E75 – Interview with Alli Berry – Part 2

Alli says that getting the right people in the same room at the start of a project is very difficult and can impede accessibility.


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Nic:    Welcome to the Accessibility Rules Podcast. This is episode 75. 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.

This week I’m continuing my conversation with Alli Berry. Hi Alli, welcome back.

Alli:    Hi, thanks. Good to be back.

Nic:    Last week we talked about a lot of really interesting stuff and for those of you out there who have not heard the episode, I really invite you to check it out, because we spoke about the importance of language, the relationship between search engine optimization and accessibility and a few other interesting things. So, yeah, check it out.

So, this week what are we talking about? Well, we are talking about accessibility again. We finished last week talking about how you managed to get one of your third-party vendors to understand the importance of making their content accessible by providing text or alternative text rather than putting all the content in images, so that was really positive but let’s explore the dark side a little bit more. Alli, what’s your greatest frustration in terms of web accessibility?

Alli:    I think, a lot of times it’s getting the right people in the room for the beginning of a project. I’m thinking about a site rebuild or some larger… building a new website from scratch type project. A lot of times what happens is you bring in a design agency and they do these amazing designs but they’re not necessarily approaching things beyond the visual, right? And there’s a lot that needs to go into a website to make it work for people. So, thinking about both from an SEO perspective as well as a web accessibility perspective is this site actually going to work how we need it to, is the information going to be in HTML, is it going to be… it’s amazing what agencies can come up with in terms of where they want to put information. And so I think that a lot of times it really comes down to having the right people in the conversation early into a project instead of being, like “Hey, we’re launching a site tomorrow do you want to just check it over and make sure it’s going to be good for search” or, “is it going to be good for users.” And then, of course, you’re going to find large things that need fixing and suddenly you have a fire when you absolutely didn’t need to.

Nic:    It’s better to be proactive than reactive, isn’t it?

Alli:    Definitely. Well, and just to think about everything from the start. That’s going to make your agency partner more effective too if they understand everything… all of your requests and needs for capability.

Nic:    How do we make that happen? How do we help stakeholders understand the importance of bringing everybody in at the start of a project, from designers to developers to everybody and think about accessibility from the get-go?

Alli:    That’s a good question. I feel like if I had the answer to that I… I feel like it happens so often. SEO’s like to joke with each other too about being brought into a project at the very end of it. I think… I honestly… I think it’s on everybody to be more assertive. You need to know that the project is happening first of all but to ask more questions of your stakeholders and to find out what they’re planning, how you can get involved. Just giving them things to think about. Often times they don’t know what they don’t know. And so it does come back to the advocacy component. Just to be curious and to constantly be that person in your organization that’s asking questions, that wants to know what’s going on. I think that’s going to help you, help you be a more active partner.

Nic:    So you’re saying being curious and asking questions in your organization is a good way to be champion within your internal teams.

Alli:    At least that’s kind of… at least that’s what’s worked for me in the past too and especially when I was working on the agency side I feel like if you don’t ask a lot of questions of your client and try to dig in more and understand their processes it’s pretty hard to insert yourself into them. But, if you can at least find out, like, “Who is in charge of that?” and “How often do you guys meet and what do you talk about?” and like, “Oh, hey, you guys might want some feedback about X, Y and Z, would you ever want me to be a part of that meeting?” that can get you further and further into an organization.

Nic:    What would be the one thing that everybody knows about accessibility? It’s conventional wisdom if you want.

Alli:    God, I don’t know. That we need it, perhaps.

Nic:    Do you think really everybody knows we need it? Or something that most of us in the field know and understand but maybe stakeholders don’t understand that.

Alli:    That’s a good point. Yeah, maybe people don’t actually know that we need it. I honestly think the… you know, people who don’t have to think about assistive technology don’t. That’s a very fair point. Or, if you don’t accessibility a website differently than other people, you’re not going to think about it. I do think that the ‘we need it’ component comes in more and more especially as you get higher into an organization because there is the fear of a lawsuit.

Nic:    Yeah

Alli:    So I think at least from that perspective there’s more awareness than there used to be but … and I would like to believe that people are empathetic, at least to a point but they also want things to be done quickly and efficiently and on a budget and I do think people get intimidated with how much you have to think about with accessibility so I think for a lot of people it’s easier to just not.

Nic:    It’s funny, I think most people actually are good people and they’re not mean or lacking empathy. It’s really this question of ‘if I don’t have experience or understanding of the needs then I won’t know that I need to do these things.’ For example, I bet you were looking at storefront entrances a lot more after you pushed your classmate in Washington state, pushed her wheelchair when you were 13. That was probably an eye-opening thing that suddenly you were paying attention to accessibility access everywhere, even when you weren’t with your classmate, right?

Alli:    Totally, yeah, no I totally agree with that. I think, yeah, having experience, yeah, definitely. That’s what sticks with you more than anything else. I used to… the blind film critic, he was pretty big on Twitter for a while, I used to watch videos and see how he uses his iPhone. Of course, things I had never thought about because I never had to. So, yeah. I completely agree that yeah. If you have experience with one type of disability, whether it’s you or somebody else, like, naturally, like that’s going to feel less intimidating to you than not even knowing anything about what somebody might need for a disability or just unfamiliar with.

Nic:    What do you think the number one reason is for most people failing to succeed with implementing accessibility?

Alli:    I actually think it’s what we are talking about now. I think that there’s just so many… I think that people just don’t understand the spectrum of needs. When you think about disabilities you think about a physical disability, you think blindness, you think deafness but there’s so many more. It’s more of a spectrum than that. And just, there’s so many different needs I think it can be intimidating for people to even know where to start. And I think there’s so much more happening with the creation of websites that because it’s just such a big thing to tackle and if you don’t know very much from the beginning… you have so much to learn I just think it’s hard to get people to really dive in and learn a ton about it to be the most effective.

Nic:    It’s interesting you’re saying we don’t think about the experience of people with impairments that are less known or less understood when you veer away from sight impairments and hearing impairments. I sat in on a usability study recently and the person we were working with had a traumatic brain injury, and they were telling us how the yellow logo signified a ‘Hey, attention there’s danger here’ because yellow was the color for danger. So instead of being a positive and happy and fresh looking logo, it was ‘I don’t want to look at this because I don’t think I should be on this site. It’s a …. There’s danger on this site.’

Alli:    Huh

Nic:    And I’ve been doing accessibility for 25 years and I never really thought about that. So… yeah. It’s really great to interact with people with impairments that we’re not familiar with.

Alli:    Yeah, no kidding. That’s super interesting. That’s something no matter how you understand about accessibility… and I’m certainly not at the top of your normal guests’ list by any means… there’s always so much more to learn and understand the complexity. That’s super interesting.

Nic:    How can we help people that lack this areness of th different conditions, the different combination of imapairments or experiences… how can we help them get that knowledge, get that awareness?

Alli:    That’s a good question. I’ve been thinking about this more and more too and just like, the give on my own team or what have you. We do so much user testing but we don’t do… so, we do user testing in that we test AB landing pages or we do heat mapping on a page or we take user recordings of people using a page and trying to figure out where they’re having difficulties, but we don’t do user testing from a disabilities standpoint. And I think that it would be really powerful to actually bring in some people who access our website differently, and actually see them try and do it, and learn from that, and hear what their struggles are, and how we can make changes. I feel like that would be something really powerful, and it would stick with everybody every day.

Nic:    Yeah it’s certainly stuck with everybody I’ve interacted with that actually sat in or looked at a recording of such a … such a session, and it… yeah, it’s really eyeopening.

What would you say our greatest challenges are for web accessibility moving forward?

Alli:    I think… I mean, I do think awareness continues to be a challenge and just all of the things we’ve just talked about too. Just having more understanding of disability, in different forms. I also think getting web accessibility just prioritized. There’s just so many teams out there running websites that are short-staffed, lean, going in 800 different directions, trying to do 800 different types of marketing, and I think that accessibility sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. It’s important that it doesn’t because there’s so many potential people we could be reaching that we’re not. But I think sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that because you’re tracking who does use your site rather than who you’re missing out on. There’s no way to gather that kind of data.

Nic:    Yeah, the lack of metrics for people with disabilities using a website is something that… it’s a complain that I hear a lot of from stakeholders and on the one hand I’m thinking it would be powerful to be able to give that information. On the other hand, I’m thinking that means gathering data on people that they don’t necessarily want to share.

Alli:    Right

Nic:    How do we resolve that?

Alli:    God, I would love to know because you can pull things like a bounce rate. You can see how many people left a page, but you don’t know the reason. So, it could be anything from ‘this just wasn’t what I was looking for’ to ‘hey, I came to your site and I literally couldn’t access the information I needed.’ I don’t know another way to gather that data other than to do actual user recordings, but even then you don’t know for sure what the core issue is. The only way I think you can do it is actually bringing people in and watching and that just… that takes time and could be expensive. You know, it’s not a … marketers are always looking for ways to get a large sample size for a low amount of money. You know?

Nic:    Yeah there’s no doubt that user testing with real users with disabilities can take time and can be costly. It’s so worth it though. Even if you do…you know, use a sample of 5 or 10 people to go through this it is just so worth it.

Alli:    Absolutely

Nic:    Alli, what profession, other than being a geek in SEO, would you like to do? Would you go back to special education or would you like to try something else?

Alli:    That’s a good question. I often think about how I could go back to special education and not work in the school system. So, that would definitely be one place to go. Another thing I’ve always wanted to do is be a documentary filmmaker. I love film and I love helping people tell their stories, and it’s cool that I do get to do an element of that through content. And I love to travel. So I feel like if you’re making documentary films you are going to travel. You’re going to meet new people and hear their stories and help them tell them, and, yeah, I think that would be really cool.

Nic:    In a way helping people tell their stories is what I’m doing with this podcast and also for the shorter series of the Accessibility Rules soundbites where I get people with disabilities to tell us in their own words what barriers they encounter. So I certainly can relate to this desire of helping people tell their stories.

Alli:    Yeah. Yeah, I think you have a cool job. Yeah, I think podcasting would be super cool, I think consulting would be super cool to help just raise more awareness and understanding and, yeah, help businesses do a better job of being accessible.

Nic:    Who inspires you?

Alli:    Who inspires me? I feel like the next generation of young adults. I keep thinking about this… there is that kid who’s just all over everywhere, the news, who had posted on Reddit about wanting to get vaccinated because his parents wouldn’t do it. Thinking about how much courage something like that would take, and then to testify it in the Senate. The kids at Parkland high school who are refusing to let politicians pay lip service to gun violence issues… I don’t know, I just look at this generation that’s coming and … they’re amazing. I just can’t wait to see all that they do for this world because I think that … when you’re thinking about advocacy this is a generation of kids who are coming and I think they’re going to do amazing things.

Nic:    Yeah, I look forward to that. If we leave them a planet to actually be able to [crosstalk 18:23]

Alli:    Right, there is that.

Nic:    The rate it’s going…

What would be one thing you would like people to remember about accessibility?

Alli:    I would love, at least for people in SEO to remember that you can make a site as accessible as ever to search engines but at the end of the day what actually matters is that it’s accessible for the people because once somebody gets to your site it’s ultimately a human who needs to have a good experience using it, and that should really be what you’re focussed on at the end of the day. It should be about your users not about your search ranking.

Nic:    I love that. I’m making a note because I love that. Alli, thank you so much for your time and conversation. It’s been really interesting to talk about accessibility and SEO and the junctions between those 2 things.

Alli:    Yes!

Nic:    Is there anything you would like to share that I haven’t discussed or brought up?

Alli:    I don’t think so. I super appreciate you having me. This is a topic that I absolutely love talking about, and, yeah, I love… I think we need to have more conversations between our communities. The SEO community and accessibility community and developers and, yeah, I love this. I would love to have more collaboration going forward.

Nic:    That would be awesome.

Alli:    Yeah.

Nic:    That would be awesome. Let’s try and think of ways we can make that happen.

Alli:    I’m in.

Nic:    Alli Berry, thanks again and we will catch you on the web

Alli:    Sounds good, thanks so much for having me.

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.
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Catch you next time!