Léonie Watsonin conversation with Vasilis van Gemert

Read the transcript

Right before a role=drinks meetup I had a very pleasant conversation with Léonie Watson about what quality means to her. Her definition of quality may differ a bit from many other digital designers and engineers. Léonie turned blind 16 years ago, so certain things we consider to be important might not even exist for her, and the things that are most important to her may not be the first things designers and developers think about.

Sometimes the one bit of inaccessibility is enough to bring the whole lot crashing down

We talked about why so many websites are badly built. About the fundamental basics that are missing in many of the frameworks that developers like to use today. And about the designers who believe that wow-experience is more important than user experience. We also talked about the future of technology, incredible things like AI, and how this may make life so much easier for so many people: I like the idea of self driving cars, Léonie needs one. But we also talk about some of the conflicts that exist, for instance between accessibility and privacy, or between different needs of different people.

It was a pleasant conversation. And the tea was nice as well.


Transcripts are necessary, but alas, they are not free. You can help by donating a (small) amount on this Patreon page.

Vasilis: Right before a [role=drinks] meet up in Amsterdam I spoke with Léonie Watson. Leonie is an accessibility engineer, she is W3C web platform working group co-chair and she is a screen reader user among many many other things. We drank a cup of tea and had a pleasant conversation about what quality means to her.

Léonie: So quality for me has to be something that’s easily useable but because I am blind that’s often less achievable or at least a less common thing that you find.

V: Less common right.

L: Yeah.

V: But I think it should be achievable especially in digital it is not that hard. There is the tea.

Job, bringing in the tea: All right so this is Dutch tea which means we dangle a bag of tea in hot water.

V: A nice intermezzo. Okay so you were saying that it’s not common but it is possible right?

L: It is possible but a lot of things do get in the way of it being possible.

V: Yeah.

L: You know, a lot of the Javascript frameworks that we use are not accessible and beauty about using those frameworks is that they let you create things very rapidly. So the last thing you want to have to go and do is fix the really lousy code that they output for the most part. So it slows you down doing the very thing those frameworks are designed to help you do, kind of work quickly. You can do it but we don’t often get the luxury of deadline or […]

V: So is this something that the framework, the people who create these frameworks is that something that they should fix or […]

L: Yes the communities or the organizations that are responsible for those frameworks yes absolutely they have a responsibility to get their things to output good quality code and they don’t at the moment.

V: It is pretty weird isn’t it because if you look at the basics of I think HTML, not just HTML but if you look OSX, iOS I mean if you use the default forms and default links and things like that default buttons everything works right.

L: Absolutely and this is why particularly on iOS native apps actually have a much higher expectation of being accessible than we find on the web because Apple made all its default controls and its SDK accessible by defaults. If you use them you got the accessibility for free.

V: Exactly.

L: And they made it very easy to make custom controls accessible so even if you went off-piste and did your own thing you know it was often just a matter of checking a few boxes you know in the developer interface to make them accessible.

V: So I think you actually in iOS you have to, it is hard to make it inaccessible.

L: You have to go some way to yeah to get to that point.

V: And actually it is the same way on the web as well but yeah these frameworks they make development very easy.

L: Right. Thing is we get a lot of the free accessibility in HTML but and the problem with the frameworks in particular is that they don’t use the right HTML. They’ll use spans to recreate links, you know all this kind of stuff and it’s crazy because it makes things a lot harder in so many respects not just accessibility.

V: So is it, that’s something I always wonder, is this really a developer only thing so is this a problem that’s with developers that they want to make their own lives easier and that’s that the reason why they use frameworks. Or is there something else as well.

L: I think with the frameworks the appeal is being able to create stuff quickly and I can’t you know deny that. You know you have an idea you want to throw something together you want to see it happen and be created it really quickly in front of you. And that’s really appealing I like that idea. The problem we got at the moment is that what’s being created actually can’t be used by a significant amount of people. So that’s the disconnect. The frameworks in themselves I think are a really good idea, I love you know what they stand for and what they let people do but I wish they would let developers do it in a more accessible and useable way.

V: So that’s two ways of solving that technically right. So if you look at it purely from a technical perspective that is either making your code simpler right using just the basic controls that the browsers offer you or that HTML offers you or adding a lot of … roles and extra mark up extra attributes to fix it.

L: Yup.

V: What’s the best way?

L: I gave a talk earlier this year and in it I start by looking at a pseudo link. You know it starts life as a span and then you know add in the data attribute in place of the href attribute so you can kind of collect the URL and then you add in a role to say it is a link, and then you add in to have index to make it focusable and then you add in the Javascript functionality for mouse and keyboards and it goes through like maybe ten slides of stuff and then the last slide in the section is or you could just use an anchor link. I mean you look at it like that and its maybe you know 80 90% extra code and you still actually can’t even create a link and you can’t get the kind of a context menu, you can’t get the status bar update you know a whole bunch of stuff like in visited link. You can’t get any of that when you don’t use the native HTML.

V: Incredible isn’t it and still people prefer that.

L: And still we do it.

V: The same thing with my kid she started playing Pokémon Go a few weeks ago. So I had to create an account there. So I created this very, I generated a password which was impossible to type so I copied the password tried to paste it into the form control on iOS but this wasn’t a native form control so I couldn’t paste anything into it. I guess that was just once for me I guess that happens to you all the time.

L: Yes things like that where we try to recreate things and don’t do it properly. Yeah they come up quite often in the scheme of things. Passwords less often actually.

V: This was just […] I had not really seen anything that stupid before in a long time. This was really badly […]

L: The thing I really dislike about the custom password fields is that they are almost always done because people want to stop you from using password manager tools and their the only things that keep password even remotely you know strong is not having to remember them I just have an app that deals with it for me. And as soon as you stop me using that then I am back to you know something I can remember and that’s crazy for security.

V: Yeah, yeah. I used to work for a big agency and the first password they gave me was welcome01 and after three months I had to change it and when I left I was at welcome33 I think. That was just really really secure. So I see this is a lot that you have well maybe badly crafted web pages. And this can be anything, right. So I have of course I use add blockers to make the web faster and make it more private or things like that and sometimes then the web just breaks, it doesn’t work I get a blank page. But that happens sometimes but I assume if I ever just start thinking about how you access the web this must happen to you at least a few times a day. Or is it not that bad.

L: No it is probably not that bad. I am not a good average blind person screen reader user to ask because I got skills and knowledge that mean that I can unpick problems better than most people. I mean I have been known to you know recode parts of a website and firebug to add in the accessibility information that wasn’t there to let me use it.

V: Yeah you can fix it if it doesn’t work.

L: I don’t do it very often because it hurts but you know I can fix things on the fly sometimes. But I don’t remember the last time I can across a website I absolutely fundamentally could not use.

V: Ok, that’s actually pretty good to hear.

L: Bits of websites have stopped me in my tracks. But whole websites not so much. But then of course if you go through all the way through a process I did with AirBnB recently. I found a place, got half way through the booking process and then the accessibility stopped me in my tracks and I had to get help to do it. So sometimes the one bit of inaccessibility is enough to kind of bring the whole lot crushing down.

V: And then what do you do usually you just stop or it depends on if you need it right.

L: If my husband is around I’ll you know ask him to come and help and tell me what’s going on on the screen. If not you know I reach out to other people if it is really important and if not they lose my custom.

V: Yeah yeah.

L: And I am getting a lot less tolerant for it these days as well. If I can’t buy something or do the task I want to do and I have options to do it somewhere else I’ll go and do it somewhere else.

V: I guess that is the same for everyone. I do that as well. If it doesn’t work then I just go somewhere else. Ok. So is it more accessible than real life, the web.

L: To me it is, yes. I started working on the web before I lost my sight so for me technology has always been a huge kind of creator of my independence if you like. So I shop online, I bank online, I pretty much live, work and breath online given half the chance. So for me my online digital skills are probably far better than my getting out and about in the real world skills.

V: I guess it is easier as well right. Yeah. I mean the real world everything is so for visual.

L: Yeah certain things you know like going shopping for clothes or food even is far easier to do online.

V: Really even food?

L: Yeah so I do all my grocery shopping online but it is easy for me to go and browse through isles and read what’s there where as you can’t really do that in the supermarket if you are blind.

V: Impossible.

L: Right. You can get to a supermarket and in the UK at least some supermarkets will give you an assistant to help you, you know walk around. But you know even having somebody tell you what’s on every single shelve of every single isle it is not a convenient way to do things for anybody. So I rather sit at home, have a glass of wine and do it myself.

V: Of course. I think that is one of the things that we should be really really proud of right that we work with digital and that we can create stuff that is truly accessible and that everybody, maybe everybody is maybe pretty hard, that people can actually use without help. That’s the very important part in it I guess.

L: Absolutely yes. And we have some really good examples of it. You know pretty much all of the major supermarkets in the UK have reasonably accessible websites, banking is pretty much the same. I mean there are things you probably can’t do but by and large you can go there you can do the task that you most want to do and you can do it relatively easily. So you know I think yeah there are some good examples of companies that are not perfect but certainly well on their way to having a good accessible service.

V: Fantastic. Yeah. I guess I am not really sure about the Netherlands, I don’t know. I don’t know about supermarkets. But you said an interesting thing now. You said you turned blind so you weren’t always blind and before you were, were you web designer, web developer, what was […]?

L: We didn’t really have different titles back, so in the 90’s you know you just, I think we were web designers if we had titles at all. Webmasters actually.

V: Webmasters. Yeah. My first job was web designer and I wrote HTML.

L: So I started writing HTML before CSS came along but at that time you did a bit of the back end, you did a bit of the design kind of stuff, you did the HTML you probably created your own graphics. We didn’t really have that kind of separation of roles you know. You know funny enough we see it coming back when people call themselves full stack developers, yeah 20 years ago that’s where we were when we started this you know.

V: Or we called them T shaped people right.

L: Right.

V: So people with a speciality but they know about the other stuff.

L: Yeah, absolutely.

V: Or they know how to find the other stuff know where to find the other people.

L: Yeah so that’s what I was doing so the late 90s before I lost my sight in 2000.

V: All right and was accessibility back then a thing for you.

L: No, Lord no. I shouldn’t say this so publicly but I went and had a look at the first website I put up on my own domain back in about 98 I think. And I had a look at it in the way back machine.

V: Wow.

L: I think it is an absolute horror story. It starts with all table based layouts and fixed widths and yeah images with no alternative text as well. Cause I never heard of accessibility until I lost my sight. It never even occurred to me that someone who is blind could use the computer. Astonished me to discover that I could carry on doing that. So yeah no idea until I had to have an idea.

V: That was fantastic. I think that was something that everybody was a bit surprised by that when the iPhone came out everybody thought now this is gonna be completely inaccessible how can you ever use that. But it is actually really useable isn’t it.

L: Highly useable, yes absolutely. And then you are right a lot of the organizations that represent blind and halfly sighted people, they’re really up in arms with touch screen, it’s the death of accessible technology for blind people. And as you say it actually turns out to work like a charm. I really wouldn’t be without my iPhone today.

V: I guess that for many people it changed their lives but for you it really did.

L: Yes cause it is, I laugh actually, I think it is like walking around with a Star Trek tricorder you know. Cause I have this thing and it will tell me where I am, it will tell me where my friends are, it will tell me how to get from me to where I want to be, you know it will tell me the difference between paper money if I am in the States where all their paper money is the same size, it will tell me what currency I have got in my hand, it tells me what colour things are. You know all these little apps just fill in the gaps. You know I am missing because I can’t see stuff. So yeah it is an extraordinary kind of thing, the smart phone in general.

V: Interesting. Yeah that’s so great. A little bit back to the past so what was your, if you look at your definition of quality now it is probably really really different from your definition back then. What was good back then. Even if you had one. I am not sure if I really had one when I first started.

L: No I don’t know if I did actually I was far too young and the web was far too new and it was all about just having fun and seeing what we could accomplish. And actually that’s what the web still is like now and I quite like that about it. But yes my definition of quality now has to be. Oddly I still think of beauty you know visual design is being an important part of quality. It doesn’t affect me in the slightest now but because I still have a good visual memory I am still curious about what things look like I’ll often you know get people to describe the style of a website or you know the kind of […]

V: Ok, good so you still have that thing of beauty that […]

L: Right, yeah, it is 15 years out of date now but it is yes I still have this concept but for me you know quality is impart of how something looks, whether it is clothes or technology or whatever. But ultimately yeah quality for me has to come done to usability you know. Whether it is you know going to Netflix to watch a movie or going to my bank to pay some bills. I have gone to that place to get something done and if I can’t do it or it makes me work too hard to get the job done that’s not a good quality experience in my point of view it is failing me you know. If you get in a car and then discover you have got to push it, that’s really bad quality. It is the same with a website. If I get to a website and then you know discover I have to gotta kind of jump through six hoops to get the jump done that’s not good quality in my opinion.

V: So in the beginning you said, so when we started recording you said that for a big part that’s because of the frameworks so that’s a developer’s problem or a problem that developers create. To be honest yes I guess that’s true but I have the idea that for a big part the more inaccessible sites are actually sites that are focussed mainly on how it looks so these are the sites that are very visual driven so they are very approached from a visual point of view where their definition of experience is not so much user experience but it is more of the wow-factor that they want to achieve. For instance changing input types and making them beautiful instead of useable, having low contrast things like that.

L: Yeah you are absolutely right. I mean I picked on the frameworks right away because I am an engineer so I think in terms of code most the time. But you are absolutely right. Accessibility it is everybody’s responsibility. So yes a lot of stuff does get kind of designed in you know during the creative stages for exactly the reasons you say you know. We want some beautiful pale grey background with some pale pink text on it and nobody over the edge of 16 can read it.

V: Exactly yes.

L: You know let’s use tiny very intricate fonts faces and ditto nobody can see straight enough to read it. So yes a lot design stuff is really important white space, contrast, text style and size, a whole bunch of these things that quite often get overlooked because exactly as you say the wow-factor. But also you know interaction design will get a lot of things creep in there as well. Things that are designed to work really well on touch or mouse but we forget about keyboard interaction, we forget about people who have say you know on the autistic spectrum who really need clear instructions to be able to interact with stuff. So having a search field without a search button you know that you can just click on and execute your search. If you are someone who’s autistic to the degree that they really need a clear instruction to hit this to search that’s game over they can’t use that anymore so yeah just the design patterns at all stages through the production life cycle have implications for accessibility.

V: Yeah, so it is actually accessibility I think if you look at it it is not really a developer’s problem because that was what when I used to work at an agency so we would create these beautiful websites and then somebody would do an accessibility review and then we would get actually a buck list for the developer to solve. So it was a very technical thing. While I always thought but this is not a technical thing here are actually some basic design principles that have to be fixed but so it is more of a, so in a big organization it will be a team thing to solve, right.

L: Yes, yeah and this is one of the reasons why I actually much prefer the kind of agile methodology as opposed to waterfall cause accessibility become a fell foul if the, right we done our bit we’ll toss it over the wall to the next. You know the creator guys come in and design something beautiful they toss it over the wall to the developers and they get stuck with you know trying to figure out how to implement it and you know working in teams in a more agile kind of way means there is more communication so we don’t end up with that kind of yeah it is all down to the developer. A lot of accessibility is in the code, accessibility in terms of assistive technology usage so screen readers like me, speak recognition tools they really rely very very heavily on the code of a page but that’s just a couple of different people with different disabilities. If you are talking of people who are partially sighted or cognitively impaired then you know the visual design is just as important.

V: Exactly yes.

L: So you can’t say it is all the developers or it is all the designers. It is everybody’s kind of responsibility.

V: Yeah. So is there maybe some way, do you know maybe a way how we can because what I think if I look at all the designers that I worked with they are really focussed on if something looks beautiful and if it is wonderful animations and these wow, these transitions are amazing and that’s also how they sell to their clients right. And clients love it as well. It looks beautiful. So is there a way to get a different, a new definition of beauty for visual people.

L: That’s an interesting question. Probably not. Because humans are creative, we like giving people the wow factor. You know we like to do that. We are paying for art’s sake purely to do that. So I don’t know that we could ever really curb that, that sense of creativity. And I am not actually sure that I want to do that either. I much rather see if we can have our cake and eat it. Can we create a visual design and then say look if animations bug you just give me a switch to turn it off. You know so if you want all the shiny go get it, go take it. If that shiny is gonna get in the way of you actually doing whatever you are supposed to do with that website then […]

V: So then it is back to development right then you need to create, in a sort of a progressive enhanced way […]

L: Yes sure I mean some of it is design you know because if you create something that’s got a lot of CSS transitions, renovations in or something and you do decide that your product is gonna have a switch to turn those things off you want whatever is left behind still to be beautiful, unbanned you know. SO there is an element of design in there if you see what I mean. I think the designers you know would need to look at what the simplified visual design might look like. Sure the developers have then got to go ahead and implement it but again it is not one person’s or one team’s responsibility. You know you got to think about this all the way through.

V: Ok. I think this is just something that I have been walking around with so can we change this definition of beauty. And I think I am trying so with I am lecturer so my students I teach them to look at things like contrast that if the contrast is not high enough that it is not beautiful. And I think if these things are just common sense which they should be then it changes your definition of beauty. Just like if there is no label attached to an input then that just, that’s failing UX right, it doesn’t work. So then it is not beautiful.

L: It did surprise me so one of my weekend job as I call it. I work with the UK government on the gov.uk platform and when we started building it we came up with this set of design platforms one of which was that we had to put the user’s needs first. And its design, visual design if you can call it that is incredibly simple. There are almost no images anywhere. It is very very simple text headings, links and the logo and that’s pretty much all there is. And it won a really prestigious design award.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I remember that.

L: And it came as a real shock cause everybody was like we designed it very very carefully to almost look like it had no design. It is that utilitarian but yet it was kind of deemed worthy of this award that it beat the competition in one. So maybe you are right, maybe it is possible to sort of redefine what design and beauty is based on actually the purpose of the thing you are trying to design.

V: I gave up on my colleagues back then I tried. I remember that prize. I was so proud of that that such a website with such a good focus and such a vision. It was more than a website, it is a whole idea right, getting digital first, and accessible to everybody. These were the core principles that’s just amazing. And that they got this prize with such a minimal, not designy thing. And I was so proud. I remember that I actually wrote an email to all the colleagues. I worked in a pretty big company back then. Look, gov.uk they actually got this prize. And all I got was these just people didn’t understand it. It’s ugly why did they get it. There is no animation there is no bling.

L: I think this is a kind of human problem. I mean I see it in fashion all the time. You know friends tottering around on ridiculously you know spiky high heels or you know I don’t know we all do it you know we wear the most uncomfortable things to you know to fit some perceived image of beauty. Men just as much as women you know I cry myself into too tight jeans or whatever it may be. So I think humans we got a bit of a kind of a nasty habit. Nasty to ourselves that we will actually quite often triumph in apparent visual beauty over kind of functionality and beauty.

V: But the basis has to be there. I mean if you, I think some of the designs that we see on the web is like having a t‑shirt with no holes in it right. It is something like that. It looks beautiful but there is no way you can use it, right.

L: Yup, there is some of that it is true.

V: Ok. So that was actually a thing that I am wondering so you travel around the world right and you talk to developers and shouldn’t there be people traveling around the world talking to designers. Cause I think there’s a very big problem over there.

L: Yes there should and yes there are.

V: Oh there are?

L: I mean I have spoken on a new conference a couple of weeks ago in Portugal Mira Conference which is, was all about the design field. That’s the first time they have run that conference. So yes I think more of that absolutely. Yeah.

V: Fantastic so that’s happening.

L: Seems to be.

V: That was always a complaint of mine so when I went to Fronteers the conference, so yeah well great but I already know this but all my colleagues who come up with the stuff they don’t and they should.

L: Yeah and I am sure there must be more design conferences around but more of them I think would be a good idea definitely. Yeah.

V: It is not so much that they have to but they have to know all right they have to understand what they are working for. Okay so about the future, so we talked about the iPhone that has really enabled a lot of people to do stuff that they couldn’t do. I saw a few years ago I saw a wonderful presentation at Beyond Tellerrand which is a conference in Germany. I don’t remember his name there was a blind guy who showed us some apps that he can actually use his phone to read where he is.

L: Robin Christopherson.

V: Yeah I think, yeah yeah. That was a really really good presentation it was fantastic. And that he could actually use his phone to take pictures of people that the phone will tell him there is a face in the middle and things like that. I guess you are waiting for self-driving cars.

L: Yes, oh yes. I am so waiting for those, absolutely. Cause yeah that is one of the things that you know having been sighted as an adult I miss just being able to jump in the car and take my self somewhere. And sure you know I am fortunate to have a job that means I can jump in a taxi and do that but it is still not quite the same as having that complete independence. So yeah I am definitely waiting for the driver less care to come along. But there is so much stuff happening in research that I think has huge implications for you know accessible experiences. Disney a couple of years ago were doing some research into using very short puffs of air to simulate movement around you. Now they’re thinking about it from a kind of gaming environment so simulating like a tennis ball whistling passed your ear. It was like pff of air but it is enough to create a physical you know sensation around you. So you know I think the implications for creating kind of environments you know like that when you can’t see but creating the illusion of things around you through different senses I think is quite extraordinary. I am trying very very hard not to think about VR at the moment because probably for the first time since I lost my sight that’s a technology I cannot experience and I am really really not happy cause it sounds so exiting and […]

V: But to be honest I was a little bit underwhelmed.

L: Keep telling me that.

V: So far I am not really. I think the most, the best and it is not really VR it is AR. I think I like best is Pokémon Go.

L: Yeah I see I couldn’t play that. I really really wanted to.

V: Which is really nice. That around us there are these animals that aren’t really there only if you have a phone.

L: Right.

V: Cause that’s a problem of course with the VR that you need a headset.

L: Sure.

V: And then suddenly it is just you are not social anymore; you are in your own environment. So it is really for, it is a specialized thing. So far.

L: Yeah yeah. But yes the augmented reality stuff I think is equally if not more so yeah interesting. You know just looking at some of the stuff that Microsoft you know gonna be able to do with the hollow lands, you know throwing up a spreadsheet so that it appears as if it is stuck on your wall.

V: A spreadsheet on your wall you want that.

L: Well you know, it wouldn’t be real but you know that concept that you can actually make your environment part of your kind of working environment I think is really exciting. It is just, yeah Pokémon Go is, I was very unhappy that I couldn’t play that. Although gaming itself actually is, the gaming industry is really starting to take accessibility very seriously, Sony, Microsoft, the Samsung, yeah.

V: I was wondering about that so what kind of games. Because it is not all games I guess it is different kind of games.

L: No so there is one mainstream fight game who’s name escapes me ‘cause I don’t play such things but they have added audio cues in so now you can play it if you are a blind person. Things like, Microsoft with the new Xbox it runs a variant of Windows 10 so it comes with a screen reader and a screen magnifier that you get on Windows 10 so you can actually just use the console you know with a screen reader now. So yeah lots of kind of changes in the console arena particularly they are starting to make kind of games more and more accessible. People thinking about colour contrast in games as well so you know you can enable high contrast mode in some games so little steps but really encouraging in a field that’s typically been highly inaccessible to a lot of people.

V: All right that’s good to hear. And I guess from games, there is a lot of innovation there so you can really expect some unexpected things happening there.

L: I hope so. Yeah.

V: Just like artificial intelligence I guess there’s some very interesting things happening as well right.

L: Yeah I mean so things like Facebook’s automatic image recognition that they introduced two or three months ago just on iOS and Android but they have rolled it out on the web. So if someone uploads a picture to Facebook now there object recognition system will try and provide a description of it to me. And when it came out you know a lot of accessibility people were these descriptions are rubbish but actually compared to no description they are really good.

V: Yeah or to default alt text is often just terrible I guess.

L: Yeah and it might just tell you you know two people outside. You know it won’t tell you it is Bob and Joe standing next to the sea but you know at least I have information that I ever had before so it is a huge step forward you know in kind of making information available. So that, yeah really happy about that. And Microsoft are now particularly and Google as well throwing fast amounts of money into kind of AI and neural networking and stuff that will have a huge impact. There is actually an open source neural network system on Vimeo someone is just taking their laptop around Amsterdam actually. And just walks around Amsterdam with their laptop recording stuff and as they go this neural network is processing the visual feed and describing it in text. And they have shown the text in the Vimeo as captions which my screen reader will read automatically so I can sit and watch this movie if some guy walking around and over there there’s two kids and they are eating a hamburger, and there’s some people and they got a skateboard and this is all being just processed in real time.

V: Fantastic.

L: Yeah the computing power is silly. You don’t walk around with a laptop all the time, you never find out what is going on. But a few years time when we can make it small enough to be wearable suddenly it will be possible for me to walk around and have pretty much real time description of what’s around me which will be you know mind blowing, absolutely. So yeah.

V: That will be fantastic wouldn’t it.

L: Right.

V: And that’s something that we, well it is not the first thing that I think about and the first thing that we often hear when we talk about new technologies or these big big data technologies is that privacy issues, security issues but then it is an accessibility solution right often.

L: Yes, yes.

V: And that’s a side effect.

L: And oddly the two clash quite horribly. So one of the most useful things that I thought would be good about the Google glass when they were being talked about was recognizing people. So I go to conferences all over the world and people come up to me and they are like Hi I haven’t seen you in a couple of years how are you doing. Not okay. And I am not the only one, it is nothing to do with being blind actually I know people who have that trouble when they can see who they are talking to but. And it takes me a good sort of five or ten minutes to maybe try and work out who I am talking to. And it will be so useful if I could just you know have some wearable thing that would just ping in my ear and say […] Even if we just used it from public data linked in profiles or you know something that was already out there in the public domain. It will be so useful cause yeah I spend half my life talking to people and I have no idea who I am talking to. And actually know who I am.

V: Yeah of course it is not something that you think about right if you have to introduce yourself.

L: Yeah absolutely. Some people do they’ll come up and they’ll say hi it is John again how are you doing . I thank those people immensely every time they do it.

V: Another John. Which John.

L: Yes it is not perfect but […].

V: I guess that’s sot that’s this contrast or conflict between accessibility some on the one hand and privacy and things like that on the other.

L: Sometimes yeah.

V: But there is also within I think accessibility there is conflict as well. If you try to solve something for one person it won’t work for the other.

L: Sure.

V: So there will be clashes there as well.

L: Yeah absolutely yeah. Yes I mean it is like all design problems when you are designing for people you know you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I think the best we can do is look at our target audience and try to make the right decisions for as many of the people as we can get away it. And if can’t get something to work in its original form and try and look at alternatives so we don’t leave out you know the 20% or whatever it might be.

V: I think the target audience I think that’s always a bit scary because the thing I always hear is we don’t have blind people in our target audience.

L: Oh yeah. Yes. No I don’t mean that by the target audience. I mean you know if you are developing for you know young men into I don’t know some kind of sport or music or something you know or a girls’ coat club that’s your target audience not. Disability is a part of every target audience whether we like it or not.

V: I guess the more senior designers get the more accessible website we’ll get. When we started all our web fonts, the fonts were 10 pixels or 9 even because we had good eyesight right. And now I am getting older and now that’s not gonna work.

L: I say this quite often you know if you don’t care about people’s disabilities you need accessibility now. Develop the stuff for yourself. Because you know apart from the fact that I am blind there is a good chance in another 20 or 25 years my hearing will start to go my coordination will get a back worse. And I am not gonna be patient for designers and developers who are not making stuff useable to me. So yeah I figure kind of […] design it for your future self cause yeah you only get yourself to blame if we don’t start getting this stuff right.

V: I am trying to get stuff as default thinking into my student’s minds so that they just cannot create, well of course they can create inaccessible stuff but then the basics will be there. That’s just not debatable but sometimes you hear companies they say yeah sure we will make the website accessibility if the client wants it and pays for it which I think is, it is harder to do it that way, right?

L: I have been asked this two or three times this year how do I convince my boss that you know we need to do accessibility and my answer actually is don’t. You are a professional get out there and do it any way. Sneak it in under the radar.

V: Nobody will notice.

L: Right, yeah. You know. But this is down to us. We are the ones that have the power, the capability to change this. It is just take pride in doing it and make it your responsibility. Yeah you have to learn some stuff sure but once you have learned it you have got that knowledge and you can just use it you know. I think I said yesterday actually in the Fronteers and the QA I couldn’t code something that was inaccessible now if I tried. I’d really have to sit down and think about how to do it ‘cause it is just second nature. I have been […]

V: Exactly and that’s what I am trying at the University, second nature.

L: And I think that’s what great about people like you who are teaching that at University is that we are not really educating people to do stuff excessively by default. We are saying here is how you build you a website, oh and here is how you make that website accessible. What we should be doing is here is how you build this accessible website and you know not making it a kind of two-step thought process.

V: It is not really. It is about accessibility but I also point out that it is also just basic UX that if you make it accessible in the first place then it is just so much stronger, it is so hard to break it after that.

L: Yeah absolutely. Yeah nobody ever complained that something was too useable.

V: All right I really enjoyed this conversation. Do you have anything else to say about quality or anything else you want to throw out there? Anything I didn’t ask you that we didn’t talk about.

L: No I don’t think so. It is good to be given the opportunity to think about accessibility in terms of quality cause I am not sure that’s necessarily how a lot of other people think of either accessibility or quality. And yet for me at least when I think of this it is a very intrinsic part of quality if I can’t do something when I get to a website or download an app then that is a serious quality problem. So yeah thank you. It has been a lot of fun.

V: Ok, thank you very much.

This transcript was funded with the generous help of CMD Amsterdam. If you want to you can help as well by donating a (small) amount.