Accessibility Through the Eyes of an Employee
American businesses have come to recognize that individuals with disabilities have the same goals, dreams and – most importantly – rights, as more-abled workers.
Over time, sporadic, haphazard and often underwhelming ramps, access pathways and attention to physical needs have become polished, prevalent and prolific in workplaces across the country.
However, access isn’t only about navigating the physical buildings where we work or the places we spend money or time. Similarly, access doesn’t only imply reasonable accommodations for walking, climbing and other movement-based activities – although they certainly are important.
Access in the digital age means employers and businesses need to create the web inclusivity and online usability that we all enjoy at work and in our free time.
That’s why we’ve teamed up with Molly Kiko from User1st. Molly is visually impaired, but not completely blind and uses aid from a seeing eye dog to navigate outside of her home.
In this interview, we’ll discuss her experiences with accessibility and how that plays out across her life at work and beyond.
Introduce yourself and tell us about your role at User1st.
My name is Molly Kiko, and I serve as administrative assistant/researcher here at User1st. In daily life, I wear many different hats. I am a wife and mommy to two beautiful girls (Mila will be two Dec. 26th and Clara who was just born on Dec. 31, 2019). When I’m not at work or with my family, I sing soprano in two choirs in the Washington D.C. area. In my work life, I help in projects that assist the various teams in the office. These tasks range from making the monthly Amazon order and helping with birthday celebrations to research projects that assist our sales and marketing teams.
Can you tell us about your visual impairment?
I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a child. The first indication that something was wrong was when I was at seventh grade camp and I was unable to find my way back to my cabin after going outside. A final diagnosis came after further testing was done at Lansing Ophthalmology and the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center. My first symptom was the total loss of night vision. Other symptoms that I manage on a daily basis are slight color blindness (difficult of differentiating between gradients of colors – picking out a wedding dress, for example, was none too easy for me), total loss of depth perception, a very limited range of peripheral vision, and gradual loss of central vision. As of June 2019, I have a 20/500 range of vision in my left eye (which also has an astigmatism) and 20/250 in my right eye. The silver lining to everything is that at this point, my vision is considered quite good especially after having this condition for twenty years. Due to my condition, I rely heavily on my service dog Mileigh (my-lee) or a white cane.
Different impairments are often undetectable to those who don’t know someone with an invisible issue. What would you like people to know about daily life both at work and outside of it?
For people with invisible challenges like mine, daily life can be challenging. However, these challenges can be met by utilizing creative solutions. Just because I have a service dog and my eyes might not work the best, my other body parts work rather well and I enjoy being an independent person just like anyone else. When I need help with something, I will ask and greatly appreciate that help and the assumptions that I automatically need help because I have a service dog are aggravating.
Is your workplace digitally accessible to you? How does that accommodation impact you professionally? Also, what are some of the best or most useful accommodations or accessibility features that you use in your day-to-day work?
Quite frankly, this is the most digitally accessible position that I have ever held. While I don’t require many accommodations, I am finally afforded the accommodations I do need pertaining mainly to the use of a computer. The biggest impact on my professional life is the addition of color contrast features across every software program on my computer. This helps me immensely in my daily work life. Because of it, I am able to craft documents and emails in a much more confident manner that I was able to before enacting this feature.
We’re not here to disparage any employer. With that in mind and reflecting on previous employment experiences, what were some of the issues that arose which caused you concern or impacted your work life due to functionality that falls below ADA compliance and accessibility guidelines?
Many of the accommodation issues I have experienced in the workplace were prior to moving to the DC Metro area. While the accommodations that I require pertain mainly to the use of a computer, some employers were slow to implement needed accommodations. This mainly occurred because others without impairments shared my computer after my shift had ended. Therefore, making the proper accommodations for me were delayed. There is a possibility that my previous employers did not understand that exactly what accommodations I needed or if the software was available at that time. For example, the ability to turn color contrast on and off as needed is something available now and would have been useful back then after I left for the day.
Can you provide a few examples of your experiences using the web, both positive and negative? What were the outcomes, and how have you overcome some of the negative or unhelpful experiences? (One example of each – one positive, one negative)
Sadly, the negative example pops out at me much more easily than the positive one. As an avid online shopper, it is sometimes excruciating to find what I need. Color contrast skews pictures of clothing and other items, and because of that, I don’t truly know what I’m picking out until I receive the actual product. On the flip side, the keyboard navigation features to enlarge the text of websites has been a very beneficial feature. As an avid baker, the enlarge text feature also enables me to read recipes much more easily especially when needing exact fractions of ingredients.
The holiday season is a lot of fun, but it can also bring up other emotions and experiences. How has digital accessibility impacted your travel, shopping, and social behaviors? Have your needs and wants had to change or adapt due to digital shopping, online travel experiences or online communication and planning tools?
Making travel plans used to be a very tedious process, as travel booking sites are not the most accessible. Like many people, I scour multiple sites for the best itinerary and price. But if their travel site is not accessible for my visual needs, this makes travelling home for the holidays much more difficult. The lack of accessibility features in many online retailers’ websites is something that continues to frustrate me. Although color contrast may work on their home page, I am at times forced to completely refresh the next page in order for contrast settings to jump to the next page so I can read the price and description of the item I am looking for. Through keyboard navigation and now contrast settings, I can continue to use many of the same online resources that I have used for years past. These accessibility settings have vastly improved my user experience.
What would your ideal online experience be like?
In an ideal world, color contrast settings would automatically jump from page to page. Retailers would describe items in greater detail and use basic color names for items.
Drop down boxes would be easier to read.
No annoying pop-up boxes.
Pictures and videos would retain their original colors while the background of the page contained the color contrast option.
As we move toward creating more accessible spaces, both online and offline, are we leaving some people behind? How we can do better?
Quite frankly, I feel as though the vast majority of the disabled community is being left behind in different ways. Until the rest of the world changes their mindset and attitudes about those with differing abilities, this massive group of people will always be left behind in some way, shape or form. The only way that things change, in my frank opinion, is through education and understanding that those who have differing challenges want to be like everyone else, just doing things a little bit differently.
In what way do you see progress toward making the web more accessible to individuals with disabilities or changing abilities?
There is progress being made in this arena, but it is slow and not always as obvious as it should be. One major step for progress is the number of keyboard navigation options that are available on the web. These make it much less stressful to navigate the web and trying to find a mouse arrow which is not always the easiest thing to do. Not only this, but the advent of color contrast options for web browsers is a major sign of progress. However, this option should be made a button along with all of the others for back, refresh, etc.
How can people better support coworkers and customers with disabilities as they work and live their lives?
The biggest thing is to listen to the needs that the person with a disability has. In most cases, (and this is my opinion from my own life and the lives of others that I know), the person in question not only knows what they need but have figured out ways and tools to go about their daily life and work. Yet another major thing that people can do is to allow the person with a disability to ask for help with something when they need it, and not automatically assume that the person in question requires assistance with every aspect of their life. People with disabilities have different ways to go about the same tasks in life and work than able bodied people do, and that is something that needs to be understood and respected.
What would you say to someone who is struggling to navigate the web?
First and foremost, I would ask that person what their particular struggles with using the web are, as every person has different challenges. After that, I would tell that person that there are ways to take away said struggle and even google possible solutions for their said problem.
If you had one thing you could tell the people who read this, what would you want them to know – about you, the organization, your experiences in your life, or the lives others you know with issues that affect their online experiences?
Since I’m limited to only one, I will leave something that I have to think to myself in some capacity every single day. People who are differently abled have their specific aids, whether technological or physical (service dog, cane, etc.) FOR A REASON. Getting in the way of said aid negates the purpose of me having that aid and affects my personal and work life in a negative fashion. Please be aware of your surroundings and be polite. For example, do not pet a service dog that is working. We care for our dogs, but they are more than a pet. They can be our eyes and ears.
NOTE: User1st has not tested any company websites, apps or devices mentioned for full web accessibility. We are not promoting one service or website over another. Our goal is to share the perspectives of employees with different and changing abilities.