Let’s talk more about accessibility

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There are so many things we do every day that we take for granted: browsing the internet, texting our friends, scrolling our Instagram feeds, opening the Spotify playlist. But many technology-related actions we do are not accessible to millions of people with disabilities and impairments worldwide. 

Back in 2012, Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) was launched and it has been marked annually every third Thursday of May in order to highlight the need for increased digital accessibility. 

Two CODE students, Maya Alroy, an Interaction Design student, and Tetiana Boliukh, a Product Management student, are definitely the leaders in steering the conversation about accessibility at CODE. 

Along with many efforts within the field, the day promotes real improvements that are helping many people to overcome obstacles when using technology. But despite the improvements and finally opening conversations on the importance of inclusion amongst designers, developers, and tech leaders, there is still a lot of work to do. Here at CODE, we recognize the importance of these conversations, and our students are actively encouraged to co-design more accessible learning journeys that address their individual requirements. We know we could do more. 

CODE students Tetiana and Maya
CODE students Maya (right) and Tetiana (left)

Two CODE students, Maya Alroy, an Interaction Design student, and Tetiana Boliukh, a Product Management student, are definitely the leaders in steering the conversation about accessibility at CODE. 

Maya’s interest in the topic comes from a personal perspective; because of her own deafness in one ear she was always more aware of the barriers that technology users might face, but she additionally has the notion to support people through technology. “Through a UX course I started a couple of years ago, I was made aware of the problems that people with disabilities are facing with technology. I started to work on my own sign language app idea, and I continued to work on it during my orientation semester at CODE,” says Maya.

“I always strived for maximum inclusion – every person should be included and feel comfortable in society. That seemed to me like the only fair base,” explains Tetiana. At CODE she met Maya and, learning about her hearing disabilities, she just started to try to observe the world through her perspective. “And then I was thinking: as a product manager, I’m building the product. How can I continue to sleep tight at night knowing that somebody out there is struggling to use that product?” she asked herself.

Maya and Tetiana went together to the A11y Accessibility conference on the accessibility topic last year in Berlin. They both described the event as an inspiring breaking point and warn that there are a lot of disabilities on the spectrum that need to be taken into account. Not all disabilities are visible. For instance, there are also cognitive disabilities/impairments, and simple solutions like a consistent layout and the use of plain language would enable people with different learning disabilities/impairments. 

I was thinking: as a product manager, I’m building the product. How can I continue to sleep tight at night knowing that somebody out there is struggling to use that product?

When she is doing some design work, Maya says that she has a checklist. “I’m checking 1000 times if the colors that I’m using are accessible. I check the contrast and how all this will perform in the screen reader.” 

Maya worked on a research project at CODE to understand more about visual impairments and technology, with support from Tetiana. “I wanted to learn how the eye works… about blindness and color blindness, and how the screen reader works… I went back home to Israel to visit Migdal Or, a multi-service center dedicated to advancing people with blindness or visual impairment towards independent functioning and inclusion in the workplace.” She collected a lot of data, went to many meetups in Berlin, and talked with many inspiring people. She met Matt May, the Head of Inclusion at Adobe at the accessibility conference in Scotland, who talked about how design thinking and empathy aren’t the most effective tools when designing for disabled people – disabled people need to be co-creators of our products and not only our inspiration. 

Expo 2020
Maya’s project during Expo 2019

During the Expo Day in December 2019, Maya showcased the results of her work. “I arranged different posters with quotes, darkened my screen and I opened the screen reader and encouraged people to try it out. It was interesting to see how many people were afraid of leaving their comfort zone. Some students were hesitating. I know I can’t change all of their minds but I just always want to point out a very practical approach: ‘Building a website, it’s like a house. If you build it with no accessibility from the beginning, it will be much harder to fix it.’”

Disabled people need to be co-creators of our products and not only our inspiration. 

Tetiana thinks that the key aspect is to normalize the topic of disability and raise awareness of what is actually happening around us. “You might not know that the person sitting right next to you is facing obstacles you have no idea about.” 

Following Visability93, a design project to raise awareness for invisible disabilities, Maya placed posters on the wall next to the CODE kitchen area with many icons for some of the most common invisible disabilities. Next to the posters, there were stickers so that everybody could put a sticker on the icon they identify with. 

Visability 93 posters at CODE
Visability 93 posters at CODE

We asked Maya and Tetiana to share a few pieces of advice on how we could all be more aware of accessibility features. “If you are a designer, check the color contrasts. There is so much information online to educate yourself with, so many tutorials for how to execute accessibility tests, and many different plugins that can screen the website and tell you what can be improved. In general, discover the world of accessibility.”

“I often say to Maya, with your hearing aid, you have a superpower… you can make the world louder, quieter, or even completely mute it.” Tetiana makes a final remark and reminds us all that, as a community, we could and should do more.


 

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