#TakeFiveWith Bryn Anderson
Could you tell us about yourself and your job role? And one hobby/fun fact?
My name is Bryn Anderson, I am an accessibility product expert for a company called SiteImprove. I help the development team build a product that organisations can use to test for accessibility issues on their website.
Some Fun Facts - I am thirty six-years-old, I have been living in Bow, London with my fiancé for six years. I was born in London, but I have also lived in the US and Austria for extended periods of time. I really enjoy cooking, I like to cook at home, go on courses and cook for friends. I used to work for some kitchens in Austria too, not as a trained chef, but I did a fair amount of kitchen work. I tend to cook quite a lot of Asian food – such as Thai, Malaysian or Indian cuisine.
What is a typical day like for you?
I get into the office at London Bridge at around 09:00 AM. Maybe a little bit earlier if I’ve got a lot on. I go through my emails in Outlook and then the rest really depends what type of project I’m working on. For example, today (as of when this interview took place) I was putting together a presentation on some of our competitors, which involves going to the competitor’s website and maybe searching for information on them or demonstrations or videos for their products.
And then in the afternoon I’m having a call with you! I suppose in some respects that’s sort of my typical work day, I might also be doing presentations with potential clients or presentations with people that are interested in accessibility. I do a fair amount of speaking on the topic. Then I might be working with the product team to figure out what’s a bug, what’s a priority and what should go in the backlog for future development.
I also do a lot of product training. I’m a hands-on subject matter expert for accessibility and accessibility testing – I could be working on anything from assisting the team with building marketing materials to giving presentations to product training to talking to organisations like How Do I?.
So you do a lot of the technical tasks involved with accessibility work and convince people why accessibility is something important to have in your business in the first place?
Absolutely! Some people understand why accessibility is important or they have a legal requirement to meet. For example, in the public sector websites need to meet the web content accessibility guidelines, but in the private sector that’s not the case. Sometimes I tell the story, my story, about my visual impairment and the bigger story about the disability community. We’ve got money, we like to buy things, so there’s a whole business case behind accessibility that goes beyond the legal requirements.
Part of my everyday is very much about banging the drum for accessibility – whether it’s the legal or financial business case for it.
Could you tell us how you got into your role?
Before I did this job I was in Austria, living in Vienna. I moved to Vienna straight after university, where I had studied interactive media production, which was essentially building websites and anything you can interact with online. I did some video projects for my major, but throughout the course we learned about building websites. I went into building websites after university as a freelancer before I became a website manager for a newspaper.
My background was in web, but throughout that whole time I didn’t know about the term ‘Accessibility.’ It wasn’t taught at university and it never came up during my time dealing with clients in Austria. It was very bizarre because I was looking for jobs in London and came across one I wasn’t particularly interested in. It was a Customer Success role, so it was about making sure people renew their contracts and yearly subscriptions. One of the products this company provided was an accessibility product. I had to learn about accessibility before the interview despite it being something affected me my whole life. It was a really weird experience, I just had no idea that accessibility was such a huge topic in the field of digital content development and delivery despite being visually impaired myself.
It’s a bit sad that I didn’t know about it before then but at the same time, it showed me that accessibility has actually come quite a long way since I’ve learned about it six years ago. It’s a testament to how far accessibility has to go but also perhaps how far it has come in those six years. I just still find it staggering that despite having gone to school and university to learn about the internet, that accessibility just didn’t come up once.
I think there’s a huge opportunity at the university level for accessibility and that was something that I felt immediately when I started working at SiteImprove, seeing these products that are very educational, I thought: ‘This is the sort of thing you need as an educational resource.’ And funnily enough when I gave a talk as part of the London Accessibility Meetup group, I was approached by a couple of universities to come and speak at their organisation.
What motivates you to do a good job?
That’s a good question because the answer is not so straight forward. I’d say as a disabled person, especially as a visually impaired person, I have a lot of trust issues about me being able to see things. I don’t always trust what I’m seeing or experiencing and I think that has a big knock on effect to many parts of my life. So I think there’s a tendency to want to be doubly sure or doubly good and work really hard to prove and demonstrate that I can do what people have given me to do. So the motivation is proving to people that my impairment doesn’t need to have a negative impact on the quality of my work.
What’s motivational for me I suppose is proving people wrong, but often my disability is perhaps not so obvious to a lot of people that they don’t really know what to expect anyway. They kind of expect me to get on with the job, so I guess my motivation is not necessarily driven by other people but more by the reassurance I get for myself when I complete something, just to know that I can do it.
How do you learn at work?
I prefer to learn audibly. At school I didn’t learn from people writing stuff on the blackboard or whiteboard because I just couldn’t see it, so I was very attentive to information that was conveyed verbally.
Reading is not ideal for me, however I do have a very large monitor at work that I use. It’s a 42-inch display and I use the built-in zoom functionality in the browser to zoom in at about 250% on already very low resolution screen.
I learn in the way that is available to me and sometimes that might be reading because not everything is in audio or video format. If I was able to choose I would learn with multimedia, so a video and audio format. I like having visuals backed up with audio-visual commentary.
Secondly, I would rather listen to something as long as it’s not a huge piece of content that I would have to listen every single word for. A blind user that may be used to assistive technology like a screen reader will probably listen to audio playback at a really fast rate and that’s not something that I have learnt to do.
So if it’s a smaller chunk of content I enjoy audio, but if it’s a large piece of text like a thesis then I would probably use Ctrl + F in the browser to search for key words and then read content around those words, as opposed to reading the whole piece. I suppose it’s a bit like assistive skim reading!
What are your aims for the next year? For example, if you work in accessibility do you have any plans to help make workplaces more inclusive? If you work in Learning and Development how are you going to promote workplace learning?
I actually had a few things this year I wanted to accomplish and I have managed to achieve one of them, which was to speak at the London Accessibility Meetup Group. I did a presentation with my sister, who also has partial albinism and we have almost identical visual impairments.
It was a bit of a coming out moment for me. For my job I talk so much about accessibility and I have also talked about the impact my visual impairment has on daily life, especially when using websites. But this was a lot more of an honest, open book presentation and that comes with a fair amount of vulnerability. I was quite nervous and anxious about being accepted because acceptance is a huge thing. People can reject or accept you, which is hard to get away from, so it was a watershed moment for me to go and do this presentation and get a positive response from the audience.
If there’s something I would like to do moving forward, it would be to continue to share my story in that open format with other people, either so that they can just get an insight to what it’s like to be visually impaired or so that people who have similar disabilities or challenges can maybe take some kind of motivation and comfort from the fact that it’s okay to talk about this stuff in a vulnerable place.
From my personal experience there are organisations and people willing to invest in accessibility, understand more about disabilities and invest in making their content and products more accessible, but they also need to be met halfway. It’s really important as people with disabilities that we just don’t expect it all to happen without us making it work and helping out.
YOU CAN LEARN MORE ABOUT SITEIMPROVE ON THE FOLLOWING PLATFORMS:
SiteImprove website: www.siteimprove.com/en-gb
SiteImprove Twitter Account: @SiteimproveUK
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