GHC 2015 with Catherine McLean

One of the most interesting talks I attended at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing was about accessibility. Ramya Sethuraman, an accessibility engineer at Facebook, gave the presentation. She describes herself as caring “about creating accessible cultures within companies and contributing to the grass roots efforts to make accessibility mainstream to engineering.”

Sethuraman discussed how people with physical disabilities interact with technology. She started the talk with an exercise. Everybody in the audience took out their credit cards and held them up in front of them, facing toward the speaker. She then asked the audience to read off their credit card numbers, which was impossible with the cards facing away from our faces. This exercise was used to make us understand what it’s like for a blind person to activate a new credit card.

Sethuraman went on to explain how people do not consider the physically disabled when designing programs, websites, or other technology. Designers often do not consider making simple changes, such as making a product more accessible with the keyboard rather than the mouse, to accommodate the disabled simply because they do not realize that it is a problem.

She listed an assortment of ways to help combat this issue. Some of her suggestions were bug bashing events, speakers and workshops dedicated to raising awareness about the problem, and usability sessions.

All of these events are easy to organize and inexpensive, meaning we should we able to implement them on campus. There is no reason we can’t host a speaker talking about their experiences with designing and/or using accessible and inaccessible code. Northeastern and CCIS both have a lot of resources we could utilize to spread information about helping people with physical and cognitive disabilities.

This topic struck me as interesting and important because it was never something that I had considered before. It’s so easy to overlook the importance of accessible design that we must take extra precautions to assure that our technology is equally as easy to use for people with disabilities. This talk from Ramya Sethuraman taught me a lot about considering others’ experiences when designing technology.