Alicia Evans, Accessibility Consultant Interview at Knowbility, published 8 25 2021

Mariella: Alicia tell us your name, your pronouns, and your audio description.

Alicia: All right. My name is Alicia Evans. I'm an accessibility consultant at Knowbility. My pronouns are she, her, and hers, and I am a woman in my early thirties with pale skin and dark brown hair, that's wavy and very long. I'm wearing black frame glasses and white headphones. And my background is a night sky with, Knowbility AIR 2021.

Mariella: So tell us about your role at Knowbility.

Alicia: I'm an accessibility consultant. I work on the accessibility services team with Eric, Todd, and Francesca. So we're a small team. and what the accessibility services team does for Knowbility is we do a lot of work with our clients to help them make their websites and applications and lots of other things accessible.  We do audits for our clients, where we take their websites and applications and tell them. these are the things that are less accessible or less inclusive, and here's how to fix those. we work one-to-one with clients so we can tell them, or they can ask us questions directly and we can work with them to find the best solution. And then we do some training for our clients. So they'll tell us what their needs are. We'll talk to them about their processes, and then we will tailor a training for them to help get their teams where they need to be. And we also do different things like webinars, blog posts, and anything that we can do to really spread the message about why web accessibility is so important and how to achieve it.

Mariella: How do you get started in doing accessibility work? What was the...

Alicia: I didn't plan to work in accessibility. And if you, I'm going to tell you the story and you'll see that like every step was leading me here, but I didn't know it. I actually got my master's degree in creative writing million years ago. And I wanted to work in publishing. I moved to New York City and I was working as a literary agent's assistant at a couple of different agencies. and I, I liked it. But it was also in a time of economic recession, so it was only able to get part-time work. So I had to support myself in New York with two other part-time jobs.

And one of those jobs, you know, you do what you gotta do. One of those jobs, I was a tutor for a young woman in college, who had a disability. And so she had a lot of services from different agencies. And that was my first real look at how people can be supported by different agencies.  I loved that job. So at my, at my publishing job, because I was the lowest person on the totem pole, my job primarily was sending out rejection letters. So I was a very low-paid dream crusher, basically, in publishing. But when I was supporting her, I really got to see the hard work she was putting in to achieve her dreams and I got to be there to witness it and support her.

And that was a complete 180. So after about a year of juggling jobs, I quit publishing. I quit my other part-time job. And I just started working full-time supporting people with disabilities and trying to continue that role of being a support for people who were trying to live their lives the way they want to live their lives and achieve their dreams and that was wonderful. I did that for several years. After a few years, I found that I needed to step back. And so when I moved back to California, I started on a third career path, which was web development. I went back to school and I started working as a web developer. And at one point I had an interview I was in the middle of that interview and the person I was interviewing with said, you know, I'm not sure that we're ready to hire someone else for this role, but what I'm really looking for is someone who can help us make sure that our websites that we're building for our clients are accessible. And, you know, it was like [deep breath] you've just described my dream job. And so the ability to use my previous life's passions, along with the skills that I had gained working as a web developer, it was just such a perfect fit and was such a great thing that happened in my life. So I worked, as the site accessibility engineer there. for about a couple of years. And then I was connected with Nic Steenhout, who used to work at Knowbility, and he said, I should apply to work here at Knowbility. And I did. And I've been working here ever since.

Mariella: Why is digital accessibility work important?

Alicia: Just because it's, it's the right, it's the right thing to do. You know, we have a long history of excluding people, in this country and in the world in general, and we really need to take steps toward being very actively inclusive. So that's, that's the big thing is that people shouldn't be excluded from whatever service or product that you're offering. It should be available to everybody. it's also a civil right that's protected by law, which is not something that I like to talk at length about, but it's the truth. You, you do need to ensure that your site is accessible to meet the law and to avoid litigation. but it's also, there are also really selfish reasons for making your websites and applications accessible. People with disabilities, are right, a huge percentage of our population. It it's a lot of disposable income and you basically just have to open the doors and let people spend money on your services or on your products, by opening the door for them.

And right now, if you don't have an accessible website, you're pretty much saying I don't care about you. I don't want your money. And both of those are terrible messages for lots of different reasons. When you think about the web and all the things you do on the web, you know, I use online banking. I order things online. I connect with people, friends, family, and, and new people online. And people with disabilities do all the same things that we do unless things are built in a way to actively exclude them. So it's really important for a variety of reasons to ensure that everyone has access to your websites, your applications, or anything that you're doing online.

Mariella: Why do people still design with inaccessibility?

Alicia: People should know better by now. I think that people have this idea that making things accessible is too difficult and it's too expensive and that there's not enough return on investment. I think that there are huge opportunities, that people just don't pay attention to. and huge consequences of not making things accessible. And that it's something that they kind of put on the back burner. It really can't be that. It can't be something that comes in once at the end of a to-do list. It has to be something that's incorporated on a regular basis. It's something that has to become a habit and creating new habits is difficult, but it's work that's worth doing. So I really hope that more people start to, start to see that and start to realize how important it is and start to work, to do the work, to change those things.

Mariella: So what does your day-to-day looks like?

Alicia: So my day-to-day is very specific to me. I wake up very early. I start my day at 7:30 in the morning. And part of that is that we are a very remote team. My boss is in Germany. My whole office is in Texas, which is Central time. I'm on the west coast. So I'm on Pacific time. So we're all spread around and our times kind of vary. And what's, when we're all available varies. So I start at 7:30, I check my emails. I respond to things that are urgent. And then at eight o'clock I have my first meeting. So I meet with my, with the whole staff or I'll meet with my team or one-on-one with somebody most days, at nine o'clock to nine 30, I take a long break to give my daughter a snack and spend time with her.

Knowbility is really great in that your hours are a little bit more flexible. I feel like it's a really feminist place to work. There's not a lot of places I've been able to work where I can blend childcare in my day-to-day activities. So that's wonderful. and then the rest of the day from like 9:30 to 12 and then 1 to 4:30, cause I, I take a long lunch to also spend with my daughter. I work on the various things that come my way. Sometimes I don't know what they'll be until they're on my desk, but generally I have an audit that I'm working on. I'll have client meetings or things to prepare for client meetings. I'll be doing research for our help desk client to try to figure out how to solve a more specific problem.

Or I'll be doing some sort of research for either a webinar or a conference. I'm going to talk through building slides, things like that. And one of the big things that happens every single day is I collaborate with my team. We're a small team. I ask a lot of questions. My teammates ask a lot of questions and we all try to support each other throughout the day. So even though we're remote, we all have a very interconnected day and we're, I feel generally pretty supported.

Mariella: What sets Knowbility apart in the way that you do this work?

Alicia: There are a lot of things that set Knowbility apart. If I was working at a general accessibility services company, we would still be doing audits. We'd still be doing trainings, but all that money would just go toward building up the organization rather than what we do, which is put all of that money toward our community programs, toward educating more and more people, towards supporting students, employing people with disabilities and all of these other things that we do.

So that's one of the really cool things about working here is that the work that you do matters and it matters in a lot of different ways. So that's one thing that I think makes Knowbility extra special. Another thing is that we really, when we're working on our audits, I've seen other organizations audit reports and they don't go as deep as we do. So when we have an audit, we're really looking at this as an educational tool, as a way of helping people, not only with the website that they're working on now, but with any future updates they make, any future websites or applications that they build or design.

We've had companies come back and say that they've used our audit reports as the foundation for their accessibility efforts going forward. So really. We want our audits to not just check off an item in a checklist, but really inform the whole organization and inform their practices moving forward.

Mariella: How can more individuals or businesses support accessibility?

Alicia: I think that the most important thing for people in businesses who want to prioritize accessibility, which should be everyone, is to build your understanding. So find ways of learning more about accessibility, about what's important, make time each day or each week, if you can, to study what makes things accessible, what are the best practices for inclusion? And I think that that's really the best thing that you can do because once you know, what's important, you can find the best ways to implement those things.

Mariella: For anyone who wants to get started with making their web presence more accessible, what are three things that they can do to get started?

Alicia: The number one thing is to make sure to learn as much as you can. Be sure that you understand what's necessary for accessibility, what's necessary for making things more inclusive. There are lots of ways to learn more. For example, AIR is coming up. You would work as a team to build a website for a nonprofit organization or an artist. The second thing I would say if you're a web developer, use semantic HTML, HTML5 was built with a lot of accessibility features in mind. And then, for anyone who's putting together any kind of visual or auditory content, think about what people would need to perceive that content if they can't see the page or they can't hear the page.

Mariella: How can someone get in contact with Knowbility?

Alicia: If you want to get in contact with us about services, you'll have to reach out to Ron Hicks. He's our Business Development Director, and he handles all of our new projects coming in and you can reach him just by filling out the form on our project-inquiry. And you can reach him by filling out our project inquiry form, which is on

Mariella: What is the Accessibility Internet Rally?

Alicia: Knowbility is actually founded on the Accessibility Internet Rally. Sharron Rush started it over 20 years ago, and it's an annual competition where teams of developers, designers, project managers, and anyone else associated with putting together a website, form into teams and over the course of six weeks compete in a competition to see which website is the most accessible. So they're building websites for nonprofit organizations or artists or people who generally, would have a harder time allocating resources to build an accessible website. So it's doing two things. It's teaching, developers and designers and project managers and everyone else how to make an accessible website and then it's creating more accessible websites for the world. So it's really a cool program.

Mariella: What advice would you give to someone who wants to participate in AIR?

Alicia: If you're thinking about participating in AIR, I think that the best thing you can do is really think about it as an opportunity to learn. And you're really going to have access to so many accessibility professionals. The best thing you can do is ask a lot of questions. Of course you can always ask your questions at any time, but this is really a great time to really deepen your knowledge of accessibility and figure out how you want to approach accessibility for the rest of your career. So, finding ways to ask deep, meaningful questions to your mentor, ask questions to the judges, to the AIR advisors, anyone who will answer your questions, find ways of asking those questions, because this is really a great learning opportunity.

Mariella: What about a nonprofit or an NPO that is thinking about participating in AIR, but is on the fence. If it's going to be a good investment for them, what advice would you have for them?

Alicia: I think that a lot of nonprofits really understand the value of having an accessible website. And that's what that's, what AIR is designed to do is to make sure that, that, that people or organizations that are, but don't have as many resources to spare for accessibility are able to get a really big headstart with it. You do have to be a little bit flexible when you're working with AIR. Because a lot of nonprofits, I found learn that what they've been doing all along isn't accessible. There is a lot of limitations for making those websites that they've been using for years and years and years into accessible websites. And they find that they have to start something new. So it's a, it's a good way of taking those big steps to making sure that from now on your website will be accessible.

AI-Generated Voice : How is the Knowbilty AIR Conference judged?

Alicia: WCAG is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and the current version of that is 2.1. And for the most part, AIR and the websites in general are going to focus on level AA compliance. There are three levels of compliance, single A, Double A, or triple A. single A is the biggest barriers for people generally, double A is the legal minimum, and tripleA is usually above and beyond, it's, it's specifically for government organizations or people or organizations that we'll be working specifically with people with disabilities. but it's a good stretch goal. If you can reach for those triple A success criteria, then you're in good shape. But in general, learning about what WCAG 2.1 double A compliance can be pretty challenging if you're just trying to read the standards themselves. We also have an intro to accessibility course, and we have a lot of other courses, but having a really good baseline understanding of web accessibility.

Mariella: Closing thoughts?

Alicia: I don't know that I have anything I want to share. It really is. Really, what it comes down to, what all of this is about is that web accessibility is really important. Increasing your knowledge of web accessibility is a huge first step. Knowbility is an awesome organization that really cares about making the web more accessible. It's a great place to work.