Accessibility for Developers

Presented by Franziska Hauck at IT Matters Conference ONLINE

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Inclusion matters: accessibility for developers. I will be talking about this topic today. My name is Franziska Hauck. I'm a people lead in engineering, I currently manage three teams. I'm a coach, media time consultant. I'm also co-organiser of the accessibility meetup in Berlin. You can find me on Twitter with the underscore frenzied handle. So please tweet and share so that we can spread the message about all the things that we can do. I also started tech people code recently, which is the hub for all things human in tech, where I talk about things like pronouns, inclusivity, but also about stats and how we can offer different perspectives on the job market. So any and everything I do can find me on acca, as well as on YouTube and find also the video developer inside Germany 2020. If you're interested in the stats about Germany, you can find all of that. So why am I talking about this topic? First of all, I live with chronic illnesses, myself, I live with chronic illnesses that are not very well researched, and that basically, there is no prescribed or good treatment. So I have sometimes different mannerisms and things that I look at differently or where I act differently. And over over the years, I found that it's always good to communicate that and to basically make sure that I also advocate for myself, and through that advocating for all of the others that are on this vast spectrum of chronic illnesses, disabilities, and neurodiversity. And one of the things that I consistently come across also as a manager of technical teams is how to get a developer job when you're blind, advice from a blind developer works alongside a sighted team or things like the day we hired a blind coder judged by skills and experience not disability, or even what it's like to be applying software engineer at Amazon. Same thing for a heart of hearing developers, we would assume that it's a little bit easier for them, because you know, they can still look at a screen where blind developers often don't do that. But it's the same, it's basically it's an out of the ordinary, it's not the default. There is even a deaf IT conference in Germany, which a good friend of mine organises. I've come across this whole accessibility topic Also, while giving my talk last year at the accessibility club summit in Berlin, and being committed and engaged in the communities and exchanging with people about that and making sure that I understand the various perspectives of the tech community.

So when we look at accessibility, first of all, we need to understand what is actually chronic illness, disability and neurodiversity? So disability, we understand often times, there's sort of this, people are using a wheelchair,, people are blind and therefore they're using a stick. That is the visible part of disability, obviously, a lot of disabilities however not visible. And usually it can be some sort of a change in comparison to people that would be considered healthy, which can, as I said, be sort of the standard set, but there are also a lot of non visible disabilities that we encounter. And we shouldn't forget that there are also temporary disabilities, parents who are holding a child and one arm and then cooking with the other that is sometimes counted as temporary disability. People have had surgeries and cannot walk for a couple of weeks and then have to go to physiotherapy and so forth. And then they sort of go back to to what they were used to. So disability affects a lot of us some more sort of in some in a permanent state and some temporary state, then we have chronic illness and chronic illness is a vast spectrum of conditions and syndromes and manifestations of things that are off of the norm and that you would consider someone who is not healthy to have diabetes as much more of the standard or the common, lets say, common chronic illnesses. And then there are other chronic illnesses that are not very well researched, but there are a lost out there. Sometimes they are treatable, sometimes they are not treatable. It depends. And then we have neurodiversity, which basically is a variation in the brain that affects sociability, attention, mood and some other aspects. Mostly this is associated with being on the autism spectrum. There are a couple of other things as well that are counted, to being a neurodiversity, ADHD comes to mind, and then some other practices as well.

All of these three, somehow impact people in a way that you would do things off of the norm or be different from the norm, or would require assistance or medication or something like that. But the interesting thing is when we look at accessibility, we're not actually looking at supporting people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and neurodiversity only. Accessibility or ally as it as often shown is for everyone. Accessibility means the design of products, devices, services, or environments so that they are usable by everyone. And this is something that we should all strive for. Most often this is quoted when we look at, for example, senior people, older people, and then they sort of also belong to that spectrum. It's no, it's for everyone, whether you are older, younger, living with a disability, living with a chronic illness, or something else. So we should always looking at products versus services or environments. And, for example, the workplace is one of those environments, with the purpose in mind, and we design this for everyone so that it can be used by everyone. So how can you actually do that? And to illustrate that, I have brought around three good friends of mine. And first of all, I want to introduce you to Sameera who's a back end developer. Sameera was promoted to senior backend developer at Singapore as a [---]. She has been deaf since the age of five, she experiences severe back pains due to arthrosis. She needs time to realign and focus while working. And she chose [---] specifically, because there was already a developer who was hard of hearing so she thought that there was already a community or community support from the workplace or from the employer. She sometimes find it challenging to interact with her colleagues, because obviously, of the language barrier and communication. And he wishes in that regard that sign language interpreters were available more often. So this is what Sameera is looking at in her workplace, all the challenges that she's working with.

And how can we support Sameera actually, if Sameera was to work in one of our workplaces, we could think about captions and use meetings. Think about that daily. Think about that stand up that you do every day. Think about all the scrum proceedings that tech teams have. If every everything works on a verbal level, then people who are not appearing might not be able to participate, at least depending on their level of ability of hearing. So if he use captions, if you just open a meeting, and then transcribes to captions, automatically, you have those people on board, cell phone gives Sameera a cell phone so that she can use this to chat with her colleagues, depending that we are, depending on the fact that we are all back in the workplace. Now that we are a lot of us are remote, actually, we can use chat more often and use this as a medium of communication. Code samples are often sent by [mistake?], having sign language interpreters not just offline in the workplace, but also online and signing, for example, meetings and, and so forth. They are oftentimes government programmes that support this kind of service, especially for employers. A workspace setup. How is Sameeras workplace set up actually, would she feel comfortable sitting in a space where she cannot see who approaches her maybe from the back. So thinking about that as well. And remote working here gives us some good tools because people can actually design their workspace the way they need their workspace to be designed. And we all know that developer has a very specific tastes about their workplace, whether they are hard of hearing or not. Ergonomic devices, standing desk providing those things so that you can actually have that immersion into code for two, three hours and you can focus properly and make sure that you have good, some breaks in between. And you can also do pair programming, well, maybe for a longer time, if applicable, and if necessary. Then also having a quiet a medical, if we're talking about a workplace setup as well, it's always helpful to have withdrawal spaces available. Whether that be as I said, for people who had lived with a chronic illness, disability, or neurodiversity, or whether it be just for people who just want to have five minutes of quiet time and then they can go back to focus on coding again.

My next friend is Charlie and they are QA engineer. Charlie is a QA at London Gaming Studio Gameworks and they are a wheelchair user. They are able to walk very short distances. This is often something that we are not very used to seeing people that use a wheelchair can also walk but oftentimes wheelchairs are necessary because people might just be able to walk shorter distances but not longer distances, so the wheelchair is supporting them. Charlie also has an undisclosed autoimmune disease. And they feel the team's planning days. And it's basically due to, on the one hand, the provided food. And also the fact that there are elevators in the building, maybe at no elevators in the building, so they would have to investigate if they can get around and so forth. And Charlie also feels lonely as they are the only one in the company who are perceived to be different, in a way who are visibly and notably living with a disability. So if I wanted to, if I want to support, Charlie, how can we actually do that? A desk set up again. How is it if we're looking at a workspace where we are all working together? How is the desk set up? Can Charlie reach what they need to reach on the desk? Do they have all the tools in place that they might need flexibility, remote working, we are smack in the middle of a period of time where [we are,] a lot of us are in permanent or at least partial remote working. With a Charlie that is obviously really good, because they live in a building and an apartment where they have everything provided for getting around. And having that workplace in their apartment, makes it easier for them, obviously, and they don't have to go to the office every single day and and move on in the office. People who are out. Having those role models in the company who openly talk about their chronic illnesses and disabilities. Maybe living with neurodiversity helps people. It, it signals that it's okay to be vulnerable, because oftentimes, obviously we are perceiving or associating those things with weakness. And having that signal is really encouraging. And I personally have had very good experiences with being out about what I live with, because that encourages and enables other people to share that as well, because they see, you can do it and there are no repercussions the team is supporting it. Weakness, as I sai, is accepted. And planning can also be done remotely or can be designed in such a way that you can have split meeting so that whenever the next quarter is coming, and you need to make sure that you have all the epics and the stories ready. And you want to have this overview you can do that in remote sessions as well and get people on board via remote sessions.

My, one of my other friends is Kwame. And he's a technical writer. Kwame recently joined Action, the provider of an accessibility suite in New York, he immigrated to the US to have better working conditions. has reduced vision, which means that Kwame can still see some shapes, a little bit of writing, but overall, it's not easy for him to to read texts. He uses the company's on screen reader to get around to make sure that that he has everything in place there. And he can work with text that comes his way, have his texts that he wrote, read out so that he can basically, this enables him to do his work. He's also supported by colleagues with design reviews, because obviously for Kwame, it would be a bit challenging to pick out the images and then assign them to the to the articles making sure that the code snippets, for example, are the ones that were supposed to go into the article. So this is what his colleagues are helping him with. And Kwame is disappointed that Action caters well to his needs but constantly disregards employee with less severe illnesses, which means that he being perceived as having reduced vision is sort of in the category of 'Yes, he's actually disabled'. And then other people are not being categorised like this and are not being perceived as this I should say. And Kwame feels that there is a gap in how people are being treated there. So how can we actually support Kwame and his colleagues properly? screen readers, having software, having tooling available and easy for employees to choose and pick, specifically developers, I know a lot of developers who don't live with any disabilities who use screen readers, because it's actually quite efficient, and it's really useful. And reading out code is obviously a different category, but it works and I've seen a lot of I've seen examples where people can process 400 words per minute, and by having this experience with screen-readers for decades and this is, this is a speed of working, that is just it blew my mind, I have to say. So enabling people to have that the tool sets in place, or that they can easily pick and choose, they don't have to go through weeks of this being written off by any kind of Department of something else. This is actually what's what's enabling people to properly work, voice technology throughout a building, with the devices that we use, it can help so much, and for people with reduced vision, but for people who have other things that that they might be struggling with. And voice technology is so universal, it supports us. And it's just something that should be thought of along every step of the way, in building planning in planning how devices are set up and so forth. Having an anti bias training, making sure that we question the biases that we are living with, and to make sure that we are we are able to deal with them and to to acknowledge them, when we are being faced with people that might be different from us and what we connect them with or don't connect them with in a way. And that is a really good step to do basically doing every look at every every aspect that we interact with colleagues to look at our biases. Coaching is a very, very good tool in the workplace in the work environment, to enable people to build tech teams that enable psychological safety, that make sure that we have tech teams that take, for example, different perspectives into consideration be that from a perspective of having different backgrounds, cultural, different genders, but also living with chronic illnesses, disabilities, and neurodiversity. And helping people unlock their own resources and strength, to be able to to encourage them and enable them.

Here is one of the examples of the one of the extensions, this is Visual Studio code and the extension is called [---], or however that is pronounce. And it makes sure that the code is being displayed in a more contrasted way so that for people like Kwame, it is easier to read the code. But as I said, I've experienced developers who actually don't have any reduced vision, use those kind of tools, because let's face it, if you're sitting there, and you've been pairing for six hours, not that I recommend pairing for six hours, but if you sat there and you look at that screen all day long, and your eyes get tired, things like this can really, really help in making the decisive difference. And not just after six hours, but also right away and and to reduce some of the pressure and to make our teams more innovative, as I said. So accessibility is universal. It's not just necessarily for people who live with a disability. And I've mentioned that a couple of times home office, right? This is something that we are constantly looking at, at the moment, remote settings, partial office settings, etc. So having regular video calls, using video calls, for example, to Peer, this is so important. There are quite a lot of tools available as well. In my company, we are looking into a couple of companies that have set up tools like these a long, long time ago, because people were always enabled to go into home office at least partially. So having that software in place and making sure that that you can do things like pairing and you do things like when you look at code together in video calls have regular check ins don't don't miss out on this sort of psychological effects as well. And that is very important. And in those video calls, making sure that you have you're using captions. And again, here we have the same element that comes into play is because it's not just about people who are hard of hearing. Imagine you have three kids at home because the kindergarten is closed because of lockdown. And the kids are playing loudly and it's difficult for you to understand the conversation. There are captions you can follow them perfect and you can you can still attend the meeting. The gestures and mimics and how that is playing out right that's also very important and sometimes overdoing gestures in a way cultural expressions obviously and and making sure that this comes across in video calls as well. Sometimes inside jokes when we look at specific technology and technology stacks Can also be a factor. So making sure that we are aware of this. Documentation is key. Documentation was always key, we all know that, at the same time now, common home office, it has even risen and importance and in how we should look at teams working together and making sure that we understand maybe legacy code, right. So all of these aspects, the better you can document, the better it will be long term. And then this will help bridge that time, until we all have the opportunity to be together more often, or to prepare for a time when we are all in remote office long term. And also, again, Home Office set up. And here, in the most very important factor comes into play, whether that's home office, or that's workplace setup. People who live with chronic illnesses, disabilities, and neurodiversity do in fact, all people know what's best for them. So enabling them without any complicated measures and processes and making sure that they can set up their home office with whatever tooling they need with whatever desk, software, etc, they need, that that sets them up for success. And that is what you want to have specifically for developers who are highly sought after also in Corona times, even though the job market does look maybe a bit different than a couple of months ago. So enabling people as much as you can, is key in times like these. And on top of all of that, obviously, as I said, consistently, psychological support, making sure that we check in and we maybe have offers like coaching, which is not psychological support, but then maybe having the opportunity to seek out psychological help during that time, can be helpful, independent of the profession, or what the person is doing. So ultimately, and to come to the whole point of this talk, we can look at the best kind of toolings. And the best kind of set up. But what is actually really important, and the core aspect of everything, when it comes to accessibility is mindset. Ask yourself, do you perceive the difference between what is normal? And what is unusual? And I'm not even quoting this as being crazy? I'm saying because again, how do we? What is our mindset? And how do we approach things? How do you perceive people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and neurodiversity? How do you talk to them? understanding that [the basically than] what is normal should not and should never be the default option, and how we employ language and how we perceive people who are different from us, and essentially, people like everyone else with challenges, with hurdles, that people like everyone else. So thinking about your mindset, challenging biases, and revisiting that is a constant and sometimes hard to process. But it's, it enables progress. And that is what we're looking for. And that sets you on the path of success for ensuring accessibility for textbooks. And I always get this question of "Yes, but I want to help and what can I do, you know, I just want to support that person or the people". And that's fine and dandy. That's amazing. At the same time, if you don't know what to do, or say, listening is always the first step. And it's always best. Sometimes you cannot help or, and people don't necessarily need or even want your support or help. So just listening and asking the person what they would need, if they need support is the first step and then always be taking it from them. So this is always a very good thing to do. And also, as I said, not seem normal, what we perceive to be as normal as the default option. Don't assume that everyone can do practice, eat, for example, eat everything. I'm asking, Can you do this? Can you do that? What is your option? What would you want to go for etc. Asking people involving people that is so essential to creating accessibility, both from a mindset but also from a toolset perspective.

And that's basically it's just a brief look into my sources. Obviously, my personal experiences are something that I've always taken along with me, Twitter, the people with disabilities community is amazing and allowed desktop research. And if you have any questions at all, if you want to have a follow up, talk or just just chat in general, you can find me on LinkedIn. I'm very active on Twitter. You can find me on my website and I'm looking forward to exchanging with more of you about this topic supporting you in this and making sure that Our whole world, our workplaces, our environments, services, or products are becoming more accessible format for men or folks. Thank you very much.

And we have a question, actually. So what is your experience with call captions? Maciej says my experience is that they are bad, especially with polish, even in cases of English, where you are not very good. While you are not a very good speaker, they just generate bad results.

Yeah, tricky subject. I've generally found that, and I'm not saying this, because I used to work at Google, I found that Google needs is really, really good at this. But Maciej, I know how to pronounce any because I'm recording and seeing them. And my check, you're right, in that it's, it's very challenging if you're not a native speaker. So oftentimes, the caption services are geared towards American English or British English in a way, and then everything that that's off of that path, be that like, Patois, or Creole, or be that someone who will learn English as a second or as a third language, it The match is often not very good. That being said, we are consistently evolving, and it gets better. And there are a lot of tools available that you can basically link into the call. So you sometimes they cost a little bit of money, but it shouldn't be such a big part of what these companies because it's actually quite affordable. So those services are usually a bit better, and they are getting diversified. But at the same time, this is the core aspect of it all. The more diverse tech companies are, the more diverse their products will be and the more we will see a good representation of that trickling down in two, three years or maybe 10-15 years. I hope not that it doesn't take that long. But the better we represent ourselves and the companies and outspoken about needs. And once the better we can influence products and the better we will are the more we will see an evolution in the coming years. And I'm very much looking forward to that. But yeah, essentially you're absolutely right. It's not perfect by far.

Thank you so much for that answer. Let's see. Any other questions that come up?

Okay, none at the moment. And but even if there are other questions, they can always join you in gather town or even message you privately because sometimes these conversations can be a bit sensitive. Thank you so much. Register for your time for your presentation. Thank you.

Thank you. It was a huge fun being here. And as he said, any follow up conversation anytime. Just reach out. And that's that chat further. Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you.

About the talk

For developers living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, the experience in the workplace can be challenging. So what can you do to increase inclusion for these developers? A lot! In her talk, Franziska shares her perspective as a person living with chronic illnesses and gives concrete tips.

About Franziska Hauck

Franziska Hauck is a coach, consultant and advocate. With her experience as a people lead, she coaches engineering managers, developers and primarily those working in tech.

She has consulted startups, content hubs and bootcamp providers. Previously regional lead for the developer relations community programs at Google, she has also worked as a product owner, project manager and community manager.

Franziska provides insights into the realities of those living with chronic illnesses and disabilities. You can find her digitally under tech (people) {code}, on Twitter @_francied and blogging on

Photo of Franziska Hauck

Franziska Hauck


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