This is a transcript of a video called "Becky Gibson Shares Her AIR Experience" published to our YouTube channel on September 8, 2021.
Becky Gibson: Hi, my name's Becky Gibson, and I'm here to encourage you to sign up for the AIR program. You'll have fun, you'll learn new skills, and you'll help make the internet more accessible to everyone.
Becky Gibson: I am the lead product manager for accessibility at a company called UKG. I am sitting in my office, my home office. Behind me is a bookcase, and over my shoulder is a messy desk. I am, I like to call, silver-haired woman. I have blue eyes. I don't know if you could tell that. I'm here with a striped shirt on, and I've got my headphones on, and I'm ready to go.
I've worked in the accessibility field for 20 years or so. I started life at IBM, I did work briefly at Knowbility, and I am now the lead product manager for accessibility at a product company called UKG, and I work on the product called Dimensions.
Mariella Paulino: So, how do you get started with accessibility? What’s the story?
Becky Gibson: I started at a company called Lotus, if people are old enough to remember Lotus 1-2-3. I started in product support. I worked my way into development. Lotus, they paid for me to get a master's in computer science. When I started working on some UI-related things when IBM bought Lotus and I was part of IBM, they required accessibility, so I had to learn about it. And I found that much more appealing to work on accessibility than a mail program or some other kind of business software, which is what IBM writes.
So, it gave me more of a sense of purpose. And then I was able to join a team to work on accessibility full time, and pretty much that's what I've been doing since. I feel like it's fulfilling. It's like it can give back a little bit more than just writing code to process mail or crunch numbers.
Mariella Paulino: Why is accessibility work important?
Becky Gibson: Just because we need to give access to everyone. The computer and the internet is such a big part of our lives now. It gives people independence. Right? If you are someone who is blind or mobility impaired, and you can't get to the store on your own, you can't buy things on your own. You used to have to rely on someone else. How could you find something on the shelf of a grocery store if you couldn't see it, or if you couldn't reach it? You had to get help.
So, now with the internet and the web, it's much more independent. People can be much independent. If you had limitations on how long you could work, going into an office was a problem. Well, now you can work at home. You can have your own environment around you. It's comfortable. Take breaks when you need it. So, it really opens up a lot more independence, a lot more opportunity to be inclusive and include everyone in exactly what we're doing.
Mariella Paulino: If you could describe AIR in one sentence, how would you describe it?
Becky Gibson: If I could describe AIR in one sentence, it would be a great program to introduce and teach people about accessibility while also providing more accessible websites out into the world of the internet.
Mariella Paulino: Why does AIR exist?
Becky Gibson: Well, I think, I mean, we have to shape Knowbility and Sharron Rush's vision, but it's there to, again, increase knowledge for people. So, we're teaching people about accessibility. They get hands-on experience and see why it's important. We're also helping a small business or nonprofit that probably doesn't have the resources or know much about accessibility to be able to put themselves out there in an accessible way, which they might not have that opportunity otherwise.
Mariella Paulino: And what is the worst case scenario if AIR didn't exist?
Becky Gibson: Oh, we see that. We see that. I mean, it's just people don't get exposure. One of the things I find in my job is that so many people really don't know about the need for accessibility.
So again, by having this program we're exposing them, and without this program, there's that many less people that will get exposed to accessibility. There's that many fewer websites that get out there that get put on the web that have accessibility. So, if it didn't exist, we have less training, we have less accessible websites.
Mariella Paulino: What sets AIR apart from other programs?
Becky Gibson: Well, I think there aren't enough programs that teach accessibility first off. So, there's one point, it's a program that teaches accessibility. But it's also hands-on. It's like you're building something for real. It's not just an assignment in a class. And you're working with people who have a stake in the game.
This is their website. They need it to be presented in a certain way, and they need to have their vision. And you get to work with different people. It's not just for developers. It's for developers, it's for QA, it's for product management. You get to the whole side of building a website and building it in an accessible manner
Mariella Paulino: Who should be joining AIR?
Becky Gibson: Anyone can join AIR. I mean, there's a place for anyone. People that want to learn about accessibility. Maybe they've just heard about it and have no idea what that means. They'll get trained on it. They'll get exposed to people with disabilities that are using the internet. So, it's really for anyone.
It's also for people that heard about accessibility or have a website and say, "I don't know. I just use this XYZ tool. I don't know anything about accessibility, but I know it's important."
Mariella Paulino: And what kind of work should someone expect to do if they participate in AIR?
Becky Gibson: Well, they're going to have to coordinate with people. Right? It's not all about one person. You're going to have to be willing to go and have some meetings. And so, you're going to learn about project management, whether you're a project manager or not. You have to learn about building schedules and working with one another.
And of course, you're going to learn about accessibility, what the basic tenets of accessibility are, what does that mean for a website to be accessible. And you'll get exposure to people that use assistive technology. Because I know, I believe normally AIR provides access to people with disabilities to help test your website for you and give you that one-on-one experience.
Mariella Paulino: What can you tell someone who has heard about AIR and they're on the fence, and today is the last day to register, and they're not sure. They're hearing your video. What would you tell them?
Becky Gibson: It's like, just go for it. It's like, what else are you going to do? It's like learn. Everybody wants to learn more. You might find a new skill that you have. If you come at it even from a business perspective, you're learning skills that you can sell for a new and better job. Okay. And not everyone's looking for a job, but that's one possibility. It's just being there and feeling part of something bigger than just your everyday work, and understanding how you can bring that into the web and to make a difference. Make a difference.
Maybe by fixing that website, someone will be able to contribute to a nonprofit that they couldn't before because their website was not accessible. So, you're just helping open up the world to more people, you're learning new skills, and it's fun. You're meeting new people. You're making new contacts out in the world. So join. Why not? You can't lose.
Mariella Paulino: What can you tell us about the organizations or the NPOs that participate in AIR?
Becky Gibson: They're a wide range. I mean, some of them are bigger organizations. Some of them are small as a musician or an artist that wants to have a web presence. They may or may not already have a website. They maybe are just learning about accessibility and they're like, oh, well I don't want to exclude anyone from my website. I know what it's like, maybe, to be a smaller organization or someone that doesn't get a lot of, I don't want to say attention, but that doesn't get a lot of support. So, they realize that and they want to reach out to a larger audience.
So, I think it's a variety. You can have, like I said, musicians, other forms of artists. We've had some people that were, like I said, larger nonprofits. And you're going to ask me their name and I don't remember them. But I think it's just anyone that is socially conscious are definitely good candidates and often the people that will say, yeah, I want to do that. I want to do the right thing. I want to make my website accessible.
Mariella Paulino: Why is it important for small businesses or nonprofits or artists to attend AIR? Why should this matter to them?
Becky Gibson: Well, just because I think a lot of, and I won't say that's true of everyone, but a lot of artists tends to be more socially conscious, in my experience. Right? And so, that's why they can fulfill that. They can say, okay, here's a step they can take by learning more about accessibility, by enabling accessibility. Hey, and they're probably allowing more people to donate to them or to buy their particular service or artwork than they would have before.
So, they're fulfilling what I believe is their social responsibilities that they tend to be more aware of than some other corporations. And they're learning new skills for themselves and helping teach... by offering up their website, they're helping teach other people as well and bringing the family closer and extending Knowbility's mission and their own, and it helps them as well.
Mariella Paulino: Any closing thoughts?
Becky Gibson: I would just encourage people to participate. Accessibility is so important today. It's not only the right thing to do, it's just such an enabler for people. It enables more people to work. It enables more people to participate in everyday life. You can read the paper online. You can participate in social events online if they're accessible. You can have these Zoom chats, which now virtual, a lot of companies had to scramble to make their virtual platforms more accessible.
So, it makes you... And you don't do things because they feel good. You do them because they're right. But it's nice to know that you're doing the right thing, and it helps you sleep better at night. It just does. It's just like, I'm not just sitting here doing my own thing, keeping my head down. I'm thinking about a greater society and helping grow society and make it more equitable and just by including everyone.