Our Thoughts

Accessibility Scotland - Our Review

Our passes and some swag from the Accessibility Scotland conference
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Opinion, Perspectives
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7 minutes

I travelled all the way up to Edinburgh from ‘Sunny Worthing’ on 25th October, for the Accessibility Scotland event in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, where the theme for the day was ‘Ethics & Accessibility’. My alarm went off at 3.30am for a bus to Gatwick at 4.15am. Gross. 

As you’d expect for this event, everything was really nicely thought out and went smoothly. The seating arrangement was done in a way which encouraged small groups to form and talk before and after speakers. Collaboration and communication lies at the heart of designing for accessibility, and so it was nice to feel that this was at the heart of this event too. Everyone I spoke to was friendly, keen to have a discussion, and had interesting points to make. 

Accessibility Scotland Website: https://accessibility.scot/ 

For a more comprehensive overview of the event, Claire Brotherton’s write up worth a look, but read ours first, eh? Here’s a link to Claires: https://www.abrightclearweb.com/accessibility-scotland-2019-accessibility-and-ethics/

The Speakers

The speakers here had just under an hour each to make their points. I was most interested in listening to…

Laura Kalbag

…having read her book ‘Accessibility for Everyone’ and watched some of her other talks online. 

She’s a fantastic communicator, and usually has an edge to her message, which was sharpened especially for Accessibility Scotland! She spoke about the ethics (or, un-ethics) of Big Tech like Facebook and Google – what crappy stuff they do, why they do it, and what we can do to fight against it. So, Laura’s point was:

What’s the point in making something accessible if the thing itself is completely unethical? 

The talks from the day will be put online at some point, but coincidentally – the day after this event I noticed an Adam Buxton podcast featuring a guest that Laura had quoted in her talk. So, listen to Shoshana Zuboff speak about ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’ by clicking the link further down the page. 

Laura displaying a long quote by Shosana Zuboff
Laura told us to check out this book by Shoshana Zuboff

There was far too much content in Laura’s talk to start pulling it into this blog, but as soon as it’s online we’ll draw your attention to it. Main things you can do are: Log out of your social media accounts when you’re not using them, don’t use G-mail, use a tracker blocker – Laura’s made one. The link is below.

Links:

Cat Macaulay

Cat is Chief Design Officer (awesome job title) at the Scottish Government. She spoke about their design methods in designing public services. There was a lot of focus around user testing – with her having access to thousands of service users willing to offer feedback and be part of their design process.

She called this ‘co-design’, designing ‘collectively’, and ‘designing with people – not for people’. 

Cat raised some excellent points around the design process as it’s typically perceived, and how this isn’t even accessible. For example – the cliched image of people sitting around a load of post it notes on a wall. This isn’t an accessible way to design. What if someone can’t read? Or, what if someone feels anxious in that context? She also raised questions about team diversity. Can we design for everyone if everyone isn’t represented in the design team? The answer quite simply is NO. 

I was really pleased that Cat spent a few minutes speaking about the Design Council’s ‘Double Diamond’ approach to design. She told us that she refers to this on a daily basis, to highlight how important it is to think and discover before actually taking the steps to create the solution.

This shows the double diamond - where the left hand diamond is for discovery and defining, and the right hand side is for developing and delivering
The Design Council’s ‘double diamond’

The double diamond puts 50% of the weight on the ‘defining the scope’ phase, which is something we try and get as close to as possible if the client lets us! Frustratingly, it’s too common for this part of a proposal to be vetoed by the people paying for the work, despite the fact that this is the most important part of the entire process. What we can say now, is that the Design Chief for the Scottish Government is behind this method. ANYWAY…

Some of the points people were making on the day were a little depressing for me, who would really struggle to get complete diversity into my design team without going way over budget, for example. But one thing Cat left us with sat well with me:

“Accessibility isn’t a switch – but tomorrow can be more accessible than today”

Links:

The Design Council’s ‘Double Diamond: https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/news-opinion/what-framework-innovation-design-councils-evolved-double-diamond

Léonie Watson

Leonie used Asimov’s three laws of robotics to talk us expertly through the history of certain types of assistive technologies. 

Her talk was really interesting, informative, but less useful to me in a practical way. No doubt I’ll be talking about the contents of her talk when I discuss accessibility with various people, though – and that’s one of the benefits of coming to these events – to immerse yourself in an environment that allows you to learn and think about something you want to pass on in some way. 

The best moment for me, personally, came in her question and answer session at the end. Someone asked about her thoughts on WCAG guidelines. She replied (paraphrasing):

We need to get to a place where we don’t need guidelines – where the issues are all solved in the design phase.

This spoke to me because I have, in the past, thought about the conflict between discovery phases / user testing, and guidelines. What if one says something, but the other says something different? Leonie’s comment suggested that we have to trust collaboration, testing, diversity in design. If we do that, we shouldn’t need to check our work with anything else.

Links:

Matt May

Matt gave us a lecture in Empathy. He applied it to Buddhist principles, because he’s a Buddhist, and told us why empathy was overrated (basically).

I felt a bit divided over his talk. Part of me felt that Matt’s point could have been made in 5 minutes, but the other part of me agreed that the importance of his message deserved 45 minutes of our attention. 

In a nutshell, I interpreted his point to be:

Empathy isn’t something we should force upon ourselves or anyone else as part of a design process. Feeling true empathy is tiring, it’s difficult, it’s unpleasant, and to pretend to be empathetic is patronising. 

Here’s my take on it. The word empathy is used too easily. I’d just swap it for the word ‘understanding’ and all of a sudden we’re not pretending we know exactly what it’s like to experience something the way someone else does. If we say that we need to ‘understand’ something before we find a solution, then seems much more realistic, and achievable.

Links:

Ashley Peacock

Ashley’s talk was mostly telling her story of the work she’s done around making a 3D autism simulator, and the research methods that led her design. 

Autism is clearly something she knows a lot about, having said a lot of her family members are on the spectrum. What seems like a common occurrence, is when someone who is leading the way in something like accessibility does so because of personal experiences with it. Ashley’s family members are autistic, Laura Kalbag’s brother has a physical and cognitive disability.

When the drive comes from a place like this, it seems to fuel a long burning fire in a person!

Summary 

Something like this would be welcomed on the South Coast, so I don’t have to use a plane or spend an entire working day traveling. Bring it to Brighton, please?

It was a great event. The free notebook was a nice touch, and something i’ll be proudly whipping out at meetings until the pages run out. Digital Accessibility is something that anyone in the industry will hear more about over the coming years.

We all have a responsibility to learn about it, talk about it, and practice it. 

Thanks!

Tom wrote this blog. Contact him at tom@huxleydigital.co.uk