Anthony Vasquez: Let me just start. I mean, thank you again for your time. Why don't you give us just a quick introduction of yourself, and how you became involved in our Accessibility Internet Rally.
Herin Hentry: Oh, thank you, Anthony. Quick introduction of myself. How I want to describe me is my name is Herin Hentry. I'm originally from a very small village named Manalikkarai in Southern India. My parents and my sister are my strong foundation.
Currently, I live in Sydney, Australia with my husband and two graceful kids. My, I have really a strong pillar, which actually is my family, friends, and my colleagues. So that's what I stand on. So rather than describing me as in like how I look, I want to describe me as where I come from. So that's where I come from. I have got a good family that supports me.
Yeah, so how I got involved in AIR. My involvement in AIR started in 2015, if I could remember clearly. That was a long time ago, maybe 2014. 2014 was when I was getting involved into accessibility. Accessibility was a buzz word for me at that time. I didn't really know much about accessibility.
I was working in a functional testing role and I was given this job of you know, like we need to do an accessibility testing for one of our clients. At that time, I didn't really have a clue about accessibility. I didn't know much. I was looking at it and then I thought okay, so this is actually kind of the area that I was gravitating to.
So I wanted to learn more about accessibility. And I was literally, 24 by 7, I was reading blog post, listening to podcast, looking at articles, visiting Knowbility's website. There was lot of content that was there so that I really read.
Then, I was following people on Twitter and suddenly something came up in Twitter and they said, "There is a AIR competition happening in Knowbility and what can you do about it?" I was like, "Oh, this is only for six weeks. This is going to give me a good opportunity to learn the whole accessibility in six weeks. Why don't I give that a chance and take it?" And that's where I joined AIR in 2015, I believe. Yeah.
Anthony Vasquez: You've now been a mentor three times and including most recently in 2021 where your team actually won the first place prize. What I'm curious about is, I guess accessibility is still, I think, not a mainstream topic in tech education and in computer science. What kind of, you think, tech professionals should be joining AIR? Is there a specific person, or do you think this is a competition, a design challenge that everybody should be interested in?
Herin Hentry: It's again, it actually comes from what you want to learn as well. That's very good question. What kind of person, or what kind of roles want to join in the Knowbility? It actually depends on how involved you are in tech and how much you want to learn about Knowbility as well.
Knowbility, as you know, when AIR, AIR is actually just not for designers and testers and project managers and developers. We also have nonprofit organizations coming into AIR as well. It's a good connecting point there.
And what I see as how things are evolving is in the world where we are only looking at commercial organizations and making profit, Knowbility is actually making that really good connection for people who are working into tech, into purposeful NPOs.
So anyone who wants to find purpose by you know like doing some kind of volunteering work for six months at the same time, learn about accessibility, this is your chance to come in, learn about accessibility and also contribute to something impactful to the world by joining some NPO who is already making some impact to the world.
Anthony Vasquez: And what was it like being a mentor in 2015? And how would you compare it to being a mentor last year? Would you say that accessibility awareness has increased? Have you noticed anything particularly exciting over the past few years that you've been involved with us?
Herin Hentry: Anthony, yes. I have to actually say that 2015 when I joined, I wasn't a mentor. I joined as a tester. Yeah. And when I joined, there was actually a purpose for me because I learned a lot about accessibility at that time, but there was, there was a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that was missing because I didn't know.
I knew a lot about checklists. I knew a lot about success criteria. I knew a lot about design elements and the things that goes into, but the complete picture that I didn't really get was WCAG is actually a very big standard, how do we fit it into a project development life cycle?
And that was actually my question when I started doing AIR. And then AIR gave me that opportunity to see an end-to-end process where you start from business requirements and then you design and then you develop and then you test and then you fix and then you maintain.
So I could actually see that entire end-to-end process within that six weeks. So when I joined in 2015, that was my purpose. How does accessibility fit into an end-to-end project development life cycle? And when I came out of AIR, I had this you know, like sparks happening in my brain. And I did an article in LinkedIn called “WCAG is not scary anymore.”
If people haven't actually read that article, you might actually want to go and see that article. It is actually titled “WCAG is not scary anymore.” So that actually gives you how WCAG can be split into discovery process. What are the success criterias that it fit into design process? What are the success criterias that fit into style guide and what are the success criterias that fit into your development?
So it was actually quite a learning journey for me. So that is how I entered into WCAG, like into AIR. And that was my outcome. And when I entered into 2015 AIR I, it was a bit of a mad scramble at that time.
So I looked into Twitter and then I found there is Knowbility AIR happening. And I contacted Jessica Looney at that time. And I said, "Jessica I'm from Sydney, Australia, I would like to participate." And she said, "oh, you have to bring a team."
So I contact, she said "there is one team that participated from Australia before. I will put you in touch with them."
So she put me in touch with Christos Petrou who was actually working at IBM at that time. And I contacted Christos and I said, "Christos, I'm actually new to accessibility. I want to learn about it. And what can we do? How can we join AIR?" And he said, "Herin, I have actually got two people I can give, but you need to find the remaining four." So he gave me Bobby and Mustan who he has worked with before.
And then he gave me, "you got to go and find four more people." And I had like only three or four more days to register for AIR. So I went and checked in with a couple of my colleagues Ruchita and said, "Yeah, I need someone to join me. So we will work together." And she said, "okay, let me check with my friend, sister, she's a designer. We'll bring her in."
And then I went to another friend Anmol and he said, "I have a friend, Anuk, let us bring him in." So it kind of...we joined AIR at the last minute. And from there we worked on, so that was actually a entry into AIR.
And as I said, everyone who joined AIR at that point, we learned a lot. It was one step...like sometimes you feel like you didn't learn a lot, but at the same time, when you look back at what you have learned, that was a lot of learning within that six weeks. I think I deviated from your question a little bit. Isn’t it, Anthony?
Anthony Vasquez: No, actually I think that's great. I mean, just to hear kind of the origin story of your experience with AIR and how you had to scramble for teammates at the last minute, that's kind of, you know, really good to hear how that started. Five years later then, were you running a team or were you at this point now mentoring in 2020?
Herin Hentry: 2020? Yes. So 2020 when I joined, it was again like, you know, I wanted to learn because WCAG 2.1 was in place. So 2015 was when WCAG 2.0 was in place. So I joined it just because I wanted to increase my awareness as well as a mentor. So I didn't want to go and join as a team again, because at that time, my maturity in accessibility has already increased a bit.
So I thought, “Okay, I'll be a mentor.” And I was given these wonderful ladies, Sally, Renu, and Kamina. And then I was also given the NPO to work with, which was Evie and Talania and which was for the Uniformed Meditations.
And the first two weeks is actually where the difficult part in any kind of mentoring is. So the first weeks, two weeks you're actually connecting an NPO with the team and you got to actually work in their wavelengths to connect them together and you know, like give their purpose to each other.
So that is when they align properly and they work together. So Uniformed Meditations is actually for the frontline meditation service. And it was actually easy to connect that purpose with the people I was working for, working with. We were working with Sally, Renu, and Kamina who work with me, they immediately found out so now we are in this COVID crisis. And there is an organization who is actually giving this purpose of like meditation for front line services.
And the first spark already happened in our first meeting. So the purpose was clear what the team is working for and what the NPO is working for was very, very clear. And then that actually made the team to put their extra effort in. So they were ready to work two more hours or three more hours extra, just because the purpose was clear.
And 2020 again was, you know, like not an easy journey because we had only three people in our team. And at one point, one of the teammates, because of the university course, they had to take time off from the competition. So we had to work with only two people at that point. So it was hard work. There was a lot of learning involved, but there was curiosity.
Anthony Vasquez: Yeah.
Herin Hentry: So the team was always asking questions. They were like, "Herin, why are we doing this? And if we do it this way, what is it going to impact? And what are we actually you know, like stopping from people using it?" So those curious questions is where it made my life as a mentor easier.
Anthony Vasquez: What an experience, I mean, to be doing this in the middle of the beginning of the pandemic and to have a team that's doing work, that's pretty meaningful, I think. Like you said, spurred them on to work that extra two, three hours per week to get this website.
Herin Hentry: it is, Anthony.
Anthony Vasquez: More inclusive, more welcoming.
Herin Hentry: True. And also at the same time, I want to say we were actually working on different time zones. One were from New York, one from California, one from Sydney and another person I think, went to Philippines or something. So it was like totally a different time zone. We had to adjust a lot, but at the same time, the purpose drove us to the center point.
Anthony Vasquez: And so we're still in this pandemic. I mean, a lot of the changes technologically are here to stay, maybe not fully remote for everybody, but hybrid. And so the web is as important, probably more important than it was even two years ago. Can you just tell us in the last few minutes that we have here, a real like, what's your wish for AIR 2022? Why should people join it from the tech sector and what kind of things you think they'll accomplish by joining us?
Herin Hentry: I want to actually bring back to 2020, sorry, 2021 experience. So when I joined it with the team Reserve Bank accessibility, RBAlly, so we had one common team and again, it actually was about the purpose again. So one, when we joined the rally, we focused from the point of learning about accessibility.
But at the same time, we actually also got to know about how much freedom it actually gave the team. So when you're in an organization working to your brand guidelines and purposely like sticking to certain rules and all, there wasn't enough freedom to the team to work with that thing.
So this AIR actually gave us a little bit more freedom. Okay, you can create a popup here. You can create you know, like a filter here, you can create tabs here. Which probably is actually not the kind of things that happen in a digital corporate world.
So AIR was actually one of the places where it was a free place for people to try new things at the same time, learn about what is involved in accessibility and that space. So from the designers and developers point of view, I would say if you are coming to AIR, you're not constrained by anything. You are given a chance to try different things at the same time, learn about accessibility because you're given a mentor.
And also one of the best experiences was usability testing. So we were given Alana at that time and Erika and my team, which was comprised of Bhumesh and Marat and Raj, Michelle and Karthik and Thiru. We sat together and saw how Alana was using the website we developed, using screen reader. That was eye opener for the team.
So, you know like when you're working with a team, you always see you know, like there is something missing, but that experience of a screen reader using our website, it actually opened their eyes.
It actually gave a bit more visibility into what is going in the world of a user using the screen reader and how they are perceiving my informations. So it was an eye opener. So I think in 2022, when people are joining, you can be free to design. You're going to learn a lot of things in the accessibility space. You're going to get a lot of experience from your mentor. And at the same time, if you are signing up for a usability testing, you get to see that experience of how people are going to use your website. And sometimes it opens our eyes.
Anthony Vasquez: Well, thank you very much, Herin, is there anything else you want to share with us before we close?
Herin Hentry: Yes. One thing that I want to say is, share is I've been actually at 2015, 2020, and 2021. So it is actually never like a stopping talking point. So even people who have joined AIR before, if you are interested in, please join again because every time you join, you are getting a new perspective. Every time you're joining, you learn a lot of new things. There is always a lot to learn.