What’s Up WID: Global Accessibility Awareness Day Transcript

Headshot photos of Deborah Kaplan and Kat Zigmont smiling

Ashley Inkumsah:

Hi everyone and welcome to a special edition of our What’s Up WID podcast and celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. My name is Ashley Inkumsah and I’m so excited to talk accessibility with WID’s former executive director Deborah Kaplan and WID’s current senior director of operations and deputy director Kat Zigmont, who leads our accessibility division today. Deborah, Kat, and I will be discussing the evolution of accessibility. So I know with you, Deborah, you worked at WID from I believe 1998 to 2005. And I wanted to start by you talking about your background in accessibility and the work that you did when you were at WID. And then of course, I want to hear from you as well, Kat. I know you’ve been working at WID since I think 2010 if I’m not mistaken. And I would love to hear about all the work that you do. But let’s start off with Deborah please.

Deborah Kaplan:

Okay, let me start with my beginnings at WID. Actually, the timeframe you gave was when I was the director at WID. Before that I actually had worked at WID for eight years as vice president and before that director of the Division on Technology Policy. And even before that, I mean I came to WID in the mid ’80s I think, when Ed and Judy were both at WID and Joan. And I was working on some focus groups to get input from people with disabilities I think about personal care. I don’t even remember. This was a very long time ago. I needed a job. I knew Ed and Judy and so they said, “Well, we got some work.” That’s sort of how things were back then. You got a job, sure you can start tomorrow.

And so during that time, I was introduced to some people at Pacific Bell, which was the baby bell for California and the Western region back then. And back then the folks at Pacific Bell wanted to introduce people from diverse communities that tend to be marginalized in California to where technology was going and to convince people that their view of the future was in the benefit of people who were from disadvantaged groups as well. And so they introduced us to voicemail before it was a thing. They introduced us… They gave me a little Mac computer, was first computer I ever owned. It looked like a little TV. They introduced us to the internet such as it was, an online community called the Well that was early days of online communities.

And I began thinking, so what is this going to mean for people with disabilities? I went to Ed and said, “I think we really should focus on this.” At that point, I think most people who were aware of technology really saw it as a technical issue. There wasn’t much awareness even of barriers around people with disabilities. Technology was not widely used yet. And I saw it as a policy issue and decided that we should start educating people with disabilities. And back then a lot of the concerns were just still access to the telephone network and advocating for widespread telephone relay services and for distribution of equipment that people might need to be able to use the phone, like speaker phones, which used to be these little black boxes that you attached to your telephone, which was attached to the wall by a cord.

And that really evolved into access to technology more broadly as people began to adopt technology. And we began to operate at a national level calling in advocates from around the country into a group that we called the Blue Ribbon Panel. Because as far as we were concerned, the experts were people with disabilities and disability advocates, not the people who invented the technology or sold it. And we engaged in discussions with each other. We did trainings around the country for people about what the issues were and how to engage in advocacy and engage in public policy. And that led to eventually negotiations with all of the regional Bell companies about the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Around the same time, one of my old friends was an architect and the person who is now widely regarded as the father of universal design, Ron Mace. And with Ron, the concept of universal design was originally just for the built environment. Ron was an architect.

And then we began thinking about what would this mean for the electronic environment? And began to think about access to technology, not just in terms of how do we get the bare minimum to be able to use things at all to how do we get these ideas into the minds of the people who are designing the technology that everybody will use? So, there were a variety of projects that led to some reports that analyzed the market of people with disabilities and introduced principles about universal design and accessibility, many of which eventually were adopted as public policy. And so WID was very involved in the early days. And things have definitely evolved a lot since then, but I think a lot of people who became active in technology policy from disability activist perspective started off attending some of the trainings that we gave around the country.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Kat, would you like to share your experiences?

Kat Zigmont:

Sure. So when I began at WID in 2010, I was in the HR department as the office assistant, quite literally the most entry level position. And one of my responsibilities was reasonable accommodations for staff. And it was in that role that I learned so much about assistive and adaptive technologies. I worked with Hale Zukas, which amplified communication access, taught me a lot about sticky keys and that type of digital accessibility. I worked with staff that were quadriplegics or had other physical disabilities that utilized Dragon Dictate not only for the voice input, but also mouse function with Dragon Dictate or Dragon Naturally Speaking. And then we had at the time a blind executive director and a blind deputy director. And so I definitely worked quite a lot with screen reader access.

And in my role in HR, I was charged with making sure that all of WID’s systems were accessible to all of WID’s staff. And so that meant testing a variety of systems with adaptive and assistive technologies to make sure that they were compatible and that employees could effectively do their jobs within these systems while using their assistive technologies. And we recognized a gap in the accessibility industry, me and the executive leadership. And like Deborah said, we really valued the lived experience of people with disabilities. And a lot of the systems I was working with were compliant technically, but they weren’t very user-friendly. And so about five or six years into my work at WID, I started changing roles. And we began a new division of accessibility and universal design where we were going to do user experience testing, which continues today.

And so in that work, we would bring the disability community in with various different types of disabilities or adaptive technologies. We’re really testing the adaptive and assistive technologies in these user experience sessions. And we would watch the interactions, note the pain points, and report back to our clients who would correct those issues. And I have to say a variety of our clients were quite surprised about the accessibility of their products, services, websites, et cetera. And we did focus quite a lot on screen reader users and website accessibility in the beginning. It’s really interesting that Deborah talks about phone access because in this time there was a movement from a variety of different types of adaptive and assistive technologies, like money readers or color readers, et cetera, that were integrated into smartphones. So instead of having to buy five or six very expensive different types of technologies, a person had apps they could buy with their smartphone and their smartphone became the main access point for accessible technology.

And I like to commend Apple as they have built in accessibility in all their products that come for free. And I think that’s a good model for how products should come out it. They should come with all the features needed so that it’s not an add-on later. And then you talk about developing principles as well, Deborah, and when I began this work, we were in a really nice place with the WCAG guidelines, the web content accessibility guidelines, which really gave a framework for the digital environment and gave us a point or something to point to when we were giving our feedback about poor header structure or how people labeled buttons versus links or providing alternative text. We can say, “WCAG guidelines say X, and so you should do the following to comply.” So, I do think that principles or guidance around accessibility is really what companies were looking for. Please tell me what to do and how to do it.

But the truth about digital accessibility is that it’s really complex and that you really have to think about the user experience, how someone might navigate. When we were testing with magnifiers, often things appear offscreen because people are so magnified. So how do you make sure that your page is not so cluttered that someone who’s zoomed in won’t miss content? Screen readers, if you watch users, go from top to bottom, left to right. And often websites are made into various columns. And just like with magnifiers, we would see that people would never get to the second column and they would miss content. So really when I started working in this, I was utilizing my experience working with staff, actual users, and I translated that into creating a database of community users that would come in and test products in the same way I would watch staff. And we were really able to go beyond compliance into usability and effective use of these websites.

But I like to say accessibility is a verb and it takes constant action and assessment. And we would work on a website and they would make all the corrections and it would be great. And then the programmers would update the website and all of our accessibility work would be lost. And so this work in user experience translated to today into operationalizing accessibility in companies and organizations so that accessibility is part of everyone’s job. Accessibility is written into programmers work, it is written into user experience that they do test with people with disabilities, it’s written into marketing efforts. And we’ve expanded quite a bit. We do do assessments on physical environments, on equipment, both customer facing equipment out in the world as well as employee facing equipment. And we work with a lot of engineers these days who are really great to work with because they want to solve these problems, these problems that weren’t in front of them before.

So, the work I do now at WID is really exciting because, again, we are still centering on the lived experience of people with disabilities that they’re the experts in how to utilize their assistive technologies. And that you need to listen to what they have to say to improve your products. And Deborah, you talked about the market opportunity and I think that market opportunity that you were addressing has grown tremendously now. Not only will people with disabilities lean into technology, but if you cater to the disability community, you have that curb cut effect. But in addition to that, friends and families who understand the challenges of technology will also support these new technologies. So, I’m really starting to see a change in the way that companies look and address disability or accessibility because they do see more that it is a market opportunity for them.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely. Yeah. And I want to talk about some of those changes because technology and accessibility has evolved and changed so much since, Deborah, when you were at WID in the ’80s and ’90s and 2000s and since even 2010. Technology is always shifting and evolving. So I want to talk about some of the improvements that you both have seen over the years. Deborah, what are some improvements in accessibility that you’ve observed over the years since you’ve started working at WID?

Deborah Kaplan:

Well, probably the biggest one is more and more people understand what it is, something about what it is. It’s not unfamiliar. Back in the day, people had no clue. And there are still many people who need to learn the details of what it takes for something to be accessible, but many, many more people do. I guess one of the big changes as well is that just as the disability movement has been expanding and deepening in the last few decades in terms of recognizing the intersectionality of identities that many people face and understanding what that means for accessibility and that accessibility needs to take into account all aspects of people’s lives. And for people in different marginalized communities who have different additional barriers through how we have structured everything in society, that means that how we think about disability also and accessibility needs to be somewhat different.

And I look at economic affordability as an aspect of accessibility. If you’re concerned about whether people really have technology and you’re concerned about whether people with disabilities have technology, you have to be concerned about people who struggle to pay the rent and for whom 50 bucks a month or so for broadband is not a nothing thing. It’s a big something in terms of how do you know that you always can pay for that. But in addition to that aspect of broadening and deepening, the people who are developing the standards at the Worldwide Web Consortium are spending a lot of time thinking about issues of accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities, people who are on the spectrum, as the movement now readily includes many more people than those who 30 or 40 years ago would’ve been considered disabled. So the issues have become more, I think, interesting in a way.

How do you design something so that throughout the entire lifespan, including conditions where somebody might become cognitively impaired as they get towards the end of their life, how does technology stay relevant and useful for them and accessible? And how do you develop standards that can be quantified and measured that respect those human variations? And so the whole field is changing and I think that’s one of the biggest challenges for the engineers and the folks who are always thinking about making things better from a technical point of view. So, that’s definitely changed.

And then I think the numbers of people who have to incorporate accessibility into their work in the technology sector has definitely increased. One of my concerns is even though it was rather frustrating back in the early days when very few people were interested in accessibility and wanted to learn what it was, because there weren’t that many of us, it was still very closely rooted in the lived experiences of people with disabilities. But now, and it’s a good thing, that lots of people who don’t have any disability experience in their lives are taking on accessibility as part of what they do. But without that lived experience and without that connection, I worry that they’re just filling out checklists and they don’t really understand the connection between what they’re doing and people with disabilities who are using the results of their work. And I’m concerned that that disconnect can result in superficial solutions that might not really work in real life for real people.

Ashley Inkumsah:

With the work that we currently do at WID, I think that’s one of the things that I feel like is so important with our user testing is that we are relying on the community to determine what are the pain points in using different products and what makes them inaccessible? It really just goes back to nothing about us without us, which is something that’s our rallying cry. And so Kat, I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts about how accessibility has evolved over the years? How has it improved? What do you think?

Kat Zigmont:

Yeah. Well, I definitely think there’s been a lot of major improvements. The smartphone, as I mentioned before as one of the major ones. But I want to speak to that disconnect that Deborah talked about. Over COVID, there became this sort of hyperawareness of captions, for example. And there are two types of captions right now. There is ASR, which stands for automatic speech recognition. And then there’s CART, which is an actual live captioner captioning for someone who needs it. And lots of web conferencing softwares and other products started developing these ASR integrations. So, that was great. It’s a great integration to have. It does serve a certain population of people with disabilities. But I feel like, to Deborah’s point about disconnect, that people don’t know the difference between ASR and CART and they really want to help, and so they turn it on.

But ASR’s, approximately at this point, 80% accurate where a captioner needs to be 98% accurate. 80% accurate means one mistake per sentence, which is pretty significant. And so there’s that disconnect of, oh, I’ve provided ASR. I’m serving the disability community, I’m done. But that’s a level of not totally understanding that this is a communication access need. If there’s one mistake per sentence, I might not be following the conversation. And so there’s spectrum in all of these assistive and adaptive technologies. Again, for someone who has moderate hearing loss, ASR might be perfectly reasonable because they can fill in the gaps with their usable hearing. But there’s others with more profound hearing loss where ASR is not sufficient. But I do think that is a great invention and it will potentially get there. There’s also a lot of nuance though that CART providers can catch that ASR or the AI behind that just won’t understand the human parts of speech or thick accents, disability accents, or a variety of other things where you need to process in order to caption.

I would also like to talk to that customizability of these adaptive technologies. I think that’s one of the things that has really grown. I often talk about sometimes there’s opposing needs between disability groups. And I’ve found that the blind community and the low vision community tend to go towards Apple products because they’re sort of locked down. And so any iPhone you put in my hand will work approximately the same if it’s an iPhone 5 or an iPhone 13. And you really can’t customize it because that’s how Apple operates. Androids are the opposite, where they’re made to be customizable. And so I found people in the physical disability realm really love Androids and I’ve seen some wheelchair users do some really cool things with their phones. They’ve made adaptations where their chair can charge their phone. They’ve made adaptations where they can utilize their phone as a remote control or to operate their computer or for a ton of very cool functions that I might not have thought of that serve their needs.

And so I think that being able to take these technologies and customize them to your use case is the best scenario. And I think that that is a new thing in accessible technology where you used to just have to buy a product out of the box and it does what it does. And now there’s so many more options and you can upgrade your phone or your system with multiple apps that also serve different purposes. So again, I really think that the smartphone has been a huge boost to the accessibility and technology arena in the last 10 to 15 years.

And I think that in addition to that, there’s lots of companies that are, for example, including different types of buttons and inputs to play video games. And there is a new focus on making sure digital television platforms have captions and have audio descriptions and those are assistive technologies as well, entertainment and enjoyment. And I know that there was a big lawsuit from DREDF to Netflix that resulted in a huge increase. They won and it was a captioning topic. And Netflix has turned themselves around and has really since that lawsuit, integrated captions because it was determined that they were like a movie theater essentially. And so they needed to provide the same types of accommodations that brick and mortar environments were required to provide.

So, you’re starting to see that the improvements that has happened in the past in physical environments are now being moved into those digital spaces since we’re now watching television on the internet and we’re communicating with each other on video chat on the internet. So, all of those spaces that used to be brick and mortar are now virtual. And so all of the adaptive technologies that were in those physical spaces now need to be integrated into digital spaces as well. And I think that’s a huge push to make sure that people with disabilities are included in all the environments that everyone else is included in.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely. And on that same vein, I was watching a TV show recently on Hulu, and I saw that there was audio descriptions that you could toggle them on and off. And I thought that that was so cool. There’s so many improvements that are being made. And I think obviously we’re all in the business of calling out the gaps and the problems, so I think it’s important sometimes to also acknowledge the good things. But on that note, I want to talk about some of those gaps. And I know we can sit here for forever talking about them because there’s so many of them. What do you both feel are the current gaps in accessibility that you’d like to see improved? And Deborah, we can start off with you.

Deborah Kaplan:

Well, one that has been, I now work for the city of San Francisco and one that has been playing out in San Francisco is a gap in policy that’s getting addressed and I think is being experienced across the country. March 1st in San Francisco, I believe in the state of California was the end of the emergency order for COVID, where for government, for public bodies like boards and commissions under California law, the boards and commissions are required to meet in person. The Brown Act in California is what it’s called. And there’s similar laws around the country. And they’re in the spirit of open government so that the public can see what’s going on and there’s no backdoor deals in private meetings. The Brown Act, those laws never envisioned video conferencing as a major way for people to do business. So those laws were suspended during the COVID epidemic and everybody used video conferencing for meetings.

And for public meetings all of a sudden it was much, much easier for people with disabilities to observe meetings of Boards of Supervisors, of policy boards, commissions that make policy at the local level, and to make public comments to the policy makers. When the emergency orders went away because they expired, the laws expired, the requirement to meet in person went back into effect. And in San Francisco, a major coalition of disability that was led by disability organizations, but was joined by advocacy groups from many, many marginalized communities, they urged the Board of Supervisors to put into place a policy where the meetings would remain virtual in terms of hybrid, where the public could still participate remotely because it’s really, really difficult or impossible for most people to attend meetings in person that happen during the day in downtown near City Hall.

And at first in San Francisco, they were considering a way to respond to that need by requiring everybody in the public to attend in person if they wanted to participate. And having an exception where a person with a disability could request as a reasonable accommodation, the ability to participate virtually. People objected to that because many people with disabilities do not want to be forced to acknowledge having a disability or be treated differently from everybody else. And people with disabilities also wanted other people to be able to participate virtually as well. And the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco eventually agreed with that broad perspective. But I think the real broad issue aside from San Francisco, which is just an illustration of what’s going on, the real broad issue is that going back to normal, quote, unquote, which is the desire of many people, takes people with disabilities back to less opportunity and less accessibility than before.

Virtual participation, before the pandemic, when people with disabilities said, “I need to do this virtually or remotely.” People said, “Oh, that’s not feasible. We can’t do that. It’s just not technically fiscally possible.” Well, then the pandemic happened and then that got disproven because everybody was doing it. And now the real issue is will people with disabilities be expected to go back to less participation and less involvement or less ability to do jobs when part of the job could really be done remotely as just a way to make it easier for people with disabilities who have difficulty traveling, who have still issues with possible exposure because COVID is still around. There’s just a lot of reasons why that’s an accessibility issue that is really, really important.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely. I think that we learned a lot from COVID that remote work can be done. And I think there has been several studies conducted that showed that productivity actually goes up when people work remotely. So, I think that that definitely is a accommodation that should be staying. Kat, I’d love to hear from you. What do you think are gaps that we need to address in accessibility?

Kat Zigmont:

Absolutely. Well, first I want to say I couldn’t agree more with what Deborah said there. I hear that a lot about participating remotely as an accommodation or an accessibility need. And I hear the rigidness of the other side, so I couldn’t agree more. And I think that that feeds into what I want to say, which is I think there’s a gap in understanding what accessibility is. And I’m going to talk about a pain point that I talk to many, many clients about, which is overlays. And so because people do not, or companies or people that work at companies do not entirely understand what digital accessibility is, what assistive technologies are, et cetera, they look for an all in one solution that focuses on risk aversion, lawsuits more than ensuring access and inclusion. And so a lot of people come to me at WID and say, “I’m told my website’s not accessible. I don’t know what to do. I heard these overlays can fix it.”

And so I have to inform people what overlays are, that often they remove access. So I’ve tested with users a lot of websites that have overlays, and often they’ll lock the JAWS users into the overlay so they no longer have access to the website or they cause more issues. And the one thing I say that I think opens people’s minds is people with disabilities that need magnification or screen reader usage or other types of technologies are not going to your website and saying, oh, finally a website that has assistive technology for me. Finally, I can magnify my screen because this website has an overlay that magnifies my screen. No, people that need magnification have a magnification software so that they can access everything. So that they can access Office as well as the websites as well as whatever they’re looking at online. They don’t go to your website hoping that you’ll provide that magnification as access.

So that’s the biggest thing I have to explain is people come with their assistive technologies. They don’t need you to provide that. In addition to the fact that sometimes providing that will now prohibit the assistive technologies they’re using from working. And so I think that, I’ll go back to what I said earlier, that accessibility is a verb and so it takes a lot of work. You have to make structural changes to your website. You have to make sure you’re thinking about accessibility as you update it. And so no, there’s not a packaged solution that will just fix it. And newsflash, overlays do not protect you from any legal ramifications. There’s been many websites that have been sued that utilize overlays where they have said the overlays are not an appropriate means to make your website accessible. So, I think that’s a huge gap in understanding about what accessibility is and how to fix it.

I’ve also heard similar things with regards to WCAG guidelines because they’re so broad, because they want to catch all of the use cases that might be the case that are so varied, they have broad definitions and that was intentional. So when a programmer goes and reads WCAG guidelines, he’s like, “I don’t know what to do.” I don’t know how to make as WCAG guidelines say meaningful navigation. Well, meaningful navigation is a good header structure. And there are things that users will tell you, “When I go to our website, this is how I navigate. And because of that, these are my useful tools.”

So, this goes back to why I think user experience testing is really a great way to educate companies and to improve accessibility is because you can give them tangible things to improve upon because the user will say, “Well, I’m jumping around and there’s no order to this page. And so please provide headers here, make this button a button, not a link, et cetera.” Or I often get a lot of repetitive. So it’s click here, click here, click here. What am I clicking on if all three options say click here? So descriptive text, talking about autism, making sure that there’s not flashing content or what is it called? When you hear sound without giving that sound permission, without pressing play. So all of that sensory output that a website might give on the onset could trigger somebody. Or if it is flashing content, give someone a seizure. And so I think that the gap is really understanding how to make things accessible. And part of that is teaching the why and showing people the experiences so that they really get the why.

Deborah Kaplan:

Yeah, I so agree. I think in large companies that have developers and engineers who want to learn accessibility, I think one of the best things people can do is shadow somebody with a disability for a day or so and really observe somebody doing ordinary daily things with technology. And then because there’s a broader context about how somebody with a disability lives their lives that ideally needs to be understood. One of the things that happens often, and many of us who deal with accessibility have probably had an experience where people who have to deal with accessibility requirements might not be familiar with it, often assume that it is not as complex as it is. How would they know? But then they get really annoyed when they find out how complex it is. It is a really, really broad field of expertise, of knowledge, and it’s constantly evolving because the technology is constantly evolving.

We haven’t at all talked about AI yet and how the poor implementation of AI can result in people with disabilities being completely left out because AI learns from norms. The technology is teaching, it’s being taught by the experiences that are common amongst people. The problem is the experiences of people with disabilities are usually outside of the norm. And so they don’t get picked up as the AI is learning how to interact with human beings or how to make conclusions based on human behavior. And so there are real dangers for people with disabilities who might not be recognized when crossing the street by a driverless car, for example, because the way that they move is not normal. So, there’s a lot of ways that there’s always room for new thinking about the impact of technology on people with disabilities.

Ashley Inkumsah:

I want to talk a little bit about the future. I want to end on that note. We’re celebrating 40 years of WID this year. And we’re really trying to prioritize what’s the next decade going to look like at WID? So I really would like to hear from the both of you, what do you think the future of accessibility should look like for WID and for society at large? And Deborah, would love to hear from you first.

Deborah Kaplan:

The future, first of all, there’s a lot to celebrate, a whole lot to celebrate that WID has been a major part of, and that the broad disability community really has changed the world. And I think one area that I’m interested in is coming up with ways to hone in on that expectation that Kat talked about, that everybody owns a piece of accessibility and then creating the resources for when accessibility is more complicated than that basic, basic knowledge. But I think WID could, I think, play a major role in helping to further universalize accessibility and get… There could be a variety of different ways to celebrate all the people who, especially younger people who do own accessibility and who have an expectation that they will be a part of making the world accessible, whether they have disabilities or not.

Kat Zigmont:

I just could not agree more, again, with that. And I want to say I think what I was talking about, about the integration of accessibility features into all kinds of online content, I feel like we’re at the beginning of that journey and there is still a little bit of resistance to making everything inclusive. Every video content you put out, make sure that there’s ASL and captions and audio description. Usually one of the three gets added. So when I think of the future, what I want to see is more built in accessibility. That accessibility comes with all kinds of things that you are getting, that people are thinking about accessibility before they put products out. During COVID, I was contacted a couple of times about accessible COVID tests. Like pregnancy tests or whatnot, the COVID tests are not accessible. And I’m glad somebody started thinking about that and is making COVID tests that speak the results, that have auditory instructions, for example. And so I’d like to see more of that.

I work with companies that are addressing the physical equipment that employees use to do their jobs in a brick and mortar space. And so thinking about that space and making sure that it’s accessible to someone in a wheelchair, someone who’s deaf, someone who’s blind, someone who has sensory aversions. Companies are starting to think about that, address that, change the equipment so that it is more universally acceptable or accessible, like Deborah was saying. And so I feel like the future of accessibility is all equipment and products and web spaces and phones come with all the accessibility features you need. Still in accessibility, there’s this one app, I won’t name it, but it’s $100. And it’s an app lots and lots of blind folks use. It’s an essential app. And I would never pay $100 for an app.

And to Deborah’s earlier point about sometimes financial means not being there, I shouldn’t have to pay such a high cost for access. And so I want to see the future accessibility come with what we purchase. And that exposure for people without disabilities is really good. I remember a couple years ago, a friend bought a new phone and their kid got a hold of it and triple clicked and voiceover came on. And the people freaked out and didn’t know what to do and couldn’t use their phone anymore because they didn’t know how voiceover worked. And I happened to be there and watched, and I was amused, I must say, to their aversion. “What is this? Why is this doing this? My phone’s now broken.” And it was a learning opportunity. I knew exactly how to turn it off. I explained what the use case was and then I actually showed them how it functioned, which opened their minds. So I want people to have that experience, that experience of, “Oh, this is how blind people access an iPhone. Gotcha.” And I want that experience with all kinds of different pieces of technology.

And to speak on what Deborah was saying earlier about AI, I worked with someone who is working with smart devices, smart home devices, and the AI for voice recognition is, like Deborah said, it starts with males with no accents and goes to males with accents. And then it goes to females and then females with accents. And I was at a conference once and I said, “Well, why don’t you start with atypical speech? Why don’t you have people with CP or people with hearing loss and their accents included?” And what I was told by this technology company is, “Oh, that’s too complex. That comes at the very end after we collect all these other voices.” And the truth is that never happened.

And so there is a company that we were working with for a minute who basically developed an add-on, and they came to us and they said, “We have AI. We want non-typical speech, dysarthric speech. And we think you might have data sets,” because we’re UX and we have a disability community. “Do you have people that can record for us so that we can include people with disabilities in that AI technology?” So that when you get a smart device, it understands what you’re saying? That’s what I want to see for the future.

Deborah Kaplan:

A disservice was done many years ago by deciding to characterize people with disabilities and the needs of people with disabilities as special. We should have a campaign that says accessibility is not special and I’m not special. I’m not special. I’m ordinary.

Ashley Inkumsah:

For sure. I think there’s this notion that accessibility is a luxury when it’s not. It’s a necessity. And I think we really need an attitudinal shift that accessibility is something that we all need and that everybody benefits from for sure. So, that’s definitely something that we will be prioritizing for the next decade and beyond. So this was a wonderful, wonderful conversation. I really enjoyed just hearing from both of you your different perspectives, having worked in different realms of accessibility and different eras of accessibility. So, thanks to you both for this awesome conversation. I really appreciate it. This was fabulous.

Deborah Kaplan:

My pleasure. Really enjoyed it.

Kat Zigmont:

Yeah. Thank you for taking the time and happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

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