#48 – Christina Deemer on Making Digital Content Usable for People With Cognitive Disabilities

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#48 – Christina Deemer on Making Digital Content Usable for People With Cognitive Disabilities
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Transcript

Christina Deemer

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley.

Jukebox is a a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case making digital content usable for people with cognitive disabilities.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to WPTavern.com forward slash feed forward slash podcast, and you can copy that URL into most podcast players.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the show, I’m keen to hear from you and hopefully get you all your idea featured soon. Head over to WPTavern.com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox, and use the form there.

So, on the podcast today, we have Christina Deemer. Christina is a senior UX developer at Lede, a company of the Alley Group, where she champions accessibility and headless WordPress in her work with publishers and nonprofits. She’s passionate about inclusivity and community and has spoken at a variety of events about the subject.

Christina is autistic and brings her personal experience with neurodivergence and disability to bear in her work.

At the recent WordCamp US, Christina gave a presentation called “embracing minds of all kinds, making digital content usable for people with cognitive disabilities”. And it’s this talk, which is the foundation of the podcast today.

In her description of the presentation, Christina wrote, “cognitive disabilities are among the most prevalent types of disabilities, yet experts have struggled to provide web accessibility best practices around this area due to cognitive disabilities being such a broad category. However recent work by standards groups has begun to address this deficiency”.

In past episodes, we’ve covered website accessibility from some different angles, and today we focus on how the web might be experienced by people with cognitive disabilities.

First, Christina talks about what the term cognitive disabilities actually means, and what it encompasses. It’s a wide range of things, and so we talk about how people may differ in the way that they access the web. Memory, over complicated interfaces and readability are a few of the areas that we touch upon.

We also discuss what legislation there is in place to offer guidance to those wishing to make their sites more accessible, and as you’ll hear, it’s a changing landscape.

Towards the end, Christina talks about her own late diagnosis of autism and how this shapes her experience of the web, particularly with auto-play content and when web design includes elements which flash or flicker.

Typically when we record the podcast there’s not a lot of background noise, but that’s not always the case. This is the last of the live recordings from WordCamp US 2022, and you may notice that the recordings have a little echo or other strange audio artifacts. Whilst the podcasts are more than listenable, I do hope that you understand that the vagaries of the real world were at play.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all of the links and the show notes by heading over to WPTavern.com forward slash podcast, where you’ll find all of the other episodes as well.

And so, without further I bring you Christina Deemer.

I am joined on the podcast today by Christina Deemer. Hello.

[00:04:14] Christina Deemer: Hello Nathan.

[00:04:16] Nathan Wrigley: It’s very nice to have you on. We are at WordCamp US 2022. We’re upstairs in the media room, and we’ve got Christina on the show today because she did a presentation. Have you actually done the presentation yet?

[00:04:27] Christina Deemer: Yes, I did it yesterday morning. I was lucky in that I got to get it over with early and then enjoy the rest of the conference.

[00:04:34] Nathan Wrigley: How did it go?

[00:04:35] Christina Deemer: It went really well. It was a lot of fun. I had a really great audience.

[00:04:39] Nathan Wrigley: That’s nice to hear. That’s good. The subject, I’m just gonna give everybody the title. That’s probably a quick way to introduce what we’re gonna talk about. The subject title was embracing minds of all kinds, making digital content usable for people with cognitive disabilities. So we’ll dive into that in a moment. Just before then, though, just paint a little bit of a picture about who you are and how come it is that you’re speaking at a WordPress conference particularly about this topic.

[00:05:04] Christina Deemer: Okay. I am a career changer. I spent the first 12 years or so of my career working in arts management. Then I decided I wanted to do something very different, and I became a developer. And one of my early mentors introduced me to WordPress. So, the first projects that I worked on were WordPress sites. I wrote my first WordPress theme when I was 35, and just really enjoyed getting involved in the WordPress community.

And from the beginning of my career, I’ve been very interested in accessibility for a wide variety of reasons. And it’s become a passion of mine. I really enjoy sharing knowledge about accessibility with people. I enjoy hearing people’s stories about accessibility. And recently there’s been a lot of work done on the standards around cognitive accessibility or accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities, and that work has been really fascinating and I’ve wanted to share it with people. And that was how, the reason that I pitched this talk for WordCamp US.

[00:06:13] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you. That’s great. The words cognitive disabilities, it probably makes a great deal of sense to you because you’ve parsed and you’ve said it many times. You fully understand it. Would you just run over a brief definition of what it encompasses? And I’m sure it’s not just one thing, maybe it’s a multitude of things.

[00:06:28] Christina Deemer: So it’s a very nebulous term, and it acts as a sort of umbrella for neurological disorders as well as behavioral and mental health disorders that may or may not be neurological. It covers a wide variety of things from autism, ADHD, aphasia, dementia, dyslexia, dyscalculia, tourette syndrome, traumatic brain injury.

It covers a real wide variety of things, which is one of the reasons actually why it’s taken so long to develop some standards around how to make websites more accessible to people with those diagnoses. But just to take a little further step back with things. When I talk about this I really try to make a point to not focus on some of these sort of diagnostic labels, but to rather focus on underlying cognitive skills.

Because a lot of people with cognitive disabilities don’t even realize they have a disability, for a number of reasons. There are a lot of systemic barriers to getting a diagnosis, and a lot of things come into play there. But really what we’re talking about is some underlying cognitive skills, like memory issues, focus issues, ability to concentrate, reading, math and language comprehension, decision making, executive function, which has to do with the processes involved in following instructions and planning things and processing a bunch of things at once.

So, when I talk about cognitive accessibility, I really like to focus less on those diagnostic labels and more on the underlying cognitive skills that are involved.

[00:08:13] Nathan Wrigley: So from that, I take it that cognitive disabilities, as you described it, was a long list. There was a really large amount of things that you’re covering here, which is really interesting. So let’s unpack that a little bit. Just before we clicked record, I mentioned that we may get into the weeds of what it is like for people who have some of these things. And maybe we could cherry pick some examples.

What I’m intending to do here is for you to paint a picture of what the web looks like for some of these different things. So in my case, when I approach the computer and open it up and get it started, I can see the screen, I can hear the video when it’s played. I just don’t really have a window into what that might look like. So if you have a moment to just broadly paint a picture of what some of these things feel like and look like.

[00:09:01] Christina Deemer: Sure, and even people who are somewhat familiar with general accessibility and maybe more accustomed to thinking about what the web is like for people who use screen readers. So they think about, they’ve maybe done some testing and they know how things are read. They think about reading order, and how a screen reader works. And when they’re thinking about making sites accessible for people who are deaf, they are thinking about making sure that there are captions on videos.

So when we’re thinking about cognitive accessibility, we’re thinking about some other issues. So in my talk yesterday, I had a couple of examples of sites that are pages that had weak cognitive accessibility. And one of them was a desktop screen of an interface of eBay, like buying a shirt on eBay. And in the middle of the page, there were four calls to action, with three different designs. So it wasn’t clear what the user was supposed to push. There was no clear call to action. There was very little white space on the page.

So this isn’t great for users with cognitive disability. Somebody who has an issue with focus is not going to know really where to look on the page. Could get distracted by all of the various details. All of the sidebars on the left, little small text below an image. People who struggle with decision making haven’t helped them with those four CTAs in the middle of the page.

Anybody with memory issues, it’s not going to be clear, like, if they bought something on eBay previously. They won’t remember what they did last time because it’s a little confusing. So a lot of users may abandon their task on a page like that. So that’s an example of a page that maybe has complex or overwhelming interface.

And another barrier that users face is if a site has very complex text or unusual words. So I mention Wikipedia page on the planet Saturn, that included words like perihelion, and a word like eccentricity, but people may not be accustomed to understanding what Saturn’s eccentricity is. Like, what does that even mean?

So, readability is often analyzed through a, a system called the Flesh Reading E Score. And I went to a website that measures the readability of, particularly of, Wikipedia pages. And it indicated that this page had a reading level of 10 to 12th grade. So it was very, very difficult to read. And for most adults we say that the reading level of content should be at about a seventh or eighth grade level. So if you want to make your content accessible for people who have reading or language comprehension issues, you’re going to want to go with even simpler content. A readability of about sixth grade or less. So those are of a couple of examples of some barriers that users with cognitive disabilities face on the web.

[00:11:57] Nathan Wrigley: So the accessibility piece, the bit that you mentioned earlier, about potentially some of the WCAG guidelines and things like that. That now is being drawn into the domain of, it’s illegal if you don’t perform some of these things. Is there anything surrounding that with the cognitive disability side. Is there any mandated things that you must do?

[00:12:17] Christina Deemer: Okay, so that’s where things are evolving, a lot and some really interesting things are happening. In WCAG 2.1, there’s already a couple of things, a couple of success criteria that address cognitive accessibility. Things around space around text, stuff like that. Auto filling in or making it possible to auto complete form fields. Those things are great for people with language or reading comprehension issues, people who have issues with focus.

In April, 2021, the W3C came out with a working group note on guidelines for making content more usable for people with cognitive disabilities. And this was a non-normative document, which meant that it was supplementary to WCAG and you don’t need to conform, follow these guidelines in order to meet WCAG compliance. So they came out with all of these really great framework, with eight objectives, dozens of design patterns, and none of that is necessary to comply with WCAG. So, yeah, that was April 2021.

So now we’re in September 2022. We now have WCAG 2.2 is in candidate recommendation, I think. And there are two new success criteria that feel like they’ve come directly out of that working group note. One is on accessible authentication, which is where you need to supply at least one method for logging in that doesn’t rely on cognitive skills. So you need to have at least one option where somebody doesn’t have to, by memory, type in their password. They can use a password manager or there’s an option for magic links, QR codes, single sign on, something like that. So that’s a new one.

And there’s also a new success criteria on consistent help. Oftentimes the quickest way for somebody to solve a challenge online is to get help from a real person that can support users. And it’s important that this information on like how to get help from a real person isn’t hidden. You don’t have to scroll and click through a bunch of non obvious links to find out how to get help from a real person. That information is accessible in the same place on consistent pages. And that’s just even having an email address for help, or a number to get help via text, or social, or a chatbot or something that’s not a chat, that’s a real person or something. Just making it possible for somebody to get help from a real person

So we’re seeing some of these things that were in that working group note come into the standard, which is very exciting. And part of the reason there were all of these design patterns in the working group note in the April, 2021 working group note, that are not included in the standard, in 2.2. And I think that’s for a variety of reasons. Like one of them is that so much of it is it’s hard to figure out a way to test it. To like design it so that you can have some sort of measurable test of yes, you are conforming with this or you aren’t.

A lot of it, with cognitive disabilities is very contextual and subjective, and it depends on your product and it depends on so many different things that they haven’t figured out a way to create testable success criteria yet. But it’s exciting to me that we at . Least have these two new success criteria.

[00:15:43] Nathan Wrigley: Is one of the things that makes this difficult to pin down, is it because unlike, let’s take the example of somebody who is blind, it’s binary in that case. I don’t mean you, your heart of sight, I mean you are literally blind. You know what to do with that because the outcome is obvious. You can’t see the screen. So there’s remedies for that, and you can create those remedies with screen readers and so on. But it sounds like the description of cognitive disabilities, there’s such a broad spectrum. It’s hard to pin it down, so it’s hard to create the solution because each person may be slightly different.

[00:16:15] Christina Deemer: Absolutely. And there’s a saying in the autism community that when you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person. So a lot of times with these things, you can have an interface that works for one person who has a lot of trouble with memory, may not work for another person. Or even that same person when they’re having a good day versus having a bad day.

So, it is very hard to pin down. It comes down then not to an argument about we have to do this to legally comply with the standard, to not get into trouble. It comes down to, you have to do this or you should do this because you want to do the right thing for your users. And sometimes, I talk about this in my talk, that there can be sometimes tension between like business goals and accessibility goals or something like that.

And there are a lot of ways to find the like win . Win. You know we’re improving things for users, for disabled users also improves things for your business goals. But you really have to get out of more of a checklist, we’re doing this because it’s legal, because we need to legally comply with the standard, to like having a more accessibility mindset about it all.

[00:17:24] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, that makes sense. I don’t know if you’re American, but we’re in America. I’m from the UK. So, completely different sides of the world really. And obviously you take in every other country on the planet, there’s gonna be a different complexion there. Is there broad consensus of how important it is across the world? Or is it very much a case that America’s doing one thing and the UK is doing another, and Australia and all the other countries that we could mention.

[00:17:47] Christina Deemer: I can speak more about that in terms of accessibility in general. So there are different laws in different places, which sounds like a really obvious thing when I say it that way. But what’s really great about WCAG is that it is a sort of internationally recognized standard, and a lot of countries use WCAG as a standard, and they’ll refer to it because it is kept up to date, because it is all testable.

So there are like slightly different laws in different places, but a lot of places do fall back to WCAG, usually the double A standard. Depends on the places and everything, but a lot of times a law may apply only to like government websites, or sites that serve the public interest or something like that.

And I think there’s still a lot of debate around whether or not websites fall under the Americans with Disability Act. There’s still some argument about that. I mentored a developer out of the UK on accessibility at the end of 2021, in the beginning of 2022, and we talked a little bit about some of the laws there and they’re, yeah, slightly different than they are in America, but everything falls back to WCAG.

[00:19:00] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. Thank you. You mentioned in the notes that we exchanged prior to recording this, that there are some, some ways that you can make this job easier for yourself. And you talk particularly about some design patterns that you feel will be able to assist people who, perhaps having listened to this podcast, think, okay, this is something I need to be mindful of. Just run us through what these design patterns are. That may take a long time, I don’t know. You might have a quick version or it may be a long version. I don’t know.

[00:19:25] Christina Deemer: Yeah, in the April 2021 working group note, it mentions dozens of different design patterns. And um, I really encourage people to check that out. Of course, read this spec and look at the working group node and understand all of the different things. But a couple of sort of top things for me are making your content as clear as possible. And a lot of times people think of content as post content.

But content is everything that’s on your site. So it includes button text, it includes how the content in a menu, it includes instructions, it includes headings, and it’s important that all of that is as clear as possible. So if you have multiple CTAs on a page, if you have a CTA for subscribing, what does subscribing mean? What are you subscribing to? Versus registering for a newsletter. You need to make sure that the CTA for registering for the newsletter, versus subscribing to a publication, that they have a separate CTA. That it’s clear that you’re doing two different actions here.

And we talked about readability a minute ago, making sure that you’re using short sentences with simple common words. That is helpful. And that you’re using punctuation intentionally, which sounds like a small thing but using punctuation intentionally, like a period when you mean to use a period and using commas. That’s helpful for, clear content is important for SEO as well. And it helps with users who use screen readers, which includes people with cognitive disabilities who are more comfortable hearing the text, the content, than reading it.

And while a blind person who does not have a cognitive disability may be able to work out the meaning of something that’s not formatted correctly. Somebody who has communication issues may not be able to work out what the meaning of the content is, if it’s not formatted correctly. So the clear content is one. Using clear step by step instructions for something is important. A lot of times we give users feedback only when they’re making a mistake.

But it’s important to give them a little help before they’ve made a mistake in a form. Give them an example of how you want a telephone number formatted. Or like where they can find if a username is actually a user’s email address, make that clear to the user before they’ve tried to submit the form and they’ve made a mistake. Those little bits of instructions sometimes can seem unnecessary or they’re cluttering up the site. If you feel like they’re cluttering up the site, you can hide the instructions round like a little eye icon or something like that.

One of the things that I think is particularly important is not making the user have to remember. If a user wants to upgrade their subscription or change their service plan. They should know what their current plan is, how much it costs, when it is set to expire. They shouldn’t have to remember that when they’re being asked to upgrade to another plan. So that’s another one.

And you see that with a number of cases where, you are asked to upgrade and you’re like what plan am I even on right now? Am I on a particularly high plan? How much money am I, how much extra am I spending to upgrade my plan? And it can be confusing to users. So like, just give them everything that they need on every single screen. That’s a lot better for them.

So those are some more concrete things. And then there are some more sort of conceptual design patterns around things like making sure that a user’s most important tasks are featured prominently on a site. What are a user’s most important tasks? Do you even know what a user’s most important tasks are on your site?

The example I give in my talk is that, you know if you have a library and the team thinks that the most important thing is getting users to sign up for an event, and it takes two clicks for the users to sign up for the event at the library. But, if you look at the usage data, or focus groups, or user testing, like a user’s most important tasks may be figuring out what the library hours are. Signing up for a library card. But maybe to do that you have to click on a bunch of different links and maybe even have to search or something to find out what the library hours are.

So you may have to sort of reconcile what the user’s most important tasks are versus what the team considers the most important. But that’s only possible when you actually know what your users want to do.

[00:23:56] Nathan Wrigley: It feels like there’s a whole subset, and I’m, I’m not saying that this is the norm, but I think there’s a subset of people out there who quite deliberately go out of their way to make things as confusing as possible. So an example that just comes to mind recently is I purchased a flight, and the process of completing the flight purchase was extraordinarily challenging. In that I couldn’t get to the end of it without declining hundreds of different things. I simply wanted a flight, but then came the insurance and the, do you want the hotel at the other end? And do you want the car and all of this? I was just completely overloaded by the whole thing. Getting really frustrated.

[00:24:37] Christina Deemer: Yes.

[00:24:38] Nathan Wrigley: And I thought, but this is intentional. This has been designed to, in a sense, trip me up. Because the button that I wanted to press, which was continue.

[00:24:47] Christina Deemer: Yes.

[00:24:48] Nathan Wrigley: Was masked, and the button which was going to sell me the insurance was large and colorful and obvious. And I feel that there’s a sort of subset of the internet where they’re trying to do exactly the opposite of what you’re describing, because, maybe it’s profit, maybe that’s all it is. It’s as simple as that. So that must be frustrating, shall we say.

[00:25:05] Christina Deemer: Yes, a design pattern, an accessible design pattern, is to make critical paths as short as possible. Anything that can be optional, buying the insurance, upgrading your seat, should be something that happens after you’ve completed the initial purchase. Because it’s so easy for users to get distracted. It’s so easy for users to get confused about what button to push. And again there’s that tension between accessibility needs and business needs. And I really wonder like, I would want to look at the data. Is this really effective for them?

Do they know? Would it be more effective for users if they were allowed to choose whether or not to buy the insurance or upgrade their seat, after they’ve completed their purchase and feel good about that, and then have the option to like do all of these other things. And then you know that the user isn’t going to, is less likely to abandon their task, and then they haven’t even purchased the ticket.

[00:26:00] Nathan Wrigley: I feel also that the language often is deliberately obfuscating what it is that is intended. So you know you get like double negatives, and if you do not wish to achieve such a thing, tick this box. And actually just have to spend a moment thinking about it. Hang on, what does that even mean? Do I want to tick that box or not? And give it a moment’s thought and it comes to you. But I guess those trip wires are just really frustrating.

[00:26:25] Christina Deemer: Yeah. And imagine like a user who struggles with reading comprehension issues, managing a sentence with double negatives. Maybe it’s hard enough for them to just parse the content in the first place, let alone battle that double negative. And maybe they think they’ve done the right thing and have said that they don’t want the insurance, but then they find out that they’ve actually purchased it.

And then they feel exhausted. They feel embarrassed and frustrated. And maybe reluctant to say anything because they don’t want to admit that they made a mistake and didn’t understand the content. It personally makes me feel very frustrated and angry that people maybe intentionally like praying upon people who are disabled. It is, for a lot of people, it may be just a matter of okay, I’ve gotta take a moment, figure this out. What do I wanna do? And it may just be an inconvenience or a nuisance. But for some people those kinds of barriers, it really can take a toll on people.

[00:27:28] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, and I feel the flight example, albeit was easy to understand, it’s not an essential part of my life. But if I was acquiring something which was utterly critical, trying to access healthcare or something and wasn’t thought through, and I really need to get this form finished yesterday. Those things do matter and so putting the time in to make it as straightforward as possible. It feels like, the word that’s coming into my head here is, clarity, simplicity, those kind of things. Just keep it as straightforward and as easy to understand as possible.

[00:27:58] Christina Deemer: Absolutely.

[00:27:59] Nathan Wrigley: You mentioned that you wanted to talk about in this podcast interview, that you have autism and how this actually impacts you. I don’t wanna lead you off in any particular direction, so I’m just gonna ask you if you want to just describe the experience.

[00:28:14] Christina Deemer: Sure. So I am late diagnosed autistic person. I was diagnosed in March of 2020. So like right as the pandemic started. It was a turbulent time for me. But I also have, I have multiple family members who are autistic and the more I learned about autism, the more I found myself relating to a lot of the things that were talked about. And things like having trouble reading social cues, having some very rigid routines, getting really involved in some special interests and a number of other things, but those are some top things.

And a sort of funny thing is that people have told me, they’re like, hey, you don’t look autistic. And I’m like, what does that even mean? Does that mean that I’m not, I don’t look like the sort of stereotype for an autistic person as a young white boy who likes trains? And granted, trains are awesome, I do like trains. And I do love Star Trek, especially like the autistic coded characters like Spock and Data and Seven Of Nine. But like, autistic people look like people. There are women who are autistic, there are black people who are autistic.

And I think the other thing is that I’m good at masking, and masking is where autistic people sort of adopt neurotypical traits to fit in. And that is something that a lot of people, especially people who are socialized as girls, get accustomed to doing. So like there’s that. But I am autistic. Autistic people look a bunch of different ways. I wanted to take advantage of this platform, this opportunity to address that misconception about what autistic people look like.

And earlier we were talking about my experience on the web. What that looks like and how my autism can inform that or what barriers I experience. And a couple of things came to mind, and one is that definitely like any autoplay content, like autoplay media, or auto play video auto play audio, animations that are not functional, it can feel to me like I’m intending to step into a library and I’ve, and I walk into a rave. That is how it feels. It feels very loud and bright. And that is no knock on raves, everybody likes a good rave sometimes. But you wanna give people the opportunity to like turn off the music, and turn off the flashing lights.

So a thing that I really hope people can do is, if you have some auto play thing. A, don’t auto play anything in the first place, it’s very inaccessible, but like always give users the opportunity to personalize, and turn those things off.

So the other one is like very similar in that it’s flashing and flickering content. And that can feel like looking at the sun. I can feel pain in my eyes, from flashing and flickering content. And it doesn’t have to be that super fast flash that can trigger seizures in photosensitive people. It can just be like, a little too much flash. I can feel it in my eyes and I can have even that like startled physical reaction to it. And that’s just me personally.

I think there are a lot of other people who may have different responses to things on the web and, and I’m fortunate enough that I can, on my team, and this is why it’s great to have diverse teams, is like when we’re building content, when we’re building websites, I can help guide us and say, or help give that feedback about auto playing things and put my foot down and say we are not going to build this in a way that is inaccessible. We are not going to build this animation that seems cute, doesn’t have any functionality or whatever, but I know is going to like ruin somebody’s day or whatever, just because they accidentally like encountered this webpage.

[00:31:53] Nathan Wrigley: Really fascinating. You are educating me in an area that I genuinely don’t have much contact with. So it’s really fascinating. Given everything that you’ve just said, I’m sure there’s gonna be a proportion of people who have woken up to this, during the listening of this, and thinking to themselves, okay, how do I find out more? So just for those of us who are starting on this journey, just give us some idea of where the resources might lie. Where might we go? Who might we speak to? Which organizations? So that could be online, or a book, or an organization, whatever you like.

[00:32:22] Christina Deemer: I think if you’re interested in learning more about accessibility, there are a few organizations that do a pretty good job with providing accessibility education. The first is the company Deque, they make an accessibility testing extension, but they also offer really great courses and training and have a lot of just general resources on their website. They even have a great resource library of accessible components.

There’s Knowbility, which is spelled k n o w b i l i t y. Also has a number of great webinars and they have a conference, so a great place to go for resources. There’s a really great community on Twitter, on accessibility, Twitter. There are a number of experts there, and I’m always a big fan of if you really want to understand accessibility, you’ve gotta read the specs.

And actually, it’s ironic but when some of the April, 2021 working group note that I keep referencing, when that came out, some folks criticized it online saying, this document itself isn’t very accessible. It’s very, very extensive, very thorough, very meaty. And so they went back, God bless them, they went back and they made the document itself more accessible. They added some icons which help with scanning the document. They added some more use cases and examples, so people could better understand how these things work in real life. So it’s a lot. I think it’s actually the working group note on cognitive accessibility, I think is actually sometimes easier to parse than WCAG itself, in terms of the content.

And I also want people to understand that there are probably some accessibility champions in your network. You may have somebody on your team or in your company who has a good understanding of maybe how accessibility intersects with your product or your sector. And talk to those people. I learned a lot about accessibility from the agency I work for called Alley. Shout out to Kevin and Owen, who both really mentored me and helped me really level up my accessibility knowledge. So like use the people that you have in your network. They really want to talk to you about these things. So I hope that’s helpful.

[00:34:34] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, that’s really helpful. But also just to know that this is an area where there are actual jobs. There are people who do this, who would like to assist you. There’s probably somebody in your local area who takes this all very seriously, and would be willing to speak to you on the phone. It’s not just, okay, I heard a podcast, I can forget about it now. There are calls to be made and people to meet who will help you with this.

[00:34:54] Christina Deemer: Absolutely, and so I don’t do accessibility full time at my job. I’m a developer. So there may be accessibility champions who are developers in your organization. There may be people who are designers who work in content, who work in strategy. The awesome thing about accessibility is that it touches all areas of the product. And, there are also people, yes professionals who focus exclusively on accessibility and who can do things like perform an audit of your product.

And if you are starting from zero on this, a lot of times those people can be the best people to reach out to because they are going to give you that comprehensive look that includes content design, you know development, all strategy, like all aspects of accessibility.

[00:35:41] Nathan Wrigley: You mentioned that you work for . A company called Alley. I’ll link in the show notes. Your agency isn’t uniquely focusing on this area?

[00:35:48] Christina Deemer: No.

[00:35:49] Nathan Wrigley: It’s a web design agency?

[00:35:51] Christina Deemer: Yeah. So the Alley Group is an agency that works with a lot of enterprise level publishers. And I work for a company within the Alley group called Lead, and we’re a platform for mid and small size independent publishers. But accessibility is something that the Alley group takes very seriously.

We work with a lot of very large publications. So we have to make sure that we get this right for them, and the millions of people who visit those websites. And we are hiring. If you’re interested in joining a group that takes accessibility very seriously, please visit alley.co/careers. We are always hiring software developers and have a number of other positions available.

[00:36:33] Nathan Wrigley: This is such an interesting subject. I feel that we could go on for hours more. But Christina Deemer, thank you so much. Is there a place where you are comfortable people connecting directly with you? It may be Twitter or email?

[00:36:44] Christina Deemer: Yeah, you can find me on twitter at c a h d e e m e r. And this was so much fun. It went by so fast.

[00:36:52] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you so much for joining us. I’m really hoping that it’s gonna have opened some people’s eyes to something, which seems to be incredibly important. Thank you.

[00:37:00] Christina Deemer: Thank you.

On the podcast today we have Christina Deemer. Christina is a senior UX developer at Lede, a company of the Alley Group, where she champions accessibility and headless WordPress in her work with publishers and nonprofits. She’s passionate about inclusivity and community and has spoken at a variety of events about the subject.

Christina is autistic and brings her personal experience with neurodivergence and disability to bear in her work.

At the recent WordCamp US, Christina gave a presentation called “embracing minds of all kinds, making digital content usable for people with cognitive disabilities”. And it’s this talk which is the foundation of the podcast today.

In her description of the presentation, Christina wrote, “cognitive disabilities are among the most prevalent types of disabilities, yet experts have struggled to provide web accessibility best practices around this area due to cognitive disabilities being such a broad category. However recent work by standards groups has begun to address this deficiency”.

In past episodes, we’ve covered website accessibility from some different angles, and today we focus on how the web might be experienced by people with cognitive disabilities.

First, Christina talks about what the term cognitive disabilities actually means, and what it encompasses. It’s a wide range of things, and so we talk about how people may differ in the way that they access the web. Memory, over complicated interfaces and readability are a few of the areas that we touch upon.

We also discuss what legislation there is in place to offer guidance to those wishing to make their sites more accessible, and as you’ll hear, it’s a changing landscape.

Towards the end, Christina talks about her own late diagnosis of autism and how this shapes her experience of the web, particularly with auto-play content and when web design includes elements which flash or flicker.

Typically, when we record the podcast, there’s not a lot of background noise, but that’s not always the case. This is the last of the live recordings from WordCamp US 2022, and you may notice that the recordings have a little echo or other strange audio artifacts. Whilst the podcasts are more than listenable, I do hope that you understand that the vagaries of the real world were at play.

Useful links.

Deque

Knowbility

WCAG

W3C Working Group Note 29 April 2021


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