A day in the lives ... Snigdha & Demelza

30 November 2022 - Snigdha Ramkumar and Demelza Feltham

Teamwork - people linking arms

In true User Vision fashion, we have decided to join forces with this article and write it in tandem – we do love our teamwork! We are both Accessibility Analysts, and at the time of writing this, Snigdha is entering her eighth month at User Vision, and Demelza is entering her fourth. For both of us, this seems like a great time to reflect on the journey so far, and what better day to reflect on than World Usability Day (WUD) 2022. 

If we can digress for a moment, the diversity of our job role is a huge plus! When working in digital accessibility, there is a huge technical element involved in performing accessibility audits, but there is also a huge onus on us to educate clients and teams. Our favourite way of achieving this was by running empathy labs, and this was our role at World Usability Day: to be alongside our fantastic team, co-running the Empathy Labs.  

Creating accessible experiences involves empathising with the experiences of those other than oneself, especially individuals who have a level of impairment, whether it be situational, temporary, or permanent. A nice analogy that we use to describe our job is to think of a building with no wheelchair access. The person that has made this building is most likely not in a wheelchair nor have they taken wheelchair users into account in the design phase. This is the case for a lot of websites: there are certain features that are included or omitted, that make it anywhere between difficult to impossible, for some users to access the site. Our job, as accessibility analysts, is to find these obstacles and provide recommendations for our clients to improve accessibility for all users. 

More often than not, these obstacles could be avoided during the creation process itself. However, this requires everyone involved in this process to have an awareness of accessibility and an understanding of a more inclusive user experience. This was what we tried to achieve with our empathy labs – physical stations that simulate levels of impairments and demonstrations of how disabled people interact with certain sites. 

Which brings us back to World Usability Day. We had heard a lot about the event from other User Visionaries: how we had to make sure we ate enough before our guests arrived, how the printer was definitely going to be fussy on the day, how we would be run off our feet, how we needed to have a notebook at hand, how we might lose our voices, how visitors would queue all along North Castle Street… we thought we had a fair idea of what to expect, but, oh boy. 

While all the above unfolded as predicted, nothing could have prepared us for the sheer passion that people had when it came to learning more about accessibility. The Empathy Lab was full of individuals wanting to understand more, see how accessible their digital products were, and just have conversations about accessibility and its impact. The room was buzzing with people, armed with snacks, drinks, and expertise in their own fields.  We met some wonderful people, both in the field of accessibility and away from it, all united by a desire to create inclusive digital experiences for all.

Our Empathy Lab consisted of four stations: glasses that simulated visual impairments, gloves that simulated motor impairments, a demonstration of desktop screen readers, and a demo of mobile screen readers. We took our slogan “see through the eyes of your customers” quite literally, with our range of glasses that simulated different visual impairments, from astigmatism to cataract to complete blindness.

The goal was simple: build empathy by getting people to experience how disabled users interact with the web. And it worked! If we got a quid for every time someone exclaimed, “Oh, so that’s why my grandparent types that way,” while using our motor impairment gloves,  we’d be able to afford multiple Tesco Meal Deals. Which has become a pretty impressive feat now, what with the rising inflation!

Along with the conversation around inaccessible digital experiences and how frustrating or tiring processes could be for users, we all were also beginning to think about the impact of accessibility in our own lives. We became more conscious about the fact that we would soon certainly be impacted by these barriers as well, by virtue of getting older and facing age-related impairments.  It’s impossible to walk away from these simulations without evoking a sense of empathy for users with different impairments.  

And this was only a part of the accessibility team’s contribution. Keith, our senior accessibility consultant, was performing mini audits on attendee’s websites and Harjit, our accessibility consultant, held a very insightful presentation on WCAG 2.2. From the UX team, there were presentations, a panel discussion, sessions on digital waste, virtual reality experiences and so much more. Although we couldn’t experience them firsthand, the conversations from each event carried into the room and prompted further conversations. Each session seemed to complement each other perfectly, giving our attendees a multifaceted insight into inclusive design, best corporate practices, the impact of our digital choices, and the future of technology. 

World Usability Day married education with awe. Attendees were prompted to think about big things but walked away with tangible steps that could be mobilised, along with  important conversations that could be generated at their workplaces.  

Demelza 

Before starting any client work, User Vision curated an immersive learning experience for each of us as a new starter. It was great. For me, my personal take away from World Usability Day was that the training had paid off. The courses, the mock audits, the reading of documentation, shadowing colleagues and immersing myself in the world of digital accessibility had shone through in my conversations with all those in attendance. I had often been skeptical of the saying, if you want to learn something, teach it. Somehow teaching feels premature to gaining knowledge, however, in the world of digital accessibility, you are constantly learning and growing, so what better way to cement your learnings than pass them on?  

The learning curve had been steep, but it came with a level of momentum that came into full force on the day. A delightfully exhausting day that reaffirmed the pride I feel to be part of such an awesome team, and to be able to call myself an accessibility analyst.  

Snigdha

I had always sworn that I wouldn’t “go corporate.” I didn’t want to work a desk job, in a stuffy office, with micromanaging bosses, and meaningless work. No, I was going to stick with research, work on things I was interested in, and thrive in independence. 

And then I went and got myself a job. 

So, it wasn’t without a healthy amount of trepidation that I started working at User Vision. My first proper full-time job. With adult responsibilities in a different country. I wasn’t sure whether a stable income would be enough to overcome the bias I had created for myself. At first, the entire thing felt like an elaborate set-up – but I wasn’t sure what for. 

Surely, people weren’t supposed to be this nice. Patient, understanding, and providers of free snacks. What was the catch? I was going to keep my eyes peeled for it. The sooner I spotted the problem, the quicker I could learn to make my peace with it. 

While WUD 2022 was an incredible event in itself, what makes it special for me is that it’s when I realised that I had well and truly become part of the team. Somewhere along running downstairs to top up my coffee(s), the long journey to local admin, forgetting my keys when stepping out for a walk, stressing about my non-existent weekend plans at Friday meetings, and guzzling down burgers at the Cambridge Bar, I had stopped trying to sleuth out that “catch.”

I embraced my role as an accessibility analyst – indeed, it came with none of the problems I associated with corporate jobs. My work isn’t meaningless, I get to work on things I like, and I have my independence. Compared to life at uni, it sometimes feels like a paid holiday – sometimes. Other times involve juggling multiple projects and deadlines and rescheduled client meetings – but hey, gotta have some hectic weeks.

Talking to passionate attendees at World Usability Day, demonstrating our accessibility audit process, and working alongside a fabulous team really cemented the fact that I belonged here. So, here’s to WUD 2023. 

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