Accessibility: It Applies to Me Too?!


I had the opportunity to attend and present at the Penn State Web Conference this summer. It was a great conference with some amazing sessions. Karen McGrane did a keynote (amazing) and so did Cindy Li (amazing again). I may or may not have told Karen McGrane that she is brilliant and I love her while she was signing my copy of Content Strategy For Mobile.Β πŸ™‚

We’re All Just Temporarily Abled

Cindy Li focused on accessibility in her presentation, and tools you can use to test your product or site. I learned about 8 million tons of information I didn’t know beforehand, but one thing she said REALLY resonated with me. She said, “We’re all just temporarily abled.”

She mentioned her mother who has an ocular disease that is slowly blinding her over time. Then she mentioned that while she doesn’t have an ocular disease herself, she is beginning to require stronger glasses prescriptions each year.

Why am I talking about her eye health? Because she then pointed out that as designers we need to design for accessibility, not only for folks who are permanently visually impaired or have severe motor issues right now, but also for our future selves!

Design for the Future You

With each passing birthday, our vision is starting to go, eventually our hearing will start to go and so will our mobility. I will have these issues, you may have these issues, they’re just part of the aging process.

We aren’t designing accessible products and websites for an invisible subgroup of people who have permanent visual or motor issues, we need to design these sites and products for our future selves as well.

The next time you’re tempted to brush off accessibility while you’re working on a design, picture yourself in 20 or 30 years trying to use your own website or product. Adopting this mentality has given me an entirely new outlook on designing for accessibility.

Angry, Sobbing and Drunk People Will Try To Use Your Product Or Service

The last day of the conference a second session was given with a focus on accessibility. This time the presenter, Robin Smail, pointed out that every visitor who comes to your site is NOT going to be dedicating 100% of their mental energy to navigating your product or website content.

What if they just fought with a family member or coworker? They are going to be smashing their mouse around on their desk trying to get through your product or site. What if they’ve been crying? Their vision is going to be impaired. What if they’ve been drinking? (I’m sure YOU have never shopped online while slightly intoxicated, but you know… OTHER people do it.) πŸ˜‰

The point of her talk was that we need to focus on accessibility and awesome UX for ALL visitors, whether they have permanent issues, or temporary ones.

Do it!

In closing, just remember that as you’re designing your products and websites, focusing on accessibility and quality UX will improve the experience for ALL of the visitors to your site! Β And, it may even save you from some frustration yourself in the not too distant future! πŸ™‚

This link contains some pretty fabulous accessibility testing tools to get you started! πŸ™‚Β

Presenting at a Tech Conference for the First Time: Simultaneously Terrifying and Awesome

So I took a flying leap out of my comfort zone today, and did a presentation at a tech conference… and lived to tell the tale!

It was TERRIFYING… and Awesome!

It was the craziest experience! I did the presentation on a research method that I’m really excited about. I was a software trainer in my last life, prior to diving into the UX & design world, so I’ve trained groups of folks in the past many many times, and have spoken at company workshops and user events. I’m telling you what though, presenting at a tech conference with actual awesome technically savvy folks is a completely different experience!

I don’t think I’ve ever been that terrified in my life, haha, but I also don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a rush! Having lived through it, I’m now here to tell you that you should absolutely give speaking a shot if there is a topic you feel passionate about!

How I ended up with this gig…

A few months ago, there were a few simultaneous calls for proposals for tech conferences all over the country. I had never ever written a presentation proposal in my life, but decided one night at 9pm after seeing an inspiring call to action tweet from one of my fav UX authors Karen McGrane, that it would be really fun to submit one, just to cross “submit a presentation proposal” off my bucket list. So I got to work and knocked out a description of a really fun research method I’d recently had the chance to apply, that had some pretty sweet results. (I’ll blog about that soon, I promise!) I had less than zero expectation of actually making it through and being offered the opportunity to speak, and was STUNNED when I received my acceptance letter!

What did I just get myself into?

I experienced an interesting combination of joy and panic when I got the notice. There was a period of about 20 minutes during which I considered declining and just not mentioning it to anyone, haha, but then I remembered how pumped I was about this research method, and how much it could really help out other UX pros and organizations. So, I alerted my super supportive manager and VP, and replied with my acceptance.

Then it dawned on me: I needed to make a PowerPoint presentation to go along with my session. I have ZERO artistic skill at all… I can barely draw stick figures, so the thought of putting together a presentation that would be viewed by amazing designers completely stressed me out. Also, I’ve created a grand total of about 3 PowerPoint presentations ever, in my life.

Focus on the Content

I got some really awesome advice from my fabulous coworkers at this point, they told me not to worry about making it fancy, and to just focus on the content. So I did.

The Day Of

I’d practiced my presentation about 400,000 times, but still felt like I was going to pass out when I arrived at the conference this morning. I’d been too nervous to eat any breakfast, which was probably a good thing. Thankfully there were some really interesting conference sessions in the morning that completely distracted me from the fact that I’d be presenting after lunch. When lunch time finally hit, everyone else went down to the restaurant, and I snuck into my presentation room, set up my laptop, and tried not to have a full blown panic attack. I hid in there through the entire lunch break, flipping through my slides to make sure I was ready and then attendees started to file in. I was able to chat with a few really nice folks while we waited for the rest of the crew to come in, which really helped me relax. I was expecting about 15-20 people to attend, and wound up with many many more than that, closer to about 60.

Adrenaline… GO!

Once everyone got in and sat down, it was go time. I started the presentation, still feeling the nerves, then started making eye contact. That was when the nerves exited the scene and the excited adrenaline kicked in. I’m pretty sure I started talking at warp speed for a bit there, haha. That’s what I get for skipping breakfast and lunch and having 6 cups of coffee instead. lol But I got through it, and shockingly, ENJOYED it!

They said thank you!

My whole goal in presenting was to share this research method in hopes that at least 1 attendee could use it to benefit his or her software, website or service. After the session several attendees came up and thanked me, and told me they enjoyed the session and were excited to get back and apply the research! I was overjoyed! (In fact I probably scared a couple of them, I had so much caffeine in my system by that point that I probably could have taken flight.) A really kind attendee even tweeted a thank you, and another live tweeted some session quotes! It completely made my day!!!

If I can do this… so can you!

So here’s the thing… if I can do this as an artistically challenged person with zero PowerPoint skills, so can you! And it’s SO important that as design and UX community members we share our tips and tricks with one another! Together, we really can make the world a better more usable place!

Thank you!

I just want to send a gigantic thank you to the organizers of the Web Conference at Penn State for giving me the opportunity to present! Also, I’m sending an enormous thank you out to the completely amazing audience who attended my session, and didn’t even heckle me! You made what could have been a totally traumatic experience, awesome! πŸ™‚