science nowadays is that people come out of that and they don’t even know it exists, so there’s not even that flicker of awareness that maybe curiosity is going to push them to read up on it.

Becky:    Right.

Nic:    Yeah. So how do we fix that?

Becky:    Well, I don’t know. I’ve talked to some of the people at WebAim, just because they’re fighting this battle as well. And it’s like how– you have to get it into– it has to be part of the curriculum. It has to be authorised. There’s rules. I’m like, “Oh crap, it’s never going to …” But I guess we have to start somewhere and then I know some of the surveys teach Access as there’s no textbooks and I started thinking about that. But I’m like … Okay, but do you have one textbook that covers Java and PHP and HTML. Or do you try to go to each of the textbook authors and try to get them to add chapters about it? And offer to help them? I spent so– in some of that I think that’s what we have to do we have to try to do what we can to get it into the curriculum. And I’m still waving my hands because I’ve really just started thinking a little bit more seriously about this but definitely– and even going into the schools. When I– I was always very good. IBM volunteered for engineers weak in different things. So whenever I would go to the school I would tell them what I did. I’m like, “Oh, ask the kids”. Usually middle school. “How does a blind person use a computer?” I mean, that’s the one they can most identify because it’s visual. And you know, some of them will know and some of them won’t and they’ll, you know, I try to get them into the conversation at least being aware and thinking about it.

Nic:    Yeah. It’s one of these things that is so important and sometimes it feels like we have to do nearly one on one awareness building with the powers that be. With the gatekeeper in terms of curriculum and all that.

Becky:    And that’s why I think technology … again I go back to you when we spoke last time. The whole thing about technology, because some of these– at least the children are expecting things to work. They expect to be able to talk to the computer, or Alexa or– and have it work. And so if it doesn’t– and unfortunately that doesn’t always connect to accessibility … but it at least makes them aware of the different interfaces into technology.

Nic:    Yeah. Yeah, because voice input is really growing in terms of methodology to interact with a computer. Right?

Becky:    Yeah. A long time ago we didn’t think we would ever be at this state. Everybody was always, “Oh in a few more years, in a few more years…”, well, finally a few more years is– we are reaching that. That we can– I’m not a big fan of talking to the computer. I don’t use Siri as much as I probably could but I see the benefit of it and I see… and I’m not quite sure I want to have a device listening to me talk to myself in my home. But I can see the value of that and once we get over those sort of privacy hurdles I think those of us that are older have more issues with that than some of the younger folks.

Nic:    Yeah. How does privacy relate to accessibility?

Becky:    You know, that’s a good one. That’s one of the things that I’m part of the personalisation taskforce at the W3C and that’s one of the issues. If you knew a person … people often don’t want to self identify as having a disability when they’re on the web so they’re reluctant to say, “I’m using a screen reader” in fact there isn’t even a way– a convoluted way to even figure out if someone is and people don’t often want to admit that or they don’t want to admit they have– they want larger text because … okay, I can relate to those. I’m a 50 plus-year-old person in computers and everyone around me is– can be my children. They don’t get why my screen might have larger font size. They will in 20 years or so… So, you don’t often want to admit those things. So that’s sort of where privacy comes in is letting people keep their information to themselves but yet providing the tools that make it easier for them to interact with your application.

Nic:    Yeah. One of the topics that invariably comes up at conferences, when I go speak at conferences, is this concept from developers that, “Why can’t I get metrics about which type of disability comes to my website?” or “How come I can’t– I can detect the browser, I can detect geolocation … all this information. Why can’t I have access to their disability status? Because I want to serve them something that’s going to be more useful”. And I bring up this issue. Privacy. And maybe we don’t want to advertise on the web everywhere that we have a disability. Maybe it’s the only place anywhere that we can actually not be first perceived as somebody who has a disability. And I think that privacy is really important. At the same time if we had access to be able to determine, “Hey this person is using NVDA and Firefox, maybe we will be able to tweak the website for them better”. What do you think of that dichotomy between the two needs?

Becky:    Yeah I think about that sometimes. Especially with personalisation. I’m like, “Well, why would you care if somebody knows that you don’t want to use numbers?” Or whatever. And a part of me says that and the other part of me says, “No, I can see why you don’t want to reveal too much about yourself”. So much about ourselves is on the internet if we care to share it, via Facebook or any other social media site. But to me it’s like, if you start building for one person, one type of disability then how– you’re potentially not going to help someone else. Right?

Nic:    Yeah.

Becky:    So you can’t say, “Oh, okay, so this percentage are using Firefox and NVDA so I’m going to make sure I only test with Firefox and NVDA. As far as screen readers go”. So I think that’s the problem I think it needs to be more– it lets it– you want it to be universal and by focussing on certain traits it’s not universal anymore.

Nic:    Yeah. I think that that’s– from the developers perspective I think that that’s one of the things to remember and people are people and they want to keep some kind of level of privacy.

Becky:    Right. And one day you might use NVDA, the next you might say, “Oh, I switched to a Mac and I’m on voice over”.

Nic:    Yeah.

Becky:    Not that it’s that easy to go between them. I know as a tester I can’t remember all those different commands going between all three but I know many people that use them that can… use all three proficiently.

Nic:    Yeah, do you think there’s conventional wisdom about accessibility? One thing that everybody knows about it?

Becky:    If you say web accessibility, I think people are more aware that blind people now can use the web. I think if you refer to accessibility in general people immediately think of someone in a wheelchair. So it sort of is– unfortunately we have those kinds of silos with accessibility that immediately come to mind. I think the next generation is a little bit more aware of cognitive or, should I say neurological … I wouldn’t call them disabilities but challenges because there does seem to be more children with autism or on the autism spectrum that are in schools and there’s different ways of learning, different ways of being than perhaps you and I– me anyway, saw when we were growing up.

Nic:    Yeah. What would you say the number one reason is that most people fail to succeed with implementing accessibility?

Becky:    Time. They don’t understand it in the beginning. They don’t start from the beginning. And it’s one of those things that– and it’s not always thought of as a feature but it’s thought of as that last bug that, “Oh, that’s not going to affect as many people. So we can leave that out”. And unfortunately, accessibility goes in as bugs, not always– People that are really into it now and I think this whole inclusive design has helped bring the design community in but it’s still something that people think of as an add-on. And not as integrated. And when they think of it as an add-on it’s a thing you can chop off. Because it was added on, you can chop it off. I think that’s the biggest problem.

Nic:    Yeah. It’s interesting because a while back I was talking with Josh Simmons on the podcast and he actually said that– I’m actually trying to find the quote right now, but he said that accessibility was a bug. That it should be seen as a bug … hold on I’m just going to pause recording for a second and try to find that exact quote.

Yeah, so, Josh Simmon in my talk with him in way early episode six of the podcast he said, “Accessibility is not a feature. Lack of accessibility is a bug.” And that really struck me as something that was quite insightful but at the same time, what you’re saying about a bug and something to be handled at the end also makes sense. How would you reconcile both points of view?

Becky:    I think a lot will depend on your background. So I came from a more corporate environment where shipping on time was paramount. You will ship and big brother, or whoever … If it’s a large company you might not have as much influence and in that case, that’s where I felt it was. It was like, “Okay, we have to ship and we need to get this product out in the market.So, therefore, those are bugs and they can be addressed later”. And I think maybe– I mean, some of that is from startups do the same thing. So when I worked on acquisitions at IBM we were looking at a lot of startups. They don’t even think about it because they need to get a product to market. So I think it depends on your perspective, because I think if it comes in as a feature and it’s thought of as a feature that serves everyone … and again that’s getting back to potentially marginalizing it for people with disabilities but if you do it as a feature to give everyone access at all times I  think you get more buy-in from developers and management.

Nic:    Yeah. So it really depends on how you view and handle bugs and your own ecosystems to be able to asses that difference.

Becky:    Right.

Nic:    Yeah. What’s the greatest challenge for the field of Web Accessibility moving forward, in the next five years, ten years?

Becky:    I think it’s education. I think it’s keeping up with technology. I think voice is going to become much, much larger. And that’s still going to be a challenge. Dealing with different accents, different languages. Getting– and then the more visual. The fact that we are going to video more. I would just as soon read something because I’m a fast reader, than look at a video. I skip the videos often. But, potentially if I could speed them up and have the captions go faster it would be the same to me. I think audio description is going to become more important as we go to video. Again, for the eyes off, whether it be because you’re low vision or because you’re doing something else and you’re multitasking, which I think we do too much of. But that’s not going to go away anytime soon.

Nic:    Yeah.

Becky:    And I guess I don’t know. Five years– I was never– I was in the emerging technologies group but U was the one that would figure out how things worked now and figure out workarounds. I wasn’t a visionary. I knew that about myself.

Nic:    Fair enough. If you had a– If you weren’t working in accessibility in technology, what profession would you like to have?

Becky:    I think about that sometimes. Especially after I was looking for a job after leaving IBM, not of my own choice. And I used to think when I was a kid I wanted to be an author. And part of me still says– I did go take a class to get certification in technical communications because I’m like, “Oh, I could write” but then everything’s a lot of work. And it’s like, “Okay, maybe that would be like work to me and I don’t want it to be”. And then I used to think I wanted to be a photographer but now everybody in the world’s a photographer … So, I don’t know. I guess I would do something in some kind of training field. Maybe volunteering more or something like that.

I don’t have a good answer because I struggle with that because you read all these things that’s like, “What would you do if you could do anything” and I’m like, “I don’t really know”.

Nic:    Yeah, too many varied interests.

Becky:    Right

Nic:     Yeah. Last question. What is the one thing people should remember about accessibility?

Becky:    That it is such a huge enabler for so many people and that making sure that the world and the web is accessible to all is just what opens up the possibility and lets everyone– and really enable … I’ve used that word about seven times but, it really does enable people to– releases them to be able to do more. If you can do your own grocery shopping, if you can buy your own presents, you don’t need someone to drive you to a store or to help you calculate what the totals going to be. It says it right there on the website. This is how much money it is. I’m trying to keep it away from blind because that’s the obvious focus when we think of the web because it’s so visual. But if you can’t drive now you can have things delivered to your door. Whether you can’t drive for a mobility reason or a vision reason or you have Meniere’s or whatever it is that keeps you from being able to drive. It opens up that– you can work now. You don’t have to go to an office every day. You can stay in your home where maybe you need to take a break every hour because you have a back problem. So to me, that’s the biggest thing is that it really enables everyone to participate more. And maybe we can get internet voting at some point, although that’s a whole– we could talk about that forever. Longer that privacy, security, around all that.

Nic:    Yeah

Becky:    I just see it as… since we’ve incorporated the web into our world, then let’s use it for the right things.

Nic:    Wonderfull. Becky, thank you. You’ve been great. I’ve loved having this conversation with you and getting to know you a little bit better.

Becky:    This has been fun. Thank you. I feel like you get me talking about myself and you can’t shut me up. Especially when you live alone.

Nic:    Well, you do have cats, right?

Becky:    That’s right. They’re good listeners luckily.

Nic:    Alright, Becky. Thank you so much–

Becky:    Okay.

Nic:    –and I’ll catch you on the rebound.

Becky:    Alright. Thanks, Nic.

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 other shows at https://a11yrules.com and a quick reminder, you can get yourselves some neat accessibility branded swag at a11y.store

Catch you next time!