On this episode of 'Inbound & Down,' host Jon Sasala chats with user experience and accessibility expert, Regine Gilbert.
Regine Gilbert is a Visiting Professor at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and the author of '
Inclusive Design For a Digital World: Designing With Accessibility In Mind. She joined Jon to discuss the importance of accessibility, accessible web development and actionable disability inclusion in the workplace.
- Inclusive Design For a Digital World: Designing With Accessibility In Mind
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- User Inyerface
- A11y Project
- America On Tech
- Deque University
- Regine's Skillshare Course
- Tatiana Mac's Skillshare Course
- Equal Entry
- Alice Wong: The Disability Visibility Project
- Accessibility Shield
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
- IAAP Certification
Do you have questions about accessible design? Send them to email@example.com.
Read the episode transcript below.
[00:00 - 10:18]
Sage Levene: Is your website ADA compliant? If not, you're at a risk of a costly, time-consuming lawsuit and your website may be inaccessible to over 25% of the population. Start your compliance journey today with AudioEye. AudioEye is affordable, easy to install, secure and sustainable. Visit audioeye.com for more. That's audioeye.com.
Brian Halligan: This is Brian Halligan and you're listening to Inbound & Down from Morey Creative Studios.
SL: Welcome to Inbound & Down: The Art and Science of Inbound Marketing with Jon Sasala, President of Morey Creative Studios.
Hey! It's Sage here, today's topic is one very top of mind for our team here; accessibility and accessible design. Digital accessibility means all visitors, regardless of their abilities can experience the web, apps and anything in the digital space equally.
Let me contextualize that for you. Have you ever been on a website, filling out a form or trying to add a product to your cart and the submit button doesn't work? You click and you click, you maybe refresh and try to start over but still nothing. So, you leave. Frustrated, irritated, maybe a little dejected. Imagine that most of your web experiences were like that. Yeah.
The CDC states that roughly 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. are living with a disability. So, 1/4 of our adult population experiences the web that way. That's why it's so important we work towards making the web accessible.
Today's guest is an accessibility and user experience expert. Regine Gilbert is currently a professor at NYU teaching UX and assistive technology courses. Jon and Regine talk about accessibility, the community and her book Inclusive Design For a Digital World: Designing With Accessibility In Mind. I’m very excited for everyone to hear this episode and learn more about accessibility. Okay, here's Jon with Regine Gilbert.
Jon Sasala: Regine, thank you so much for joining us. As Sage indicated in the introduction, there you are the Senior UX Designer for Gilbert Consulting Group and you're the author of Inclusive Design For a Digital World: Designing With Accessibility In Mind. Thank you so much for joining us here today.
Regine Gilbert: Thank you for having me. Actually, my consulting business got put on hold.
JS: Is that right?
RG: Yeah, because I took a position to be a full-time faculty member at NYU.
JS: Oh great!
RG: This past year I’ve been teaching at the Tandon School of Engineering and I’m actually returning there—I got lucky and I’m returning back for this next school year. So, I’m really excited about that.
JS: What is the focus of the curriculum? Is it UX? Is it accessibility?
RG: So, my focus is user experience design. So, that's mainly what I teach but I also teach assistive technology. So, last semester I taught a class with Gus Chalkias who is blind and we taught a class called Looking Forward which teaches students about assistive technologies people with blindness and low vision use.
JS: Very nice. So, to set the stage here—not that this is going to be just a surface level conversation about accessibility—but for those who are not as familiar with it or terms like assistive technology, can you tell us what you mean by accessibility?
RG: Well, I think a lot of us use assistive technology. Right before we started this, I went to grab my glasses because I prefer to use them, especially when I’m looking at a screen. Assistive technology is anything that can assist you.
Accessibility is defined out there on the web as; making products for people with disabilities. For example, a building can have stairs and the building can have a ramp. So, the ramp will help people who may walk with a cane or a wheelchair but it can also—you know you might have had a fall right before you enter the building—so, it can actually benefit most people and a lot of times accessibility features end up benefiting more people.
JS: Yeah, in your book you actually have a couple really incredible examples of innovations that were initially started as a way to service people with disabilities and they're really fun to think about. We like to do this internally at Morey Creative where we just kind of talk about like, ‘Oh I use this thing and now that I think about it, that actually started as something servicing people with disabilities.’
My favorite example is, I, all day long, working for a marketing agency, I come across things that I want to read, but I’m also getting dirty coding and like actually working, and I reserve my drive to and from work as time to catch up on reading that I maybe didn't get to when I was sitting in front of a computer. And I’ll do that by loading up an article on my phone and then using the screen reader just to kind of go through so I can drive and pay attention to that on the side.
RG: When you think about it—and even text messaging, we all text message and text messaging was actually made for people who are deaf and we all benefit. I don't know, almost everybody I know text messages except for my 87 year old aunt who still has a flip phone and she's like, ‘No I don't text message,’ but yeah definitely anything that is audio and screen reader I do the same as you. If there's an article I want to read I’ll turn on the speech and have it read to me because it's—there's something about it, you know you're still able to do other things while you can do it, so it's nice.
JS: Being a UX designer, can you tell me a bit if there's a specific reason that you got into inclusive design or addressing people with disabilities as far as accessibility is concerned?
RG: When I was growing up one of my cousins was deaf and so having people with disabilities in my life—and including my mother as well—has always been a part of my life. So I don't know, when I got into UX design, I just kind of fell into accessibility. I literally woke up one day and I was like, ‘I want to make the world a more accessible place, but what does that mean?’ I don't know. I Googled it. You know that's the thing you do is you Google it, and I Googled accessibility and I found an accessibility meet-up and I was like, ‘This is where I’m going.’
And that kind of kicked off and I had no idea all those years ago that I would write a book. If somebody would have told me, ‘You're going to write a book and you're going to be speaking about this and teaching about it,’ I would have never ever guessed that. This summer actually I’m teaching a UX course to incoming students in the master's program and their real life client—I always try to have my students work with a real life client—is blind, and I’ve given them the challenge of creating an augmented reality experience for someone who's blind.
And you know one of the students said, ‘Well how do we do that? Augmented reality is visual,’ and I was like you can make it audio, you can make it haptic. There are other ways that you can make an experience other than visual and we need to start thinking about it a little bit more.
JS: Yeah and the progress that you guys will make there when trying to just have that exercise of thinking about, ‘How can we make a virtual reality experience for people who are blind?’ That type of work could just be for fun right now, but could eventually evolve to assistive technologies that help people that maybe aren't sighted navigate the world and have things prescribed to them in real time without them having to pick up their phone and look at things like using wearables and the future is awesome, right? Like if people have problems, there are other people that are working on resolving those problems and this is a great example of that.
RG: Yeah and one of the things that I’ve done over the past year is a workshop called Designing For Your Future Self. I have people think about themselves as an older person, not someone fictitious. So you with your bad knees or your eyesight or your hearing in your right ear, whatever it is that's going on with you, what does your future life look like and how are you as a designer making things now for your future self? It intuitively makes sense to me that we make things accessible now and not later. You know there's nothing like having to do all this work and then having to go back and adjust it, which is kind of the world we're living in when it comes to accessibility in a lot of ways.
JS: And it makes it more difficult when you are trying to retroactively go back and be like, ‘Okay now that I’m done with this project let me go and make it accessible,’ whereas, had you contemplated it from the beginning and kind of built with a better understanding from the start, you really fast track all that progress and it's not trying to go back and fix things.
And when you do say to people, ‘Think about yourself in the future, design for yourself,’ it helps them relate. And one of the ways that I like to communicate with people about accessibility is say have you ever had a bad web experience—Sage actually used this as an example in the introduction to this episode—but have you ever had a bad web experience where you go and maybe try and fill out a form and you click submit and nothing happens? You click it like 15 times and you just ordered those scones 15 times you had no idea.
Well, that bad user experience might happen to most people once a month, once in a while, pretty rarely, but for people with disabilities it happens every day. It happens at every website that they go to. So it's kind of like helping people understand that this is a problem for people and maybe they just hadn't been loud enough about it until recently, or maybe if you don't know people with disabilities it hasn't really entered your general thought process but it's important. I feel that as you get more familiar with these types of situations and start realizing this is a form of discrimination against people, there's a moral obligation for us as designers and developers to make this a priority.
RG: Yeah, 100%. I like to ask this question often if I’m doing workshops or in my classes—who do you think about the most?
RG: Yeah! Well, people don't say ‘themselves’ because they don't want to be like, ‘I think about myself the most’, but the truth is people do think about themselves the most, which makes development and designing difficult because you are thinking about you. When you're thinking about yourself all the time, you’re not thinking about other people, you’re not thinking about how other people might experience something and that takes practice. It takes practice to really think about other people.
[10:18 - 20:04]
JS: I like to draw the correlation between addressing mobile responsiveness as the same way that we should prioritize addressing accessibility, because when you're developing on a desktop, I’m only thinking about the desktop experience for a website. And if the story ended there and I never looked at what it looked like on a phone then I wouldn't be doing my job, I wouldn't have completed the project. Why am I looking at it on a phone and not also looking at it through a screen reader? So the job's not done until you look at it in every different capacity that people could be accessing your content.
JS: Now, when you do start learning about these things and you do realize there's a moral obligation—as a user experience designer it becomes a passion for you—but if you're trying to communicate with the stakeholders of a company, just saying there's a moral obligation isn't really enough to get them to commit resources, to prioritizing this.
In your book in Chapter 8 about planning and implementing accessibility, you cite a few reasons that this might be important, starting with probably the most common one that people are aware of: you're trying to avoid discrimination in lawsuits. Can we talk a little bit about the legal risk of not addressing accessibility?
RG: Yeah so, if you are not addressing accessibility you are putting yourself at risk to be sued. Because in essence, if your website is public, it's considered a public space and therefore can fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and this is because of a case that happened in 2017 with Winn-Dixie. They used a federal guideline saying the person who was trying to access the site was blind, couldn't access the site, and if I’m supposed to be able to access your store, I should also be able to access your website fully.
If you are a government website or if you are dealing with the government, then your website legally has to be accessible, and now this has fallen for all websites out there and there's been an increase in lawsuits over the years for websites not being accessible.
A lot of times the things that you do will actually make your websites more usable in general, WebAIM which is a great website and resource webaim.org, they looked at a million different websites for common accessibility errors, and they used the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as the base with the million websites they looked at. The number one issue was a designer issue which is color contrast, and that impacts us all. If you've ever been looking at something on the screen and you can't see something, it's probably because of the contrast.
I know a couple years ago I tweeted at the NBA because I was watching a game and I couldn't see the score like, what?! Why are they using yellow and white, no one should ever use yellow and white together because you can't really—I couldn't see what the score was. And so I tweeted at them and then my husband was like they changed it, I think your tweet worked. I was like I don't think that it did ,but they did change it in the middle of the game. So I was like maybe it did...But yeah, it was very funny.
JS: There's an example in your book about color contrast that you cite with the NFL, I think you're celebrating their 50th anniversary? You want to talk about that color rush project?
RG: So, the NFL came out with color rush uniforms which were solid color uniforms. I’m a Twitter person so on this particular day I remember, this game was the New York Jets and The Buffalo Bills, and the New York Jets were in green and The Buffalo Bills were in red. During the game people started tweeting this is a nightmare, I can't see what's going on. People were really upset like, what's happening? The problem for people who have red green color blindness is that red and green look the same. So when you're watching a football game it's not zoomed in on the players, and then zoomed out you have a team wearing red, a team wearing green on a green field, and red and green look the same to you. You can't tell which team is your team and so it was kind of a big deal. I mean it seems like a small thing but it's actually not.
JS: Yeah and the interesting thing about color blindness is it predominantly affects males who tend to predominantly be fans of football. In your book you do have a rendering of what people with red green color blindness experience, and it's just a blur of people, it's useless. It really makes you then look back at the general practice of having a home team or away team wearing white and the other team wearing a color really does great service more than you think. And that's another example—you need to do that for people who maybe are colorblind but it helps me as a fully sighted fan of football be able to enjoy it in a much better way that I never would even think about.
RG: Exactly. So, it was interesting. The NFL came out and said we might have made a mistake. So, we're going to come out with the all-white uniforms. So, if you do have color blindness you can distinguish between white and another color.
JS: Going back to that WebAIM report that you were talking about, they scanned a million of the most trafficked websites and they reported back on the general accessibility of those sites. What are the types of things—you’d mentioned the color contrast was an issue— what are some of the other issues that the most common websites are experiencing or delivering?
RG: Hierarchy. Is the hierarchy of the page, is the page layout done in a proper way, this a button. There are so many times where you're like ‘Can I click on that thing,’ or you know. There's a lot of what seems like common sense things. There's a wonderful, wonderful—I’m actually going to have my students do this tomorrow because I’m going to be talking about interaction design—but it's a website called the User Inyerface, and it is full of all the mistakes that designers will do. It's like click here and then there's an underline, but really you have to click on the word here instead of the underline, so there's a lot of different things.
Timing, you know when a timer is going and you're just like, ‘Oh my goodness, I only have this much time left,’ but that also gives pressure to people. It's just very interesting all the different things that are out there, and you know people say’ Well if I make it accessible it's not going to be pretty.’ And that's not true, the a11Y project just came out with a new website—a11Y is a numeronym for accessibility, so there's 11 characters between the A and the Y—they came out with their website and guess what? It is beautiful and it is accessible. So, it is totally possible.
JS: Yeah, you know with my design experience as well, where we learned about hierarchy, people may scan a website by jumping to headlines. A sighted user when you go to a website—you might not realize it—you're going to scroll to the bottom of that website just to get a lay of the land and understand what you're about to dive into.
Well, for someone using a screen reader they want to do the same thing before they just start reading the entire thing. They want to skim through, and a quick way to do that might be to jump to the different headings. If that's out of order then it might not necessarily deliver a very logical experience for that person. Something that we found though is, ‘Okay well hang on a second, I’m a designer and I want to use my H5 below the H1, because I want it to be a smaller font.’ There are ways that you can use your H5 CSS style but go in and just override that heading role and the level to make it a number two, so you can get the best of both worlds. You can get the look that you're going for and still deliver a logical experience for people who are using assistive technologies.
RG: This is so true, but it needs to be thought about, and when you think about it, it is more than one person's job. Because I think people will say, ‘Well it's a developer's responsibility to make it accessible.’ Well it's not. Who's working on the information architecture, who's working on the copy, who's working on the design? Everybody plays their part, and it's a benefit to everybody if everybody knows about accessibility.
JS: When you do have a team of people that are making this a priority and addressing this, you start going back to those reasons why a company might make this a priority. When you're focusing on this, the ADA based lawsuits—the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act is a law. There's some confusion about it. Okay, well if it's a law and you break that law then you should go to jail. Well it's not that kind of law, it's a law that isn't specifically enforced by the government. It's up to those people who are being served in lawsuits for attention to be brought to it.
So for example, I know it's illegal for me to use race as the basis for how I’m hiring my staff, that's illegal. But the government's not going to sue me. It's up to this human that I discriminate against to serve that lawsuit. When we think about it that way, you look at these lawyers and you look at the companies that are being sued—when you initially hear about you're like, Well that's extortion, the company didn't even know about accessibility, so how can they be held accountable to this lawsuit.?’
Well the fact is, you need those lawsuits to start bringing it to people's awareness, to bring it out so that there are new stories about Beyoncé or Winn-Dixie, Pizza Hut or whoever it might be. You need those lawsuits so that we can be a little bit afraid and say ‘Okay I need to make this a priority, I need people that are paying the bills to say all right we're going to commit resources to this,’ and you kind of start looking at those lawsuits from a different angle, from more of a helpful angle.
RG: I like root cause analysis So, I like to go back to why don't people know about this? There's a gap right between people who know about it and people who don't, businesses who know about it and businesses who don't. A lot of small businesses are not told this. I mean if you look at anybody who's creating websites for small businesses, they're not saying, ‘Hey you could get sued.’ They don't know this, and so where is that gap and why don't people know about it?
That's why I’m trying to spread the word. I’m starting with my students and any workshops that I can do for folks to get them to know about it. A little later today I’m actually working with a wonderful organization called America on Tech, and I’m doing a little UX session for teenagers who are learning how to code. I put in a session for accessibility and inclusive design, so that they can know about it, because again, I think it goes back to an education issue.
JS: I agree with that 100% and you know the work that you're doing at NYU, we look at that and say, ‘Why is it that developers going through school—learning how to be a professional in the space—why is it that they do learn about mobile responsiveness but they don't learn about accessibility?’ And that will happen. I think, like I said before, the future is awesome, there will be courses at you know the design school you're going to that are going to teach you these things.
I had something happen to me last week where my wife—we live on Long Island—and my wife forwarded me an email from a competitor agency on the island. Someone who I’m a big fan of, I actually refer them business pretty often. But she was like, ‘Oh looks like this other agency is getting into your space,’ she's calling accessibility “my space.” They'd sent out an email saying, ‘Is your website ADA compliant? Address accessibility now, call us for a quote.’
I look at that and say five years ago, when we first got into the digital marketing space I was sending out emails saying, ‘Is your website mobile responsive? Call us now and we'll get your website up to speed.’ I’d look like a fool today if I sent out an email saying, ‘Is your website mobile responsive?’ I’d look silly. And we're going to get to a place where I’d look like a fool if I sent an email saying, ‘Is your website ADA compliant, is your website fully accessible,’ because it should just be built in, it should just be common knowledge among developers and the platforms.
The kids are coming out of school understanding this and the platforms that are giving us the tools to make it a priority. Looking at maybe WordPress plug-ins, you can't be an approved plug-in sold in the marketplace unless you're accessible or the CMS's in general saying they're going to address it on their side and do their best to make the tools that we use accessible.
RG: Yeah I mean, I agree with you a 100% on this. Five years ago people were not really talking about accessibility. I was just still getting into it. The only place that I could find for training, I remember, was WebAIM. They do training out in Utah. Now everything's online because of our pandemic that we're experiencing. But years ago I got to go to Utah for two day training and now you can look up accessibility training and you have Deque University. There are so many different offerings. I have a Skillshare, a little 30-minute class on accessibility. Tatiana Mac has a class on accessibility on Skillshare as well. There's a lot more information when you Google accessibility now, versus five years ago.
JS: Yeah, the information being out there is great and it's growing probably every single day. There are new people that are getting into the space understanding the value of providing that type of training and information, but for us, we were only made aware of accessibility as a design agency. Maybe two years ago, that was when the first person was like, ‘Hey, I heard about these lawsuits, what are you guys doing to protect us?’
And the learning that we've had over the last two years has been a lot of us trying to figure things out, finding some players in the space, realizing that there are some bad players in the space and really helping us prioritize where we focus our efforts and where we focus our learning. This has actually led us to a side project. By the time this is published it will be launched, we're building out inclusionhub.com, which is essentially a resource center for people to make qualified decisions about what training platforms to use and compare different remediation services. Because you don't want spend or commit to investing in a remediation service that isn't actually going to do the real work. So we're trying to help people make qualified decisions with that. So, I encourage people to go and find that at inclusionhub.com.
RG: I also would recommend Equal Entry as a wonderful resource. They have a great blog around accessibility and the owner of Equal Entry has been in the space for 20 years.
JS: Wow, very cool. We'll make sure they're prominent on InclusionHub. Jumping back to some of the reasons why businesses should make this a priority. We covered a bit of the moral obligation, a bit of the legal risk but there are also some side benefits that maybe people are aware of, or aren't even thinking about yet. You cite specifically the ability to reach a wider audience, can we talk about that for a second?
RG: Yeah so, when thinking about reaching a wider audience, in the United States alone, one in four people have a disability. And those are varied types of disabilities. But when you are creating your product and you are making it for the majority of people, you will get more people to use it. I mean the bottom line is, if you make things more accessible and more inclusive it will benefit your bottom line. You will get more people and I don't see why people— you know when people tell me, ‘We can't do it, it's going to cost us too much money to go back and fix this,’ but you can make so much more money if you fix it and you have more people using your site, buying your stuff. Why not have that?
I mean it makes sense to me but I understand. I think if we look at things in terms of short-term goals and long-term goals, if your long-term goal is to scale your business, why wouldn't you do it.
JS: Yeah saying I’m happy with the market share that I have right now and I don’t need to expand that. I’m not looking for—
RG: Who says that?
JS: Even if it's 1% growth, you know, committing this money is important and it's not just so you can serve a wider audience, it's also a demonstration of goodwill, you know building positive PR, getting people who care about people with disabilities. It's just a good signal to the world that you really want to be a good member of society.
RG: I mean just yesterday I saw that British Vogue, their cover is a fold-out and it’s all activists and there's an activist on there that I really appreciate a lot, her name is Alice Wong. She is also on the cover and I was like, this is the first time I think I’ve ever seen a person with disabilities on the cover of Vogue with visible—right because there's invisible as well. It's a big deal. Why not be more welcoming?
In my book, I talk about, ‘Have you ever been left out of something? How did that make you feel?’ And we all know what that feels like to be left out, it's not the best feeling. So why would we purposely do that to someone else? And we do that when we don't make things accessible and inclusive.
JS: Yeah and when people do push back and say, ‘It's not worth the investment, or I don't have the resources to put into this,’ when you start learning about the things that you can do to make your website more inclusive, it's actually not that terribly hard.
You cite the low contrast—look at your brand book, are the colors that you're using in your style guide, are they high enough contrast? And that's the simple thing that you can do, and if you're using CSS right it's pretty simple to remediate, to go back in and fix pretty universally. When you look at forms and say, ‘Okay well, I made some design decisions to make this form look good, but now I’m seeing that I need a label for a screen reader to engage in it properly,’ add a label, how hard is that?
When you do look at that WebAIM million report of the top five issues that are present on the most trafficked websites, they're all really easy to go and address. And if you can't address everything, if you can't hire a professional to come in and do this, at least look at those top five issues and at least try and fix those things on your website. You'll be doing so much of the legwork for users out there than you had maybe previously thought about.
JS: You also cite some added benefits like the SEO benefits of addressing accessibility. I’m going to lump a couple of these together but also increasing usability and helping your developers write better code—can you talk a bit about the benefit of clean code and the SEO benefits here?
It's not only screen reader users that we need to think about. And this reminds me, a couple years ago I saw Marcy Sutton who works at Gatsby JS. She did a presentation where she talked about the Space Jam website and how the Space Jam website was a lot more accessible than things that are made now. It was just very interesting because it is a pretty simple website. There's some animation stuff going on but it's a pretty simple website. You can still have all the animation and things like that, but you can do them in different ways that are more accessible.
[30:05 - 40:18]
So there are benefits to saying, I’m going to do this on the HTML level, because when you're building a website, discoverability is huge and building out clean code that can be quickly indexed and understood by people and by search engines, that's really ultimately the goal.
RG: I spent a lot of years working in e-commerce and I work closely with SEO folks and we would go around to marketing and the different teams and be like, ‘This is why accessibility is important with SEO,’ you know we would discuss the benefits of having things labeled properly and if people are looking for that couch, or people are looking for that t-shirt, you want that to be discovered. So, a good way to have that discovered is by having it be accessible.
JS: When looking at the future I like to think about voice enabled devices, Amazon Alexa and Google Home. These are tools that people engage with and are more and more becoming popular, but when I ask a question the answer I’m getting is just that featured snippet answer. I don't have the ability to go too deep into navigating the internet but you can imagine, if we're addressing accessibility and building out things we're putting elements on a website that are making it more accessible for people using screen readers. Aren't those the same signals and structure that maybe a voice enabled device is going to be able to use in the future to help us navigate through websites just by using your home device? It's not there today but can’t you see a future where people who address accessibility makes you more discoverable when it comes to voice platforms?
RG: I think voice—and I’ve been telling my students this for years—learn voice. Actually one of my friends, Tyra Peralti, she teaches voice and I was like, ‘Can you teach me?’ Because I think voice and the impact we could have especially in the future—especially because in the U.S. we have more people who are aging in the year 2035—we will actually have more people over the age of 65 than under. So, what does that mean for our day-to-day life? And how can we implement voice in a way that will benefit us all?
I think by having it be more accessible as you stated, we could have a pretty cool future. I’m not one of these people who is like, ‘Our future’s very Black Mirror and dystopian.’ I am full of hope and I feel like we have a lot of opportunities. and we're seeing those opportunities more and more. Even with this pandemic we're seeing that more people are working from home, more companies are allowing their employees to work from home, which wasn't the case before. Which means now those companies who said, ‘Sorry people with disabilities we can't have you work for us because you need to come to office,’ this is no longer the case.
So, folks need to start hiring people with disabilities and get them because that also brings a great perspective, especially in technology, because it's not so much designing for people with disabilities but designing with them right? Having them be in the office, having them work on those products, having them design, having them develop, it completely changes the way that people go about things, and this is what I’m encouraging my students as well. To work with people—they're reaching out and getting in contact with people and I say, ‘You want to work with them, you don't want to design for them.’
JS: Yeah so, that actually brings me to a segment of your book where you talk about the difference between understanding best practices and the benefit of actually using user testing. Because you can understand how to code things out perfectly, but if you never go through and test it with a screen reader, or ask somebody who uses assistive technology natively to go and test it and surface it, they're two completely different things. Can you talk about that a bit?
RG: Yeah, I mean there was a point in time in my career I knew about accessibility, I could make plans, I could be like, ‘Hey, this is who needs to do what,’ and we need to do QA, can you test using the screen reader on the Mac, and we're going to have someone else test using a PC and I was like, ‘I could but I’m not the person that needs to be doing this.’ Someone who is actually native—like they are used to using a screen reader on a daily basis—is a lot more proficient than me in navigating. Especially because the Mac and the keys are like ‘what?’ So, it really benefits to bring folks in. Anyone who has worked with people with disabilities on projects, it's eye-opening to see how much more you can get done, how much more you can benefit and how much you learn in the process.
JS: So, a quick plug for friends of ours down in Philadelphia, there's an agency that specializes in user testing, they're called Accessibility Shield and what they do is they work with people in the community with disabilities and when they get an opportunity to test the site, they're essentially passing it over to somebody who does use assistive technology and saying, ‘Can you audit this for us and just let us know your experience?’
And it's incredible, because we know that people with disabilities are actually underserved as far as employment is concerned and as far as opportunities. So, this is a way for people to make a couple bucks on the side by using something that they're really good at, you know being able to navigate their website and just simply reporting back their experience. And, how eye-opening these reports are when they say, ‘I really enjoyed your website, it seemed like everything was built perfectly, but when I got to the sign-up steps I was stuck. Iit took me about 20 minutes, and the form wouldn't submit and I couldn't figure out why it was saying I needed to complete some fields, but it wasn't telling me which fields. I kept going back and checking and I had to wait for somebody—I had to wait for my son or I had to wait for my friend to help tell me what the error was.’
Well, that right there, that’s firsthand experience. You're very apologetic you're like, ‘I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that, had you not brought this to my attention I wouldn't be able to go through and fix it.’ As a developer, I might be able to say I built that form perfectly but you're not going to know until somebody actually tries to go and subscribe or sign up or whatever it might be.
RG: Right and what would be even better, potentially, is to bring them into the design process. So, even before you code it, can you bring them in and say, This is the layout, I’d love your input,’ and work with them to hear before you develop, because you'll save time and money that way.
JS: So, there's that difference between understanding and education. Education is teaching you the best practice, understanding is really understanding the firsthand experience. And for us, what we saw as we were learning about the WCAG—the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines—it was overwhelming as you start digging into it, and saying, ‘I just spent three hours and I’m still on 1.1.1, when am I going to ever get through this.’
We thought that we were doing a great job of digesting the information and figuring out what it meant for us as developers. But then there was that new level of understanding after we said— so for example, 1.1.1 is non-text content, you need to make sure that you're describing things that are not text so that a screen reader can participate. We looked and said, ‘Yeah, you know, I need to deliver a fair and equitable experience for people, however they're experiencing the site. And, if there's an image on there, I damn well better describe it properly, and if there's a decorative thing I’d better describe it.’ And that's thinking that we're doing a good job and saying, ‘I’m going to give the non-sighted user the full experience that I’m giving sighted users.’
But go and actually experience a website with a screen reader, you don't want every stock image described and every swoosh and every decorative element. It's such a bad experience to have to sit there and tab through decorative swoosh, decorative line color in the background. It’s not equitable, it's rude to describe every single thing. So, that's the difference between education and understanding, really understanding what we're trying to achieve here by delivering a better user experience.
RG: Yeah a lot of that happens with image descriptions, where there already is a description and so the image is considered decorative. You know, it does take learning and knowledge to understand that and really to understand it specifically for your site or app, and really going through. So one of the things I did years ago when I created guidelines for company I was working for, I got our home page and then I would be like, ‘Okay alt text goes here, this button needs higher contrast,’ I gave examples specific to our site, because that helped people internally understand what was going on. If I’m just saying, ‘Oh we need alt text,’ they don't know what that means.
JS: Yeah, demoing with a screen reader in front of people really opens up some eyes when they’re like, ‘Man that was rough, that was a rough experience navigating through our site,’ when they can actually hear firsthand why it's bad.
RG: Yeah and right now, because obviously we're in a pandemic, I have my students watch YouTube videos of people navigating on the web who are blind or may have some other disabilities because it's helpful to see it in real time.
JS: So, it does help with your understanding and helping people be a little bit more empathetic, which is also something—just to jump back to your book here really quick. Your book does a really great job of helping people understand the full spectrum of issues that are out there and solutions, remediation options, how to prioritize this. But it's also written in a way that’s very digestible—I assume that you did this strategically, where when you built out your book it wasn't just rolling paragraph after paragraph after paragraph. It's broken down into these sections that help you cognitively really understand, digest and move on well. Was that done strategically?
RG: I thought about myself when I was learning and I’m still learning. And a lot of the questions that my students have asked me over the years and even working with different companies over the years, they had lots of questions. I’ve worked with people who have worked in e-commerce, you know since e-commerce started and they didn't know anything about accessibility. So where do you start with someone who doesn’t know anything, yet they've been in this field for a very long time?
And so that that's kind of how I wrote it thinking about—you know obviously I’m a UX designer, so thinking about, ‘Who's reading this? Have they read anything like this before? Probably not, what's going to make the most sense?’ I can't just be like Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. You should know what that is, you should know what the W3C is. A lot of people don't even know that W3C exists. And that stands for the World Wide Web Consortium, which there's going to be a New York chapter soon, which I’m very excited about. I’m on the advisory board for the New York area W3C so look out for events if you're in the area. I did my best to explain things in a way that would be for someone who it is very new to learning about accessibility.
JS: It's a beautiful book and I encourage anybody listening to this to go out and find it. It's again, Inclusive Design For a Digital World: Designing With Accessibility In Mind. Can I ask Regine, after you wrote the book, after you published the book—first of all how long ago was it that this was published?
RG: It was about, it came out in December of 2019. So, it's still pretty new. I’m very happy people like it. It's still in the top 100 on Amazon so that makes me delighted that people are into it. I got a tweet from someone who’s into extended reality—VR and AR—and they’re like everybody who does VR and AR needs to read this book and I was like, ‘I’m honored.’
JS: What kind of feedback have you gotten? Has it been really positive? Have you seen any residual effects from publishing the book?
RG: It has been overall positive, obviously I’m not going to make everybody happy with the book because some people were like, ‘Well this is already stuff I know.’ Well, on the back of the book it says beginner, so if you already know this stuff, recommend the book for somebody who doesn’t.
JS: I have to push back on that because I feel like I know a good amount and this was incredibly eye-opening, if not just to reinforce things that you understand and show some examples to help people further their understanding, so I push back a little bit there.
RG: Yeah the feedback has actually been great. Somebody from Arizona State my alum from my undergrad reached out and said, ‘I’m going to use your book for my class,’ and I was like, ‘Me too! I’m going to use it for my class but you're going to use it for your class, that's great!’ So, I’ve gotten some pretty good feedback from folks too. It's very exciting, I never in a million years thought I would write—I always thought I’d write a book but never on this topic.
It was hard because I wouldn't call myself a writer, although, now I can say I am. But prior to writing the book, I would not call myself a writer. And writing it was a labor of love. I have to give credit to Sarah Allen who was my tech reviewer for the book. Sarah Allen, she does development and she does lots of other things including—she's helped out with Girls Who Code and she's also deaf, and so in the vein of ‘nothing about us without us,’ I did not do the book alone. I got a lot of help along the way.
Catherine Kudlick who heads up the Longmore institute at San Francisco State University, took a look at a chapter of my book and gave me feedback. She has low vision and she's like, ‘You're doing an all lives matter approach with this, you need to make sure, if you're writing, if it's annoying, it's accessible. This is not. This is impossible for people with disabilities.’ And so I did not do the book alone and it was a labor of love and sometimes hate, but I’m glad I got it out there in the world and I’m glad that people are actually finding it useful.
Because that's important and it is really important for all of us that things be accessible, myself included. I mean, I am going to get older. I’m going to have things happen, we all do, right? And I want to be able to function in society and the only way to do that is if things are accessible.
JS: Well, your book is celebrated among us here at Morey Creative Studios and I hope our entire audience gets a chance to check it out. Before we wrap up, what resources would you point people to if they wanted to learn more about accessibility? I believe you are IAAP Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies which is like the gold standard for demonstrating your understanding of these things. Before somebody gets that far down the line are there any other resources that you would point people towards to help their understanding?
RG: I would first start off with the A11Y project website. That's great, it's full of resources around accessibility and so that's where I would start. If you're looking to learn more about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, obviously look at the W3C’s content accessibility guideline website. I would look at WebAIM, they are probably my go-to all the time.. Deque University, Equal Entry and that's all I can think of off the top of my head.
JS: It's plenty. That's a great jumping off point. So, that brings me to the close. Regine is there anything that maybe you want to leave our audience with—you know, ways for them to learn more or find you online, where can we send people?
RG: If you want to find me online, I’m on LinkedIn, I am pretty active onTwitter, I am happy to be part of the NYU ability project as part of the Integrated Digital Media Program and the Tandon School of Engineering. So, check us out because we have a lot of cool projects. Yeah, I’m around!
JS: I really appreciate you coming on Regine, as you can tell I’m a huge fan of yours. I’m looking forward to getting to those meetups together in New York. So, whenever that comes together, I will be the first person to register. So, all right I want to thank you for coming on the show here today.
RG: Thank you so much for having me.
JS: Okay, we'll see you soon!
RG: See you, bye!
SL: Thanks for listening to this episode of Inbound & Down. If you like the podcast, please rate us, review and subscribe. If you have any questions or suggestions, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on social everywhere at Morey Creative and subscribe to our question of the day at moreycreative.com/qotd.
This episode of Inbound & Down is sponsored by AudioEye, an industry-leading software solution provider delivering website accessibility compliance to businesses of all sizes.
Featured AudioEye Blog: Whose job is it anyway? Why teams pass the buck on web accessibility.
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