Product Accessibility: How Do You Get it Right? And How Do You Know When You Have?
DESCRIPTIONAccessibility awareness is on the rise, but even teams with the best of intentions can flounder when it comes to finding the right approaches. One key is to work closely with the appropriate communities of users to get feedback and understand needs. The result is not trade-offs but a better product for everyone. In this session, we’ll hear from experts on the frontline of accessibility in product development.
LARRY GOLDBERG: Thank you, Will.
To illustrate what this panel will be talking about, we’re going to start with a film. And in a way that major motion pictures should be introduced, I’ll give you my best trailer voice. In a world where evolved beings create fully accessible technology and media, a joyful group of fantasy football fans gathers to draft their players and talk smack.
From the inclusive minds and computers of Yahoo comes the All Blind Fantasy League starring Brian Fischler as Brian Fischler and Nick D’Ambrosio as Nick D’Ambrosio and a cast of characters coming out to this screen.
– This film features individuals who are blind or visually impaired in a kitchen in a Yahoo Fantasy Football League draft. The group of 10 men and women sit around a table listening to their laptops and smartphones with earbuds. A title appears, Yahoo presents the All Blind League. Fantasy league players Brian, David, and Nick’s names appear.
– Game scheduled for Monday, 8:15 PM at Las Vegas Raiders. Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens. Video available.
– Playing fantasy sports is my way to connect to the games that I grew up loving.
– Austin Ekeler, undisclosed, is not practicing Wednesday.
– You know, I still love sports and still follow sports. You can’t take that out. I just love it too much.
– We’re headed into our sixth season here of the All Blind Fantasy Football League.
– The fact that this league exists that allow us to all do it together, it just gives us a great feeling. Everybody always underestimates blind folks. Oh, they can’t do that because they’re blind. They can’t do this because they’re blind.
– Guys, we got 30 seconds till the draft. I hope everybody’s done their homework because I’m looking forward to kicking all of your asses this year. I do have a nemesis, Nick D’Ambrosio.
– I’ll just call him 0 and 4 Brian.
– Everybody should want to take down Nick.
– And I don’t know what’s more insulting, that I have lost four times to Nick or the fact that he’s Canadian beating me in an American game.
– If you keep trash talking me, I don’t hear nothing because I got both my championship rings in my ears, so I’m kind of like Teflon. I’ve been playing fantasy for about 30 plus years now. Nicky Pools, that was my nickname. I was Nicky Pools. I used to do the hockey pool, the football pool. My vision started to go. I couldn’t see the screen anymore and I just stopped. My friends were like, Nick, what’s going on? It’s like, what happened to Nicky Pools? And I said, he’s dead. I’m not playing anymore. I’m done.
– A couple of people in the blind community told me, why don’t you get a phone? And I’m like, a phone? How am I going to do anything? There’s no buttons on it. Well, there’s a screen reader on it. You can figure it out.
– QB, Cleveland, Matthew Stafford. QB, Matt. Fearless forecast. 282 passes.
– Hey, this could happen, dude. Like all the information’s there on Yahoo. It’s totally accessible. And I’m like, are you kidding me. Like I got all the power back in my hands?
– Everybody, welcome to the All Blind Fantasy Football League.
– After playing in this league for five years and finally having all these people here today, I think it’s amazing. Am I nervous? Yeah, sure. I’m a little bit nervous. Can it throw me off my game? Maybe.
– It’s a group of people that is really comfortable around each other. You know what? Screw Jenine. Give me Robert Woods.
– Frickin’ frack.
– Frickin’ frack? [BLEEP] How about that?
– Can you say that in French?
– Look, my goal is to beat one person this year. One person.
– It’s just for fun. It’s about bragging rights.
– I got something in my pocket that’s kind of piercing me. Oh wait, I think it’s the ring. I’ll put it on the table.
– We hate when we’re drafting right near each other– say, he’s seventh and I’m eighth or vice versa– because we have a similar mindset in the players we like. Give me Terry McLaurin.
– Dammit you, Brian, every frickin’ pick. It’s impossible.
– My Washington boy. I need my guys.
– I’m not going to tell you a lie. I’m always a straight shooter. It’s not the same that I miss it. I still miss watching games. There’s no doubt about it. But I’m back and I’m dominating.
– Hi, my name is Nick D’Ambrosio, and I’m the manager of the Montreal Beavers.
– My name is Brian Fischler. My team name is the Astoria Knights.
– FC Tunguska.
– The Cincinnati Sensations.
– I’m Jenine Stanley, and my team name is the Buckeye Hairless Nuts.
– Like I said, at the end of the day, it’s all about having fun and beating Nick.
– Kiss the ring, Brian. He’s going to kill me outside.
LARRY GOLDBERG: We have an amazing panel today. And we’re going to start off in a moment with Brian Fischler, the talent– which we hesitate to call– of that film. And he is also the commissioner of the All Blind Fantasy League. Joining us today will also be Sukriti Chadha from Spotify, Oliver Warfield from Peloton, Alwar Pillai from Fable, and Christine Hemphill from Open Inclusion.
But let’s start with Brian. Brian, tell us a little bit about yourself. Introduce yourself and how you came to have such an effect on this particular product, Yahoo Fantasy Football.
BRIAN FISCHLER: Sure, Larry. Thanks for having me today. As you know, I’m a longtime fan, first-time caller, I guess. And I am obviously blind. I’m a tech enthusiast. And probably the thing that’s most important to me after accessible technology is fantasy sports. I have this weird attachment to the game, as I mentioned in the documentary, where it connects me to the games that I love, primarily baseball and football, as a kid.
And I went back recently and found the email that I had sent to the Yahoo Accessibility team. I guess it was about eight years ago is when it all began. And the journey to this film that we did kind of started with me just wanting to participate in a league with my high school and college buddies. As my vision had failed, I needed to learn how to use screen reading software and make the leap.
And at the time, eight years ago, everybody was doing their drafts and managing their fantasy teams on the computer. Yahoo had acquired a technology. I believe it was called Bignoggins. And this was a third party piece of software that shockingly was fully accessible and it had allowed me to draft my teams using this piece of software. While Yahoo had acquired it, they implemented it into their software. They rebuilt the Yahoo Fantasy app from the ground up.
And I went to do a mock draft and, shockingly, it just didn’t work anymore with voiceover and everything. And I’d reached out with a– what I’d like to say was a nice email, but strongly worded email, to just the general Yahoo info email box. And I got a great response from a developer on the team who was quite apologetic that, when rebuilding the app– and this again was eight years ago– accessibility got forgotten.
And this was very common eight years ago, that companies they build their apps, they would be in such a hurry to get these things out that, oh, that accessibility, we could check that after the fact. So I kept in touch. And sure enough, it wasn’t in time for that season, but within the next year, I was going back and forth fairly regularly with members of the Yahoo Accessibility Department. Hey, what do you think of this? What do you think of that? How’s this working? How’s that working? And I eventually started consulting.
Over the years, the names have changed, the faces have changed, but the mission still stays the same, making sure that the accessibility to the app for people with all disabilities works and works from day one. And it’s taken us some time, but we’ve gotten it to the point where the user feedback that I believe that we give directly to your team gets implemented so quickly and fixes– because whenever there’s an update, sometimes things get broken, but things get fixed instead of–
The days of hearing from a developer, we’re aware of the issue. We can’t tell you when there’s going to be a fix, but we are aware of it. Those days are long gone in most cases and everything. And there’s nothing more frustrating as somebody with a disability when you receive that email because you don’t really know anything.
And fast forward a few years, with us constantly communicating, and other members of the disability community, with the engineers at Yahoo, last year we started with doing a case study where we were approached for the All Blind Football League about doing a case study how people, more than just me, use the app, what issues they run into, constantly doing surveys, questionnaires each week. And we ironed out a lot of the fires.
And we’re into week 10 of this current season and we filmed our documentary. We had that come out at the draft. There have been no accessibility issues this season. And I think that comes from having a consumer base that is in regular contact with the accessibility experts at Yahoo.
And we talk on my podcast, That Real Blind Tech Show, how important it is for users like ourselves to first reach out to teams through an email and reach out in such a polite way. Explain your situation because not all these engineers necessarily are aware of accessibility. And sometimes you’ll come across engineers that, once you reach out to them, they’re more than willing– it was a minor oversight– to fix things. And then of course, you have the other companies that just could care less.
But that’s kind of a quick thumbnail version of how we started from day one and got to where we are today. And I’d say we’re in a pretty good place today as far as accessibility with the Yahoo Finance.
LARRY GOLDBERG: A great illustration, Brian. And as much as we feel great about how we took that user feedback and just improved our product, we only wish that could be replicated 1,000 times across the world of tech. And we’ll be talking more about how we might be able to do that.
Right now, I want to welcome Sukriti Chadha, who worked at Yahoo for many years too and had her own way of taking in user feedback and improving the products that she worked on. Moving over to Spotify now, we’d love to learn more about you, Sukriti, and how you incorporate user feedback into your product design, and how do you measure that?
SUKRITI CHADHA: Thank you, Larry. This is a great panel to be on. And thank you, Brian, for sharing your experience. That was so great to hear. I worked with the Yahoo Sports team kind of parallel. I was on Yahoo Finance and worked with the accessibility team with Larry and Mike and everyone else extensively.
One of the projects that got me started in the accessibility field was making charts and graphs, specifically in the finance context, accessible for people with visual impairments. And how we did that, which ties into what I do now at a music company, is converted that information into tones. So the frequency is mapped to the data on the chart and that’s how someone with the visual impairment can quickly go through the data or hundreds of data points without having to navigate it like a table, which was the status quo.
I currently work at Spotify within the Mobile Platforms teams. Let me do that again. I currently work at Spotify with the Mobile Platforms team and the accessibility team working on the end to end user experience. And for any large consumer company, including Spotify that’s reaching millions of users every day, there are sort of two broad sets of user groups that I look at.
The first one is obviously the end users that are the people who are using the end application, which in Spotify’s case include creators and listeners and advertisers. And then there’s the internal users, which are designers, researchers, developers, product managers, data scientists, consumer experience teams, among others. And the reason for calling out internal users is that once teams grow to this scale with release cycles as frequent as daily or weekly, the platforms that support these feature teams become products in themselves.
And design is only one part of the product development lifecycle, which tends to get over indexed in accessibility discussions. To truly incorporate user feedback and to ensure that products continue to meet the design bars that were set initially through future iterations, everyone involved in the product development process has a significant part to play. I’ve actually written a book about this exact phenomenon and how to address it that will be published next year.
At Spotify, we integrated automated testing and tooling for web and mobile clients to enable much faster turnaround times and feedback cycles than manual testing. The results from automated testing are also more consumable by APIs and lend themselves to more efficient reporting, targeted education efforts to specific teams, and holistic design approaches that cut across different feature teams instead of being fragmented, which is the part of manual testing.
The limitation is that automated testing only covers less than 20% of WCAG requirements, which, in themselves, are not completed in terms of defining and actual good user experience. It meets the very basic bar. But what that does is these regressions are caught automatically and free up time for more thorough manual testing and user research.
In terms of measuring impact, there are two broad categories of user feedback for consumer apps. The first one is explicit feedback, which is in the form of user research, customer service reports, App Store and Play Store reviews, and social media. Implicit user feedback is the data that we instrument and collect around user flows. This one is slightly more explicit and tricky for a couple of reasons.
The first one is that traditional engagement metrics such as time spent can be misleading in the accessibility use case. This is because someone with a disability might be spending extensive amounts of time on a given screen, which is supposed to be quick and frictionless, so we need to be very intentional about looking at this data and the metrics that we see as good metrics overall but might be actually counterproductive for the accessibility use case.
Another reason is measuring by cohort can be challenging because accessibility settings data is sometimes considered health data and you can actually not collect that data.
The third challenge is that the intersectionality of disabilities and unique user needs that stem from it. So it makes it hard to figure out exactly what’s happening with which cohort and there might be other disabilities at play. And the overall approach for dealing with the implicit feedback and making sense of it is to take these different pieces of feedback, collate them, and where there is ambiguity fall back on the explicit user feedback by engaging with real users.
For internal users and the tools that I spoke about before, the impact can be measured by the usage, the response rates, things like surveys, which are internal. And then the success of all of this ultimately shows up in a successful good user experience for the end user. That’s basically what I have.
LARRY GOLDBERG: Fantastic. That is a great outline of how every company should be working. And with a company the size of Spotify, the impact is enormous. One slight improvement or one step backwards has an impact on so many people. Now interestingly, we’re going to talk to Oliver next from Peloton.
We connected with Oliver because of a user, who happens to be on my staff and who happens to have a visual impairment, started giving feedback because she bought a new Peloton. She discovered Oliver. Oliver discovered her. And we invited Oliver to come here today to talk about how Peloton addresses the same kinds of issues, user feedback and improvement of the product. Oliver.
OLIVER WARFIELD: Thanks so much, Larry. Yeah, I was delighted to make that connection. It’s always a pleasure to jump on Zoom or a phone call with actual members and get to chat with them about their experience. And then a twofold, to connect with the community as well. That’s something really special about the accessibility community I feel.
I’m a senior product manager at Peloton and I lead accessibility and inclusion. So my goal is to create valuable intuitive fitness experiences for every type of body. But I also really want to center that on building senses of belonging, community, connection.
And at Peloton, we have this really special combination of a lot of different things that make the magic happen. We have software engineers. I lead a crew of really talented individuals focusing more on innovative projects. We’re also working with hardware every day, thinking about, early on in the concept phases and along the way, how we can make our hardware more accessible. We’re also a content team.
We have a whole crew of people who are behind all of the instructors that you might see leading classes. And those people are thinking about the programming that we’re developing. They’re thinking about, actually, the training that goes into teaching those instructors, about accessibility, about how to teach fitness classes in an inclusive way for people who can take fitness classes at any different type of difficulty.
We also have retail stores. So we’re thinking about real life places where people gather, where we want to make sure, as someone comes in, they have a really wonderful experience. And I focus mostly in the software and hardware space, but I’m a huge champion across all of those teams, thinking about what it means holistically from the instant that someone hears about Peloton, maybe from a friend or through a marketing channel, all the way through to the delivery process. And then also like new software releases that we’re launching, making sure that they have all the tools that they need to really have a delightful experience.
So one of Peloton’s core values is putting our members first. We have a world-class team of user researchers that are constantly running studies to really think about what this means as we move through the product development process. In hardware, that process can take years. Software, it’s a lot faster. But that looks like user interviews. It looks like surveys, usability tests, beta tests. We want to really stay in step with the member community all the way through.
And the team I work with, we’re focused primarily on accessibility and inclusion. We do really deep dives into very specific projects or specific needs, usability studies. And it’s so important to understand the entire experience that people have when it comes to fitness because people come to fitness for all different types of reasons.
I think Ian Hamilton spoke at a conference recently about difficulty is not the same as accessibility. And I think that rang really clearly to me, thinking about how people engage with fitness. A lot of times there’s this misconception that people with disabilities will need easier programming, and that’s just not the case. There are so many different athletes out there who might have disabilities and could run circles around me even though I’m an athlete myself.
And so a lot of our team’s research is looking at the entire experience, why people come to fitness, talking to any sort of member with a disability or not with a disability. We hear stories about overcoming grief. We hear stories about fighting to get stronger as you are dealing with a chronic condition. We hear stories about connection with family members from afar. And that’s the same case when you’re talking about building accessible experiences. That’s the reason why people show up.
Everyone has kind of different stories there. And in addition to actually testing usability and understanding the ins and outs of how our product is working and the gaps and the opportunities there, we also want to really understand the heart of why people are working out. And I think that really is powerful as you take it to the engineers. I think a lot of folks have already talked about this. Like there is–
Brian was saying there’s this lack of awareness sometimes. Sometimes people aren’t thinking about these problems. But when you can tell stories– we recently launched a live subtitles feature. And part of that work, like we found out that there was a member who was actually signing using ASL to sign the classes to their partner at home so that they could take a class. And you hear stories like that and they move you. They move you to action. And I think it’s really important to have the story as well as that data and understanding about what’s going well and what’s not going well.
So in addition to measuring the usability through all sorts of different tests that the research team does, another thing that we’ve instrumented recently is adding in these benchmarking questions about belonging and inclusion. So it spans across members with disabilities, spans across a lot of different intersections of identity.
We want to understand, no matter who you are, how are we performing? Do you see yourself represented in our marketing? How do you feel about hopping on the bike? Does it feel like it was built for your body? Does the software feel like it’s for you? These questions are just as important and sometimes can lead to understandings about the actual gaps and behind that feeling. Like digging deeper, is it because we don’t have subtitles– like what can we do here to solve the underlying need?
And I think those stories, as well as education, have been really powerful in broadcasting the effort and really gaining momentum across our company, getting people to think about building with accessibility in mind, but also thinking about the inclusion part of that. We don’t want to build a separate product that is different. We want everyone to come together and be connected through fitness.
LARRY GOLDBERG: Wonderful. It’s just been great watching Peloton’s progress. As a relatively newer company, I think we’re seeing a real evolution. Brian told us about how things have been changing in his world. Yahoo’s been around a while. Spotify a little less so. And then we have Peloton. Companies are really beginning to sit up and take notice.
Now, Alwar from Pillai– I’m sorry. Alwar from Fable is helping companies that are really beginning their journey. And we’d love to hear how Fable helps companies connect with users and what those companies do with the information that Fable gives them. So Alwar, tell us a little bit about yourself and about Fable.
ALWAR PILLAI: Yeah. Thanks, Larry. And it’s just been wonderful to hear everyone’s insights around accessibility and usability and just seeing how the conversation has finally started to focus around that usability and inclusion, which has been something I’ve been waiting for personally for the industry.
Like Brian said, accessibility is often an afterthought. And Sukriti, like you clearly outlined how complex product teams are right now and how complex product development is, and especially when you do things at scale. So Fable is coming in pretty much to help companies integrate accessibility through their product development process.
We are recognizing that product teams firstly are not really diverse. It’s mostly people under the age of 45. It’s mostly people who are able-bodied. And if you don’t experience the problem, you don’t see the problem, you don’t often naturally solve for the problem. And the best way to inform product teams is to understand the users they’re leaving behind.
So we started Fable with the primary goal of, what will happen if we connect product teams to people with disabilities throughout the product development process and will that result in a more accessible user experience. So that’s pretty much what we do right now. Companies subscribe to us and through their subscription with us, they’re able to run research and testing sessions with people with disabilities who use assistive technology on a monthly basis.
Accessibility needs to be everyone’s responsibility because everyone plays a role in shaping the product. And so what we’re doing is we’re making it really easy for, if you’re a researcher, a designer, developer, QA, whatever your role is in a product team, you should understand what needs to be done for accessibility and people with disabilities.
So through our platform, product teams engage with people with disabilities on demand. They’re able to see exactly how their products perform against the assistive technologies that people with disabilities use. And there’s that sense of accountability that Oliver spoke about because when you see someone with a disability use your product, you– first before that, you were unaware. So now you’re aware of it. There is now accountability to it and now there’s ownership to it because you want to be able to solve that problem now.
So our goal is to make sure that you’re thinking about this throughout the product development process so we make it really easy for you to collect those insights. And it’s been really fun for us to see whether the companies we support, because they started to talk about accessibility, not from the compliance lens and not from a set of checklists that they have to do. They talk about, well OK, what would this be if we have to build the most inclusive experience. And getting excited about accessibility and seeing it as a pathway to innovation.
And so it’s been nice to see how it’s getting circulated, the feedback that we’re providing how it gets circulated internally within companies, and just the behavior shift in saying that if we’re going to run research with the generic user base, we need to make sure that people with disabilities are part of that and really baking it into the process. And it takes time. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to change product development processes, but eventually the habit gets built and it no longer is an afterthought. It’s actually sometimes the first thing that people start to think about. And that’s really exciting for us to see.
LARRY GOLDBERG: Fable provides such an amazing service. And it’s been great to see you as a startup just booming. You came in just at the right time in this world. I should mention you’re based up in Canada and a lot of you came out of the Ontario College of Art and Design. And our great hero and the pioneer in the field, Jutta Treviranus, as the professor. I don’t know if all of your founders studied with her, but no better person.
ALWAR PILLAI: She was definitely a mentor of mine and continues to be. But yeah, she has played a huge role in shaping the space and been an honor to work with her.
LARRY GOLDBERG: Yeah. Yeah. And I believe she has been at Sight Tech Global.
Now, I know Christine doesn’t like me to call her the voice of the global view, but since she is joining us today from her mixed matched France and UK seat from an organization called Open Inclusion. And we’d love to hear about how Open Inclusion facilitates closing this feedback loop between users and organizations, and perhaps about your new project, Simply Open. Christine.
CHRISTINE HEMPHILL: Larry, thank you. Yes, I certainly don’t pretend to represent the globe, but as an Australian who lives in France, works in the UK and has lived across a lot of Asia at different times in my career, I at least understand how some of the cultural and actually resource differences and other differences of different places you live can impact the way you experience things, and it’s just another layer of inclusion.
And actually inclusive design itself and inclusive– and accessible engagement and production of product services and environments, it differs in different countries, partly because of legislation, partly because of culture, partly because of different resources, whether it’s things like pervasive Wi-Fi and so on.
So understanding some of that difference, it doesn’t mean we can design for all of it, but it’s certainly another layer of inclusion that we need to be really cognizant of. Sorry, all of that to Open Inclusion. I’m the managing director of Open Inclusion. I founded Open about seven years ago. I had a design and innovation background myself.
Came into some experience of disability and exclusion through some personal experiences and actually just also saw as a designer, an innovator how I essentially failed large parts of the community for decades before, not because I didn’t have intent, I just didn’t have understanding. And actually once you see that, you can’t unsee that.
And I wanted to share that with other people so that essentially if you think about this latent energy out there– and we’ve been hearing about it today from particularly Oliver and Sukriti talking about their teams and Alwar about your clients– that there is this intent there. And certainly, we see it in Yahoo, that that intent just needs a fuel of people like Brian to be able to feed into that so that it becomes enabled and so that the products get better.
So that’s really where Open was set up to help provide that fuel to designers and innovators to do better by bringing the real experiences of people with disabilities and older age, whether or not they identify as disabled, but people who think, feel, sense, or move differently into that process.
We work a lot in products and services that are already out there that are known, but also in places that are unknown. So a lot in the innovation space. So things like working with voice UI in the technology space, with micromobility, which is a lovely interesting combined product of a digital interface and physical experience and how that works and can– actually how digital can enhance that for disabled experiences in real life.
So just as an example of that, we’ve been thinking about e-scooters lately. And for people with sight loss, e-scooters can be really confronting and quite scary as they come in quite quickly into urban environments without yet the social legislative rules and so on to support how that’s going to land into a diverse community that supports everyone’s needs.
And if you think about how technology can improve that, it can be because people are hiring these, you can actually know who’s behaving badly and just restrict their ability to rehire in the future by putting sensors and so on them. But if they’re going into a space that’s meant to be a slow zone, actually just having the scooter itself slow down.
So technology can be either a disabler and something new and scary coming in or actually an enabler of more inclusive experience when it is designed with that insight in mind, when it’s designed quite conscious of the impact it can have, not just on the users of this particular– in this case, an e-scooter, but also on those around it.
So to me, it’s about how do we bring that voice in, bring that fuel into design and into innovation in a way that’s right-sized for the right challenge at that moment that can change that– increase that intent. There’s a lot of intent already out there, but really translate that intent to action and translate it to action in a way that’s kind of prioritized to the key areas where the friction and barriers exist today from that product.
So to me, it’s really what Sukriti was talking about, about that explicit feedback. Most of our work is working with our pan-disability community in the UK. We have about 650 people across the UK. Really wide range of experiences in terms of different access needs, different adaptive techniques, different ways they identify with their disability, but also differences in other characteristics that can really inform their experience. So differences in age, or gender, or ethnicity, or socioeconomic status and resources. So that can get a much broader perspective that allows that insight to be more meaningful and to be a little deeper.
In fact, we were talking about Jutta before, but in that end, OCAD has had a huge impact on this field. My research director came out of OCAD as well. So if you think about the circles of influence that that lady has had, it is remarkable. But another person who’s had a similar circle of influence like that I think is Rama Gheerawo from the Helen Hamlyn School of Design in the UK.
And he talks about if you start at the edges, you get the center for free. And when it comes to insight, if you’re doing user engagement, if you’re engaging with your customers and if you’ve only got a limited amount, which we all do. It’s resource constrained environments we live in. If you start at the edges and you don’t just think about disability, but actually even more edges of multiple marginalization and really understanding multiple disabilities.
The majority of people who have a disability in the UK have more than one. So if they qualify under the Equality Act in the UK as disabled, it is more common for them to have more than one disability than a single disability. So if you’re solving for a single disability, that’s actually really restrictive in terms of how real people really live.
So it’s that kind of multiple marginalization, whether it’s multiple disabilities, people with sight loss and some hearing loss, people with mental health issues plus physical mobility issues, et cetera, but also how different needs can come with different other characteristics and how those can create different points of exclusion and different impacts of that exclusion. So to me, that’s where insight is so powerful. It helps us unpick those problems and turn it into something that can actually be solved for.
We often talk about two of the biggest barriers in inclusive design and innovation are fear and complexity. And fear can be addressed by just engaging with people. Because once you start really engaging with your real customers, as Oliver was talking about with the start of his journey engaging with people that have reached out, and Brian, with your engaging with the team at Yahoo, it becomes quite clear and the fear goes away when there’s a real person to talk to because they’re real people and most people are delightful.
And the complexity, it is a complex world. And actually the one thing about complexity– we were talking about this just the other day in the session– it never goes away. So it’s actually just embracing it and delighting in it actually to some degree and going, it is quite complex. We never get off this journey of learning. It’s the reason I’m a natural researcher. I love the fact that we never really know. We’re always asking and having to re-understand in context of the question at hand, but it’s understanding how to ask the question in the right way so that you get just sufficient information for the space that you’ve got at the moment for the decisions you’re making now.
And that’s where, whether it’s working with an organization like Fable or ourselves, that’s what we’re experienced in. First and foremost, we’re researchers so we think about how to ask that question, and particularly in inclusive research, in a way that is specifically inclusive. Because if you’re running standard user research or user experience research but with people with non-standard needs, that might exclude people by accident or actually in quite significant ways, just in the formats of research you’re using themselves. So really–
LARRY GOLDBERG: Christine, I wanted to just mention– because I was going to start some Q&A now and I was going to ask you about cross-disability but you’ve already answered that, so that’s great. But I should mention– and we’re going to do some questions and answers now as our time runs down.
I will ask each of you a certain question, but everyone should jump in if they feel comfortable with that. And one of the things is your great leadership in our virtual reality XR access initiative. And a lot of that’s about hardware and software. And Oliver, you mentioned today, you’re one of the few of us who has to deal with hardware accessibility. That’s a lot harder, isn’t it? Tell us about those challenges about hardware accessibility and the cycle to improve your hardware.
OLIVER WARFIELD: It’s true. And this is actually my first experience working in the hardware space. I joined Peloton back in February. So I’m still learning, but I learned very quickly that these things take a lot of time. Often you’re looking at years of product development. So you have early concept phases, you might make like one prototype, and then you’re testing that a little bit.
And then you go into an alpha phase. There’s a lot more testing that happens there. You’re thinking about safety or thinking about all sorts of different things that go into that under stress testing. And the further along you go, you get into beta phases and all of a sudden you’re working with more members or people within the org who haven’t worked directly on the product to get feedback.
But the further along you go, the closer you are to launch, the less anyone can make changes. You’re also looking at– once you actually launch a product, we can talk about AirPods for instance– once you launch that, you’re locked into the hardware that exists there. Once we launch like Bike or Bike+, that is the hardware that exists that now I have to take and use that tablet and build software to improve that experience.
So I think a really key example that if anyone on here is a screen reader user who has a Peloton Bike will know, we have Android tablets. And talking to a lot of our members through the screen reader research, many members are used to Apple products. They’re used to voice over. So we have this kind of challenge here that’s built in for the hardware that these decisions were made before my time and we have this new kind of operating system that people are having to learn how to use. There are different limitations there.
And so yeah, you do have challenges there. You do have to, not just think creatively there, but also talk to members and understand where their expectations lie and what education you can do to help them onboard to a new system, what we can do to tweak TalkBack to make it behave more like they’re expecting it to. And then kind of outside of that environment, the retail experience, like I was saying, the delivery process. How can we educate the people who are facilitating that to give folks the best experiences.
And then finally, the content that we have. I think this is a really huge one. How can we work with our instructors, the people who are actually getting people super excited, Cody. Like just rallying all of that energy, but doing it in a way that people can understand, not just follow me in this action, but like a key description about how to perform a squat. And that helps everyone, assuming that beginners understand exactly the mechanics by watching someone, but also people who have low vision or who are blind can benefit from that additional description.
So I think it spans a lot of different areas and we’re under unique constraints there. So we do have to work a little bit differently. And a lot of the work that I do in thinking about accessibility comes very early in the concept phases of hardware development. And then also looking at potential add-ons or education that we can do, given the hardware constraints that we have already launched.
LARRY GOLDBERG: Well, in the tech world, it’s known hardware is hard. The notion that we can fix a bug overnight and you have to wait an extra year or two, boy, that’s a rough one.
I’m going to ask Brian a question right now because you’ve dealt with this so much. What have you found is the most effective ways to communicate with companies to give them your feedback. If they’re not asking you, how do you communicate? What’s the best way that you found to get your voice heard?
BRIAN FISCHLER: It’s funny, Larry. I get asked that question quite often from friends or people I don’t even know that just reach out to me in the blindness low vision community. And I always quote Dalton from Road House, which is, be nice until it’s time not to be nice.
And you have so many ways. In every app or website, you could almost always find a information email. And companies nowadays are begging and dying for user feedback. I mean, for crying out loud, every freaking Amazon delivery I get wants me to rate my experience with the delivery driver. If there were only so many hours in the day.
So I do find though, of course a lot of people that are working on these apps and websites, they’re extremely busy people. And what I advise people, be concise, get your message across, but be concise and to the point. And at the same time, you’ve got to tell a little bit about yourself to humanize that contact. Don’t just start throwing a rambling email together that’s 17 paragraphs. Nobody’s going to read that.
Direct and to the point is the way to go, what your experience is. And I can’t emphasize this a much. Pardon me, let me say that again. I can’t emphasize this as much. Proper grammar, proper spelling, be professional. That’s the only way you’re going to get a response. Be polite. And then when it’s three years down the road, that’s when you go to Twitter and just absolutely start blasting the company for not fixing their accessibility like I have a habit of doing, so [INAUDIBLE].
LARRY GOLDBERG: You had a wonderful opportunity to do that when you were invited to a party at the Yahoo headquarters in New York, and sat down next to the CEO and made a great impression. Being professional, but pointed– oh and by the way, you started with praise and then, by the way, this could be fixed a little bit. It worked beautifully.
Now Alwar, you are dealing with companies that are looking for feedback, maybe they don’t know how to get it aside from directly through your testing. So do you have recommendations on how to close that feedback loop for companies and for users?
ALWAR PILLAI: Yeah, I think Brian’s point is companies are obsessed with user feedback now and there’s multiple channels that you can leverage to provide feedback. Unfortunately, some of those channels are still not accessible and companies need to work on the methods they’re collecting feedback directly from their end users.
But I think we’re seeing the change in the way companies are getting comfortable to talk about accessibility. I would say many years ago, it was very much there was a hesitation because if we make an accessibility statement, we will be held against it and what if our products are not to that standard. And so the only time companies felt comfortable was when they were actually confident about their products and the progress that they have made.
What we’re seeing now with some of our customers, but also just generally in the industry, people– companies are just becoming more comfortable talking about their progress. They’re not saying that they’ve solved everything, but they’re being more transparent about, yes, process is improving and we’re making progress and here’s where we are. I think that’s a really good sign. It’s accessibility, there’s no end goal. There’s no end point to this. This is going to be continuous.
And I think the more comfortable companies become in just talking about some of the issues they have and the progresses that they’re making, I think is a good signal, even for the end users to know that there’s attention going towards this. We’ve also seen some of our customers who make their accessibility issues public so you also know how long has it been since this feedback has been given. And now there’s accountability to how quickly are you going to be able to solve it.
The parts that we really enjoy when it comes to Fable is just when companies engage with us on our product. They come to us at that early– Oliver, you– I love the whole idea of hardware because it almost forces companies to think about accessibility as early as possible. And so for us, when companies come to our product, they come to that early stages of research and they’re collecting these insights.
And they come back to us, like, two weeks or three weeks later, because they’ve integrated their insights and now they validate it. And even our testers can see, oh wow, you’ve made progress. You’ve actually taken my feedback. And for our customers, it’s like, yes, now we have the full validation that we have got the feedback and we’ve resolved it.
So I think that continuous research testing validation needs to happen. And that’s where the piece around maintenance comes in. And just being a bit more transparent around your processes. I know there’s a lot of shaming that happens in the accessibility field on Twitter. It’s not something easy for companies to digest, but Brian’s point, yeah, if you have been saying something for two years and you’ve not solved it, you will get called out for it. But I think being a bit more transparent is the way to move forward.
LARRY GOLDBERG: Thank you. That’s a very good optimistic note to end on.
I want to thank everyone. I had a lot more questions for you. I want to be sure people know Sukriti’s book’s coming out. I’m not sure if you got a publication date. I still owe her a foreword and I promise I’ll do that.
But right now, I just want to thank everyone, Oliver, Alwar, Brian, Sukriti, Christine, and Sight Tech Global for inviting us. This obviously is a conversation that could go on and should go on for days, months, years. And we’ll keep talking. So thanks, everyone, for being here.