Technology Is the Great Connector Unless There Are Barriers
(upbeat music) - Hello, this is Digital Accessibility, the People Behind the Progress. I'm Joe Welinske, the creator and host of this series, and as an accessibility professional myself, I find it very interesting as to how others have found their way into this profession. So let's meet one of those people right now, and hear about their journey. All right, well, here we go with another episode where I get the great opportunity to speak with another accessibility practitioner, and today I am talking to Jill Bateman.
Hello, Jill, how are you? - Great, Jeff, how are you doing? - Good, I'm talking from my home office on Vashon Island which is a ferry ride away from Blink's Seattle headquarters. So where are you talking to us from? - I'm from Jackson, Ohio, and actually, originally, I'm from Seattle, so I'm pretty familiar with Whidbey island, and that's great that you're out there. - Oh, all right. And what area were you living in? Was it Whidbey that you were on? - No, I was living in the city of Seattle. Actually, I grew up on the north side of Seattle in a place that's now called Shoreline. - Oh, all right, fabulous.
So my wife's from that, (coughs) from that area. Well, it's good to have you as part of this program. And a good place for us always to start is if you'd just talk a little bit about your current role, and the types of activities that make up your daily, weekly life. - Sure thing. Right now, I'm working at a Ohio University, and I'm the Digital Accessibility Coordinator there.
What makes up my daily life is just about everything. So there's only a couple of us that work in this field at the university, but we started something called the Ohio DAN, which is the Ohio Digital Accessibility Network, and we have about 130 people that are a part of that. And we meet monthly and try to encourage them to learn more about digital accessibility, and improve digital accessibility in their everyday work. So that's been an extremely exciting part of our work. But we do everything from evaluating vendors to checking document accessibility, to web accessibility. So we pretty much are spread pretty thin, but we do, we're starting to get a pretty good network, and a pretty good momentum in terms of getting the campus focused on digital accessibility and the importance of it.
And we're pretty excited about that. - Well, I know as an instructor at the University of Washington, we would get, you know, missives about, you know, making materials accessible. And so I had a little experience with that in addition to being an accessibility professional. But I, it must be a very large and nonstop effort to try and make, you know, traditional class material as accessible.
- Yes, it sure is. It feels like a mountain and it certainly is a mountain. The mountain isn't necessarily about, it was just a, (sighs) I'm always trying to figure out what the mountain is about, and how to climb it. Especially being from Seattle, and spending time around a lot of mountains, you think about these kinds of things. Like, how do you, how do you actually climb this thing? But the mountain is really not about people being jerks.
It's really about not understanding how technology becomes the barrier, and how much of a difference we can make in people's lives by just changing a few things about how we work. And by starting to change a few things about how we work, and really, this is starting to get into usability, and things like that, which is how I got into digital accessibility. But it opens, it starts to open our eyes in terms of who is using this tool? Why is it there? How do I make it really communicate? What's the heart of the communication? What's the heart of what I'm doing? And I think that it's a really powerful way to get through to people, but I think for the most part, people just don't know. And finding ways to start to chip away at that lack of knowledge, because once people figure out that, oh yeah, if I just create better headings, I'm going to, you know, go a long way toward making a more accessible document. Once you start to chip away at that lack of knowledge, or that lack of awareness, it's not really knowledge even, it's just a lack of awareness.
Once you start to make that shift, people are excited about it, and they're excited about making sure that their work doesn't cause any barriers, because nobody really wants to create barriers. But getting that, it is a mountain to climb, getting that message out there to so many people. We have, it's a, Ohio University is a pretty large university, but we're not alone in this. So we're starting to see some headway, and we're super excited about that. - Yeah, well, I, yeah, I totally appreciate that, because you can- - Another state is University of Washington for sure.
- Yeah, you can have, you know, you can have tools that have been vetted to be accessible, but then you, you know, the instructors doing the work still, they're a, you know, it'll be like, well, I have PowerPoints, and I'm not really sure what I need to do there, and then I have documents that I provide, and PDFs, and so I think it becomes overwhelming. And by just, you know, you know, providing constant you know, nudges, and tips, and tricks, and things like that, I think, you know, we're in accessibility, to me it's all about iteration, and moving forward, you know, as much as possible. - Absolutely. And I taught as well, and there's so much to it, and there's a part of teaching that's, you know, I was just an adjunct, so I probably would've gotten over this, but it's terrifying to stand in front of people at a university and say, "Listen to me, 'cause I know what I'm talking about." It's like, oh man, there's so, and you know, there's so much that goes into putting a course together, it's a lot of work.
And on top of that we're saying, "Oh, and by the way, "there's more work that needs to be done." But it's not necessarily, and I think that's the part I like to try and get across to people, it's not exactly more work, it's actually using the tool the way it's meant to be used. And 9 times out of 10, by use, it's gonna end up, using the tool like PowerPoint or Word, or even Excel, using it the way it was designed to be used, not really the way we've kind of hacked together, and we've never really taken a class in how to use it, we end up being a lot more efficient with it as well. Because all of a sudden now, you know, if you're, I'm going back to headers again, but if you're in Word, and you set up your headers in your styles, your overall document's gonna look so much better, and it's gonna be super fast to do, because you've got your headers already styled, you just do it once.
And that's just how you use the tool. So a part, a big part of this is how to use, just learning how to use your tools more efficiently and more effectively. - Well- - Taking out the barriers. (laughs)
- Well I, you know, we'll definitely come back to your current work, but one of the things I like to do in this program is to find out, you know, what things in our lived life and work life were, you know, our first experiences with accessibility, and then kind of how we found our way into making it part of our professional activities. So kind of going back in time, where did it start with you? - (chuckles) Oh wow. Yeah, I did not take a direct path (laughs) by any stretch of the imagination. I actually graduated from Seattle University with a degree in Communication Journalism. And I worked in journalism, I worked in television news in Seattle, and ended up moving to Ohio. And I didn't really anticipate how rural this area was, (chuckles) but I ended up changing careers from journalism into public relations, and that's how I got involved at Ohio university.
And throughout that process of change, of changing my career, I started to get more and more involved in content, and getting involved in how to communicate to people in a way that they understand it. And that's always been kind of the string that runs through my career. And probably about 2008, I ended up getting a master's degree, starting a master's program at the university, and got involved in user experience design. And what I, one of the things that I focused on in user experience design was this idea of usability.
This is a long story, but it's gonna make sense. (laughs) Usability really is the foundation that you build upon for an, to create an extraordinary experience for people. But you can't ever create an extraordinary experience without usability. And somehow I put together, (chuckles) probably, I don't know exactly how, but I put, ended up putting together that accessibility and usability had really similar heuristics. So they had really similar guidelines. The guidelines that are in usability are almost identical to those things that are in WCAG, for instance.
And I had a really hard time convincing stakeholders that the product that they're, that we're creating, a website, or web application, or any kind of design, needs to be usable first, but I could do that with accessibility. I could use that extra leverage of saying, this is the law, this is the right thing to do, this is the moral thing to do. Oh, and by the way, it's also, creates this foundation of usability you have to have before you can start to create extraordinary experiences.
As I progressed through that, I was also drawn into my own family experience, where my stepfather was starting to lose his vision through macular degeneration, because he had diabetes. And I started to see him know that he was going to lose his vision, which is a terrifying thing, but also knowing that, well, he also had significant hearing loss in his, and he was aging. And he was a brilliant man, and I could see the effect of losing his vision, and losing his hearing, and his connection with his computer starting to disintegrate. Because I would come in, and I could tell, I could teach him how to use voiceover, and I could teach him how to use some of the technologies that are, that are available for people with disabilities. But he would run into websites where it wouldn't work. He would blame himself, and he just got further and further away.
And to this day I still blame his disconnection from technology with his his subsequent death, because he just gave up. He just started giving up on the world, and he started giving up on his treatments. So for me it was, it sounds a little bit dramatic, but it's kind of a life and death thing that technology connects us to each other right now. That's where we're living.
And if there are barriers there, which there are, and we have the ability to get rid of them, we have an obligation to do that. So that's, I think that's really, if you ask me what the driving force of why I do, that's probably a big part of where it is. I know it's gonna make the tools more usable, not just for people with disabilities, but for everyone across the board. But for me personally, it's also that getting the barriers out of the way of people with disabilities so that they don't lose touch with each other, and touch with us, because we need them and they need us, and we need to take, we need to get those barriers out.
Technology is the great connector unless there's barriers there, so let's get the barriers out. - Well yeah, thanks for sharing your personal experience with that is definitely, you know, a very, you know, a touching anecdote to hear about your personal experience with that. You know, as part of that, you know, indicated that you had, you know, some experience with the voiceover, and that type of thing, you know, just getting, you know, being able to understand what tools and technologies are part of accessibility is important. What was it for you? How did you, you know, have your own education about those types of things? Did it come through your university work? - I was really fortunate. I was on the, I'm a, I was a web developer before I got into this field, and our web team, we were able to hire an accessibility specialist, a web accessibility specialist, and I learned a lot from her. I learned that, we worked together quite a bit, and she mentored me.
We're still good friends. And that's where a lot of my education came from. She eventually left the university, and I was able to take a similar position to what she had, and continued to build on the foundation she created.
The rest of it has been Google searches, YouTube videos, everything I could find. 'Cause there really hasn't been, and there really isn't, it's frustrating, a really good academic program to learn how to, how to become a web accessibility coordinator, or a web specialist, or. There's some, you know, there's a few things out there, but it's not, to me, at least in my experience, it isn't as mature as, say, going into the field, which is where I work, the field of security, where you've got all of these certifications and training courses, and a lot of professional development that's available on a very high level. That isn't necessarily there yet for accessibility.
And that's frustrating, because it's just as valid, and just as, in some cases, complicated. And I know that we tell people all the time about, oh, there's really simple things you can do to improve accessibility, and that's true. But to really move the ball, some of that stuff's pretty deep and pretty complicated, and we could use a lot more training, and validation, and things like that. And IAAP does great with certification and things like that, but I think there could be more.
- And with your- - [Jill] Least we can do. - With your work at the university, is it within your area to actually review tools and technologies that are being purchased by the university for use by students? - Absolutely, yes. (chuckles) Absolutely, yeah, and that's a big part of what I do, and that's a big part of what the other person who works in our department does is review these, review tools and technologies for the university. And we've spent, we're continuously improving it, but we've spent a lot of time developing a process around purchasing, and I know it does frustrate our customers from time to time, but I think more and more they're coming to understand why we're doing this, and why it's important, and why it matters.
We also have a policy about IT purchases. So it's a big part of who we are and what we're doing. It's not easy because it's, we're asking our customers to explain to us why they're buying, what they're buying, what they're gonna be using it for, what it is. And it's not always easy to describe ICT, information, communications, and technologies in simple terms.
And so that can get frustrating for people, but for the most part, we have a pretty robust process for vetting out based on a risk-based process, trying to make sure that we're purchasing the most accessible technology that we can. One of the things that I'm really proud of that we've done this year is, in the last couple of years really, is worked with EDUCAUSE to create an additional 13 questions to something called the HECVAT, which is the higher education, oh wow, (laughs) I'm gonna go, I'm gonna draw a blank on this, higher education community vendor template, a vendor purchasing template- - We'll put it in the show notes. - Thanks, put it in the show notes, absolutely.
Anyway, it's a, it's a template that security professionals use that asks vendors to tell higher education how secure their tool, how secure their technology is. We added 13 accessibility questions to that template. It's not just a security template, it's just a, it's an overall vendor assessment tool, (chuckles) that's the AT, assessment tool, that helps universities determine how accessible, how far, how mature this company is in their accessibility journey. And then I think it's gonna do a lot of good for colleges and universities making purchases. - And you know, you talking about that made me, you know, think that I don't even really know.
Does the university systems have, are there like standards or best practices? Do you share your templates and ideas, or is every institution essentially its own island trying to make their way into this area of vetting products? - That's a really good question. It's not easy thing, it's not an easy thing to answer. In Ohio, we've tried to create kind of a consortium around accessibility. It's a lot harder than it seems like. Seems like it should be that we all review the same things, we share the reviews with each other, and you know, if somebody's reviewed this company, here's the, here's our results, and you don't have to review it. But everyone has a different use case on each of these products, and some of these companies have 20 products, so it's almost impossible to do that.
Having said that, organizations like EDUCAUSE, where all, hundreds and hundreds of university come, universities, accessibility professionals come together and share our best practices, is really a good start to doing that, to doing just that. I don't know that we're ever gonna get to the point where we can fully support each other, but we're trying, we're trying to get there, we're trying to get that, and again, just like accessibility, it's progress, not perfection. So we're trying to, we're trying to take steps to make, to get closer and closer to that goal of let's make this a little bit easier on each other. - Well, as you kinda look forward into the future, are there any new initiatives that you're excited about? Or are there things that maybe you wish could be moving faster? Or areas that you think our profession needs to be particularly, (chuckles) I can tell (Jill laughs) you're kinda laughing about that, all right.
'Cause there's often a lot of things, but what might be a couple of, you know, one or two focus points that, you know, are always at the top of your mind? - Oh wow. It's a tough one to answer because I want it all fixed. I mean, you know, I look at the WebAIM million website project that comes out every year, and I just get so discouraged by that every year. It seems like we're just not making the progress that we need to. I'm not a big fan of laws, and I'm not a big fan of regulations. I'm a big fan of people doing things out of the goodness of their hearts, but we know that not everyone's good, and we also need to have other motivations.
So I'm hoping the Duckworth bill that's kind of come up is actually gonna give us some lift in raising the awareness about accessibility, and encouraging businesses and organizations across the country to improve what, improve the accessibility of websites, and improve the accessibility of web applications. I don't know what the answer to that is, but I think, you know, I know that a restaurant is not gonna, out of the goodness of their heart, create parking spots for disabled customers. I know that there has to be some legislation there, there has to be some teeth behind the legislation. And the same is probably true for websites as well, because it is hard. It's, you know, we can't kid ourselves into saying this is a piece of cake.
It's a journey, particularly when that thing is already built. As we get, as we shift left, and get more into the design phase of our agile practices though, I think we're gonna start to see some changes. I think if we start to see changes in university programs, particularly, in computer science programs, that don't just have an accessibility class. I think accessibility classes are not the answer. I think the answer is integrating accessibility throughout the coding, the coding curriculum, same thing with the design curriculum in art schools.
Once we start seeing that, we're gonna start seeing some real changes. - Well, yeah, it's been a pleasure chatting with you. Are the students starting to move back? Are you already into classes? Or when do the things start going again for you? - Tuesday, they start, they start up again Tuesday. So they've had quite a break (chuckles) for this winter break. But yeah, they're coming back here very quickly, so we're gearing up for that.
We're quite swamped. (laughs) - No, I know, again, from my own experience, that it's, everything's really quiet, and then suddenly, there's this crush and melee. - Suddenly, it's not. (laughs) Yes, - Well, it was- - I'm looking forward to it.
- It was great having this opportunity to chat with you, and hopefully we'll you meet up together at a physical event at some point or other. - Absolutely, it's a pleasure, Joe. Thank you so much. - All right, thank you, bye-bye.