The interview has been produced verbatim as written by Edgar Lorenzo
I am an Accessibility Engineer and Consultant. My professional background is in Engineering, but have recently, in my current job, stepped into the role of consultant. Personally, accessibility is part of my life as I am happy to disclose I am a screen reader user. I am self-taught in computer usage and accessibility has been in the forefront of my mind ever since downloading my first screen reader.
How would you describe accessibility in 3 words?
Accessibility benefits all! My refinement of the definition for accessibility would include an emphasis on its benefits to everyone, not just those with a disability.
Why do you care about accessibility?
I care about accessibility because it impacts me directly. Not only that, but accessibility brings about almost unintended results in that people who don’t think certain features are needed, are actually put to use by populations at large.
What was your first “aha” moment with accessibility?
I wouldn’t say there was a specific instance, simply because I have relied on accessibility and related techniques for the longest time. However, with that said, it struck me as surprising how much people actually care about accessibility, whether naturally or otherwise.
Can you tell me about someone who has had an influence on your accessibility professional career? What lessons did that person teach you?
I have a coworker at my current job who is very sharp when it comes to understanding accessibility. He has influenced me in thinking about accessibility from a professional perspective, which differs a bit from my personal experience in accessibility. Not to highlight that one is bad, but there is a different mindset when working as an accessibility specialist.
Tell me more about your work. Tell me about how you have made an impact in the work of digital accessibility through your role a Software Accessibility Engineer ?
My work has become twofold: inform teams of accessibility best practices, and assist in the development process by contributing code to improve accessibility. My work as a developer has impacted the company’s product and, I’d like to think, has been a great asset to its accessibility a little at a time. As a consultant, my work has impacted teams across the company, and I’d like to think individuals in those teams have taken pointers and directives to heart and has contributed to their knowledge.
What experiences were most beneficial to you as a Software Accessibility Engineer in gaining experience in accessibility?
I am relatively new to the industry of professional accessibility, and with that came a need to learn about business, standards, and compliance. I have made mistakes, and have admittedly approached accessibility from a personal view and not compliance view. These experiences have contributed to my knowledge the most.
During the course of your accessibility journey within tech.. how have you requested support for your professional development for accessibility knowledge?
I, of course, have a rather in-depth understanding of accessibility. However, I am not afraid to admit there are others who have a better grasp of standards and compliance. I am quick to ask my questions for clarifications and seek out support when needed.
During your professional career within accessibility, what was something you learned that surprised you?
I will be a bit frank here. The thing I learned that surprised me is how sometimes, compliance is all that matters. There is a desire to want to check a box so to speak, and the ethics of accessibility doesn’t play a role in many decisions. I have learned to understand this and accept it, knowing that it is up to me to employ some of the ethical considerations in providing advice, consulting, and even in discussions.
What is your proudest accomplishment in accessibility?
My proudest accomplishment in accessibility is when I made my first code commit that made a really big difference in how a product handled output for accessibility users, specifically screen reader users. I was later acknowledged by being called “instrumental to the accessibility process.”
As a Software Accessibility Engineer, how do you build support for accessibility in your organization? How do you advocate for accessibility on your team?
At my current role, I have an opportunity to directly influence decisions for products to which I am assigned by providing guidance and conformance assistance for accessibility standards. This affords me an opportunity to advocate and participate in decisions that forward accessibility efforts.
For you, what is the difference between inclusive design and accessibility
From my point of view, I don’t believe inclusive design and accessibility should be considered different. They go hand-in-hand. Accessibility seems to have connotation of having to do with web content, at least in the industry. Inclusive design is a broader classification for designing with emotions and understanding of people’s situations in mind.
Given your years of experiences, I’m sure you’ve had to change someone’s mind or perspective regarding accessibility. Can you tell me more about that?
There is always a challenge to convince people in a company that accessibility is important. I personally have never been met with resistance, but have encountered situations when people were hesitant to go the extra mile to make something just a bit more accessible than the bare minimum. My best plan of action is to try to suggest fixes or improvements by politely informing people of possible consequences of their “bare minimum” solution, and emphasize the ethical implications.
What do you wish every Software Accessibility Engineer knew about accessibility?
My response will address Software Engineers in general. My only desire for Software Engineers to know about accessibility is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Accessibility is an ongoing process, and code should reflect this idea.
How do you in your current role as a Software Accessibility Engineer work with other people to achieve accessibility in your products and processes?
In my current role, I am both a developer and consultant, and work across different teams to assist in making our products WCAG compliant. A process has been set into place that allows our teams to work efficiently together through a pipeline-based structure.
How do you change people’s minds and hearts about accessibility?
I think generally, people are susceptible to making their products more accessible. My thinking is they are just unaware of how to go about it, or on the surface, it seems too complex to consider. The best way is to provide straightforward guidance, or a dedicated resource to train the team on accessibility.
What does an “expert in accessibility” mean to you?
An expert in accessibility is someone who feels confident in their ability to inform people of accessibility standards, best practices, and is not afraid to stand up to inaccessible solutions.
How do we make accessibility more about people and less about standards or compliance?
The best way to make accessibility more about people and less about standards or compliance is to include people with different needs in accessibility-related discussions. It is not safe to make the assumption that if a product is compliant, that it is usable by this audience of users.
What advice would you give to others who are thinking about or becoming involved within digital accessibility?
My advice for people wanting to get into digital accessibility is to find a community accepting of beginners. Finding a community enables beginners to ask questions, familiarize themselves with terminology, and seek out experienced mentors. Additionally, I would advise to be prepared to make reference to a lot of online material. It is my belief anyone can be introduced to accessibility. It of course depends on motivation and intent as to how far a person is willing to explore.
What is the one thing that you could tell a Software Accessibility Engineer that they could do immediately and in the short term to achieve accessibility in their day to day work?
As an Accessibility Engineer, or even just a Software Engineer who cares about accessibility, an immediate way to see impact is to explore the ways in which people with disabilities would experience your product. This may involve some difficulties in adjusting, but turn off your screen and launch a screen reader, try to use an application with just a keyboard, or even trying to watch a video with your ears blocked by something.