“Be comfortable with ambiguity and get ready to learn forever, because there is always something to learn!” – Devon

Accessibility Specialist at Shopify

Years of Experience in Tech: 9 years or more
Level of Accessibility Expertise: Expert

Devon’s Story

I’ve worked as an accessibility consultant, developer and I’m currently working on program level accessibility at Shopify, where I function as an internal accessibility specialist. My work is fairly abstract, where I’m not working in particular on a specific product. I create overall templates, materials and enable people in the company to adopt best practices around accessibility.

My concept of accessibility work has changed over the years. My first career was in library science design, and my work was built around Information Systems and helping people find the things they need. My interest in accessibility came out of this information work, and then switched towards digital spaces. I was working on development and UX work, and my manager at the time gave me the bandwidth to truly embrace accessibility and get experience in digital accessibility. For me, the most valuable thing is seeing people have that personal connection and hopefully learn something that helps them as a person. We have so much work to do in this space, and that is something that keeps me going!

Interview Highlights

How do you change people’s minds and hearts about accessibility?

It’s really hard. I’ve given up on making people feel things and burn up so much energy. I focus on sharing resources with them.
It’s really hard. It’s not easy and I do not have a good, nice succinct answer for that. I’ve kind of given up on making people feel things, but what I’ve tried to do instead is kind of have as many self-serve resources available and point them in the direction of a resource or give them some guidance to where to go next. It is upto them to be willing to dive in and learn more and I feel you can’t burn up so much energy trying to make other people feel something. I have a very hard time with trying to make people feel empathetic, or whether empathy is the thing you should be feeling, and I don’t know what they should be doing but it’s hard to make people feel things.

What advice would you give others who want to get involved in accessibility?

Get ready to learn forever, and be comfortable with ambiguity!
Get ready to learn forever! Get comfortable with getting political, because it’s a political topic for better for worse. There’s always a bunch of caveats, which I know can be frustrating sometimes if you’re working with an accessibility specialist and they won’t give you a straight answer, but that is because they don’t feel comfortable giving the straight answer, as it’s not easy. So be comfortable with ambiguity. I think is a strength which is, stressful sometimes but important.

What is one thing you can go do today, to achieve accessibility in day-to-day life?

Test with a keyboard!
It’s the easiest thing, but people don’t know how the controls work on the keyboard, especially if you’ve never done it. I always spend time on it in workshops, when I’m teaching because you’re going to find a lot of things you’ve done wrong if you can’t use the keyboard with anything you’re building. So, yeah, test with the keyboard.

Devon shares some wonderful stories about creating impact at Shopify through her work within accessibility. Want to learn more on how Devon is influencing the culture at Shopify, and how you can learn from her experiences to create change at your organization? Watch the entire interview or read video transcriptions below!

Devon Persing, Accessibility Specialist at Shopify.

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