Continuing my chat with Beth. We discuss, among other things, accessibility as a coding challenge vs having to meet tight deadlines – and how sometimes developers chose to do things the way they know to meet these deadlines.
Nic: Welcome to the A11y Rules podcast. This is episode 67. 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 https://a11yrules.com.
Nic: In this episode I’m continuing my conversation with Beth Raduenzel. The last show was really cool. We spoke about a lot of things. A couple of things that struck me that you said, Beth, last week was comparing accessibility to the five stages of grief. I thought that was really brilliant. I’d never heard that before. So thank you for that.
Nic: Should we-
Beth: Have you experienced that?
Nic: Yeah, actually I have. As you were describing it last week, really, I could actually see clients’ faces when you talk about that, or you do a presentation at a conference and you see peoples’ faces fall and it’s like, “Oh, yeah. What am I going to do?” So it’s very apt, I think. Very apt.
Nic: We finished last week by talking about your greatest achievements. So let’s start this episode with something that’s a bit of flip side.
Nic: What’s your greatest frustration in terms of web accessibility?
Beth: Oh, my greatest frustration, I think, is that I’m not a developer. I used to code way back in the day, when everything was sliced images thrown in tables which are probably the worst thing you could do, now that I am an accessibility person. Just having the ability to design and code just from idea to finished product was really great.
Beth: It’s great when I can work with developers who understand accessibility, but when I’m working with people who are still learning, it’s a little frustrating because I can’t give them the solutions. I can tell them, “This is a problem and you need to make it like this,” but I can’t give them the exact piece of code that they need to be able to solve that. That’s been really frustrating for me, and it’s something that I would like to learn, but I don’t know that I will ever find the time to be really good at it.
Nic: Playing devil’s advocate again here.
Beth: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nic: Don’t developer usually like a coding challenge? So it’s not necessarily bad to say, “Hey, this is the result you must to get to, and here’s your challenge. Fix it?”
Beth: I think they do, but I think in the real world a lot of times developers get really tight deadlines. When they’re used to doing things a certain way and you tell them they have to figure out a new way to do it, I think that kind of throws them for a loop and it’s hard for them to keep their deadlines.
Nic: Yeah, I think that’s a fair point. That’s a fair point, yeah. What’s the one thing that everyone knows about web accessibility? Maybe the conventional wisdom, if you like?
Beth: The one thing?
Nic: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Beth: I feel like most people don’t know about web accessibility. Have you had people … does it seem like everyone knows about it? I run into people all the time that they just have no clue how that works. Yeah, I think … well I’ll say this, one thing that I didn’t initially think about was people who are deaf.
Beth: You would think about that if you were talking about YouTube or a video site where there’s audio, but when you have just a normal non audio, what do you call it, a non audio-based website or product, you don’t typically think of people who are hearing impaired because you think that you just see everything and there’s no problem, but there actually is a problem because a lot of times if you have a customer service number or something where the only way maybe to update your account is to call this number, and then now you can’t because if you have someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, that’s not going to work for them. There are things, actually, that you need to think about in giving people alternative means of picking up the phone, because that’s not always an option for people.
Nic: Yeah, the other thing I’ve come across with a lot of people who are deaf that were either born, or deafened really young, is that for many of them English is not a first language.
Nic: Sign language is in the syntax and grammar of sign language. It’s so different to English that basically complex text might be difficult to understand. So that’s another aspect of hearing impairments that has an impact. Make sure you use plain English, or plain language, depending on the language you create your sites on.
Beth: Absolutely. I met someone at the CSUN conference in 2016, who was born deaf and became friends with him. It was very eye opening to learn how to have a phone call with your deaf friend, and speaking to a woman on the phone when you know that your friend is a male is just a little unusual, but it’s interesting and I think all of these experiences that I’ve had, I think they really just widened my horizons into other people’s lives and what other people deal with on a daily basis.
Nic: Yeah. What do you think the number one reason most people fail to success with web accessibility?
Beth: I think they just give up. I think they make compromises and they think that, “Well we’ll just pick and choose which of the WCAG principles are success criteria that we want to apply,” and not really understanding that if you don’t hit all of those, if you don’t reach 100% with WCAG, you’re not doing it right. Sometimes even if you do hit all the success criteria, it doesn’t mean that your website is accessible. You really need to still test it. Just checking a box is not the same as understanding and testing, and testing with people with disabilities. I think they just either give up, or they think it’s too hard, or “We’ll just do some of it,” and you really can’t do that.
Nic: Accessibility certainly is not a checklist.
Nic: Contrary to some popular belief, yeah.
Beth: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to make a checklist and I just send them the link to WCAG because I mean, really, how would you make a checklist of that? These are all of the success criteria-
Beth: And if I want to make a checklist, I would just be copying and pasting that.
Nic: At the same time though, I think a lot of people, and me included, come to think of accessibility beyond WCAG, so we’re juggling this “Well we have to comply to these things,” but at the same time it really should be on the starting point because as you say, you can have a site that complies with WCAG and have the interaction be really horrible.
Beth: Absolutely. I think putting your product into context, so if you know that you’re designing a product that’s going to be used on a mobile device, and it’s going to be used in the field, you’re going to want more contrast than 4.5:1, you know what I mean? At my last job we made a web app and we made it in black and white, no other colors, because it was something that was going to be used on the field, and when you’re outside in the sun, even if you have a 4.5:1 contrast, you’re not going to be able to see it.
Beth: So I think applying context to things. I know also from going to CSUN that McDonald’s puts, I believe, seven to one contrast on their menus that they have up above the registers because they know that people are standing far back and you don’t know what the lighting is going to be at any given time of day. So they went above and beyond with their color contrast because of the situation.
Nic: What do you think the challenges for our field, for the field of web accessibility, is moving forward from, from this day on?
Beth: You know, it’s sad to say but I think it’s really getting everyone to have empathy for everyone, and not just the people who are like themselves. That’s been my greatest challenge is how do you get people to have empathy for others when they might not initially? I think once everyone has empathy, I don’t think that you’ll have websites that are made without accessibility in mind because it won’t even be a question of making it accessibility, it will just be how people design and code.
Nic: How do you get people to have empathy then?
Beth: I think that introducing them to someone with a disability and seeing those certain individuals as real people. Maybe they have never met anyone whose blind or in a wheelchair. I think introducing them to these people and having them just have a conversation about what their life is like. We had someone who was a little person on the Board at United. There was an accessibility panel, and she was explaining how when they moved the button for the light from the armrest to overhead, she could no longer reach it. Just hearing real world examples of the pain points that design decisions have in their lives, I think that helps and I have also led classes and experiments where I let people … or I should I make people, but I let people experience a screen reader, or experience keyboard-only navigation.
Beth: It’s really fun for a short while and then you see their frustration. They realize that whatever website they’re on is not accessible and they literally can’t accomplish their task. They start to understand. They can just walk away and go back to using the computer the way that they normally do, but a lot of people can’t. So giving them the opportunity to kind of walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, I think that helps.
Nic: Yeah. What profession other than UX and accessibility would you like to attempt?
Beth: You know, I started out as a photo editor-
Nic: Oh yeah?
Beth: Yeah, so I am really good at Photoshop and making pictures of moments that never happened. I always thought it would be great to work in film and to be someone that does the editing in film. I don’t even know how it’s done, but I imagine it’s something similar to Photoshop, but frame by frame doing the Photoshop work to make these special effects happen in film. I always thought that would be fun.
Nic: Yeah. Your answer is very interesting to me because most people end up answering something that I can tie in one way or another to web accessibility and yours is completely different and I love that. I love that because … I don’t know, I can’t quite verbalize it, but I think it’s great to have interest in things other than your day to day passion. I know for many of us, and it sounds like you as well, accessibility is not just a day job. It’s a passion. But it’s great to hear you have other things that interest you than that. So thank you for sharing.
Nic: Who inspires you, Beth?
Beth: I think my two little boys inspire me. They have such creative minds and they haven’t been told yet that whatever idea they have won’t work. They haven’t been crushed down by the naysayers, so they’ll come up with these crazy ideas and it’s just so amazing because there are no limits in their mind. They can take some toilet paper tubes, and they’re going to make a robot. To them, this thing is actually to move, and it’s going to do things, even though there’s nothing to it other than cardboard and tape.
Beth: They think that somehow this is going to become a mechanical being and I think it’s so inspiring as an artist and a creative person, they just blow me away the things that they come up with. Even in their video games, my eight year old plays Minecraft. The things that he does in that game are just amazing. He’s basically learning to code in this video game, and he’s eight. I just can’t believe it. I think back to what was I doing when I was eight, and he is creating machines that will build a house when he pushes a button. It will self-build a house. I’m so amazed by them. I think children are always inspiring.
Nic: How do we reach out to kids to build that empathy you were talking about earlier, because maybe that’s where we really need to get to them.
Beth: Absolutely. You know, I don’t see, I guess, a lot of children other than my own, so I don’t know about other kids, but I see so much empathy in my own children when I explain something to them and you see their facial expressions change. You see them automatically putting themselves into that person’s shoes and thinking, “Well that means that they can’t do this, so how did they do this?” And they really want to know, how would somebody get up the stairs if they’re in a wheelchair. So I explain, there’s a lot of different ways, maybe there’s a ramp, maybe they have to have a lift, maybe they use the elevator.
Beth: But you see the wheels turning and you see them thinking about what problems they might have if they were in that situation because they realize they couldn’t do a lot of the things that they do now, and it’s very sweet. They have a lot of questions, and they’re not afraid to ask whereas I think a lot of adults are afraid to ask if they see someone who is blind at a train station and kind of stuck in a corner, they just stare instead of going up and asking, “Can I help you to find where you’re going?” I guess they just don’t know what to say. I feel like children, all of the questions they have in their head, they just come out because there’s no filter.
Nic: Yeah, yeah. To bring this to a close, Beth, what’s the one thing you’d like people to remember about accessibility?
Beth: I would like people to remember that using technology is a right. I think that there should not be any limits on who gets to use these products and websites. Technology should just work for everyone. If they don’t know how to make that happen, just open up a search engine and start learning.
Nic: Yeah. I like that, remembering that technology is a right. I think that’s a wonderful way to end up this conversation. Beth, thank you very much for being a willing guest to answer my questions, and I’m hoping to meet you at a conference or somewhere else at some point in the future.
Beth: Well thank you so much. I had fun.
Nic: Thank you. 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 swag at a11y.store. Catch you next time.