While at the 2018 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in San Diego, Content and Marketing Specialist Vivian Cullipher set out to interview folks on their involvement in CSUN.
Here, Vivian interviews Montreal-based Denis Boudreau, Principal Web Accessibility Consultant and Strategist for Deque, covering everything from Denis’s take on what digital accessibility is, details on a couple of his upcoming CSUN presentations, how AI might advance accessibility for people with disabilities, and more.
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Denis Boudreau Interview Topics, CSUN 2018
Interview segments are listed below, with a transcript of each segment following the audio player clips.
- Introductions, Reasons for Being at CSUN, and Defining Accessibility [“Introduction” Transcript]
- Thursday’s CSUN Session on “Accessibility Heuristics: A Practical Design Evaluation Framework” [“Heuristics” Transcript]
- Friday’s CSUN Session on Going the Extra Mile [““Going the Extra Mile” Transcript]
- What Inspires People to Be Passionate about Accessibility? What Inspired You? [“Inspiration” Transcript]
- Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility [“AI” Transcript]
- The Best Part of CSUN [“Best Part of CSUN” Transcript]
This CSUN accessibility interview was recorded Monday, March 19, 2018. For more interviews from CSUN, visit the “Interview” section on our CSUN 2018 Assistive Technology Conference Backchannel.
Introductions, Reasons for Being at CSUN, and Defining Accessibility
Transcript: “Introductions, Reasons for Being at CSUN, and Defining Accessibility”
VIVIAN CULLIPHER: Hi, this is Vivian Cullipher from Microassist. I am interviewing a few notable personalities here at the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, 2018. And I am going to let my next guest introduce himself. So, if you don’t mind, please introduce yourself, telling me what you do and why you are at CSUN this year.
DENIS BOUDREAU: So, thank you. My name is Denis Boudreau. I am a principal consultant and training lead for Deque Systems. We’re one of the sponsors at the conference this year. I’m basically a consultant, I do training with Deque helping organizations make their content accessible, meet requirements for accessibility, and overall help them better reach their clients through digital content.
VIVIAN: Okay, and so when we talk about the term accessibility, what does that mean?
DENIS: So, accessibility … well, I mean, there are a lot of definitions about accessibility. Here, people will mostly agree that it’s about making content more accessible to people with disabilities. I tend to have a broader definition of that, going more towards the idea that your content needs to be usable by anyone, using any type of device. The main focus is always disabilities, ’cause that’s where accessibility comes from, this idea that you want to break down barriers for people that have different types of impairments.
But beyond that idea of bridging gaps for people with disabilities, there are a lot of other people that would not necessarily be recognized as having a disability that still struggle with content. And those same best practices or considerations that we have for accessibility can also help those people have a better experience on the web. So, I also focus on that part. The seniors for instance, is a great example of that. People that may come from a different cultural background and may not speak the language as a first language. They may struggle with content while they may not have the same issues as someone who have dyslexia, for instance. But they still struggle with content. So, figuring out ways to organize that content, organize interfaces so they’re easier to use, is basically what I dedicate my life to, through this.
Thursday’s CSUN Session on “Accessibility Heuristics: A Practical Design Evaluation Framework”
CSUN Session Title: Accessibility Heuristics: A Practical Design Evaluation Framework, presented with Caitlin Geier
Date/Time: Thursday, March 22, 11 a.m.
Transcript: Thursday’s CSUN Session on “Accessibility Heuristics: A Practical Design Evaluation Framework”
VIVIAN CULLIPHER: We could talk about a couple of your sessions, but the first one being Thursday at 11:00, accessibility heuristics, a practical design evaluation framework. What exactly is that about?
DENIS BOUDREAU: The session is geared towards designers, which is where most of my focus is these days. The idea of heuristics basically is that you come up with these rules of thumb that can be used by designers to integrate accessibility into their work. Historically, when we try to teach accessibility to people that do design, they tend to push back, because that’s not something that really appeals to them naturally, though it should because they’re basically creating experiences for people.
Getting them to understand that they can have a huge impact on the user experience of end-users is always a little difficult because they’re afraid that we’re going to put constraints in their work and they’re not going to be able to be as creative as they like to be. It’s always been a challenge to teach designers about accessibility.
What my colleague, Caitlin and I have been working on in the past year are heuristics for accessibility, which basically come from the same trend that we’ve had in usability for over 20 years now with Jakob Nielsen, but do something similar with accessibility where we revisit the general rules of thumb or the principles of accessibility and we weave these things into a different language that will be more appealing to designers. Then teach them how to run analysis on their content. They’re creating mock-ups for instance. They’re creating designs.
How they can use these heuristics to basically define if they’ve met considerations for accessibility in their work. Do that in a way that appeals to that more than just saying, “You have to meet such and such success criteria,” which is not very appealing to them to begin with.
Again, historically, when we think about accessibility, we think about people that are more geared towards development and coders and oftentimes when you find issues about accessibility, those issues have been integrated way earlier in the process. The developer is just implementing something that has already been decided by designers who don’t know much about accessibility.
The goal is to, we call that shifting left where we basically go earlier in the process and we want people that are involved in decision making about design or features to be mindful of those questions as well, so they don’t create potential barriers further down the line for their team as they’re developing the products that they’ve designed initially.
The earlier we get into that process, the more we can prevent those issues from being there in the first place. That’s what the goal is.
Friday’s CSUN Session on Going the Extra Mile
CSUN Session Title: Going the Extra Mile—Designing for More than Minimal Compliance presented with Aparna Pasi and Dennis Lembrée.
Date/Time: Friday, March 23, 8 a.m.
Transcript: “Going the Extra Mile”
VIVIAN CULLIPHER: You have two more sessions. I want to talk about one more, and that one is going the extra mile, designing for more than minimal compliance. That’s on Friday morning. Now, why is that one important to you?
DENIS BOUDREAU: That one is important because, again, from the perspective of design, when we look at the standards for accessibility, WCAG 2.0 is what we work with, people tend to think that the standard itself is sufficient to make content accessible to the broader audience, of people with disabilities.
When you start digging in, you realize that it really isn’t as good as we think it is. I mean the document itself is good and what we have there is a very strong foundation to get started, but if you only do what the standard says, you’re only going to cover for so much in terms of people’s needs, and you’re only going to cover for the needs of some of those people as well.
The session is about showing how, if you only reach or meet minimal compliance to that standard, yes, you’re going to maybe meet the expectation of someone uses a screen reader while being blind, but the implementation that you’ll do for that particular thing may not help someone who has a different type of disability. Yet, you would meet that standard because you check that checkbox there, but you’re still not being as inclusive as you could be.
What we want to demonstrate in that session are examples where we show you what the minimum requirement would be, what it looks like and then what you could do to go beyond that to create an experience that’s much more inclusive, much more accessible to a broader group of people with different types of disabilities as well. Going beyond the extra mile. Going the extra mile is basically like going further than just that bare minimum to be more inclusive.
What Inspires People to Be Passionate about Accessibility? What Inspired You?
Transcript: “What Inspires Passion for Accessibility?
VIVIAN CULLIPHER: I can hear that you have a passion for really getting people to understand a bigger picture, a broader vision. You caught the passion, obviously, so what do you think inspires people to become passionate for more inclusive accessible websites and digital content?
DENIS BOUDREAU: Well I think a lot of it is making it meaningful for them. It needs to appeal to you in the first place before you start really caring about it enough that you want to make it something that is part of your professional life every day. For a lot of people it’s because they themselves have a disability, and they want to contribute to breaking down those barriers. That’s not really my case, I mean I have a bunch of things aren’t working perfectly for me but I don’t technically fit into any kind of disability, except maybe colorblindness, which is something that I have. But I never considered myself to be disabled as a result of that. And honestly, a bunch of friends who have disabilities would not consider themselves disabled either. So maybe I am part of that group and I don’t even realize it.
Feeling like I need to have a purpose is a big part of this. When I initially got involved in accessibility, I had no reason to do that except for the fact I was hooked on this challenge of making a difference. And that was 18 years ago and I was already pretty much fed up with development in general, it was always the same thing. It felt like a very superficial industry to work in. And then when accessibility landed on my lap, it gave me purpose. All of a sudden it became from creating this other brochure for client to actually making a difference in people’s lives by making sure that whatever I was building would also work for them.
And when you’re doing this one website for a store that sells shoes, maybe it’s not that big of a deal, but when you’re delivering government services, for instance, that are meant to be available for everyone, and you realize that by doing what you’re doing, you’re enabling people that otherwise would depend on others, to me it resonated really strongly. So that’s where it came from, and that’s what I’m trying to convey to others when I’m teaching or training, for instance, this idea that it’s not just a job, it really can make a difference in people’s lives if we do this properly, and if we care enough to do it well.
Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility
Transcript: Denis Boudreau on “What’s Your View on Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility”
VIVIAN CULLIPHER: You recently had an article on something that’s pretty fascinating, with artificial intelligence. At least, the article I saw was, what, December 2017, I think, is the one? I don’t know if you’ve had one more recent than that. [Editor’s note: Here’s the article: Five Ways in Which Artificial Intelligence Changes the Face of Web Accessibility, 12/6/17 ]
DENIS BOUDREAU: Could be. Yeah, I’ve had two or three different things, but they were all around that time.
VIVIAN: Around that time?
VIVIAN: So, how might excess artificial intelligence help make digital experiences more accessible for everybody?
DENIS: Well, in a bunch of different ways. I mean, some of the examples, I’m assuming the article that you saw was five ways in which it affects someone?
DENIS: So in that article, for instance, I was talking about how artificial intelligence is being used for image recognition, for instance, helps someone who has a visual impairment. The example that I was talking about in that article came from Facebook, where they’ve implemented this algorithm that recognizes images, or parts of images, rather, and gives you a description, a very clinical description of what the image contains, based on what it recognizes in that image, which is our first step, really, in being able to really recognize and provide a meaningful description of a visual representation of something. But it is a very strong first step, in that sense. Where, again, that example in Facebook, they had initially, if you were posting an image to your timeline, or a visual to your timeline, the alt text that was generated for that, by default, would be the user’s name.
So, if I posted something on my timeline, the alt text that was generated for that, by default, would be the user’s name. So if I posted something on my timeline, the alt text would basically be, Denis Boudreau, and that would be it. It would say nothing about the image itself. So people that were blind, or could not see the image, would not benefit from that content.
Now, what they’re doing is, through massive exposure to data, of different images, of, say, people smiling, or cats, or whatnot, the AI can recognize components in those images. Then, what it provides or generates for Facebook is a alt text that says something along the lines of, “This image may contain,” and then, “people smiling, boats, sunshine,” and whatnot.
So that gives someone who’s blind the ability to make sense of some of the content, and while that’s not perfect, still … Because it’s much better to have someone who actually crafts a description that resonates, and is meaningful, it’s already much better than what we’re, currently, we’re working with.
That’s one example of how it helps, and how, ultimately, when the technology is at the point where it’s really ready to be implemented across the board, it does affect how accessibility is being handled. Because, now, all of a sudden, maybe we don’t need to think about alt text as much, if the alt text that is generated has this level of quality. We’re not there yet, by any means of, or any stretch of the imagination, but eventually, we might get there.
Another example was related to captions in YouTube. Captions in YouTube are famously inaccurate, and sometimes, very awkward in how they generate the captions for what the persons or people are saying. But it’s also improved tremendously, over the past two years or so, when they started integrating neural networks in there, that allow you to make connections, and recognize words, and recognize intonations, and be much more precise in how they generate the equivalent captions for what people are saying.
There were other examples, and they’re related to translation, related to automated lip reading, also, the recognizing someone in a video, where you can’t really hear them, but you can see what they’re … You can see their lips, and sort of, make sense of what that person might be saying. Again, ratios for accuracy are pretty low, but when you look at that, specifically, what Google did, Google deep mined that project. What they did is, they invited the world’s best experts on lip reading, and those, the top experts in the world, can basically have about a 12.4% accuracy rate, I think it is, compared to the AI, that could do something like 48%.
DENIS: So, the AI’s already four times better than the world’s leading experts today, and they’re only getting started with that stuff. So, again, when we think about accessibility, and how that can impact people that have disabilities, we can think that at some point, when you start combining these different things … And you have captions that are really, really good or better, to begin with, and you can also recognize someone speaking on the screen, and recognize what they’re saying, if that comes in, and supports the captioning, the quality of your captions will get better.
And you can automatically generate, much more easily, a transcript, or captions, for that matter, that will also help users, in that sense. And you’re sort of fixing the problem, about captions or transcripts for videos, before the problem is even raised, if the technology is good enough.
What’s the Best Part of CSUN for You?
Transcript: “What’s the Best Part of CSUN for You?”
VIVIAN CULLIPHER: Well, you are fascinating to talk to, and I know that I have already overextended the time that I told you I was going to take from you. But I have one more question.
DENIS BOUDREAU: Sure.
VIVIAN: And that is, what is the best part of CSUN for you?
DENIS: I think that answer changes every year. Right now the best part of CSUN for me is hallway discussions. It used to be sessions specifically. Session are still great, I still learn a lot from it. But CSUN is a family reunion. For a lot of people that I know, it’s the only time of the year that I get to see them again and connect directly, as opposed to connecting on Hangouts or other platforms like that. So, to me it’s about networking, relationships, and friendship, and then sharing with like-minded people about these questions we just talked about.
VIVIAN: Thank you so much.
DENIS: Thank you for having me.
More CSUN 2018 Interviews Are Coming!
Stay tuned, and be sure to catch our conversation with Rebecca Cagle, Senior Trainer for the UNTWISE program, on how a career in assistive technologies found her, rather than the other way around.
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Also, you can learn more about Denis and his thoughts on AI and accessibility in his 2017 article, “Five Ways in Which Artificial Intelligence Changes the Face of Web Accessibility.”
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Image Credit: Microphone by David Marioni from the Noun Project