E71 – Interview with Chris DeMars – Part 2

Chris tells us “the biggest challenge that [the accessibility community is] going to have, and it currently stands now, is the never-ending library framework”


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Nic:    Welcome to the Accessibility Rules Podcast. This is episode 71. 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.

Welcome back to the Accessibility Rules podcast everyone. In this episode, I’m continuing my conversation with Chris DeMars. Last show was awesome. We spoke about blueberry muffins and compared that to accessibility. We talked about Chris managing to roll out an accessible app despite very short buy-in from everybody else in the company and a few other things so if you haven’t checked it out I strongly suggest you do.

Welcome back, Chris. How are you?

Chris:    I’m doing good, Nic. How are you?

Nic:    I’m doing alright. I’ve fumbled a few words today, but that’s alright. That’s part of live podcasting, even if you don’t do it live.

Chris:    That’s right

Nic:    That’s right. So, last week we finished talking a little bit about your greatest achievement. Let’s flip that and start with… What would your greatest frustration be in terms of accessibility?

Chris:    Oh the greatest frustration I would have in web accessibility … Oh, let me see, let me see, let me see… It would probably have to be the passion behind it. I know when we were talking before you have some developers out there who are super passionate. Marcy being one of them, yourself and a handful of other people. Then you have some devs out there that just either don’t care or they’re just uneducated as to the importance of it. I think more education should be out there.  And another huge frustration, and I’ve heard this countless times, and I’ve experienced this myself… traditional schooling, if you go to university or four-year college, 2-year college, whatever the case may be… even, I’ve heard some boot camps… nobody is teaching this stuff. And that’s a problem. You’re .. most universities are teaching stuff their students need to know today to get a job besides theory and traditional computer science. But, I think accessibility in a web program, it should be taught, and there’s not enough people out there doing it. I think Marcy mentioned it in one of her episodes with you that she wanted to maybe get into teaching and that can only be something cool. You know? Teach web accessibility somewhere outside of a meetup. Outside of a conference workshop. I think that would be a cool idea.

Nic:    How do you get, say Bootcamp organizers to add accessibility to the curriculum?

Chris:    That’s a good question. I know, knew or know a couple or not really organizers but instructors… well, I did at least … I don’t know. I guess… it’s kind of the same way you would in a company, right? Show why it’s important … I mean, they should already know it’s important. Especially if they’re teaching a front end Bootcamp, right? You should already know this. This is not news to anybody. Maybe ten, fifteen years ago… yeah, I could see why you wouldn’t want to do it because it wasn’t a huge thing. Even though it was a huge thing at the time but a lot of us were uneducated that long ago. I think it’s just explaining the importance. If they don’t already know and maybe, see if they can set time aside in the curriculum to go over some introductory wins. I don’t like saying easy because what might be easy to me might be hard to you and vice-versa.

Nic:    Right

Chris:    I don’t like using the term easy. But, like, intro wins, like semantic markup. You’re already teaching semantic markup, explain why that’s good for accessibility. And it’s accessible by default. Go over the reason why you need alt attributes on your images. Go over ARIA labels on non-contextual elements. Like social media icons or x’s and modules. Go over what a screen reader is, why it’s important. You don’t have to cover the whole [gammet?5:16] of accessibility. That would take a full course. And even then I don’t think you’d be able to fit it all in but go over main concepts and main accessibility fundamentals. It’s only going to help your student body.

Nic:    I think it’s super important for every teaching environment whether it’s formal computer science programs or Bootcamps or what not to actually cover accessibility and I wish it was more out there and you’re right, it doesn’t have to be a whole course on it. It can be weaved in and out of existing classes if you’re talking about web semantic sure, talk about why it’s important. All the accessibility wins you get from using a label element or using an anchor, or a button rather than a div or span. So, yeah.

Is there, do you think, conventional wisdom about accessibility? Something everyone knows about it?

Chris:     Yes and no. Everyone knows that it’s out there, but not everyone knows why and why it’s important. I think that’s like a big thing, right? Because you can say the words web accessibility to anybody and nine times out of ten, they’re going to nod their head like, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah…..” But if you ask them why it’s important nine times out of ten they might look at you and be like, “Oh well, you know, uh, well, uh, you know, uh… blind users”. Or “deaf users” like, you hear that all the time and that’s not just who we’re working for. Not everybody’s blind, not everybody’s deaf. It’s not what having a disability means. But a lot of the time that stigma’s out there. Like, “Oh, well, they’re blind or deaf, so we have to make things accessible.” It’s like, “No, no, no, no, no. That’s not the case, let me educate you a little bit.”

Nic:    Yeah. I’ve had a recent discussion with a developer who said, “Of course our site is accessible just go to mywebsite.com, and there it is” and they just did not understand this concept of accessibility and the context of disability access.

Chris:     Right

Nic:    That ended up being an hour long, very educational experience for them. And for me, because I didn’t remember how some people just don’t have that exposure out there. So, I want to build the exposure out there.

Chris, what do you think the number one reason is for most people failing to succeed with implementing accessibility?

Chris:     Arbitrary deadlines and, being told “no.” I think those are the two big things. Alway’s being–

Nic:    What do you mean?

Chris:    — Being told, “No, you can’t do that right now, this is more important.” Being in situations like that or even being in situations where somebody from the top down tells you that it’s not important. Somebody that has no reason to have their hands in IT at all but they’re the ones saying, “Oh, no, this is priority, or this is priority” but their direct leader… anybody within that kind of IT family tree can’t have a say in it. That’s also an issue, and I’ve seen that before. I’ve seen where people who are outside of IT have their hands too deep in IT and start making decisions that shouldn’t be made. And that can cause a lot of problems across the board.

Nic:    You have a ‘for instance’?

Chris:    Oh. For instance… let’s see here… let’s say that… for example, let’s say that you worked at a company and maybe you had an IT in the order of 100 people. Right? And developers, QA’s, BA’s, etc team leads. And you had CTO’s, COO’s, COO, whatever C level execs you have. And the ones calling the shots in IT are not CTO. It’s everybody that’s above him that runs the rest of the company.

Nic:    [cross talk 10:05]

Chris:     They throw their two cents in the pot and start telling you how to run things… that’s when it starts to get to be a problem. Because they might not have a single clue about what you’re doing or what your organization as a whole are doing, within IT that’s when you can start getting into problems.

Nic:    I see that. Yep. How can we avoid this kind of failure? How can we try making… changing these “No’s” towards “Yeses”?

Chris:    That’s hard. That is. It’s truly, truly hard. Especially when you work for a company like that or if they’re out there and they exist, which I’m sure they do. You kind of turn that territory too of overstepping your bounds and stepping on people’s toes and you don’t want to throw anybody under the bus. Scheduling skip meeting to a skip skip meeting and a skip skip skip meeting… that can be a pain in the ass. The best way… the luck I’ve had to get No’s turned into Yes’s is just showing the importance of it. Showing the data. Because people like numbers, you know what I mean? Especially like leadership. When you’re in a leadership role, you tend not to write code as much, if at all and it’s always about numbers so you can take those numbers to your leader. If you can show numbers and you can prove that this stuff matters, then there’s more chance that you’re going to get that buy-in and those No’s will turn into Yeses. It’s no different if you show someone… I did this with performance before too. I showed what our numbers are and then our people… our users started complaining, and they’re like, “Oh, shit. We need to start working on performance. Chris, can you fix the front-end performance?” I’m, like, I talked about this over a year ago. And nobody wanted to do anything. Or six months ago and now somebody complains, and now you want me to fix it. Right? It’s the same thing with accessibility; it’s the same thing with security. You start showing numbers like, “Oh, well we had three different penetration attacks in our front-end or our back-end.” If you show that then they’re like, “Oh, shit. Security matters, we really need to tighten things up.”

Nic:    Yeah

Chris:    Right?

Nic:     What would you say the greatest challenge is for the field of web accessibility are moving forward from now into the next 5 or 10 years?

Chris:     I think the biggest challenge that we are going to have, and it currently stands now, is the never-ending library framework. You know, the ‘Flavour of the week’ in the Javascript ecosystem. It blows my mind. I’ve… I know that there’s a handful of different view libraries out there that are not accessible. Other than that, at a conference, I was speaking at I heard the React team is doing good, but some of the Angular stuff isn’t accessible. The Web was never built with Javascript in mind, and we did just fine. Right? It was accessible by default. Now we start throwing a shiny tire on this side of it, some spinners on the other side and some hydraulics on the back… none of that shit’s accessible. So we are doing ourselves a disservice when we should be improving the accessibility. Yes, we are improving it, but the web is starting to become like Frankenstein’s monster. You know what I mean?

Nic:    Yeah

Chris:    There’s a little piece of this and that and every single thing. Not every single thing we’re building out there is accessible, but we are using libraries and frameworks to help us in our efforts. But yet those libraries and frameworks aren’t completely accessible. I think that’s going to be the struggle. And, who knows what’s going to be out there this year… the next six months. What new framework and libraries are going to be out there. Who knows.

Nic:    It’s interesting because a few weeks ago I was speaking with [Unsure 14:32] who is a developer based in Nigeria and she was saying that we’re going to have much more of an impact by convincing the framework developers to make their frameworks accessible than trying to convince individual developers that are right left and center, all over the place and what you’re saying somewhat echos that statement, so it’s interesting to see that this is a concept that, at least in the accessibility community is starting to take flight. So, hopefully, we’ll be able to reach out to these devs and make sure their frameworks are more and more accessible.

Chris:    Yeah, and I know that Ryan Florence is doing stuff with Reach and that’s supposed to be accessible React library or whatever the case may be. So, that’s really cool that he’s already taking that step to make those applications accessible. I think that’s a huge win.

Nic:     Chris, what profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?

Chris:     Um, let’s see… when I was younger, I always wanted to be a Herpetologist. A Herpetologist is the study of reptiles and amphibians. I was super, super obsessed with it when I was a kid. I used to have snakes, I used to have frogs and turtles. I wanted to breed Leopard Geckos, I wanted to breed Corn Snakes. I just loved it. I loved learning about them. So, I think if I could be anything that’s like, I could legit be currently a Herpetologist ‘coz I still have a love for reptiles and amphibians and still hope to one-day breed Leopard Geckos and Breed Corn Snakes. It’s just been one of my things.

Nic:    Who inspires you?

Chris:    My mom. She’s one. She’s always been my biggest fan. I’ve always had her support for everything. Let’s see… the developer community inspires me. I have a lot of friends out there who bring me up, and they kind of hold me together. Even when I feel like giving up. They definitely inspire and support me to be a better me every day. The current team I work with, they inspire me because they’re a lot of amazing, smart, brilliant people and I wish I was as smart as they are. They inspire me. Yeah, I think a lot of people say actors, actresses, music… you know, not really so much the case for me. I think it’s the people I surround myself with that inspire me. And I feed off of that. And I feed off of the energy in the developer community, and that’s why I try to engage as much as I can in the developer community and I even have friends on the speaker circuit say, “dude, you need to chill out”, “you’re going to burn out”, “we don’t want you to get sick or anything like that” and I keep pushing. I know the reality of it. I may burn out at some point but as long as I can travel. Speak, put talks together and make great content for the development community you bet your ass I’m going to do it.

Nic:    Cool. To wrap things up, if there’s one thing you’d like people to remember about accessibility what would that be?

Chris:     Focus matters. Never ever remove focus from your experience because you remove it for one person, you remove it for everybody. Don’t do it. That’s my one.

Nic:     How would you explain why or how focus matters?

Chris:    Well, you can come see my talk called ‘Focusing on Focus.’ I’ll be giving it this year at a couple of different conferences. No, I wrote an article about it too. Just showing what it is and showing the importance of it. Really, it boils down to marketing and branding. You get a lot from your design team and market team. Like, “Oh, you know, we don’t like that ring, that blue and gray or blue ring that’s around buttons and input and stuff like that. Can you remove it?” It’s like, yeah, you can remove it but what are you going to do to replace it? And if we need to match branding, then we can do that. Those are options that are available to us. We just have to talk about it and collaborate.

Nic:    Yeah. Last month I saw a site that they had matched the background color of the page exactly to the hue of blue of the default focus ring in chrome. So, it was quite amusing to see, “Well, we didn’t remove the focus outline”… no, but you made it totally unusable man.

Chris:    Oh, that’s horrible.

Nic:    Yeah

Chris:     Wow

Nic:     Anyway, Chris thank you very much for your time and your thoughts and hopefully we get to bump into one another at a conference this year or sooner rather than later.

Chris:    Yeah, thanks for having me again. I really do hope that you and I cross paths. Hopefully soon, this year, somewhere. I’m sure we will see each other.

Nic:     I’m sure. Chris, thank you very much and have a good day!

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