“Lily, why do you care so much about Accessibility?”

I have been asked this question more times than I can count now.

This huge passionate I have for accessibility has actually come from an interesting journey that I am really proud of.

From a young age I knew my sight was different from the norm – I was one of those kids that spent years having to wear a patch in school, with the intention of forcing an eye that had no functional sight to try to see – and no surprise, it didn’t work.

Photograph of lily at 4 years old, both eyes pointing in different directions

As a result, I experienced exclusion from very early on. There was no alternative way for me to access any of the content in lessons. I can still vividly remember how that felt; not good at all.

Fast forward some years, the eye still doesn’t work and I have double vision too, all the time. Day to day I continuously problem solve around my double vision and monocular sight, which I am mostly content with.

There are times when I experience something that makes me feel great – such as text that is clearly spaced out (instead of cluttered) on a webpage  – therefore overlapping text is way less of a problem for me, which is pretty cool.

This personal experience definitely sat dormant in my subconscious for a long time.

I then went to University and happily spent my time creating interactive animations, coding with processing and tinkering with Arduino. I have always been happiest when exploring and learning about techy things.

My first job out of uni was actually as a Teaching Assistant at a Secondary School, supporting students with a range of Special Educational Needs, such as Visual Impairments, Autism, neuro diverse conditions and more. Everyday I saw students struggling to access the curriculum, be it because font sizes were not large enough, or information had been written in a complex in-accessible way. I remember my heart aching for these kids.

I was determined to help them. I wanted them too feel empowered by independence, and thus the doors of assistive technology were opened up to me. I remember the first time I used a screen reader and I was totally speechless. I immediately saw the potential these tools had, and it further enhanced my love for technology.

I realised that technology had the potential to create equality and inclusion.

Showing students how to use assistive tech, and seeing their reactions was such an incredible experience that I will never forget.

Something as little as reading text on a screen, they could now do themselves without having to rely on someone else. This is such a small thing to some, but it really can be so empowering.

Fast forward a few years, and I began to notice how these amazing tools (assistive technologies) weren’t always working so well when on the web.

I remember thinking; “surely this couldn’t be the fault of the software?”, “not all websites are announced like this” and then finally having a lightbulb moment – realising it was most likely to be because of the way the website had been built.

What happened next?

I found WCAG. I spent countless nights reading each success criteria obsessively, looking up research papers about accessibility, practising code (WAI-ARIA), looking at people leading by example (think Barclays, BBC, Gov etc), testing and more.

And that nicely brings me to today. I have now spent a few years as an Accessibility and UX Consultant, helping as many teams as possible to make their digital content available to all. If it wasn’t for my personal experience, and working with young people with a range of different disabilities, I don’t believe I would feel as determined as I do today.

If there has to be one thing I want any one reading this to take away, it would be –

Accessibility really is integral for a truly inclusive and equal society, so let’s all boss it.

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