Web Accessibility and Gamification with Glenda Sims

By May 7th, 2013

Today we talk about the accessibility family, the tools that people use to produce web content, gamification and addiction—all tied together by Glenda the Goodwitch Sims, who is speaking at next week's John Slatin AccessU.

Here’s our latest in our series of AccessU 2013 Speaker Interviews:

Web Accessibility and Gamification with Glenda Sims

Feel free to download the podcast:

Transcript

This is the transcript of an interview recorded on May 1, 2013 between Derek Featherstone, and Glenda Sims, an accessibility pro, and long-time volunteer for Knowbility who is passionate about Gamification. It was recorded over Skype and posted as part of John Slatin AccessU 2013 podcast series.

Interview Summary

Derek: Today we talk about the accessibility family, the tools that people use to produce web content, gamification and addiction — all tied together by Glenda the Goodwitch Sims. She’s teaching classes on DreamWeaver Accessibility and will talk about how accessibility is broken in her classes as part of next week’s John Slatin AccessU in Austin, Texas. Presented by Knowbility, May 14th to 16th, this is THE conference to go to for in-depth, hands-on, minds-on accessibility training. Check it all out at Knowbility.org. That’s k n o w b i l i t y dot org.


[Intro Music]

Derek: Hey everybody, this is Derek Featherstone with Simply Accessible. We are here today with Glenda Sims talking about the upcoming AccessU conference in Austin, Texas May 14th to 16th.

We’re going to talk a little bit about the conference today and a little bit more about Glenda and talk about the wonderful organization, Knowbility, that organizes and runs AccessU every year.

Glenda, how are you doing?

Glenda: I am doing fantastic, Derek. It’s so great to hear your voice.

Derek: It’s great to hear yours, too. It’s not often that we get to talk. It’s kind of bizarre because we have all these technological tools that we could use to connect to one another, and we do connect over Twitter and Facebook and through email. One of the things that is kind of lost in all of it, I think, is voice. We don’t use our voice enough. You’re absolutely right, it is good to actually talk.

Glenda, some people may not know who you are, as crazy as that sounds. Lots of people are getting ready to head down to Austin, Texas for AccessU. Tell us a little bit about you. I’m really interested in hearing more about your history with Knowbility because your history with Knowbility is longer than mine. Mine started in around 2005. I’d love to hear a little bit about that and why you do so many different things with Knowbility.

Glenda: Knowbility really is the birthplace of my accessibility knowledge. I am commonly referring to myself as Glenda the Good Witch, Accessibility Goddess.

I got started at the University of Texas at Austin with my mentor, Dr. John Slatin. While Dr. John helped me understand accessibility from the perspective of people with disabilities as well as the technical perspective, one of the first people he introduced me to in the community was Sharron Rush.

I can still remember the day where I was sitting in John’s office with Sharron and we were talking about taking an accessibility internet rally, a competition, and bringing it to the University of Texas. From the moment I met Sharron, which was probably in the year 2001, with John, we became the three accessibility amigos.

Every experience that I’ve had with Knowbility has been so meaningful, both in extending my knowledge, constantly keeping my knowledge sharp, as well as teaching others how to make the web accessible and having a damned good time. Let’s just say Knowbility is irresistible to me.

Derek: That’s very cool. You started with Knowbility working with them back around 2001. You are actually part of the reason I’m involved with Knowbility in the first place. You were part of getting me to come down to Austin, Texas for my first AccessU in 2005. We have that connection. There’s really something special about Knowbility and about Sharron.

I know we’ve talked a little bit about Knowbility in general and how you got involved with them, but what is it about Knowbility? Clearly it means something to you. What’s the meaning?

Glenda: Knowbility is different from any other organization that I’ve worked for because it is a nonprofit, but more importantly it approaches the problem of accessibility as though we are a family.

I often refer to Sharron Rush and John Slatin as my accessibility parents. I’m the love child of the two of them in being birthed into this accessibility world. While that may be my personal experience, I sense that that is what everyone feels like when they participate in a Knowbility event.

Whether it’s coming to the conference of AccessU or being involved in one of the accessibility internet rally competitions, you may come to it thinking, “Oh, I’m going to get knowledge.” Instead, what you find is community and support and caring. We care about the whole person, whether it’s a person with disabilities who may need some help with a website making it accessible, or it may be a web developer who is currently blind to what it takes to make their site accessible.

It is that complete support system that Sharron is there for you as a caring friend and a mom; the accessibility mom.

Derek: That’s fantastic. She really is something. We’ll be interviewing Sharron a little bit later this week and getting that out there. We could not do this series of interviews without including Sharron because she is so important to so many people. Just the way that she approaches things is so open.

Really I think it’s fair to say that she’s full of love. She really, truly is. There’s no question about that. She’s not just a mutual friend, she’s a mutual mom to us, I think.

You’re getting ready for your sessions at AccessU and you have two of them on the schedule. One of them is called Accessibility is Broken: A Game Changing Perspective. You have another one that is Dreamweaver Accessibility.

I kind of want to do them in reverse. I want to talk about Dreamweaver Accessibility first because that one kind of surprises me. I remember that one being on the schedule back in 2005 in that era when I was there. Tell me more about what people are going to get in terms of the Dreamweaver Accessibility session and why Dreamweaver is still important.

Glenda: I think that’s a good question. It’s funny, when I look at the classes and think about, “Wow, we still need that one on the schedule, seriously?” It’s because there’s demand for it every year. Yes, it is very similar to the class that I was teaching years ago. The only difference is that when you come into this Dreamweaver class, we have a number of state agencies that are still using Dreamweaver as their major way of publishing to the web.

For people who are in that Dreamweaver scenario, so many times they don’t have a technical background. They’re using a tool; they’re using a WYSIWYG editor. What this tool does is open their eyes to even if you’re non-technical, there are things here that can help you create a more accessible site.

You don’t even need to hold your checklist next to you for some of these items. There are features built into Dreamweaver that proactively prompt you to put ALT text in, proactively prompt you to put in table headers, form labels.

It’s through this that I have a class every year, as long as they want me to have a class, where I have a room full of people. At the beginning of the class I ask, “How many of you could duke me out for the front of the classroom on accessibility?” I always have some heavy duty developers in there who also want to know how can they teach their content contributors that are using Dreamweaver to do things in an accessible way.

It’s one of those pieces of the accessibility puzzle. It may not be geared for the high level developer to learn something technically super fantastic, but for the content contributors and the more entry level publishers, it is that doorway to, “Oh, and this is how it relates in the tool that I use in my workplace.”

Other things that I tend to sneak in, I do sneak in a little bit of the CSS features because while Dreamweaver is a WYSIWYG editor, you can turn it off and just go into the code editor and it’s a damned fine code editor, too.

Derek: That’s cool. It sounds like it’s something that is perfectly placed given that one of the things that we need in accessibility is this understanding of other people and other people’s experience. I think one of the things that happens too often is we assume such a high level of skill or knowledge that’s specific to code or to design, and we tend to leave people out of some of the solutions that we create; people who are really just content contributors.

I don’t say just. I mean this really in the sense that contributing this content is a really critical piece of accessibility, but it’s a part of their job, it’s not their entire job. They may spend five out of their 40 hours working in a week generating web content, and they do other stuff the entire time. Knowing how to use tools like this I think is, as you said, one piece of the accessibility puzzle. If we want to get that thorough, end to end coverage where everybody is contributing, I think this is a critical piece. That’s good to hear it’s still on the schedule.

Glenda: I want to add one more thing because I think you’ve totally nailed it. So much of what’s offered at accessibility conferences is aimed at the developer and the designer. Think about it. How much of your website is developer or designer created versus how much of your website is content contributed? I do think that we, the designers and the developers, are the bun and the content is the meat.

You’ve now made me very excited about teaching this class again. Thank you.

Derek: You made a good food reference there. You were talking about the bun and the meat. I hope you were talking about a burger or something like that.

Glenda: I was.

Derek: There’s lots of colorful garnish that goes on a burger, too, unless of course you’re me and you don’t put any garnish on at all. Your other session sounds pretty colorful to me, although it may not be garnish. I think it’s kind of an interesting topic, Accessibility is Broken: A Game Changing Perspective.

I know a little bit about this through talking with Elle and some of the discussions that you have had with her. Can you tell people a little bit more about first, why you think accessibility is broken and second, of course without giving away your entire talk, what perspective change you’re hoping to bring to accessibility?

Glenda: You may have even been in the room with me at South by Southwest when this topic originated. I was attending Jane McGonigal’s session on Reality is Broken.

As Jane explained to us that life is not giving us good feedback on how to be successful, I mapped what she was saying into what we were doing in our world of accessibility. So many of our tools that help us define where there are obvious accessibility issues, when a new user comes in and triggers one of these tools to run and they see 115 errors or 300 errors on a page, they’re overwhelmed. They don’t know where to start. It’s like, “Ugh, why don’t I just give up?”

What Jane explains in Reality is Broken is we need to create interfaces to our tools and our work environments that are as compelling and as addictive as games. What can we learn from things like World of Warcraft of Draw Something that would layer what we need to do in accessibility in such a way that you can’t wait to solve the next problem.

That’s a little bit of a taste of what I’m going to cover. I will say that gamification of accessibility is my passion extraordinaire. I’m sharing that right now with a number of colleagues, including the fabulous Elle Waters. If anyone thinks that gamification is just some dang buzz word and that this isn’t real, I challenge you to come to the session and feel that way after the hour because what is gamification? It’s actually extreme usability. You don’t play a game unless it’s good. Honestly, you’re not going to fix these accessibility problems unless I make it rewarding.

Derek: That’s interesting. One of the challenges, of course, with that, is how do you make things rewarding for people? I know that we work with a lot of clients and you probably work with a lot of clients as well where a lot of the motivation for accessibility comes through legal mandates or through just simple requirements that are maybe not a legal mandate directly on the person who’s building the stuff, but it’s a legal mandate for the person they’re building it for to procure accessible solutions and software.

There may be some kind of a tension there between those two things because we’re talking about something that, as professionals, there’s stuff that we just need to do. On the other hand, we’re also talking about yes this is your work and this is what is required of you to do your job well, but then there’s the other side of it where we’re saying, “We know it’s kind of boring and we need to make it exciting for you.”

I imagine that there’s some tension there between those two schools of thought. Is that something that you talk a little bit about?

Glenda: I do, I definitely do. What I think is that because of the way our society has approached things like work or can I even say other things that make for good health; in this case I’m talking about accessibility health, but what about eating right and working out?

These things can be dull, like, “Oh, you have to only eat 1,200 calories a day. I need you to move more. I’m going to make you feel bad if you don’t do this.” Or, we can go with something more positive like the FitBit where it actually becomes an interactive game and it’s giving me constant feedback.

Just like how many calories I eat a day and how much do I move my body can be boring or fun, why the hell can’t I do that with accessibility? I actually don’t think there’s a tension there in reality. I think society put one there in the way we created measurements and feedback loops. That means it’s time to pull out our creative juices and design better feedback loops for that same activity that makes it fun and rewarding.

What’s intrinsically under this that is so incredibly powerful and may not be as powerful in some other work areas is the work that we’re doing is truly meaningful. It is providing independence to people, it is opening the web. When you can tie the work that you’re doing to something that makes the world or the web a better place, that intrinsic motivation is just waiting to be tapped into.

Derek: That’s interesting. I’m really curious to see how this ultimately plays out in the long run, as well. We don’t have that long view right now because we can’t. So much in the web standards world or even just the web in general, it’s seems very old but it is still very new.

One of the things that I kind of wonder about aloud is seeing things like my son. I have an eight year old son who’s about to turn nine. Seeing his addiction to video games and how that plays out in terms of his behavior and what that means for other things, I’m concerned with gamification in general.

I think it’s a fantastic concept. I think we can really use it well. I also wonder about, and forgive me if I’m wrong here, but I wonder really deeply about what it’s actually teaching people and what the addictive nature of these games actually is teaching my son.

I’m also curious to see, not that I’m saying the same thing would happen in accessibility or in any other work environment type thing, but I’m really curious to see what happens down the road in terms of if we create these behaviors, are we creating something where the intrinsic motivators are becoming dulled, so to speak, so that people are only going to do things if they are motivated by some of these gamification ideas. I’m really curious to see what happens.

Glenda: That’s an interesting question, Derek. As usual, you make me think outside the lines.

What I would say is there are so many different factors that go into designing good games. A piece of that is that when you create the addiction, that you don’t hurt the person.

I have heard and seen situations where people have gotten addicted to games like World of Warcraft and, let’s be honest, I’ve never touched World of Warcraft, but I’ve seen people fall in there. Their real lives go abandoned.

As we’re designing any kind of gamification for the work world, I need to look at something that creates balance. Wait, this would be a really good problem. You’re so addicted you can’t stop solving accessibility issues that you forget to, oh wait, I need you to eat and sleep and have a social life.

I do understand what you’re saying that we don’t want to create an environment where our children are only motivated by really good interfaces, have no self discipline, have no drive of their own. I think that’s an interesting thing to keep in our minds as we design.

Trust me, we care about the whole person, going back to the Sharron Rush Knowbility school of thought. We’re not just here to fix accessibility problems. We’re here to make the world a better place. For us to do that, we have to take care of the individuals, as well.

Derek: I think that’s a great point. I really wish I was going to be there at your talk to hear it.

Glenda: Me, too.

Derek: I’m sad to say I won’t be there. I think I’ve said this to every person that I’ve interviewed. I’m kind of living vicariously through doing all these podcast interviews and stuff.

It does sound like a really interesting topic and things that people can really put some thought into when they’re trying to figure out how to best get accessibility best practices and principles adopted at the organizations at which they work.

This is definitely one of the tools that we have. I think that’s probably where some of the balance comes in is that gamification is not the tool, it’s a tool. It will help us in many ways with lots of different aspects of this process and of this growth, but it can’t be seen as the only tool, otherwise we do lose that sense of balance.

It’s really, really interesting stuff. I’m glad you’re thinking about these kinds of things. It’s a huge topic and it’s something that people definitely need to keep thinking of. That’s very cool.

Glenda, you live in Austin.

Glenda: I do. I have that good fortune.

Derek: You do. I think it’s a wonderful city. I’ve been there many times myself. I’m really curious to hear the insider’s perspective. You know Austin inside and out and there are a lot of people who are going to be coming to AccessU from elsewhere who don’t know Austin.

What are a couple of things to see or do while people are in Austin if they can find some time and pull themselves away from the conference for maybe an evening or something like that? What should they go and do while they’re in Austin that are really, truly sort of Austin treasures?

Glenda: It’s interesting you should ask. Whenever I have people come and visit me from South by Southwest, I have this list of things that I want to show them. Not the things that they’re going to be told by everyone else, but those little treasures that if you live here you know about.

My first stop for most people is to take them to my favorite toy store. There’s a toy store called Toy Joy, and it is the craziest place on the planet. It is close to the University of Texas at Austin campus, and when you walk in it’s a sensory overload. There are toys everywhere. You can hardly walk through the aisles. Your eyes can’t take it all in, and then you look up at the ceiling, there are toys and Christmas trees hanging upside down on the ceiling.

It’s one of those places to go and play and discover your lost childhood. Me, I never seem to lose my childhood.

The other place that I love to go is called Zilker Botanical Gardens. We have such a beautiful city, and those of us who are uber geeks sometimes forget to go outside. I take people to the botanical gardens and we walk. There’s a gorgeous Japanese garden. It has waterfalls and little wooden bridges and you can walk on stones across the pond and see the koi.

A whole other area that I discovered just this March when instead of leaving the park where I normally leave, the person I was with said, “Can we go down this path? What’s down there?” An entirely new section with more waterfalls and dinosaurs and blue bonnets.

I would say these are two of my favorite treasures; play and gardens.

Derek: That sounds absolutely fantastic. Hopefully some people will get a chance to check one or both of those out while they’re in Austin.

Thank you again, Glenda, for taking the time with us today. This has been fantastic. It’s always great to talk to you. Thanks, and have a great time at AccessU.

Glenda: Thanks!

Derek: Thanks, Glenda. Talk to you soon.

Derek:Awesome stuff from Glenda — make sure you get yourself to John Slatin Access U to experience it first-hand. Register now at Knowbility.org – that’s k n o w b i l i t y dot org.

[Outro Music]

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