“When you design for the edges, you get the middle for free.”
Maayan Ziv (AccessNow) and Samuel Proulx (Fable) discuss the process of improving accessibility in both the real and virtual worlds.
COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Rob: It’s been over years since we talked about accessibility during the height of a pandemic when it came into full view. Has anything changed?
Hello and welcome to the BetaKit podcast. I’m Rob Kenedi, entrepreneur and residence at TWG, a Deloitte business, and today we’re missing my co-host Douglas Soltys, Editor-in-Chief of BetaKit. As our never ending work from home march continues, we’ve seen a society reconfigure itself physically and virtually to live with a pandemic. From lousy virtual networking events, to tables and restaurants that have become spaced out for health reasons, having the side effect of allowing people with wheelchairs to more easily navigate physical spaces. We thought we’d revisit this topic with Mayaan Ziv, founder and CEO of AccessNow and Samuel Proulx, Accessibility Evangelist at Fable, to see how far we’ve come. If we’ve even moved the needle at all and what’s needed to make further change. I think you’ll enjoy this lively discussion.
Welcome back to Maayan, and welcome for the first time Sam. Thanks for coming.
Sam: Absolutely! Thanks for inviting me.
Rob: Let’s get–we’re gonna get into the meat of it, but let’s start with in three words or less–just kidding–can you give us your elevator pitch for what your companies do? Maayan since we’ve had you on the show, this is a good test of everyone’s memory from December 21st of 2020 if I’m not mistaken. What does AccessNow do?
Maayan: So AccessNow is a platform that shares and collects information about the accessibility of places around the world in order to connect people who require access to live their best lives.
Rob: It’s slightly more than three words but that’s acceptable.
Rob: Sam, what about you? Fable?
Sam: Well, my title is Accessibility Evangelist. That’s two words, but whenever you say that nobody actually knows what you do. Fable is a company that focuses on helping organizations and companies integrate the voices and the lived experiences of people with disabilities into every part of your product development cycle, because unless you are actually including the voices of people with disabilities, not only in in the later parts but in the early parts of development, you can’t create accessible products websites and digital experiences.
Rob: Yeah, so it’s funny. You’re both coming at it from slightly different angles. Maayan from the real world into the virtual and Fable for now the virtual world, but at the end of the day, there’s a tactility to what we all do, right? There’s no such thing really between digital and physical anymore. Those lines are blurring especially with the “metaverse”.
Sam: I mean, I think we’re getting very quickly to the point where you can in some very real ways no longer have a physical experience unless you are also or you have first engaged with a digital experience. Think about booking concert tickets, right? There is just a required digital component in order to have any kind of experience in the real world these days.
Rob: It’s totally true. So maybe maybe one way to sort of kick this off is, you know, definitely listen to last year’s show with Maayan. We’re not going to retread old grand and we thought we’d have you back and continue this conversation because I think we always get stuck with the 101 of Accessibility but it’s time to start talking about the 201: What the state of the union is and what does it look like in the future?
So Maayan you recently were in the Globe. I think that’s a newspaper. And you had a piece there where you’re speaking with a health reporter Andre Picard, I think, about your mission and some context. So, maybe do you want to sort of TLDR that, like what prompted that conversation and what you took from it, like why then, why was it important to have that conversation then and what were you trying to get out of it?
Maayan: Yeah, it was part of a series that the Globe did focusing on kind-of changemakers for 2022, and you know, I think my whole world is about accessibility and I, you know, think, breathe and sometimes I think I also dreamed the stuff at this point but I realized how much of a disconnect there still is between what it is that I just know inherently and what people go around in their lives thinking accessibility even means so it was really just about having kind of a check-in, frank conversation about why AccessNow is doing what we do, how we’ve advanced and how I think honestly, my impatience is building into my mission on how can we accelerate some of the the progress that I really want to see, which if you go back a year ago to our conversation, I was impatient then. I’m still impatient but I think that’s part of how progress gets, maybe you’ve got to be really pushy about it.
Rob: Oh, totally! And I think what was so interesting to me is if you read the piece, I think there was something about the what was it, the Accessible Canada Act, has to be in place by 2040. I believe our climate goals are for 2030, I found that to be a little striking in terms of like let’s do it within somebody’s lifetime. I don’t know who’s lifetime but somebody’s lifetime will have, am I nuts or what do you think?
Maayan: It’s, you know, the public policy piece, the legislation is part of it, but I think beyond that also like something that really is what I’m focused on right now is how do we create this culture that really shifts how people want to engage with accessibility as opposed to have to. What does it take to generate FOMO in a market? And so for me, you know, this concept of 2040 I feel there is not much FOMO on something that’s you know, almost 20 years away, and so what do we need to do to kind of create a sense of urgency about something that in a human nature is just to put things off until deadlines, and so it’s good that we have the goal and it’s good that there’s a deadline but I don’t want to wait until we get so close to the deadline and say, oh it’s too late for us to reach this meaningfully, which is what’s happened in Ontario. Yeah, I want to do something bigger than legislation but leverage legislation to create a meaningful conversation.
Rob: Right. Carrots and sticks.
Sam: Exactly. I think one of the changes that I have sort of noticed over the last few years is that people inside of organizations all want to do accessibility and all want to do the right thing. I think a lot of the barriers of the experience are systemic, right? They’re not getting the deadlines, they’re not getting the budget, they’re not getting the support and maybe most importantly, they’re not getting the training. And one of the things that happens quite a lot in accessibility is when people hear about it for the first time they get very overwhelmed and they think it’s going to be a lot harder and a lot more expensive than it actually is. And so when people are worried, or afraid or scared of something, they tend to either say, oh it’s completely impossible for us to do this. They tend to wildly overestimate how long it’s going to take them. The saying goes: the thing that you are afraid or that you were worried about or that causes you anxiety is the thing that you’re not going to do. And so, I think that’s at least in the digital realm on the spaces that I see, those are sort of the things that are coming up as barriers. I think we’ve gotten to the point where most people on an individual level now are aware of accessibility, are aware that it’s something that they should be doing and want to do it but don’t feel supported to do it and don’t know how to do it.
Rob: Do you think that the perspective is maybe not almost like… so I used to be a web developer. I said this last episode too, and accessibility was a thing I got to do at the very end if I had time. Is it really a nice to have any more, like not in a you “got to do it” kind of way, but it’s kind of like it’s seeped into the products that we use every day. So, for example, Maayan you tweeted, I think today or yesterday, Dark Mode is accessibility, right? So Sam, like do you think about it as a flossing your teeth kind of thing or you’re like no no no, this actually is necessary for the humans. I mean, look at our society. The birth rate is declining. Our population is aging. So the majority of humans are going to need products that work for them not because it’s nice to have but because it’s actually necessary.
Sam: Absolutely. That is a lot of what we work on at Fable. Sort of encouraging companies to reverse their thinking because a lot of companies when they think about accessibility think about it as a compliance thing. I mean, think about checklists and think about a compliance process. Whereas we encourage companies to think about building great experiences for everyone, and when you’ve built great experiences, the compliance will come alongside of that but it is possible to be fully compliant and still not create a great experience. And the other thing that we get to when you’re building great experiences… Yes, first of all, one in five people live with some kind of disability. And yes, an aging population means that we will have more people who have accessibility needs but also whether or not you have an accessibility need, an accessible product is more customizable and more flexible and going to be better and more applicable to you in all kinds of situations. Dark mode is a good example of that but captions are also a good example of that. They’re usually sort of on in sports bars. When you’re an environment where it is too loud to hear the television or they’re on when you’re lying next to your partner and where you want to watch a video and you really don’t want to wake them up by turning on the sound. So an accessible product is a product that is more flexible for everyone in all of the situations where we find ourselves because digital is no longer just how you boot up your PC and you sit at your desk behind the computer. Digital now is everywhere.
Rob: Well put. I think you know, Maayan, one thing I think that’s on your mind is building a both a profitable business as well as a purpose-driven business. Talk to us about how you think about that, and I know social finance and things with multiple, no, triple bottom lines, have become a little more de rigueur across the field. Inaccessibility is one thing but also in climate and a bunch of other things, how do you think about it with respect to your business?
Maayan: You know, like what we’re talking about is usability and the experience attached to usability is not one that focuses on, you know, one specific minority above another one but about how are things responsive to you as an individual and how do you experience a great joyous frictionless product or service. The thing that really frustrates me about where we are at with the conversation to do with accessibility, whether it would be digital or physical or there are even other kinds of accessibility, is that we’re still at the point where you know, and I actually would argue that not everyone understands what accessibility is and actually the majority of people think that it’s the grab bar in the bathroom or you know, something that they see an hospital. They don’t think it’s dark mode, they don’t think it’s accessibility captions and they don’t think of it as like anything that might already be in their lives. They see it as separate. And so what I have noticed when I’ve been pitching my business since the beginning, like the first pitch I ever did, I got this question, you know, great idea. Definitely important for the world. Why aren’t you registering this as a charity, why is this not a non for profit and you know, first of all, the advocate in me says why do you immediately assume that if I’m focused on access it should be a giveback, it should be a handout, it should be something that’s not profitable but then if you talk about you know, good design or good usability, well there’s an entire industry around that. And so why are we separating usability from accessibility? It’s like these two separate streams. So for me you know I set a very strong kind of stake in the sand and said, the business that I’m gonna build is a business because it’s important not only to prove that you can be both purposeful and profitable at the same time. Just in general I think people are finally waking up to this concept of social enterprise, but that in doing that you can actually create more value and create better experiences and build businesses that are more scalable and reach more people. So that’s really kind of the approach that I take and it surprises me on a daily basis when it’s a new concept for people that when I speak about disability, I’m talking about it in the format of a business or accessibility as a competitive advantage, as a value ad. So I’m excited about these changes and I think you know, the work that Fable is doing, the beautiful example about how that’s integrated into a workflow of an overall company and similar to AccessNow. You know, I want to see more companies doing this and companies adopting this philosophy as well.
Sam: Absolutely, and there’s an important point to be made I think as well about sustainability. I really love sort of the brief mention of climate goals and we’re discovering the same thing with climate goals that we’re discovering with accessibility. It doesn’t matter the goals we set unless we find a way to do them that is sustainable because people with disabilities are people who are employed, who are participants in the economy or who are participants in the world who don’t sort of need to be recipients of charity. There has to be sustainable ways to make accessibility happen in order for it to happen.
Rob: Yeah, so continued on that path when we talked to you in December of 2020, I believe it was. I think it was like that. The pandemic was newish. We were like, okay, a couple of waves, should be over now. We are hoping, at least we’re optimistic, that we wouldn’t be having this conversation two years in. Do you think that the pandemic has opened people’s eyes in some way to these kinds of things because there’s stuff that like what I’ve noticed is people are much more willing to talk about anxiety and depression in our society. It was not something you talked about. Maybe even ten years ago but these are things we talk about and losing your you know what and the great resignation and all these things are probably related to that kind of thing. The only thing I can change in the universe right now that I’ve agency to control is the thing that’s on the other side of my screen. So have you seen now that we’re in the second year in, have you seen any acknowledgement of understanding or realization that, hold on a second, these things are actually helpful or is it still just in the ethered in the background?
Maayan: You know, when the pandemic started this was kind of something that I looked for the that silver lining and I hoped to say this is the empathy generator we need for people to wake up to the fact that the the majority of people with disabilities if not every one of us lives with a barrier or a lack of access to something, and that now every person on the planet has been through that same experience. We’ve all been through the experience of “I want to do something, I can’t do that thing”. Because I’m not allowed, because it’s not accessible to me, because it’s closed, whatever. There’s rules, whatever. And that experience, I hope or hoped, and maybe there’s still hope for it, would help people connect the dots. But I will say, you know, I don’t because it’s been such a long time that people are in this kind of, you know, just survival mode. I think people are just tired and I don’t think that that connection is being made but there is something beautiful that has happened. This last year that just passed was one of the most accelerated ones for the conversation of accessibility within Big Tech. We saw Apple and Google and like all these major companies make significant advancements on the marketing front to vocalize the conversation about how accessibility is really ingrained within what they’re doing. So on the digital front, you know, the whole world kind of accelerated because of COVID, because everything is online, everyone’s focused on that. And you know, there’s an article that Forbes released a few months back that talks about something like 16 billion dollars in spending, shifting towards, you know, services and platforms and vendors that are accessible. So there’s this whole shift online, and I do think it is helping people be more exposed. So representation is greater, but there isn’t enough leadership from the private sector to adopt those concepts and do them themselves. They’re still kind of looking from the side and people are kind of beginning to step forward and and make bigger decisions but it takes these big ripples for other people to wake up to it and go, oh if that’s happening over at Apple or if that’s happening over at Google, or whatever, you know, how can I do something similar within my organization. oo that leadership is new. It’s been happening but this last year was I think one of the the loudest years for it, and it does help create that opportunity for greater representation of people with disabilities in general and accelerate the conversation about the investments that need to be made in accessibility.
Rob: So yeah, that’s great. So Sam are you seeing that with your clients, your partners, is this accessibility “light”? We did exactly what we need to do to go online or do you think there’s like a deeper empathy or understanding here they’re coming up on the digital side of things.. in three words or less.
Sam: Yeah right. Can I have three hours now? I have so many thoughts. I think the two big shifts in the digital space is first off, Maayan, what you’re saying about representation and another reason that that shift has been brought about is because a lot of people with various disabilities and access needs find travel very very difficult. And as things have moved online, it has been more possible than ever before for people with all different kinds of abilities to participate in these kinds of events. And so I think that’s another reason that we’ve seen more conversation, more representation, just because greater diversity of people have been able to participate in all of our events not only from an accessibility lens, but like from a diversity lens. It’s been easier to do international events. It’s been easier to, you know, get people of all different types involved in our events. One of the things that I hope is that as and when we eventually begin to reopen and to move back into more offline spaces that we find ways to keep this new accessibility and to keep this new inclusion. What we don’t want is to to go back to the way things were where sort of only people who can hop on a plane can go to the conference in Switzerland, right, and can be represented there.
And the second thing I think that we’ve seen is that as bigger platforms take on accessibility, everybody has come to the realization in a very firm way, in a very dramatic way that they didn’t have before, as to just how essential the digital world is in our daily lives. I think before this pandemic there was kind of an idea that like, oh well if my website’s not accessible, they can just pick up the phone and they can call. Or if the online shopping isn’t accessible then people can just come into the store. So like I don’t need to focus on my digital experiences because there are these other alternatives that people can use so it doesn’t matter as much. But now people are coming to realize the digital experience is essential and that people may not have those other options when the digital experience is inaccessible and maybe just be locked out entirely.
And the third thing that’s happening as the Microsoft and the Apples and everyone talks about accessibility more, it is becoming easier in the digital realm to be accessible. Because one of the things that we do at Fable is we work with the platforms and we work with the enterprises because if the mom and pop sort of pizza restaurant around the corner has to hire an accessibility expert in order to make sure that their website is accessible, the tools that they are using are letting them down. The agency that creates the website, the tools that they use to build their online menus, the things that they use to do online delivery should have accessibility built in. The accessibility checkers that are built into all of the Microsoft Office programs that will warn you if you are going to do something inaccessible and say are you sure you want to do that? I think in the digital realm we need to get accessibility to the same state of maturity that security has gotten to in the digital realm. So if you try to go into Windows and you try to turn off your antivirus. Windows is going to say are you sure you want to do that? If you want to do that that’s insecure, that’s a bad thing, you shouldn’t do that and it’ll warn you when you put that in your computer. Hey, you don’t have an antivirus. You should do something. I think we need to get accessibility to that state where it is accessible by default and if you are going to do something that is inaccessible you are prompted and and warned and you have to explicitly make a choice to do that inaccessible thing. And I think that is where the larger players in industry are heading. And I think that’s great because when they do this it immediately becomes easier for the smaller businesses to be more accessible.
Rob: Continuing that for just a second, you know, looking ahead we’re looking at things, all these crazy new technology some of which are plumbing blockchain or AI, you don’t, like they don’t show up in the user interface necessarily, but there’s things like AR and VR which is supposed to be hip and cool, and a lot of these new technologies that are nascent at this point, do you see with the people that you work with interest, desire, capability, willingness to bake in this kind of, this into the core because it’s, to your point about you know, building it into Windows. Whatever the metaverse is, it’s Windows for people right. It will be the platform upon which you do stuff. Are you seeing an understanding or desire because of the modalities involved or is it just another one another iteration, another instance of that kind of “eh”.
Sam: There is interest and there is desire but what there isn’t is knowledge and an expertise and abilities. The metaverse is still a very new thing. And we’re still figuring out I think in a lot of ways we’re still having conversations about what should the metaverse be, how should it be that and what should it do, and how should it do those things. And I think that it is very important that we bake accessibility and diversity into those conversations not only by setting out sort of technical accessibility requirements, but by involving diverse voices in those conversations because we right now these technologies are pretty nascent and we have the opportunity to build accessibility in at the foundation of these new technologies in a way that maybe we didn’t consider with some technologies like the web and we kind of retrofitted it a little bit later on. If we do that we can bring in an entirely new era of things that are built on accessible foundations, but if we’re going to do that, we need to be having the conversation about like what does an accessible metaverse look like, how do you make a 3D virtual reality environment built out of visuals accessible to someone who cannot see? These are problems that are solvable but we need to have the conversations now. We need to come to agreements about what the techniques are to solve them. Because as you can imagine, you know, if one company has a metaverse that works in one way and another company has a metaverse that works in another way, accessibility now just becomes sort of confused and fragmented and unworkable and people won’t do it.
Maayan: I’m gonna totally debate this, okay?
Rob: Okay, please do.
Maayan: So, I think the metaverse, cool, great. But that doesn’t create a substitute for establishing the importance of inclusion within the physical world. And I have an issue actually with the dangerous space that, okay, well let’s create an accessible virtual world and all the disabled people will stay in their houses and access the world that way only and we’ll stop investing in the physical environment we’ll stop building, you know, accessible buildings because now we can opt for a flexible virtual space and you know, it’s too bad that you can’t come to that event but you know put on your whatever and join from your house. I should have the choice. And I think that freedom of choice is the purpose of accessibility. It’s about the ability to choose and not need to self-identify, not need to say I’m different I need different things. Accessibility is there to remove that from the equation. If something is accessible it is therefore much more inclusive and you should be able to show up use it the way you want, engage with the product the way you want, or at the event the way you want without this like, oh you’re that type of person you go through this store. And so I think the metaverse is a great concept potentially but it is not in any way a substitute for investing in this important shift that we need to still make which is you have to value and need to have your space, physical space, be inclusive, because you’re going to miss out on the entire community of people who should show up at your business, at your event, at your whatever, and without that representation it’s like an invisible concept that’s no longer is necessary, we’ll just put it up in the virtual world.
Sam: Oh, absolutely. I would never want to say that anything virtual is a substitute for physical spaces. I think that that’s really proven by the need and the desire of the population, right? Nobody’s saying, oh well, this pandemic is great, we don’t care if it never ends because we can order online, right? Like I don’t know anyone who’s saying that. There is a strong desire to move back offline and to reopen as soon as we can. And so I think that really does prove the importance of physical spaces. I absolutely hear you and I sort of hear that worry about making an accessible virtual world because like even now as a person with a disability when there is a hybrid event, I will choose to attend online just because it’s easier, right? And it shouldn’t be. And I think that is something that I am nervous about not only will that choice be made, but I sometimes feel like, well am I as a person with a disability going to advocate and to do the hard thing when there is an easy thing that I could otherwise do even if maybe the experiences isn’t quite as good. And so I think enterprises and society and culture and advocates and community are all going to need to navigate that and to figure that out because I don’t want to get into a world where everyone with a disability does everything virtually just because it’s so much easier and so we just stop trying to be in physical spaces, right?
Rob: Yeah, I think your point Maayan, correct me if I’m wrong, is it’s “and” not “or”.
Maayan: Exactly. Right.
Rob: I think we’ve seen this. Anybody who’s worked no matter what the state of their ability is anyone who’s worked in a hybrid remote work environment. I remember Trello did a thing where it’s like if one person is remote on the call, everybody is sitting at their computer and is remote because not being in the room, you are the flat two-dimensional thing that nobody remembers there. And it’s easy even if you’ve been in that situation to revert back to your old habits once you get out of you know, once you’re not remote then all of a sudden, you know, the hallway conversations happen but you can’t have those if you’re not physically there. And so there’s a risk. I think you’re right. It needs to be baked into the platform, whatever new platforms’ metaverse, I’m not trying to beat up on that one, but that’s the most expansive and obvious one to start with. How do you think we sit as Canadians, Maayan? Are we relatively evolved these days? Have we made progress despite ourselves in terms of like on the planet, are we okay or are we putting those wooden ramp things as the substitute for actually doing anything about it? Or are we leading or lagging, somewhat in the middle?
Maayan: So we at AccessNow we’ve been doing this really interesting research work that kind of aims to answer this question because something that is apparent to me is that there just isn’t enough data to answer that effectively. But AccessNow is building that data and that’s kind of one of our big missions is to be able to start, you know, illuminating to people, you know, where’s the ground? Where are we? How do we measure up in terms of accessibility? Let’s say city by city, or country by country. So we’ve been doing this really cool work in Canada specifically on a few major cities where we basically mapped every business. To start to understand, you know, how many accessible entrances are there at restaurants as a random example. And you know, and if that’s the case, you know, are some cities doing better than others. So we’ll be releasing that this year in the spring and I’m really excited to start evolving that conversation and so that it’s not these like lofty “we’re making progress” goals/statements, but really about, you know, the nuts and bolts of what we can measure to understand what we need to improve upon and that transparency is currently missing. So I think you know in Canada there’s an, in general, a desire to be inclusive and and to represent the diversity that, you know, Canada’s known for. So that’s working for us really well. But there’s also a desire to get everything right before we do anything. And that is something that doesn’t work well in my opinion when it comes to accessibility because it’s people are so afraid, and Sam kind of mentioned it, to make that step forward until they do everything and they get it all right. And until you start, until you engage the community directly and learn what you don’t know yet and be willing to make mistakes but be humble enough to course correct and be dedicated enough to make change… you don’t actually get to the next step.
Rob: Is it backlashing people are afraid of, getting it wrong too?
Maayan: I think so. Yeah. I think people are afraid of getting it wrong They don’t want to offend and they don’t want to do the wrong thing and that’s fair, you know, I totally get that but a constant state of non-action is worse than trying something out and finding out okay, maybe that’s not the right terminology to use but I can learn, or maybe there’s a way to create a more flexible workplace as an example if I’m going to hire people with disabilities or well, I don’t want to hire anyone until we get everything right. This chicken and egg thing happens a lot and I think there’s a lot of desire to do and I’m seeing that more than ever. So I’m excited about that for sure.
Rob: That’s cool, and I think like what I thought was interesting, I’m interested to see the dimensions that you’re thinking about. I know you’re thinking about things like scent and my son has ASD, I asked permission to reveal that on this podcast, and he said yes, you know, there’s really interesting dimensions about like what makes a play successful and where does it stop? I’m curious. Sam, do you think, and this is probably gonna rebound back to you Maayan, words have meaning and they’re loaded. Do you think that the term accessibility is its own worst enemy?
Sam: I don’t know. My first impulse is the first of all accessibility disability is not a shameful thing, right. My identity as a blind person is something that I am not ashamed of and that I even take pride in. And when we sort of talk about accessibility and disability in generic terms and sort of include it under diversity, what has sometimes happened in the past is that other forms of diversity that are important, don’t get me wrong, and that are critical and that we should be doing have in some ways taken up all of the oxygen sort of. And so accessibility and disability don’t get talked about until very recently when you’re talking about diversity, right? disability wasn’t included in that. That has has changed recently but I think that has only changed because we are using terms like disability and like accessibility and we are bringing them to to the forefront, and like, inclusive user design matters and accessible products are products that are better for everyone. But I think that it is still valuable and important to talk about accessibility because everyone has some kind of accessibility need and that is not something that is shameful or that shouldn’t be talked about or that is secret or that is, you know, something that you shouldn’t disclose or or anything like that. I think we need to be moving as a society towards a point where we are, where we can be as open as we would like to be about these things. And I think that the accessibility term and disability and these various terms are necessary to have that conversation. I think that I would just like to see us think more widely about how accessible products are better products for everyone and think more widely about who has access needs and who uses accessibility kind of options.
Maayan: Yeah, that last point that you make Sam, I think for me that’s the one that I really try to stress when I connect people and I remember I was at a conference and I was talking about accessibility and I did this whole thing and then I get off the stage and because I used to meet people in person, there were stages and human beings in a room and now it’s just a fantasy. But I remember there’s this person who came up to me and said, you know, I really appreciate what you said and I just want to say, you know, like now I’m gonna be, I’m gonna think more carefully if I use the elevator when I get, you know, off a subway at a subway station because that elevator should be for someone who really needs it. And I said yeah, you’re right. There’s not enough space perhaps in the elevator and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten off at a busy subway station and everybody gets in but then the issue with that is then it’s accessibility is for disabled people only and imagine if everything was accessible and we didn’t have to decide who had the option to access that and that accessibility was seen as you know, a component of your life and not something for only disabled people. You have to be careful about how that is signaled because to Sam’s point, disability can’t get lost in the conversation about access. It is the motivator, it is the inspiration, it is the way in which we create innovative concepts that should be and will be accessible. But accessibility does not just benefit the initial designer or the initial person who benefits from access. It benefits every person. And so you know, we might design something to be accessible and focus on what would typically be called an edge case, you know, the person with all the needs and yet that is now the best product and the most flexible and the most inclusive to every person. So that’s how you go from disability being like the magic superpower that gets you to even start thinking about it and once you do it well at the beginning as opposed to the end, you’ve then built something that’s inclusive for everyone and there’s no shame in that. Everyone should enjoy, you know, captions and every other form of accessibility. Captions is a good one because people almost forget, like, I was reading this article about all the people who just watched Netflix with captions built in and never think about but that was initially there as an accessibility feature. It’s just like that’s how they watch Netflix. That’s awesome. Why should it matter if you have a disability or not if you want to use a feature of anything?
Sam: Exactly. When you when you design for the edges you hit the middle for free is kind of the saying. There’s sometimes this idea in society where you have to prove that you need something, right. You’re sort of judged why is that person in handicap parking. Well, they could have severe arthritis that makes it painful to walk. You don’t know that by looking at them right. If there are more people who want elevators, there should be more elevators. We shouldn’t have to prove, oh I need the elevator and you don’t need it so you shouldn’t have it. I don’t think that’s a useful way of thinking about accommodation and flexibility. If you want the thing because it makes your life easier and better and more joyful, you should be able to have the thing.
Rob: Yeah, totally. I mean, I can tell you for sure after living in New York and needing to use the elevators with my son when he was an infant it is the opposite. So everyone physically gets in the elevator and the people who need to use the elevator can’t use the elevator because it’s just schmucks… it’s been my experience.
So maybe let’s sort of wrap this up. It’s early 2022. Things can change right. COVID will be over in a month, right? How would you, I don’t want you to prognosticate because that’s really that’s a fool’s errand but I think if you were to say, how do we bundle the idea of innovation, and aside from listening to the show and talking to you both at your institutions and bringing them in for help, how do you make this part of your DNA and recognize that you’re accommodating disability, but actually you’re opening it up to a larger audience and making it part of innovation as opposed to potentially at odds with it? Is there something that you could do to have people keep top of mind as they go forward into the year so that at the end they can be like yeah, we actually we moved the dial here.
Sam: I think a lot of what we’ve been talking about on this podcast really has come down to changing the way you think about accessibility and disability. One of the most useful changes that you can make and it’s something that I find myself saying to people all the time is we’ve got to stop thinking about accessibility as a project and start thinking about accessibility as a process because to respond to sort of something that Maayan said earlier it’s that thing that like nobody wants to start doing accessibility because they might not do it perfectly the first time because they’re thinking about accessibility as something that you do, it’s we’re gonna have a project to make things accessible, and then we’ve made them accessible and we’re done. You never have to think about accessibility. It’s over and that’s just not how accessibility works. Just like any other process involving diversity or inclusion, accessibility is an iterative process. You start a process and you do it again and you keep doing it. And also a process has measurable outcomes. That data play that AccessNow is doing and that research is so important because things, the old saying is things that don’t get measured in some way don’t happen, right. One kind of exciting news is that some companies have begun including accessibility into their OKRs which is like a recognition that accessibility isn’t a one and done thing. It’s an ongoing process and we should figure out what the goals of that process are and we should make sure that our ongoing process is hitting the objectives, and that is so important in order to build not only a product or a physical space or anything that is accessible. It’s like, processes and cultures that are accessible will create accessible things. And so for me it’s a lot about encouraging companies to make accessibility an ongoing iterative process and journey that you’re going on because the thing that excites me most right now is the acceleration of accessibility. The thing that I want to see is more and more people taking the journey and more and more people going further on their journey. And if you’re at zero and get to 0.5 that’s great at least things are happening. The movement has accelerated and if we can get that acceleration happening and get these processes started then I think we will be in a really good place going forward and so yeah, that’s the advice that I give. Stop thinking about accessibility as a project and start thinking about it as a process.
Rob: Got it.
Maayan: There’s two things. One, there’s this concept that people with disabilities are the consumers of the stuff that gets built. And for me, you know, how do we create this culture of inclusion, how do we get to the point where disability is part of the lens that we take when we design something that leads to creating more accessible experience, how do we get there. The way we get there is by including people with disabilities in that design process and not thinking about it as a separate entity. You know, for me it’s kind of like, when men are designing products that are so clearly should be designed and built by women. I want to see people with disabilities in the driver’s seat because that’s the right community to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to innovating and creating accessible experiences, product, services and cultures. And that’s, you know, back to that concept of the handout, the charity model “let’s help build those unfortunate others”. And I’m really, you know, at the forefront of saying leadership looks like and includes disability. And for me that’s a major shift that the majority of organizations are in the early days in understanding but it is changing, it is changing. There’s not one company that I have come across where you know, we’ve worked with and they say I regret that. I regret meeting people with disabilities. I regret learning what accessibility could do for me personally and for my business. I have never met a person that you know has become converted and went backward. Once you get it, it’s like this light bulb goes on and it’s on. And now the way you look at the world, it’s like you see those fractures, you see where it could be better and it just becomes part of the way you address people, and the way you design products, and the way that you carry yourself in the world, so that’s what I just described that’s the culture of inclusion and accessibility and it comes from greater representation so that it’s not something you can forget about. So that it’s not 1.2 billion people sitting on the metaverse with disabilities in their apartments. It’s literally in everything you do, and that’s like, I’ll call it a revolution. It’s happening. We’re building it. These types of conversations are just reminders to people to join us. And for me, you can hear it. I’m like on a soapbox but I can’t help it. That’s what I care so deeply about. It’s happening.
Sam: I love how these two things really go hand in hand. I don’t think one thing will happen without the other viceversa, right.
Rob: Yeah. Actively thinking about it define diversity beyond just you know, your skin color and I think, also like gender or anything like that, and also I think the idea what I’m taking from this too is the idea that accessibility is, there’s somehow this magical other that doesn’t really. It actually applies to all of us. To both your points that they actually use the affordances of accessibility throughout your life. I give an example when I had an infant none of us had accessibility needs in a disabled disability sense, but we did take the affordance of the elevator being there was, you know, more possibly not for that purpose so it’s actually permeated our society. The question is how do we keep it top of mind I think is what I’m hearing you all say and actively baking it in and bringing the members of the community into actually design products that will not only benefit members of the community but actually all of us because we’re actually all beneficiaries of the thinking and work that you’re both doing.
BetaKit podcast is produced by BetaKit with support from TWG. Our producer is Kattie Laur and our hosts are Rob Kenedi and me, Douglas Soltys. To learn more about how you can support this podcast head to patreon.com/betakit.