Over the next few blog posts, I’m excited to share an interview I recently conducted over email with Jennison Asuncion. Residing in the Toronto, Canada area, Jennison’s understanding of accessibility, as he’ll explain shortly, comes from the well-rounded position of being involved in both the corporate business world as well as academia. In his own words he also has “first-hand knowledge born from being an end-user who happens to be blind.”
Steve (SG): Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do in the field of web accessibility?
Jennison (JA): I’m a big jazz and live comedy fan, a shameless networker, and I enjoy cross-country skiing.
In terms of the field of web accessibility, I work in Toronto for one of Canada’s banks. Part of my role involves consulting with developers so that what they are putting out there is as accessible as it can be to either our employees or clients with disabilities.
Somewhat related, by night, I co-direct the Adaptech Research Network, where we have been conducting research into the use and accessibility of information and communication technologies by college and university students with visible and non-visible disabilities for over ten years. This has helped me build perspective on the wide-range of experiences of end-users with a variety of disabilities who interact with technology which I take into my day-job. I really feel lucky to have a foot in both the corporate accessibility and the academic research areas for that reason.
SG: Why did you take an interest in the subject?
JA: Without wanting to overstate the obvious, the Web is such a part of many of our lives, professionally, recreationally, and personally. This is only set to increase, and at a faster pace. Case in point, look at all of the social media tools out there.
The web has also opened up so many opportunities that might not have been possible say four or five years ago for everyone, but especially for people with disabilities. So, doing my part to assure that this landscape can be made as accessible as possible just feels like the right thing to be doing.
SG: In your experience in the field of web accessibility, what sorts of things about people with disabilities using the Internet have surprised you the most?
JA: How resourceful and willing a good number of users with disabilities are in figuring out ways to make a website work for them, even though it’s not necessarily that accessible to begin with. I’m not saying that’s the ideal situation whatsoever, but, for example, as challenging as, say Facebook can be from an accessibility perspective for some, there are folks with disabilities who have found ways to make features and functionality work for them.
The other thing that doesn’t surprise me, as much as it serves as something I need to always remember, is that there is still a whole group of users with disabilities, who are not tech-savvy and connected through things like Twitter, who may be using older versions of adaptive hardware and/or software who are out there. With little to no formal training, many of them come online to check their e-mail, may do a bit of online browsing, and that’s about it. Or they only use a computer at work, not at home. They know nothing about Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA), and/or may not be able to afford to upgrade their systems.
It’s those people that I worry are being left behind. Left behind, insofar as they may one day visit a website that they’ve known and experienced one way for a long time, but all of a sudden, because of a site upgrade, they discover the user experience of the site has drastically changed. Maybe their browser is no longer supported, or their adaptive technology is not providing them with any useful information at all, rendering the site useless to them. If they cannot upgrade their systems for what ever reason, then what?
I’d like to thank Jennison (something I’m sure I’ll be repeating numerous times over the next week!) for taking the time to share his reflections on accessibility.
Next time, we’ll ask Jennison where he feels accessibility stands right now, and where it’s headed in 2010 and beyond.