Emily Ogle Advocates for People with Disabilities and Accessibility as Coronavirus Turns Life Digital

Listen to Podcast Episode 11 (MP3 File Download)

There are two speakers in this podcast: Kris Rivenburgh and Emily Ogle.

Full Transcript Below:

Kris

This is the Accessible.org Podcast. My name is Kris Rivenburgh. Today we’re talking to Emily Ogle. And before we start, one show note is this is being recorded on a phone because none of the meet ups are working exactly as we want them to so the quality might change a little bit, but we’re going to go forward with that. Introducing Emily and directly from her LinkedIn profile, Emily is an advocate for accessibility, advocate for those with disabilities, and never afraid to stand up for those who can’t. Emily, can you tell us more about yourself?

Emily

Thank you, Kris. I’m actually honored to be on this podcast. As for me, I’m a regulatory strategist for accessibility at Cerner, which is a health IT company in Kansas City. I’m hard of hearing and have been my entire life, and I live in breathe accessibility. So I’m always – as my LinkedIn profile says – I’m always an advocate, it’s not an 8 to 5 job for me, it’s just something I live every day.

Kris

And the way we contacted or connected was through a great post you had on LinkedIn which basically said, that because so many people are working remotely because of Coronavirus, some people with disabilities maybe left out or isolated because of digital inaccessibility. Can you talk more about what your LinkedIn post said, and how inaccessibility, particularly in the digital world, can leave people out? Also, what are some of the easier but important steps we can take right now to make sure we don’t leave people out who are working remotely?

Emily

So I got to thinking about how so many people are working from home and what the implications are for someone with a disability. Working from home is actually a boon for a lot of people with disabilities. But the thought that devices and the software we use to conduct everyday work still need to be accessible. Additionally, companies have been switching to online communication more and more about their services and how they are adjusting to the virus. So my post on LinkedIn was alluding to the – like the rush to move everything online. But if it’s not accessible, it’s gonna leave people out and we need to make sure that we’re taking care of people physically and mentally. And so one example that I’m already seeing where the move to online communication that’s not accessible. For example, this morning I received a PDF notification from my property manager detailing the steps that they’re taking to respond to COVID. It was an image only PDF so someone who is blind has no access to that information. So I emailed them to let them know that if they have any blind tenants, they would not be able to read the contents of that PDF. So, ultimately, as advocates, we need to always call out when we see examples of inaccessibility so that no one is left out.

Kris

That is a perfect example because there’s so much critical information that’s being passed around and some of the people that are distributing it, they have no idea that people – there are some, there’s a portion of the population, a large portion of the population that it’s completely inaccessible to. So I think it’s great that you’re bringing awareness to this. The more- the more we hear about it, the better. Can you expound upon how people with disabilities will be disproportionately affected by Coronavirus and how we can best allocate resources to maximize accessibility as the world shifts all the way digital?

Emily

So one unfortunate way that we will be disproportionately affected will be the triaging that is sure to happen – it may already be happening – where people with disabilities may be deemed less healthy and passed over in order to save someone who is perceived healthier and more likely to live. And, you know, people with disabilities already struggle to make themselves heard and seen and valued. And the Education Department said no, they don’t think it’s a priority to make online education accessible, which leaves students out when moving to online learning. We’ve seen a lot of solidarity out there where, you know, you have groups and corporations all coming together to try to, you know, build personal protection equipment, um, waving- waving like rent or, you know, eviction. We’ve seen a lot of that, but then we have kind of like the basic issue: People with disabilities are not heard as much if we need to be. And so there’s a lot of concern about how people disabilities may already be a vulnerable population. People with um, invisible disabilities or auto immune- auto immune disorders, they’re going to be disproportionately affected as well.

Kris

Right there, you said, about not being heard – let’s say I’m the team lead on a project and I take the position that everyone on my team knows that if they need anything, they- they’re free to contact me. What’s wrong with that stance?

Emily

Well, certainly is a fine thing to stay. But a team lead needs to have emotional intelligence, and they need to understand the dynamics of the team. You know, somebody who’s autistic, they might not- they might not have that, um, that ability to to just contact someone. Somebody like me who I’m hard of hearing, I generally prefer to not talk on the phone. The fact that we’re in a text messaging age is the greatest for me. And but, you know, some team members, they yeah, they will automatically contact the lead, but others will be reluctant. So it’s important from a leadership position to check-in with team members via a one-to-one status report meeting, or at least something so that everyone has an opportunity to to say their peace.

Kris

And now that we’re going all the way digital, there are so many things that we can do to make digital access accessible. Some of them are fairly easy to implement, and others are technically complex. Can you talk about some of the more complex challenges and how someone can work through them?

Emily

So accessibility is hard. Preaching to the choir, right? It’s hard. It’s hard and open to interpretation, not something that we can ever achieve 100%. The biggest challenges are when we try to make something accessible that is already built, but with built with no consideration for accessibility. And it quickly become daunting when you’re trying to account for keyboard accessibility, assistive technology, color contrast and so on. But, um, not all criteria are complex, so, and then you have others that are high impact. So when trying to make something accessible, I would go for the quick wins, the items that are relatively easy to fix such as language of page, page title, closed captioning, things like that. And then, since some criteria have significant impact such as keyboard traps or flashing content, I’d pri- prioritize these for remediation as well, so kind of taking a tiered approach when you’re trying to fix something that never had any consideration for accessibility. And also just trying to keep in mind that accessibility is a journey – it’s not a destination. You can have the best- the best website, and there will be that one person out there that can’t access it for whatever reason.

Kris

I think the tiered approach is so good and it needs to be repeated as many times as we can repeat it because what I’ve found is a lot of people, when they encounter digital accessibility, they think that there’s something that they need to turn on or they need to hire someone to do, and it just doesn’t work that way. It’s a progression and it just takes time. So, like you said, starting with the key things first, the things that have a huge impact first is a good start. Even if they are easy to do, they make a big impact. So building off my last question can you provide some examples of companies who are models of accessibility that you know about whether it’s companies, vendors, products, programs, anecdotes- what have you seen that has really stuck out to you?

Emily

Certainly the accessibility vendors have great accessibility on their site. I really think Deque’s online courses are a great example of making online learning accessible. And I’m escaping on the name here. There’s one person – I think his name is Matt Adams – I’ll send you a correction if that’s not his name. But he created a site of examples. So it’s just example after example of what you need – of what an accessible component is. And, it’s a very simple, very simple site, and I will certainly send you the link to that. And I think it’s been great to see him do that because, you know, he didn’t- he wasn’t being paid to do it. He just, as an advocate, really wanted to make sure that the resources were available.

Kris

I’ve found that, too. I’ve found a lot of people that are just putting out great resources, like tremendous resources, and they’re really just – it’s really just about advocacy for them, and I know you do the same thing as well. You also- you do a lot of accessibility training. Can you share some anecdotes from your experience in training? What do you think people are taking for granted? And what’s their reaction when you give them another perspective?

Emily

So people take for granted their current age or situation. Since I work in health IT, I often hear comments like, oh a surgeon isn’t going to be keyboard only or the doctor can’t be blind or low vision. And then I remind them that a surgeon could have a broken hand and might only be using a keyboard for a short while. Or I remind them that doctors get older and, you know, they get older, they experience, you know, decreased vision, decreased fine motor skill. And then when I remind them of that, they realize that the perception of what entails a disability is very narrow. I have an activity where I have everyone in the room stand up if they’re able or raise their hand if they’re not. And then I list out scenarios where people sit down and they stay seated such as they’ve ever broken their preferred arm or they ran out of time to complete a test or they’re moving furniture and their vision is blocked. And then, by the time I go through that list, everyone is sitting down and then I do the opposite. I have everyone stand back up if they’re able as I list out things that they’ve used that are accessibility or combination such such as if they’ve ever used a step stool, if they’ve ever sent a text message, if they’ve ever used captioning on a- captioning or subtitles on a movie, and then by the time I go through that list everyone standing back up. And so the point there is, you know, we’re all affected in some form by something that limits us and then, a common accessibility removed those things that limit us. And so it’s a good way- it’s a good visual. It’s a good visual because people can see that everyone around them is also sitting down or also standing up. And it also really just helps to sink in that disability affects everyone- everyone either ages into it or they have a temporary situation.

Kris

I think that perspective getting- getting that different perspective helps accelerate the learning curve more than anything. I know through some of the exercises I’ve done, it’s changed how I view things – even – you just you can’t have the perspective unless you, I mean, unless you try to put yourself through certain situations and it really, if anything, I think that’s one of the things that’s going to help increase accessibility everywhere is just learning about how people experience different things. One thing I wanted to ask you about on a previous question is, are you – I’m sure you’ve come across the toolbar overlays, the widgets or plug-ins for websites – what do you think about those and how do you view them?

Emily

So interesting thing about health care IT is that it’s mostly desktop software and so that’s been a challenge for my organization in that a lot of the tools and overlays are web only. And it’s also a lot more difficult to assess for accessibility because you can use, like the WAVE tool or you can you Deque’s axe-core. Or you can use, you know, any number of accessibility checkers. But they’re not available on the desktop software so I have not actually had that much experience with overlays because of the fact that most of our stuff currently is desktop.

Kris

The one last question I have for you is: As an accessibility advocate, what are two things you wish everyone knew about accessibility. And what are two actions you would urge everyone to take right now?

Emily

Well, I wish people understood that accessibility benefits everyone. Everyone has sent a text message. Even my dad and he’s 81 years old, and that was technology that was developed to help people with- who are deaf or hard of hearing. And people don’t make that connection. And, I also wished people realized that everyone ages into disability. And so investing in accessibility is investing in our futures. And those, I think, would be the two key things I wish people understood about accessibility. I would certainly urge people to – if you have the accessibility expertise – to call out when something is not accessible. Just make- if you see a video that’s not closed captioned, call out that, you know, this key group is being left out, but also be constructive about it so certainly not everybody familiar with accessibility. So if you bring it to someone’s attention that their video’s not closed captioned, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gonna know what to do about it so make sure you have resources on hand so that when you are advocating and calling out when something is not accessible, you’re also providing the information that they would need to become more accessible. And then the other thing is like, you know, just always be thinking about someone’s perception. Like, for example, when it was snowy here in Kansas City and it was icy, I noticed that the accessible parking spots were not as cleared off as, like the main parking area. So I called up the properties. I emailed the properties team and I said, you’ve got to get this. You need to prioritize the accessible parking because, you know, if someone’s using a wheelchair and they are wheeling out on ice, that’s not safe and I don’t use a wheelchair and I don’t park in accessible parking but just because it doesn’t apply to me doesn’t mean that I don’t have that responsibility to you always be that advocate.

Kris

And you are a tremendous advocate. Today is March 27th and we are just at the- this is, this is the beginning of Corona- the Coronavirus and the effect it’s having. Just getting away from the interview and just talking real world for a second. What are you experiencing? What have you got from the people that you’re talking to? What’s going on? How has your world been affected by Coronavirus? Just generally.

Emily

Well, I do know someone who has the virus and has been admitted to the ER. She’s since been released. And I think, like my concern here, well we’re all feeling anxious, right? And so people with mental health disability, you know, I mean, they- it’s being ramped up right now and the fact that no one knows what to expect – I mean we’re just looking at this wave of uncertainty. And I, since I work in a privileged state in that I can work from home, but seeing, you know, the restaurants being closed, seeing, you know, that the numbers of people who filed accessible- unemployment claims – that just like brings this knot in my stomach even though I work in a field that, you know, I have a very highly valued skill set and I work in a field that currently is in high demand because certainly health IT isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So yeah, it’s definitely been interesting. I went to the grocery story yesterday and I was just like disinfecting everything and staying as far away from people as I could. And one thing I’ve noticed is that now we kind of have a new greeting. Used to be, like, have a nice day and now it’s stay healthy. And I’d be curious if that’s something that is going to be kind of long term- if that ends up being something we just say out of habit.

Kris

And so before I have my last question about your contact info. But before I get to that, is there anything that you would like to close with? Just open floor, like without me having a question? Just anything in general that you’d like to add to this podcast.

Emily

Let me think on that a little bit. Well first I think it’s great to be able to do this. I always enjoy the chance to talk about accessibility. I always enjoy talking with other accessibility experts and I enjoy seeing people kind of might get that, like light bulb over their head like, oh, yeah, this makes sense or, you know, oh, yeah, this- we should have been doing this all along, and so this- doing this has been great. And, you know, I’m fortunate to have a job that I consider meaningful and fortunate to have a job where I can truly say that I am making a difference. And I just hope that people as they become more aware of what people with disabilities are going through when you come to the Coronavirus that they’ll take a step back, re-evaluate their assumptions and just be better and helpful and be kind. We can always be kind.

Kris

Emily, this has been so good, so informative, so helpful. I know that everybody listening to this podcast is going to be better for it. I want to thank you so much for coming on the podcast. If someone would like to reach out to you, where can they find you online and/or what is the best way to contact you?

Emily

I am very active on LinkedIn, and so they can certainly send me a connection request on LinkedIn. And that’s generally going to be the best way to contact me as well.

Kris

Perfect. I will add your LinkedIn link to the show notes, and we’ll go ahead and end it there. Thank you so much, Emily.

Emily

Thank you, Kris. This has been great.

– End of Transcript –

Show Notes:

Emily Ogle LinkedIn Profile
Paul J. Adam Accessibility Examples

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