26 percent of adults in the US have some type of disability, that’s around 61 million people. Around 5.9 percent (around 13.8 million people) have a herding-based disability and around 4.6 percent (around 10.7 million) have blindness or difficulty seeing.
Is your company missing a large chunk of its target market because of its website and/or app?
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About Our Guest:
Owner - In-Sightful Living
This week we sat down with Dave Bahr, owner of In-Sightful Living. Dave’s goal with In-Sightful Living is to demystify disability and aid in the growth of more accessible websites, apps, and other digital platforms,
Dave has been blind since birth and his wife, Priscilla, had brittle bones affecting her stature and leaving her wheelchair-bound. He has worked to be a coach and advocate in the disability and accessibility space, as well as working as an end-user tester to help businesses reach a demographic they might have otherwise been missing.
Halie Morris 0:31
Dave, I’m gonna let you go ahead and introduce yourself so that we can get into the topic for today’s episode.
Dave Bahr 0:48
I work in the Disability Advocacy and Accessibility space for technology and helping people with and without disabilities to live insightful lives if you will to try and bridge this gap that seems to be omnipresent between accessibility and products and technology.
I wanted to talk about where we go, and how I work as a person who-
I mean, this is my life. This is what I do on a daily basis for being a blind person, how I navigate a computer, and my phone and everything. So thank you for having me, I really appreciate it.
Thank you for coming on. I’m super excited to have you on. I’ve worked in environments where we have accommodated some physical disabilities and other things.
Personally, I don’t have as many limitations and it’s such a huge thing when you are literally missing part of the population if you’re not bridging that gap.
So I’m excited to have you on that you can actually speak from that perspective. You’ve worked in this area too because you actually test as an end-user, correct?
So the reason we have decided to breach this topic today is that we live in 2020. We live in the 21st century and even though it’s been a crazy year, the one thing that is becoming more abundant is our ability to reach out and connect to people across the globe.
As eager as we are to do that there is a way to do that in which you’re reaching more people, you’re reaching everyone.
I want to make sure from my perspective that I am able to connect to people and in our case, working from a marketing team, being able to connect on our websites and our other platforms.
So as it is I’m completely in the dark about what that looks like. Working with someone like Dave is going to help us start to peel back the curtains and understand his point of view and then how we can make our websites and our other platforms better and more accessible.
Can you tell us a little more about your history and how you actually got into working in the particular field you do with accommodation?
Yeah, so I was born totally blind. I was born three months premature. My retinas were detached.
I went to mainstream public schools and I live in Lewisville, Colorado. I went to the University of Denver and then the University of Colorado Boulder.
I met the woman who became my wife in 2011. We were married from 2014 until 2017. She had brittle bones and was in a wheelchair. I credit her for really bringing me back on the path of disability advocacy and accessibility.
She, unfortunately, passed away, having a brain aneurysm in 2017, but every day, our mission was to work in an accessibility space. My space was screen reader usage. So my phone talks to me. My computer talks to me.
Think of your smart speaker, except like 300 miles an hour. I listened to speech that’s about 350 words a minute and I’ve always listened to screen readers for 25 years or so. I read Braille.
Being with Priscilla allowed me to work in the wheelchair space and we could advocate for each other. I was her arms and legs and strength, she had brittle bones, and she was my eyes.
So it just sort of became a progression and after she passed away, I wrote a book. Then I went into really working on accessibility from, as I said earlier, the end-user perspective.
By that I mean, the perspective of the person who’s going to sit down and look at the site and see what’s going on. For the record, I use the same words, as a sighted person does, even though I’ve never seen them. I will say, “Can I go see this? Can I look at this?”
Because it just seems kind of strange to say goodbye to somebody and be like, will I hear you later? You just don’t do that.
I started focusing on what I do every day. Well, I deal with websites and apps on a daily basis, that some are great, some are not, but I don’t have a choice, much as somebody who doesn’t have a choice in a wheelchair, can’t go upstairs. If there’s no other way up, there’s no other way up.
So that’s the very, very brief, very brief history.
Thank you for sharing that. I know you and I talked briefly about your wife when we talked a couple of months ago, but she sounds incredible. So thank you for sharing that again.
I wanted to dive into this because, as you mentioned apps, for example, if you have a phone, it’s all apps.
Anything that we do, I think as somebody who is a seeing person, it’s something I take for granted, but everything I do in my everyday life interacts with a computer or my phone to some degree.
To think of some of those apps that I am using on a regular basis, they might not even be functional for you. Something that we want to strip away, we want to stop just creating things without actually looking at all aspects of that end-user interface.
The question I wanted to get into before we go too far, is some common apps we use, maybe like some of the social media ones and things like that; could you give us some examples of someones that are good at using that are good with the end-user interface, and then some that are not?
Yeah, I’ll give you a couple of hybrids.
You may have heard of this thing called Facebook. It’s seemingly ubiquitous and they’ve gotten better at trying to give alternative text descriptions of what people’s pictures are.
Except they’re not very helpful because my screen reader will come back with a thing that says, “image may contain a person standing outdoors and sky.” Okay….
This is a branch off, but I’ll relate this back to it in a second.
So I try to tell people to put a description of what the picture shows. “Halie standing in a field” or something so I know what it is because the computer algorithm doesn’t always target everything. They’ve gotten better.
An interesting one that I say is a hybrid is LinkedIn for the past couple of months now. For the most part, LinkedIn is really accessible on the mobile phone- I have an iPhone- except I can’t write a post.
It brings up a text field that I start typing in, and then a pop up comes up that says “add a photo, share something, do this, do that, do the other thing” and I can’t get back to the text field.
I thought that they had fixed this, but I was just going to write a post before we started this podcast and I still can’t do it.
Even Microsoft has made huge strides in their accessibility over the past 20 years. Yet I can’t write a post. I can read notifications. I can read messages. I can respond to messages.
But it’s the little things sometimes that you’re like, “Well, wait a second. Here’s a company that has its own accessibility department.”
I don’t have Instagram, because it’s all photos. Google Apps are pretty accessible, I use my phone for about 99% of the things I do for work and personal. I have a laptop, and I use a screen reader called NVDA, non-visual desktop access, which is free, but I find myself on the phone more and more with an external keyboard.
For a while, I was testing a lot of productivity apps, time management apps, just because I enjoy it. I like to be the person that sits in, gets down in the weeds, as it were, of the app.
Does that help?
Yeah, I think that helps a lot from this perspective. Visualizing, or being able to walk through in my mind, what it’s like for you to interact with some of these apps that have become commonplace.
Facebook is a huge one and a great example, because my family is on it and a lot of people have been on it or on it now. That’s how you and I met, through Facebook.
Yeah, it was and there are guidelines, and I’ll talk about this.
There’s what’s called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, WCAG. They’re up to version I think 2.1 and it’s a whole sprawling website of how to make something more accessible to not just people with screen readers, but people who have low vision.
So I’m totally blind. I have been since birth. I haven’t ever seen color or shadows, but other people might be able to see color contrast or things of that nature, which I can’t advise on.
So there’s a whole other to it. It’s massive. There’s a whole big organization and standards of this is what really needs to be done. A lot of the people are trying to work to fill in those guidelines.
Those guidelines are great, but they’re only guidelines and there have been small things, like I said, with LinkedIn, and Doordash has done a couple of things with their app.
Everything changes. It’s an ecosystem that changes on a second by second basis, it seems. There are just little things and that’s why I love doing what I do because I’m not an HTML-Java-CSS type person.
I never learned it, because it doesn’t really hold my interest. I’d rather be the one that pushes buttons.
I was the kid that, “What’s this button do? What’s this button do? What’s this do?” Drove my parents nuts, let me tell you. They still bring it up.
Some people might say, “Well, then you don’t really know accessibility if you don’t know all the guidelines.”
I don’t know all the guidelines, but I know a lot of them and I can tell you what works and what doesn’t. I couldn’t sit there and say, “In line 5605 of the code, this needs to be changed to that to make the other thing work,” if that makes sense.
But I think there needs to be more end-user testing. Early and often has kind of always been my mantra, because who’s gonna be the one using your app? It’s not going to be your dev team, right?
It’s going to be the people that want to work at your financial institution, or bank at your financial institution, or use your social media platform.
So there are more studies now that are going out about the accessibility of things like Facebook and Google and things of that nature.
It’s interesting, because, for me, it seems like the obvious thing would be making sure that you’re doing the end-user tests a lot. That’s what we do with a lot of other things.
If you’re building a car, you’re always testing to make sure it’s doing what you’re setting out to have it do.
A website, or something else, like an app that you’re interacting with, if the purpose is to make it accessible to people, and you’re not actually testing accessibility with the person who would end up using the app, seems like you’re missing the point.
I agree. The flip side of that is that there are a number of automated accessibility tools out there that are good but can only catch what I call the low hanging fruit of accessibility.
There’s a company called axeTM that’s out there, and they do automated and manual accessibility testing with various tools and reporting schema, but it still doesn’t replace the person that knows a screen-reader and works with it on a daily basis.
I think that would be my most important stressing point. Ask the person that’s using it.
When you build a house, and people don’t do this, if you build a house, it would be great if the people that were building the house, were in wheelchairs for a day or two, to show them what a person in a wheelchair might go through.
My wife was 34 inches tall. What she went through when in a wheelchair is different than what somebody who is average size would go through in a wheelchair.
I am totally blind from birth. My experience is going to be different from somebody who lost their vision in an accident or was in the military.
It’s important to ask that person at the end, they’re called end-users, but that end is the important word.
So what you’re working towards, and the wheelchair thing, it hits close to home. My grandpa’s now in a wheelchair.
He wasn’t for most of his life, but he got sick, probably about a year or two ago, I think it might be two years now, and he’s been wheelchair-bound pretty much the entire time since then.
Well, my grandma has to push him up to their ramp, and she’s in her 70s and he’s almost in the 70s. So her pushing a fully grown man up that ramp-
It looks good in principle, but she almost threw out her back the other day just trying to get him onto the ramp because there’s not a piece at the end to make the transition from ground to ramp smooth. The incline is too steep to make it easy and accessible for both of them.
Go find a threshold what’s called a threshold ramp.
Threshold ramp. I’ll have to look at that.
We had a couple for Priscilla, but it’s a small piece of metal or plastic that does just what you’re talking about. It slopes upward and if you can see my hand, but instead of this, it slopes up just enough to get that chair up onto that flat surface.
Perfect. I’m gonna have to look into that, because that will make a difference for them.
It’s only about, I don’t know, 100 bucks or something. Maybe less. Maybe a little more depends, but yeah, exactly.
It’s the little things that you don’t think about, that I don’t even think about. Sometimes I’m just like, “this damn thing won’t work,” and I scream and yell and kick the computer. It just stares back at me and goes, “Yeah, so? Still not gonna work for you.”
That’s the point of the end-user testing, though. It’s not just a one and done type thing.
You don’t wait until you get to the end of the process and then you test or you don’t do it right away and then make adjustments and never do it again.
LinkedIn probably made some tweaks along the line and now it’s one little thing, but you actually can’t make a post anymore.
Yeah, and I didn’t have this problem until a couple of months ago. I reported it and they said, “Oh, it looks like they fixed it.” Then I had to write back, “Oh, no, they haven’t,” and they still haven’t.
Sometimes I feel like I’m the small fish in the big ocean. I don’t know why and maybe that’s me. Maybe I need to be the big shark in the small tank or whatever.
But whatever aquatic metaphor you want to use I think that the idea of if you’re starting a product, and someone says you should make it accessible, okay, that’s great.
Yes, you should. How to do it? Well, work with those web content guidelines, but also, as I said, have somebody like myself sit down and, Hey, can you walk us through how you would use our product?
Okay, I can’t do this. Oh, I can’t do that, or Oh, hey, this works great.
That’s another thing, if I may. I just want to point out that there’s a lot of talk about inaccessibility, but I also want to point out that there needs to talk about things that are accessible.
Because things have, in the 20 some years that I’ve been using computers and screen readers have changed, and they’re changing on a daily basis. I want to acknowledge that it’s not this doom and gloom, oh, my God, it’s all inexhaustible and it’s horrible.
No, far from it. People need to just be more aware of it and that’s what I do as an advocate and a coach and a speaker and accessibility consultant.
If I were to give you a report that says, this is your website, I’m not going to look at your website and be like, these are all the things that are wrong with it, there’s nothing that’s right with it.
It’s going to be a mixture, unless I absolutely cannot read it, like if it’s a scanned PDF or something which I can’t read over, therefore, I can’t do anything with it.
I’m going to give you feedback that says, “This is great. This works fine. This does not work fine. Let’s see what we can do to tweak it.” I think, going along with that, it doesn’t always have to be a huge overhaul.
You know that you need to start out with accessibility and what’s called Universal Design. Universal Design started out in architecture, because people said, “Hey, we need to design this so that anybody can get in and use this,”
If you’re in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) pushes for that sort of thing so that other people can use it. The ADA is great. I wouldn’t be in the condo that I’m in without it. I wouldn’t have gotten the education without it.
However, it’s just part of it. The language is vague enough and it’s been updated. Sometimes it’s antiquated, and still vague enough to cause consternation and problems.
But I want to just acknowledge that there’s this balance between that. It’s not all just “Oh, everything’s inaccessible or everything’s accessible.” There are always bits of both like we were saying with LinkedIn.
Sorry, that was kind of digressive and I get excited about these sorts of things.
It’s a good point, though, to not be wholly negative, and when there’s something good that comes along, or when there are things that are working to acknowledge those so you can work with keeping them where they’re at or build off of what you’re already doing that’s working.
It sets a standard and precedence for where you want to get everything else too.
So as far as somebody who wants to, whether they’re starting a process, and they’re starting with that right mindset of making it universally accessible or they’ve already got the existing website and the existing processes, but they want to start moving towards that accessibility, what are some resources and some sites, they should look at first to help them get started?
So, as I said, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, WCAG– I think they’re up to version 2.1 now- are kind of the gold standard of accessibility for websites and apps and mobile-friendly usability.
There’s a site called webAIM.org, which has a lot of great examples for making content accessible, showing captions, showing video content. They have good and bad examples.
You can use tools like the axe: Automated Accessibility Checker.
As I’ve stated throughout this whole conversation, don’t rely solely on them because you need people to test your content, such as myself in the end, but those are the big ones.
Then, because you are one of those end-user testers, what kind of things are you actually testing? What kind of sites and apps do you typically test?
So I work with mainly screen readers for PCs. I use one called JAWS, which is job access with speech. It’s one of the oldest and most well-known in the United States as a screen reader on the PC.
There’s another one that I also use called Non-Visual Desktop Access, which is free and open source.
Then I use voiceover, which is on my iPhone. I’m not an Android user. I’ve never learned Android. There are people who ask, “can you do all of these things?” Well, I can use some of them, but that’s like trying to learn five different languages.
I generally test in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari on the iPhone, or if it’s a native, mobile app, we’ll just test that way.
All right. Thank you!
I was curious because, for those who are doing that, they’re going to be checking these sources and they’re gonna also be working with somebody like you or they’re working with you to make sure that as they go throughout this process, they’re actually reaching their goal of making it accessible.
If you’re working with somebody who’s starting off, how early do you typically come into the process? Do you come in when the website or the app is finished or do you typically come in when it’s still in development?
I would love to come in when it’s still in development.
When you’re building a building, it’s just building to a certain code. If you don’t have that code match, you’re gonna need a lot more help and it’s gonna cost a lot more money.
You’re not going to get near the market share that you want if your site or app is not accessible beforehand. It sounds very simple. If you make your website or your app more accessible, more people, such as myself, are going to use it.
That amounts to about 20 percent of the population, or one in five people in the US have some sort of disability. It might not be blindness, but one in five means you get five people in a room, and one of them has some sort of cognitive, mental, or physical disability.
That’s important. Starting out and saying, all right, if I put these things in place, I’m going to have to make tweaks, but it’s going to be baked in before the project really gets off the ground.
Because if you don’t, then you’re stuck going in retrofitting everything just like retrofitting an old building for something like a wheelchair ramp.
It’s not a fun thing to put a real chair ramp into something that wasn’t built to have it.
Right, and it’s not cheap.
I know one thing too. My grandma and grandpa, the same ones I mentioned before, are actually getting their house fixed up, which I’m eternally grateful for, but making sure that the floors are all smooth and everything is able to accommodate his wheelchair.
Now they have somebody who’s working with them to make sure the doorways are wide enough, the floors are smooth enough, but those kinds of things cost so much more money and sometimes widening a door frame or putting in a bigger door than what you started with, that’s a huge change.
It’s the same with a website. To make a large change, it’s going to take a lot more shuffling and structural change than if you actually start off with it.
Right, exactly. In my book, which is PRAVE: The Adventures of the Blind and the Brittle. There’s a whole chapter devoted to when we ended up buying this condo.
The homes that we ended up looking at included one that was just being built and ones that we thought could be retrofitted and make the doors and stuff were wider for a power chair.
We ended up on this one, as I explained in the book, but yeah, it was a whole legal process. It was a whole process of what the law can do and what they can’t do.
Then finding the place that we did, which has all wood floors, so that Priscilla’s chair wouldn’t get stuck on the carpet all the time, was a big help.
If we hadn’t found the place whatever place we would have found, we would have probably taken out the carpet, which is not easy to do. It looks easy when you’re watching people rip it out, but it’s not easy to tear out the carpet.
Then you hope you have a good floor underneath and usually, something’s wrong with the floor underneath. Yeah, it’s not an easy process when you have to make those larger changes.
Right, and I want to just speak real quickly to the idea that disability is more often acquired than congenital. Mine happens to be congenital.
Let’s just bring it back to websites and apps.
I understand that it’s a lot easier for somebody to drag and drop something in a Squarespace or Wix, but just know that those aren’t really accessible, and you’re not going to get the clientele aka the money, you could be getting for your product if something like that is used.
From what I have seen of those two particular platforms, they’re not really accessible and there are different WordPress themes that are not accessible and architectures that aren’t accessible.
So, what I was getting at is that I know that it’s easy sometimes to just drop things in and think, “Oh, well, if that person that has a disability finds my site, then they’ll say something,” but then you’re gonna go after go back and realize that you need to change things.
Then what if they don’t say something? What if they just move on and decide you’re not worth their time?
I do because I have time to have a life. There are plenty of sites out there that I look at with my screen reader once and go now I’m not going to use that site.
You’re not their employee. You’re not someone they work with. You’re not someone they work with. You don’t owe it to them to say, “this doesn’t work for me.”
And they’re real. There is that and, as somebody who makes a living doing this sort of thing, I will say, if I may be a little negative for a moment, it is frustrating that people simply expect that I just say, “Oh, well, this doesn’t work, this doesn’t work, and this doesn’t work.”
Then they just go “Okay, thanks,” and either they do something or they don’t do something with it.
Now, it’s one thing if it’s an app store review, but it’s a whole other thing if they say, what doesn’t work?
Well, I’d like to get paid for telling you what does or doesn’t work. You don’t go up to the chef and say, “Hey, thanks for the slice of beef. Can you make it into a steak?” and just expect it to be given to you.
That was a bad analogy, but you see what I’m getting at.
Yeah, I think if somebody comes in and they expect you to be like, well, this doesn’t work, then be able to tell them exactly why and essentially fix it for them, then they’re asking two jobs of you.
Exactly and I know people that do more coding than I do and I can refer you to those people.
Even those people, the ones I’m thinking of, in my case are sighted and have never had the experience that I have of screen reader usage, but we play off of each other. It’s knowing your allies and your team members are.
I’ve noticed a lot of people when I’ve said “oh, I do accessibility consulting,” and they say “Great, can you look at my site?” and then I give them a price, and they’re blown away. Like did you expect your free lunch?
Yeah, it’s like any other process that you do for your company to enhance it. If you’re asking for somebody to come in and consult with you, work with you to basically do an audit, then you’re not going to expect them to do it for free.
That’s time and energy you would think. Thinking about that, it’s kind of sad that we have to shift that mindset as well and start realizing that this is something you should be doing, it is going to cost money.
That’s part of the process, like anything else that you would do to make your business better and to reach a larger demographic.
Exactly and once you reach that larger demographic, if I work on your website, and I recommend your website and your company to people, you’re going to get more money from other blind people, because I say to them, “hey, this sites accessible.”
There are people that make their living by threatening lawsuits, and I don’t think that’s always the way to go about it. Maybe this is a whole topic for another conversation, but just suing somebody and saying it’s not accessible, doesn’t solve anything.
It might bring awareness to that fact, but there are far less costly ways of going about it.
The reason I bring that up is just that if you start in the beginning with accessibility, you’re not going to have to deal with people that make their living feeding off of you, because of accessibility and lawsuits.
It happens. A lot. Makes me sad, but I try not to be sad about it because I want to be the person that helps people to make their sites work.
Often, I also want to point out, as I said, it doesn’t always have to be a big thing. To make a site accessible, maybe there’s just something that I see that could be changed that fixes a whole thing.
Or there’s a company that I suggest you don’t go with that, all of a sudden, by switching themes, or plugins or something, the site works great.
Yeah, it could be and I don’t do any sort of coding or software development or anything. I sit beside them in our back offices, but there’s been no osmosis of information there.
So I can’t say for sure, but sometimes it might just be the little thing that needs to be nudged into a different spot or need switched out. It might make a world of a difference for somebody like you, who uses a screen reader.
I did want to ask you, do you have any advice for a business, which has been operating for several years and hasn’t done their due diligence when it comes to accessibility and where they should start first?
Reach out to me, because I love sitting through and looking at a site and someone saying, “Can you do X, Y, and Z and test it and let us know how this works?”
Maybe it’s more accessible than you think. Maybe it’s less accessible than you think, but don’t be afraid. There’s so much fear and so much uncertainty, that we’re all guilty of, yours truly included, that it never hurts to just reach out and say, “I have this site that I built and I have no clue if it’s accessible.”
Okay. Well, let me take a look at it. Let’s talk and I’ll give you a quote.
Thank you. I think that’s a great stopping point and it feels like we’ve peeled back the curtain and it makes things a little less confusing.
Now you can tell a little more of what’s going on and it’ll give you a clearer idea of where to start.
Right and if I don’t know, I can find out, find somebody who does, or help with resources. There are so many ways in this day and age of global communication, that people can get so much more done.
They just have to ask. I’m guilty as charged. I freely admit it. I do a coaching program and I want to start getting clients for that again because I’ve sort of let that slack and I know that I need to work on and on enrollment because it’s all about selling really what we are doing.
We’re selling, every one of us, whatever we’re doing, we are selling something or enrolling, wherever you want to say it.
My sell would be to enroll you out there in the land of accessibility and understanding and advocacy and that it all can be done if you’re willing to work with me.
All right. Well, thank you for that. I’m going to go ahead and close it out.
I want to thank you for coming on and joining us, Dave. I want to thank everybody for tuning in to another episode of Everyday Business Solutions.
This is our last episode for the season. We’re going to be jumping into our mini-season which will have shortened, bite-sized episodes. You’re going to be able to find those at the same time every Tuesday morning.
So thank you, Dave. Thank you, everyone. Have a good rest of your day!