The following post is authored by Wendy Chisholm – Senior Accessibility Strategist at Microsoft. She is co-author of “Universal Design for Web Applications” (O’Reilly) and a former editor of W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 and 2.0. With 17 years of experience making web applications accessible, she helps teams across Microsoft understand and implement accessible web design.
22 years ago while in college, I was majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Psychology. During this time, one of my Psychology professors asked me to tutor a student in statistics. I agreed. Little did I know that my tutoring experience would be a “Sliding Doors” moment—one of those experiences that changes the trajectory of one’s life.
In my first meeting with the student I was to tutor, I discovered he couldn’t see. This was a surprise. It took me a few days to come up with a tutoring plan. I knew nothing about blindness. My student showed me how he took notes in Braille with a stylus. Watching him work with the stylus gave me the idea to use a pin to poke holes in the textbook images of scatterplots to create tactile images from the raised dots I was creating. Inspired further, I brought in Legos to create bar graphs. Even as we built on these methods, I wondered “how could computers help him learn statistics?”
This experience started me on my quest to make the world more accessible.
Since then, it’s been an interesting journey. I’ve been a Special Olympics coach for a team of people with autism, I did a research study on tactile illusions, and I’ve traveled the world to understand the cultural and technological differences of disability and inclusion. I’ve edited international standards and have written a book on inclusive design. I’ve become an Accessibility activist, an advocate, a developer, an artist and a strategist.
Until recently, all my Accessibility work had been as a freelance consultant or as an employee of a university. Two years ago, I decided I wanted to better understand the decisions that large corporations make about accessibility and what impact I could have on effecting the outcomes of those efforts from the inside. I interviewed and was offered a position as an Accessibility Strategist at Microsoft. In another “Sliding Doors” moment, I accepted.
I admit that when I started I was very hesitant. I even told my friends, “I will give it one year and we’ll see if I still have a soul at the end of it.” To my surprise, I not only survived that first year, soul intact, I thrived. I found a vibrant community of people passionate about Accessibility; people with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities and a bunch of folks who just “get” inclusion for a variety of reasons. In a place where I can bring together my passions for computer science and Accessibility, I am excited about the future that lies ahead in my continuing quest to make the world more accessible.