Why We Do What We Do

Why I do this work

Picture of a drawn person using a white cane
By Douglas Kelly ● Founding partner at Evolve Solutions

While working as a Director at another company, I noticed a gentleman walking up the front ramp into the building using a white cane. He didn’t come back out, so I realized he also worked there.

After my meeting was over, I went looking for the blind man working at an Internet Service Provider. I found him in Customer Support. I had to know how he went about talking to customers on the phone about their connectivity and other internet issues. I asked him how he used the web and the tools we provided to our employees to better help our customers.

He sat me down, put headphones on my head and told me to close my eyes. He moused around the screen to let me hear all the verbiage and pictures that sighted folk see. It was overwhelming, but made perfect sense, and now I “saw” the interface differently. I researched what me and my designers needed to do to ensure we built our products with everyone in mind. Luckily, because we followed the standards as laid out by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), we were already doing most of what we needed to.

A year later, I was in Florida visiting my grandmother. One of her neighbors learned of my abilities and asked if I could fix his computer. He showed me his screen which he had set up to only show black text on a white background - VERY large text because he had macular degeneration. He had difficulty seeing any other way. The problem was that a website he was trying to use had locked down the styles to match a particular design, so he couldn’t enlarge the font size and see what the website was displaying.

Soon after, I learned that only 10 percent of designers and web developers actually understand how to or even care to build websites and digital media for everyone by following the the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards drawn up by the W3C and referred to in the Digital ADA Compliance law.

In 2020 I learned that these layovers that designers are using to "switch" to what they consider ADA compliant content are actually worse, in most cases. There's a social media app called Clubhouse that I use several times a week. Near the beginning of my use of Clubhouse, I met a disabilities advocate and consultant. He and I hosted a couple (so called) rooms in Clubhouse to discuss effective digital design. He lives in Paris. France actually has very stringent laws on compliance to the W3C rules to ensure that people with disabilities can utilize online content and forms. The government will actually pursue and fine companies for being out of compliance with their laws. Here in this country the government has left it up to individuals or entities to sue an organization for having a website difficult understand and navigate or order. We have written other pages here on Evolve's site, where you can learn more. The conclusion to this thought is that most of the people that came into our rooms wondered why our laws in the US aren't more stringent. I told them to call their congressmen.

I truly believe every individual should have equal access to all of the information we are trying to provide to them on the internet. Everyone should be able to perceive how to order a pizza, get groceries delivered, refill their prescriptions, or buy anything else the rest of us sighted individuals can do online.

~Douglas Kelly

You can also find other interesting articles here:
A List Apart Site
Use It Site's Alert Box article
ADA dot gov site