AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat Podcast with Jessica McKay, Anthony Vasquez and Erica Braverman

October 18, 2021 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken
AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat Podcast with Jessica McKay, Anthony Vasquez and Erica Braverman
Show Notes Transcript

Jessica McKay, Anthony Vasquez, Erica Braverman –  19th of October 2021, 8 pm GMT


Before becoming Knowbility’s Director of Community programs, Jay started her journey in education. First as a music therapist and then as an assistive technology specialist, with the goal of building inclusive learning environments for all. She serves as an advisory member for the National Center for Accessible Educational Materials, the Center on Inclusive Technology & Educational Systems and the State Leaders of Assistive Technology in Education.

With experience in community organizing, Jay understands the value of people power, building relationships and holding each other accountable to create more equitable and inclusive spaces. 

She will graduate from California State University Northridge with a Master of Science in Assistive Technology and Human Services in December 2021


Erica is from Michigan and moved to Austin to serve in AmeriCorps. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of Michigan, a Master of Arts in Teaching from Wayne State University and a certificate in UX Design from UC San Diego.

Erica started as a volunteer with Knowbility and competed in AIR in 2019 before joining the team. Prior to this she was a teacher working primarily with English learners. One of her first experiences with internet accessibility involved learning about the types of barriers that her students experienced when they interacted with English language mobile apps.

AXSCHAT:

KNOWBILITY Friday, 15 October 2021

NEIL:

Hello and welcome to Axschat. We are delighted to welcome Jessica McKay, Anthony Vasquez and Erica Braverman from Knowbility for today's chat. We have previously interviewed internet accessibility legend, Sharon Rush, founder of Knowbility and talked about AIR, which is the Accessible Internet Rally that Knowbility run on a yearly basis to help match up people that need accessible websites and people with accessibility skills. So that we can help spread the love. But today we are going to be talking around topics around userbility and how can we make usability accessible and accessibility usable. So welcome all. Do you want to give us a quick introduction to yourselves? That would be great. If I may start with you Anthony. I will pick on you first.

ANTHONY:

Hello there, my name is Anthony Vasquez, I am a communication specialist with Knowbility and what those emails really, I work on a lot of our social media marketing. I work on our Twitter accounts, a little bit of Linked In. I am blind, so I do use a screen reader every day, on my PC, voiceover on my iPhone and I am excited to hear from you all and hear your questions and hear your questions and share what we have about userability and usability. Thank you for having us on.

NEIL:

Who is next?

JESSICA:

I am Jessica McKay, I am the director of Community Programs for Knowbility so in addition to our Accessibility Internet Rally, AIR, I also manage, oversee some of our other programs such as our access to you conference, access works, our K12 digital accessibility services and other events we have in Knowbility.

NEIL:

Excellent.

ERICA:

I am Erica Braverman. I am a community engagement specialist here at knowbility. We are excited to be here as part of the chat. We are thrilled that you have asked us to join you today and I work a lot with our community events, so bringing accessibility to larger community. Both people that are technical and that is technical and then I also manage our Access Works Program which centres on usability studies, where we have participants with disabilities using different assistive technology, giving their feedback on pieces of the internet.

NEIL:

Fantastic, so thank you. Obviously we talk a lot about accessibility here, been doing it for years and it's also our day jobs. But it's also something that we recognise you can be technically accessible without being usable and those technical accessibility requirements that focus on interoperability with assistive tech and as an assistive tech user Anthony, what are some of the usability issues that you find, so not technical usability issues but usability issues that you commonly come across when you're working with websites and access etc.?

ANTHONY:

I would say just sometimes forms and general ask for more information than really is necessary. I always find a good example is when you're filling an address and they're asking for your city or your State or County or whatever and they ask for your postal code. I always wonder, and I've read an article about this, the argument being made, just ask for the postal code and avoid for example, the State. I think it speeds things up. It makes the process of buying things and signing up for things a little bit faster I would say. Sometimes, it's a big debate for Aria, the Accessible Rich Internet applications falls in and whether too much Aria, too much speech by the screen reader, too much info is a deterrent to getting things done. So, I would say, those might be needlessly complicated forms, complex forms and a bit of too much Aria detracts from the experience. I guess I would add on the mobile side, IOS has the roater, it's a feature that lets you almost when you would do on a desk top, the right click, for example to get more options on a certain element, sometimes some apps require multiple swipes to get through one part of a screen for example where it might be better served by taking advantage again of the IOS roater and that is something, I think developers need to implement to get that to work of course and yeah, I would say that, again it's accessible without that extra functionality but it is a lot more usable with it. That is where I would start just there.

NEIL:

Excellent, thank you. So I think that those are some of the things that we often forget, you know. We frequently see where people are new to accessibility they will come along and they will ARIA everything, apply ARIA to pretty much everything. ARIA all the things was the main so yeah, I mean that and of course, non-screen reader users don't necessarily appreciate you know the verbosity of screen readers and how presenting you with too much information can be a real challenge. So, coming to you Erica, what are some of the common usability issues that you encounter and yeah, where are they overlapping? Because so of them are not, as we mentioned, covered by interoperability or the standards. But are there things that you commonly hit time and time again?

ERICA:

Yeah, I would say a really big one that I see come up pretty frequently and this is something that doesn't really show up when you're running a testing tool on your site is things that give information and that could be something like a big wall of texts. It's very difficult for users with cognitive disabilities or you know people in a hurry or people who have a lot on their mind to takeaway meaningful information from that or links that don't give a good description of where they are going to go that can be a usability issue certainly for people who are looking for information on a screen leader linkers that pulls out all the links on the page. But also people with cognitive disabilities who need clear instruction on where they are go going to go or people who are magnifying the screen that don't necessarily have texts around the link to say what that is for or also people who are unfamiliar with the topic in general can benefit from clear menus and links and things that tell you where are going to go. Also, I think, as we do more of our shopping online and we're buying more specialised products online, avoiding jargon, you know, you don't want to if your new to buying a lawnmower as an example from my own life. I am terrible at buying yard work appliances. I don't know much about them. So, if you throw all these terms at me that I don't understand, I am not going to have a great usable experience buying a lawnmower and this can double or triple for users with disabilities who might be using assistive technology to pull information from the page or might need more cognitive support.

DEBRA:

Which are very, very powerful points. I know that when I first got into this field and wow, the beginning of 2000, we weren't really addressing usability at all and so, I was our team at Tech Access, what we were doing was, when we came to how do we include people like my daughter who was born with Down Syndrome, people with intellectual disabilities, how do include them that when the accessibility is not addressing them. So, we are like, oh, well you do that with usability. So I think it continues to be a very important topic. do I know I was involved early on with the cognitive task force W3C, and I think Neil is still involved and I believe Knowability has been involved with that as well because it's a really, really big conversation? So, I want to go you to Jay, and we appreciate you coming on the show and bringing Erica and Anthony too. So thank you so much for that. We appreciate what Knowbility does, but you all had mentioned before we going on air how important marketing what the Erica's and the Anthony's are doing because the reality is a lot of people are just talking about these conversations just from accessibility not from usability and not from the use of how does somebody with assistive technology really use that assistive technology to make that accessible and usable. I love the question Neil asked Anthony earlier because I think we always forget to ask that question, what are you finding that maybe is accessible but not usable. I thought that was a great question. So over to you yeah?

JESS:

What am I finding that's accessible but not usable?

DEBRA:

No, I am sorry, I said that wrong but what I was wondering was how do you tell, as a communications director, how do you tell Erica and Anthony's stories and help people understand the complexity of these issues because that is what I think a lot of people don't understand is the complexity and the nuances of it.

JESSICA:

Sure, and we actually have our communications director, Mariella who is great at forming those stories. But I think that is really what it's about, putting faces and names to those experiences. It's really easy for us to look at something like you know guidelines and check lists and kind of tick them off but when we can actually tie it to users and how they experience those guidelines and those check lists, I think really does put it into a different perspective. I know right now with our AIR event going on we were actually able to provide our teams with usability testers this year. That was something we were really excited about. A lot of our teams this year are independent individuals that just came together to work together. Theya re not working for companies that are hiring usability testers. So they don't have that experience what does usability look like, what is a user actually doing with this website, I created. So, I think putting faces, names, stories to those actual experiences does help solidify the need for accessibility but at the same time really making sure, yeah, you put all that accessibility in, is it usable? Can I get to even though you say you have made it accessible?

ANTONIO:

So, on that note we know that over the last couple of years a grow of interest on accessibility for many reasons, sometimes associated with a diversity agenda. So there are many organisations all over the place, we need to make our website accessibility and I mean really just accessible but sometimes that brings us to many tra. because okay, now it's compliant. But in the end, it's not usable. So, to organisations and to leaders out there who are looking at finding their way to accessibility. How would they what are the best advice to avoid such traps?

JESSICA:

I will go ahead, if Anthony or Erica if you feel like I have forgotten something. This is a conversation we have had a lot the past couple of years because like you said companies are now looking at diversity, equity and inclusion. Okay? And a lot of the times they are doing the DEI and forgetting accessibility is part of it or they are saying oh accessibility is part of it, but I think they are missing some of actually how to be inclusive and how to really create that equity. You know really looking at the language that they are using, you know what audiences they are trying to connect with and making sure that they can make those connections appropriately and from authentic and honest place. So I think it's really making sure that they are looking at it from all angles and not just saying accessibility is covering our DEI campaign. We want to make sure other that we are really looking at that other letter. and other aspects of creating those welcoming spaces.

ANTHONY:

I think what I would add to that again, again it's probably been said so many times but again incorporate hiring contracting with you know bringing people with disabilities into the work. So, if a firm does not have disabled people on the staff, why not? And you know, short of that, you know if you are going to be testing if you're recruiting for usability testing, focus groups include accessibility as part of that and I would recommend you know a wide range, a group of people with a wide range of experiences not just your power user that has been using a screen reader for 20 years, not somebody who grew up reading captions. But also, someone who become disabled. How do they interact with this app as they move more and more towards mobile apps on phones and watches, you know how do people use these things and it's a cliche right, but it's to bring people in, we would often say, nothing about us without us, mantra I think is really important because you're not going to get people's real experiences unless you ask them about it and again usability encompasses accessibility but often again accessibility is not in the discussions maybe it's superficial. I was stalking to a gentleman once for a platform I used for my university work as a lecturer, and he sounded very confident that this platform was triple A. We're confident it's triple A. I was like it's probably not even double A, right, but people just sometimes speak with these things without knowing and I think the best way to know is to bring people in who have experiences with this stuff every day.

ERICA:

I would also like to add that it's so important to add that however you're bringing people with disabilities into your organisations or your design process or testing, you know be very intentional and how you're recognising and valuing the work and contributions that the people you bring in are making or the people that you're hoping to bring in will make, you know, compensation for usability testers and people doing design work and ideation with you and believing stories, you know, sitting back and letting people express where they are coming from and what their technology is doing and giving people with disabilities equal time and equal space in the conversation and recognising that you know when people come in, using assistive technology that that is really a learned skill and it takes years of practice and learning and trial and error and figuring out the tips and tricks and techniques that might change year over year, as the version changes of the tool and that is something that you know, really has to be recognised for high level of technique.

NEIL:

So you know, picking up on those points and the points that Anthony made, I think this is really where user testing comes into its own because a lot of people that are professionally engaged in accessibility or who are engaged regularly by you know people wanting to make stuff accessible, are those power users and so stuff gets through the gate because those power users know all of the settings and know how to compensate for some of the quirks and so on and in fact, where former colleagues of mine have been Jaws power users well yes, it's not technically complaint but I can use it and therefore it's not inaccessible and yet, actually it's still unusable for people that aren't power users. How do you what kind of advice would you all have for people to try and develop things that both have a satisfying experience for power users and at the same time don't become unduly complex for those people who are probably the vast majority that use assistive tech but use the core features, you know. I am a speech recognition user, I do know quite a bit about the sort of underlying features of Dragon, for example but I don't use them regularly. So, you know my dictation, my correction and some of my navigation by speech are fine but the more complex features, all of these kinds of things. I am rusty and I am clunky with, and I wouldn't necessarily find my way around a website if I was using my voice in the same way that a power user would. And so, how do you advise people where to strike that balance or how to build in that flexibility to give both sets of users a good experience?

ANTHONY:

I would imagine Erica or Jay have something to say with that but I just want to first of all make the point that you should move away from only focusing on Jaws as a screen reader for many reasons, one, it's very expensive right and unless your government gives it to you or your employer, you buy it which is I mean the prices vary. But at one point it was like one, US$1,000 to get that and so, for a company to say well our product works with Jaws, now you're adding the extra barrier that you have to have with this program, maybe 15 years ago Jaws was it, right moving into of course, Windows you've got NVDA, you've got Narrator. I always try to make it a point to test something with NVDA because I think it's probably the most popular screen reader on Windows in the world, right? And so, making sure that works with NVDA, it will most likely also work with Jaws, it's very unlikely that it wouldn't. Same goes now for testing with screen readers on Mac, not the only one voice over. But yeah, I think bringing the focus away from Jaws helps I think people be more encouraged to test. It's no longer just a financial thing that you have to buy the screen reader even just to get started. Yeah. That's what I would chime in about that. But I will let Jay and Erica add to that and focus more on your question, yeah.

JESSICA:

I know for me, when I would work as an assistive technology specialist, it was always about those built-in features because that is what people had on hand. I think making sure if you are looking at your usability features and how people are going to navigate, a lot of times especially with new users, they're probably going to start with what's in their hand or what's currently available to them, without having to purchase extra things, without having to make extra downloads. So, looking at you know if you're on a Mac, what's your voiceover doing, when you're on Windows, those accessibility features that are built into the system. That is usually where I see most people, especially if they're brand-new users, they don't have anyone to guide them yet. They go with the first things they find. And if they find it on their computer as a built in, that is what they are going to start with.

ERICA:

I would say if you were in the accessibility field and you're meeting power users and power users and power users you night just have to get out and pound the pavement a little bit. Talk to some of those power users and say hey, this is what I really want to know. I know you're really experienced but I am a wondering about this, and you know, people might start to bring into the conversation you know, oh, when I started first using my assistive technology, you know this is something I ran into all the time. I learned how to do these five years into the experience I didn't know this from the beginning of or they might be able to help you make connections with their wider community. Maybe they are part of their local NFB chapter and they will say Oh, you know what, if you bring in and again going back to you know validating the contribution, I can introduce you to some of the people in our mentorship group, you know, people who are new to assistive technology and you know what don't you talk to them. So don't be afraid to say, you know I am at a loss. I am wondering how this piece of technology is going to be different for people with different experience levels and I am asking you know for some help with this, I want to know what you all think?

DEBRA:

Well said Erica, well said and I want to go back to something Anthony was talking about because I just thought it was a very important point. I agree that focusing in on just one type of assistive technology, especially the most expensive one in the class. Not always the most preferred one by the users, it seems like we should consider what the users like to use. But at the same time access to assistive technology and the right assistive technology, getting them the right assistive technology because sometimes, the right assistive technology just for example using MVDA as an example, not always employers want you to put open source on their systems. And it's really a shame because MVDA is recognised you know as a wonderful screen reader. But it's just something that sometimes employees don't get the choice and I remember early in on the conversation or a few years ago, it was like almost ten years ago, there were corporations and some government agencies in the United States that were actually going online and saying in their accessibility section that we prefer you to use jaws and they were naming assistive technology products and I went to the ones I was working with and said stop it, that is in your place to decide what assistive technology we use. Your job is to be accessibility, which is your job. And of course, usable. You want your customers to use your and so the assistive technology continues to be a really robust conversation and there are some interesting things that I heard yesterday which we can't talk about but something that is happening with assistive technology that I think will help. But there are some people that if a website is fully accessible, we don't need assistive technology, which always confuses me how right I see Erica making a face right now, but I am just curious, Anthony maybe you can answer that question, so as long as my website is fully accessible you don't need assistive technology, right? I am being sarcastic but please answer.

ANTHONY:

Yes, and I would make a point about Jaws, I mean, I use it every day, so it's I have been lucky to have been trained on it and there is powerful functionality still with scripting and just fine tune, I am very detailed orientated and I like to know everything and so far I mean Jaws does it for me but again to force people into it, I guess sometimes employers want that security of having somebody to go to like if the program crashes or whatever, not just open sources, ambiguous group on the web. But yeah, I mean its still, I think people are misinterpreting some of the people pitching these ideas are missing what assistive technology does. So, a lot I mean I am a new junky, I teach journalism and I use news articles all the time and I have come across now, a lot of these, they have like a listen button and it plays the article, sometimes voice activated which is fun, but sometimes it is just synthetic speech but even that is not an accessible alternative. I like to know how words are spelled, I like to know how sentences are structured for me, it's just for not only just for pleasure but if I am analysing something, I can't just go by how someone reads something and say that is grammatically correct and you spelled it right or anything like that and so that is just one example where I think that people feel like Oh now folks can listen to my news article, we are accessible. Well, no, it's fun, it's a unique touch but the actual news article should still be presented as paragraphs and headings.

DEBRA:

Powerful point.

ANTHONY:

All text and images.

DEBRA:

Are you talking about usability again? You just went into usability again.

ANTHONY:

Yeah, you can describe, I mean I don't think any of the narrated articles I come across describe what images are supplied in an article. Whereas a good article with good Alt text and a good caption so that cited people can also use that. That is all usability I say, again it's more about higher ups in that organisation that misinterpret Oh, we have the listen button, we're good and well no, it's not even about the listen button, right?

DEBRA:

Great points. I know Antonio had a question, Antonio? .

ANTONIO:

Yeah, I would like to I know Erica and Anthony, you take care of community engagement and communications, so I think it would be very useful to tell our audience some of your experience making content accessible, particularly on the social media channels because I think that is something that everyone is struggling today, some platforms are better than others, you know they are tools who do not have the standard of accessibility but they actually help us to make content accessible and sometimes they get a little bit out of the radar; can you share that experience with us please?

ANTHONY:

I would say for us, you know from the rise of video content, that's made the process a little bit longer, but again, all towards making it accessible, we have now started inputting transcripts for our videos, whether they are like shorter videos, a couple of minutes long or an hour long discussion and of course, if you share short videos on Twitter you can upload them and now you can actually upload a caption file but still you cannot include a transcript, it just would not fit into the Tweet. So, we have been linking to, ongoing here, creating a section on our website to create that would just be full of our transcripts, anyone that wants to read the transcript of X video can link to it from our Twitter and that will separate our transcripts from other content from our blog for example. S I would say that is kind of one of my learning experiences this year, is kind of as we are moving towards video, it's all great to share online on all the platforms, some of them don't allow you to bring in the captions yet but linking to a transcript, it's accessible that way for people who are deaf blind to who can appreciate the content without being able to listen to it or hear it but we've got a transcript, you can read it on your grill display and you're good but it is an ongoing process but that is kind of what we are working on. That is the newest thing. I underestimated the rise of video and how influential video is and it's everywhere.

ERICA:

And I would say Anthony is someone with far more patience with social media that I have and probably ever will. I have a hard time you know, as I learned more about accessibility, try and add best practices and you know, things like instead of just pasting a link in, can I make the link into text that that says what the link is. So, it doesn't come up in the screen reader as a bunch of letters and numbers. Frequently, and this is being brutally honest here, frequently, I will get fed up, get off of the social media and send the whole thing as an email instead because I know I can get it to work. So you know, not that I am an earth shattering influencer or anyone who on social media a lot but you know I think it's important to consider that if information can't be displayed accessibly on social media, eventually it's going to get off the social media is people become more intentional about reaching people with disabilities and so I mean it really is in everyone's best interest to come up with those style guides or make your social media platform accessible and usable and I mean that would get me onto social media maybe but I get so fed up. I just it's an email.

JESSICA:

Yes, well and I think you bring up a good point in terms of companies that want to market and reach out through social media. They may, instead of you know putting something that really is truly accessible on social media, maybe they will post whatever they intended to be it that video or an image and instead of actually trying to figure out how do I add the caption, how can I link them to the transcript? They will just try to pass off to, you know we will go to this website to go check out our stuff that is not letting people with disabilities experience the content A, the way they intended for everybody to experience, you know, it's really keeping that segregation and isolation and that is really not what you want in social media, right? That is one of the brilliant things about social media is having all these different people being able to interact and engage in real time and sharing those experiences. So I agree the more that platforms can do to make it easier without having to dive in and make sure I have turned on my Alt text settings, so that I can add them to my images, that makes it easier for those companies also.

NEIL:

And the platforms are not making it that easy. But we have to give kudos to YouTube this week because they have added in a separate audio channel now. So, you can audio describe videos. So that is a step forward. Right? Audio description, adding those audio tracks has been really difficult.

ANTHONY:

And even beyond that I mean, the backend for YouTube studio is accessible and like I am always surprised when that happens that you can upload your transcript, you know it sinks up the speech with the transcript, it's quite good and all that so far seems pretty accessible. So again, as a producer, that is one level of content that I can go to and expect a reasonable level of support there.

NEIL:

Yeah. But I absolutely take Erica's point about the you know, the balance of the effort that you have to make to on certain platforms, to make stuff accessible and this has been a constant dilemma that essentially you have platforms with audiences and where you can engage people on a topic but you are going to exclude some people and then you have other platforms that are more exclusive but then they don't have the audiences. So, there is this constant sort of pull between the you know the and there is no right or wrong answer but where do I post, which channel do I do this? But you're excluding someone through either of them not being on your email list or it not being public because it's not public or you know you're doing stuff on a channel that does not allow you to be fully accessible or makes it difficult for you to be accessible. I guess that is the other piece is the usability of accessibility features, right? How usable is it that image description is hidden in Twitter? That you have to go deep into the settings to turn it on. How usable is it to do the image descriptions in Linked In in or other platforms? Take for example Instagram, a very visual medium, to a certain extent people were describing their images when they were posting their Instagram posts but now you do have your options to add Alt Text as well. But you go through all of these extra steps. So, what are some of the usability improvements that you could foresee in the actual content creation process? How can the people that make platforms make being accessible, creating accessible content more usable?

ANTHONY:

Briefly, that goes back to the accessibility testing. But make sure your platform can be used with a keyboard. That it does not rely on drag and drop only because if that's the case you're going to out of look with not just blind and low vision people but a lot of other people with disabilities. And an example there, we did not touch about it much. But newsletter platforms. We have gone through many, many trying to find a viable alternative for me to start doing more creation and we have not found anything good. Some come close but always it seems there is reliance on drag and drop and that is just not going to work. So I would say that would be the first. It's the ultimate, I think it has been talked about years ago. Unplug your mouse and don't use your touchpad and let's see how you can get this task done.

ERICA:

And I think another thing that would really take accessibility especially on social media a long way bringing those features to the forefront and making them easy to use. Tell people what they are for and you know I am not going to you know, I already talked me in social media but I am not going to try something new unless I know why and I think if people understand that what they are doing is the kind and courteous thing to do and it makes their content available to everyone, to people with disabilities, to people using assistive technology, then they are going to want to make that not just a one-time occurrence but a practice but I think if these platforms started to really talk about and it's good for them too. You know, hey we have put this here to make your content accessible to people who are blind and reading all the content on the page. You know, everyone is going to want to do that.

NEIL:

Yeah.

JESSICA:

And just real fast, I think another way to do that is you know, we have so many influencers out there. How do we start getting them to do it? Because I think once you start having all these people that you know they have got their YouTube videos, they have got Twitch going on. You know, their Instagram posts. I think when you start seeing all these people with millions of followers inputting and doing all these things and talking about it. So I think trying to find a way to make sure that they understand look how many more people you could be reaching, how many more people can engage with your content when you do it this way and for them to speak out to that.

NEIL:

Yeah, yeah good points. So, we are rapidly coming to the end of our time, so I need to think Barclay's Access, Micro link and My Clear Text for helping to keep us on air and going and captions and all the rest of it. So, thank you Jessica, Anthony and Erica for joining us today. We look very much forward to you joining us on Twitter on Tuesday.

JESSICA:

Thank you so much for having us here. This was so much fun. We really enjoyed meeting you and talking with you and great questions, really fun to answer and we are also looking forward to Tuesday.

NEIL:

SUPER.

Anthony:

Yeah, thank you so much. I have been a fan of your work for years. So it's quite nice to hang out with you guys. Thank you again.

NEIL:

Wonderful, thank you.

JESSICA:

I am always happy to talk shop. So thank you.

ERICA:

If anyone is going get me on Twitter it's going to be you all.

DEBRA:

I think it's interesting that you're cautious of Twitter and I think it's very smart. So, thank you so much.

JESSICA:

Thank you. Page | 2