Exclusive Interview With Accessibility Advocate and Inclusion Champion Alycia Anderson

Alycia Anderson sitting on the ground beside her wheelchair. The text reads Exclusive Interview - Accessibility Advocate: Alycia Anderson.

As we kick off 2022, digital and web accessibility continues to be a hot-button issue, especially amongst those in the accessibility community. And while, we at Monsido talk a lot about the “how-to’s” of improving your website accessibility - we wanted to shine a spotlight on the voices of the advocates who’ve been instrumental in building awareness, driving change, and most importantly championing inclusion in both the physical and digital world.

We were lucky to catch up with Accessibility Advocate and Inclusion Champion, Alycia Anderson, and get her thoughts and perspectives on accessibility, and more specifically on web accessibility, as we enter the new year. This interview was conducted with Jasmine de Guzman, Manager, Revenue Marketing at Monsido via video chat and email in late December 2021. Before we jump into the full interview, who is Alycia Anderson and what's her message?

Alycia Anderson is an accomplished TEDx motivational speaker, published writer, corporate inclusion consultant, and founder of The Alycia Anderson Company. She holds a European Master’s Degree in Adapted Physical Activity, emphasizing the benefits, practices, and principles of inclusion. Alycia is an internationally recognized speaker and has spoken at multiple renowned organizations including Abercrombie & Fitch, Arizona State University, and Fleishman Hillard.
 
Born with sacral agenesis and wheelchair-bound since birth, Alycia shares her journey to help communities and companies understand the true benefits inherent to building a diverse, inclusive, and accessible workplace and society. Her TEDx Talk, Disabling Ableism: The Modern Pathway to Inclusion, tackles the importance of shifting perceptions around disabilities and the prejudice ingrained in our society.
If you’d like to learn more about Alycia Anderson and the amazing work that she does, please visit her website: www.alyciaanderson.comconnect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Instagram at: @alyciaspeaking.

And with that, let’s kick off our interview:

The Monsido Team was truly inspired by your TEDx Talk. Can you quickly explain your concept of “disabling ableism”, and why it's so important?

 

As an inclusion coach and accessibility advocate, what do you see as the biggest challenges for organizations that are looking to invest in web/digital accessibility in 2022?

The biggest challenge for organizations in web/digital accessibility, is understanding what web accessibility is! Although most people are aware of the general concept of accessibility in the real world i.e. ramps, wider doors, restrooms, etc. Accessibility for the web requires a little more imagination. This is due to the ingrained ableism of sighted people, and the fact that your customer is not being seen by you in a human way by your own eyes, if you will. There is no light bulb that goes off in your website’s brain that says, oh, this person is blind or has a hard time with mobility.
 

Generally, the people building your website, the people approving its content, and the majority of people visiting it do not have a disability, and so it is easy to overlook these needs for inclusive features and accessibility on your webpage. Again, as the customer is not right in front of you, you have no way to pick up on the adaptations needed by your customer unless you have the foresight to think of this in advance. This is where the broader imagination kicks in that is needed. Asking questions like:

  • How would my webpage behave if I was blind?

  • What strategies have I incorporated into the design of my webpages for those who don't have full use of their hands or fingers?
These can be a great starting point. Finding a way to incorporate a richer web experience through proper implementation of accessibility techniques on the web will actually lead to a much richer experience for all of the users interacting with your website! Imagine not having to reach for your reading glasses to quickly digest the information on a webpage, or even simply dictating answers in a microphone without having to type them out for all of the required fields on a webform. I’m guessing the wave of the future will eliminate cumbersome keyboards, smart pens, and complex swiping/pinching motions with your fingers altogether!

The organizations who are still trying to catch up with the technology from yesterday, may not see the advantages inherent right away to implementing accessibility tools today nor how doing so will enrich their websites and their businesses making them so much better for doing so positioning them in the market to be ready for all of tomorrow's users and customers.

What best practices do you suggest that organizations adopt to keep web accessibility front-of-mind in the new year?

The idea and theory of “universal design” should be adopted by all organizations moving into the future! This simply is building goods and services that can be used by anyone. The practice of this leads to making everything accessible for anyone whether they have a disability or not and it enhances the accommodations provided to all users. Whether it is in a brick-and-mortar real-world application or a completely digitized storefront. All companies should have accessible design at the forefront of their minds!

Thinking in this way, designing this way from the get go removes the stigmas of having to “accommodate the American with Disabilities Act (ADA)” or have special use cases for this or that, because it's already built into the philosophy from the very start. When everyone is taken into consideration from the start of development, it eliminates one group or another getting less or more than any other, and it prevents hurt feelings before they have a chance to happen.

Universal design as a standard also allows for the most optimal design in a product for all and is the path most customers choose disability or not because it's typically the path of least resistance. Think about the products we all use regularly today due to accessibility design: texting, Siri, close captions or larger bathroom stalls, ramps, the list can go on and on.

Having the design philosophy of universal design at the forefront of development rather than an afterthought, businesses don’t have to catch up on later, organizations then position themselves in building products and services we will choose over other product offerings that do not.

What do you think is often overlooked when it comes to web accessibility, and how do you think that we should address it?

A seemingly natural tendency that has evolved in the web is to hide information on the webpage whether in things like, in carousel/sliders, tab panel blocks, accordions and modal pop-ups. If these are not programmed properly, they destroy the screen reader experiences.

A visually impaired user may be abruptly bombarded by the change of content on a slide set to automatically rotate and be stripped from the focus of what they were reading or they may never find the information at all! Many programmers never test with the screen reader and don't realize this problem exists and should actually be a standard in testing websites.

Furthermore, not including the ability to control playback features or pause an embedded video set to auto play may leave a visually impaired user feeling like they are in a crowded room listening to many conversations at the same time and with the video playing on top of their screen reader that is reading the rest of the content on the screen at the same time.

How to address things like this is key in considering universal design and opens minds to what may be occurring on their webpages that they may not even see or hear.

What are your thoughts on a potential ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States on websites as public accommodation per the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III?

 
It's completely necessary to consider websites as public domain that fall under the ADA. When you open your business doors to the world through the internet, it’s just the same as opening your door to the public at your storefront.

As commerce and consumerism continue to move to a majority of online sales. We must account for the fact that the internet enables people with disabilities to access goods and services free from facing a multitude of other challenges such as transportation, weather, infrastructure, environmental obstacles and so on.

On top of all of these things people with disabilities face, they also need to plan before even leaving their homes for medical supplies, operational mobility equipment, etc. So, access through technology really lightens this load.

So, yes! Public accommodation per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title III should provide access via technology, and it should be prioritized very high on the list, along with all the other forms of physical accessibility granted through this legislation.

Accessibility through technology is essential for people with disabilities to access the world and all of its goods and services more than ever before. This gives people with disabilities freedom and independence rather than isolation and further exclusion.

In 2021, we saw new legislation for Local Government in Colorado, and for K-12 schools in Illinois. Do you think we’ll continue to see more legislation in 2022? And if so, where?

The legislation passed this year in Illinois stands true to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that guarantees access to technological information and data for people with disabilities especially in relation to schools, and the legislation passed by Colorado state representative David Ortiz, a fellow wheelchair user, that mandated all Colorado government websites be fully accessible by 2024 are definitive signs that there will be more to come in the disability rights movement. This is amazing!

There are truly so many places that could use improvement and again through the eyes of people with disabilities and their nature of crossing all boundaries of the diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) spectrums while holding their historical place of disadvantage on so many levels, through them/through us/and through me it becomes easier to see the need for further discussions on civil rights as a whole.

Equality in this life should be able to be found by all of us, by those who look for it, by those who work for it and become part of it. Inclusion recognizes all of us, it allots the number of resources needed for it, and it requires us all to take part, if not by will then by law.

What’s your top tip for someone that is just getting started with web accessibility in 2022?

Most importantly we need to start! Anybody who is a business operator who is putting data out to the internet needs to start thinking about this stuff now. One of the easiest ways to implement greater accessibility to users on the web is to realize the importance of images along with doing away with the hiding of content mentioned in my previous answer. Images that are used on webpages to provide information to their users should be supplied with what is called “alternate text” through an “alt” attribute on “img” tags. This is offered in the administration tools provided by almost every Content Management System used in the real world today to build websites, like WordPress, Wix, or Drupal.

The use of “alt text” on images is instrumental in conveying a message on a webpage and it provides a richer experience for all users, not just those with disabilities. This is because it will add context for screen readers that assist users with visual impairments, but it will also display this “alt text” to users in place of a “broken image” when there are issues with an image that does not resolve on screen or an image prevented from downloading in an email.

Another great start is having an audit run on your website for WCAG compliance. There are many tools that can help point out accessibility issues occurring on your website. Chances are they’re even built into the web browser you use every day.

According to Forrester's 2022 predictions, accessibility will be a major priority for business, as there's been a 78% growth since last year in job listings with the term "accessibility" in the title. What do you think is the most important job role a company should consider to enhance their digital accessibility efforts?

Companies no matter the product or services they offer need to first and foremost hire people with disabilities, add people with disabilities to their boards, and onto their teams to leverage their expertise in the space over all. The next best answer to your question: Web Accessibility Specialists come to mind.

The expertise of this role focuses on the online requirements of accessibility legislation and implementation of WCAG Compliance. They test websites and are armed with the knowledge of these nearly legalized standards using screen readers, magnifiers and voice recognition software or simulators to implement accessible rich internet applications for the mobility impaired, audio challenged, low vision and or blind end users.

Like we are starting to see in the last two years how so many companies are in a mad rush to delegate resources in creating DE&I teams within their organizations as a standard, I also believe coming very soon is organizations in a mad rush to have positions like Web Accessibility Specialists as a standard within company organization as well.

Are there any other big web/digital accessibility trends/predictions that you’d like to discuss for 2022?

Yes, one thing that I’d like to highlight is that in 2022 it will be vital to have constructive conversations, and encourage web designers to understand the problems inherent with the techniques that are currently inaccessible and complex to more innovative and beautiful ways of designing to adaptations that work for all users.

Moving away from hiding data is key. If you don’t believe what I'm saying, just go to the pinnacle of technological innovation, the MIT website, and notice there is not one carousel, not one hidden piece of information or go to the ultimate standard of appeal, Apple.com, and you will notice the same thing!

The fight for inclusion, the good in humanity and in online accessibility for people with disabilities spans beyond the technological requirements and spreads into the social and economic realms of discussion as well. It is imperative to hire more people with disabilities and tap into their creativity, innovation and imagination and in doing so we will reap in the advancement of our society as a whole.
On behalf of the entire Monsido Team, thank you Alycia for sharing your insights with us. If you’d like to learn more about Alycia Anderson and the amazing work that she does, please visit her website: www.alyciaanderson.com, connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Instagram at: @alyciaspeaking.

This interview was conducted with Jasmine de Guzman, Manager, Revenue Marketing at Monsido via video chat and email in late December 2021.