Conversations #87: Web Accessibility in Technology

Conversations #87: Web Accessibility in Technology

Written by WWC Team


iTunesSpotifyGoogle PlayVideoMore Episodes

Eeva-Jonna Panula, Senior Android Developer and Accessibility Specialist at Oura, and Carolina Pinto, UX Experience Designer at Candy Crystal, sit down to discuss Accessibility in Technology. They share their experiences with accessibility, some of the ways that they’ve incorporated principles of accessibility in projects, and their views on implementation and best practices, as well as ways that we can all contribute to making digital experiences more accessible.

EP: I’m now an Android developer, but I have a background in web development. I used to work as a web developer for about six years before I switched to Android development. I speak at different events, and I write a blog. I usually write about accessibility, Android development, and other things. Accessibility is the main topic. I’m a disabled person. I have a cognitive disability. I hit my head a couple of years ago, and that caused some things with memory and concentration. I also have problems watching animations.

Can you tell us about yourself? 

CP: I started as a graphic designer. I studied architecture, and then I studied research for innovation. That was the moment I fell in love with user experience. As a designer, it was really simple for me to go in that direction. I have been going through different kinds of industries since my previous studies. I started in the banking industry, then jumped to tech, and now in gaming. 

Maybe we can start talking about how you got into web accessibility.

EP: I got into web accessibility some years ago. My first experience with accessibility was when a company I worked for had this short introduction to accessibility. There were requirements, and the law changed so that the public sector, websites, and digital services needed to be accessible. What I remember the most was when they demonstrated how they use a screen reader and asked us for an example site. Somebody said try HSL, which is the Helsinki city public transportation. It’s the site where you can search for routes and buses and how you can get from one place to another.

They started navigating on it. They were listening to it. They had no idea what was going on. That was the moment when I started wanting to start learning more about accessibility and what it means. I have to admit that before that, I was the person who was building websites using HTML. I was building buttons out of divs, and if you build a button from a div, then by adding on a click handler, it works for a mouse user, but it doesn’t work for a keyboard user. It doesn’t like the screen reader users. They don’t even know that there is a button, for instance. After that instruction, I decided to start learning more. 

How about you? How did you get into web accessibility? 

CP: I think that the first contact that I had with accessibility was the first job that I had after finishing my studies in research for innovation. I worked for a company related to healthcare. This company was developing a technology solution for a specific user with some disability or elderly. I learned a lot of things about how we can improve the daily lives of these people. I think it was the point of inflection from my side to start thinking broadly about including all kinds of users in my daily work. That was my introduction to accessibility.

Thinking about your experience, have you been in this situation where you can relate some experience to accessibility around physical and other disabilities? 

EP: One thing related to these themes and my work has been the understanding of how many different types of disabilities and considerations there are. I’m writing my master’s thesis. 

The topic is Android developers, accessibility, and how to increase knowledge and make it easier to develop more accessible apps. Android apps are not so accessible in general, and one challenge is often about screen reader accessibility. I’ve been thinking about keyboard accessibility, like making websites and apps possible to use with a keyboard and an input method for when in that Mobile World. Cognitive disabilities are actually the biggest group of disabilities out there, consisting of things like autism, ADHD, and brain injuries. 

What are your experiences, and how have you felt the differences between different disabilities and access needs?

CP: For many people with disabilities, they could have financial insecurity. It’s pretty important to be able to give an experience that they can exceed with their limitations. It’s a right to manage our own money in a way that we can understand and address what we need at a specific moment we need it. Thinking about banking it’s pretty complex and important to be able to develop an accessible experience. For example, for physical accessibility, I’m working on a pretty interesting project about improving credit cards. We will add some improvements to the card to be accessible to blind people. You think a card is pretty simple, but it could be tricky depending on your limitations when you need to put it in the ATM. Maybe the ATM screen is not as accessible. Thinking broader, like a self-service kiosk or video conference as a screen, it’s not designed for everybody. The improvement on these cards, for example, we add some mark in the card that communicates the right side of the card to be able to put it in the ATMs or bigger numbers on the card. You can add little things to progress, improve and change life, and make it easy for everybody.

You mentioned personalization. Have you experienced that and accessibility and how to use personalization to make more accessible products? 

CP: Some people don’t like to have labels because of their disability. It’s difficult to make that service personalized if the user doesn’t want to identify themselves as someone with a specific disability. In the test that we were doing on improving the experience, we were looking for the best way to improve how they could identify themselves. That was the baseline to improve the service, maybe adding some extra service where we can address special needs. We used broader words, and how we defined the specific disability was broader. Everybody can understand it and feel like I can relate to this kind of disability, but that doesn’t define me. 

EP: If we want to build truly accessible products, it will be all about personalization. If we build one solution that is accessible, it’s accessible for some, but it probably is not for all. I’ve been fighting this fight in many companies where I’ve worked. I’ve been trying to tell designers I don’t understand this UI if you don’t give me labels. Then there’s always the counterargument that if I add labels to every icon, there is so much clutter, making the UI hard to understand. We usually end up somewhere in between. 

Do you know how technologists could incorporate accessibility into their work?

CP: It depends. Maybe working with third-party companies can help you to address the accessibility of the product. Having a team that is dedicated to making the product accessible. You don’t need to be an accessibility expert, but it’s important to have a baseline where you know what you can and can’t do.

What about you? What kind of background do you have with this? Any other kind of experience? 

EP: We can all learn more. Start somewhere. We don’t need to make everything accessible right away. Every improvement is better than not doing anything at all. Starting is the key. Progress over perfection. Every role can have some influence. We all can start with simple things like capitalizing each hashtag word. It makes it easier for screen readers to read what is there.

When looking at jobs, do you usually have questions about the culture around accessibility?

EP: I usually ask what they do to create an accessible work environment. I’ve discussed with some companies that have examples of how they have improved accessibility, how they have renovated their office to be physically more accessible, how they’ve considered cognitive accessibility, and other things. It’s been awesome to hear that the culture inside the company has been towards accessibility. I also ask how the companies consider accessibility in their products, or if it’s a consultancy, then in projects. 

How about you? Do you ask questions? 

CP: I don’t practice any questions, but it’s important to consider. Thinking about gaming, we don’t have any restrictions or laws that we need to address for accessibility. We do have a baseline to make the game more fun and accessible for everybody. 

EP: I think in mobile development and building mobile apps, accessibility or more accessible apps, it’s easier than on the web because of JavaScript, for example. You can do many good things, but you can also do many bad things. I start feeling dizzy if I see certain types of animations on digital screens, laptops, external screens, or phone screens. I might feel disoriented. I might start feeling like throwing up. It’s not fun if that happens during a workday. It usually takes half an hour for me to recover from such events. There’s an operating system-level setting called reduced motion that I use. If the apps and the websites respect that setting, I’m fine. There is a version that doesn’t include animations, and the developer needs to implement that on the web. They need to know about it. For mobile, it’s respected automatically.

There are things that developers need to consider, like adding text alternatives. They are not automatically added for images, and graphical elements or captions closed video captions.

Do you have any final tips for creating more accessible products? 

CP: There are a lot of things that we can do to address accessibility. I think that the most important thing is to think about the user. Try to be inclusive in your design and consider the full range of human diversity. 

What about you? Do you have any tips to improve accessibility? 

: Learn more about accessibility and people with different disabilities. The best way is to listen and read stories from people with disabilities and how we use digital products. What are the pain points there, and what are the good things?


Guest: Eeva-Jonna Panula, Senior Android Developer and Accessibility Specialist at Oura
Guest: Carolina Pinto, UX Experience Designer at Candy Crystal

Producer: Kimberly Jacobs, Senior Communications Manager, WWCode