When I completed my psychology degree in 2014, I had quite a vague idea of what I wanted to do next. My psychology textbooks taught me about the human mind and behaviour, how it functions when all is well, and the ways it can go wrong. I learned about attention and perception, cognitive overload and memory. I wanted to help people, I wanted to use what I had learned, and I wanted to use it well.
A charity that changed my life
To figure out what I wanted to specialise in, I volunteered for Headway, a UK-wide charity that aims to improve life after brain injury by providing support, services and information to people with acquired brain damage. I was fortunate enough to meet many Headway clients, and I was able to learn about the various ways brain damage affects people’s lives.
One of the ways Headway volunteers and employees support clients is by helping them use the computer to fill in a form or to check an email. Tasks I found so simple, it was hard for me to comprehend how anyone could find them challenging.
Are websites easy to navigate?
However, I soon realised that using a computer mouse for someone whose fine motor skills have been affected by their brain damage is no easy feat. Similarly, busy websites full of colour and cute animations posed another issue - clients found it hard to locate the correct navigation menu, button or link. Clients who had any sight damage were very much excluded from the whole experience.
As I was standing in that room, observing clients struggle with navigating simple websites, I realised that if I really wanted to help people, I would need to look beyond the immediate support. I would need to do my part in making sure that the world we live in presents as few obstacles to people with disabilities as possible.
Making the decision
It was there and then when I decided to learn how to make the experience of using websites easier for all users, which led me to web development in general, and web accessibility in particular. Developing accessible websites and advocating accessibility became my passion and my career.
If there is one thing I learned while at Headway, it would be that no one knows what might happen to them and when. Web accessibility is not about us vs them. It is about everyone.
Originally published in the Net magazine, August 2018