Coding Accessibility – Girl Code at Incentro

It took a while but here it is. The recap of our ‘Coding Accessibility’-meetup at Incentro a few weeks ago! And lucky me, while I was finding the time to write a proper blogpost about one of the most inspiring Girl Codes ’til now, our speaker and host Elisabeth Boldewijn wrote one that absolutely captures the awesomeness of the whole night, so I won’t try to match it, but just share it here! But before I copy-paste below I would like to thank all of our speakers so much. The night was buzzing with passion, inspiration and last but not least courage of all our speakers to also talk about their own physical challenges in life. It emphasised how these ‘disabilities’ are not always visible and why as Eva Westerhoff eloquently put: “accessibility is for everyone” and if you don’t experience a disability now “at one point in life, all of us will experience ‘disability'”, like Dr. Cara Antoine told us during her talk. During the drinks after it turned out all of the attendees were very much inspired to do better on the accessibility front of coding and a few of them were already activists on the matter. It was so rewarding to organise this meetup and it’s inspiring outcome, partly because it was a topic high on my personal wish list since I’m battling a chronic illness myself which does causes the world to be less accessible to me on a daily basis. We are very proud we could shine a light on this topic from three different sides: Elisabeth about how coding can make a great career accessible while being chronically ill, Eva about why building accessibility or rather usability in your software and products is important to everyone and Dr. Cara Antoine accompanied by Lisanne Brons how software, in this case AI, can make the physical world more accessible to all! And now it’s finally time for Elisabeth’s recap of the night. Below her post you will find the pics and the slides!

GirlCode Accessibility meetup

– by Elisabeth Boldewijn

Wednesday evening I held my first meetup ever and about a quite intimate topic, accessibility. Not only did we learn more about accessibility within the services and products we use, but there were some personal stories shared which explained why some of us are so passionate about this topic and do our best to be heard and include those who are challenged in life.

After my friend & colleague Hajar Mokhtafa gave us a wonderful introduction about our company. It was my turn and I held my talk on how fibromyalgia changed my life and the challenges I faced at finding a job when you’re not only a starting junior developer, but not confident at all in your capabilities with a body you cannot trust.

I embarked on my journey to become a web developer after a heart surgery. As medication didn’t work for me, I opted for the surgery. It was supposed to make my life more manageable, but unfortunately it left me in a much worse state. (it had triggered my current condition, but only after 9 months would I find out what it was and get it confirmed by a doctor.)

As physical work was impossible for me to do even on heavy painkillers, I set my mind to really go for it and find a place to learn web development at a faster pace. I got lucky and got the opportunity to learn at the NYCDA and after finishing the course successfully I finally wound up at incentro (Rotterdam).

This to wasn’t without the help of GirlCode founder Ineke Scheffers. She reached out to one of my colleagues and within a few days I had found a place to work (prior to this it had taken me months). We were classmates at the nycda and after we got a bit personal in our introductions, she had taken me along to the GirlCode meetups. I was amazed at all the women I’d meet and their talks, so I kept going and I really felt and still feel like I am part of a great community. So after I felt I had enough courage to get on that stage I decided to host a GirlCode myself at incentro.

Our second speaker Eva Westerhoff (helps organisations improve their accessibility & is currently working at ING) made it very clear how much we actually fail, when we think something is ‘accessible’ when it’s made for the wrong target group. Everyone BUT the ‘disabled’ people it was meant for.

She also had a very solid point, saying

I don’t feel disabled, it’s the environment that makes it that way.

If you think about it, it makes compleet sense! Don’t we all feel much more at ease at a place where we know our way around, and managing everything ourselves without the help of others?

If we do a better job at making sure our products & services ARE accessible, then more people can feel that way. Don’t wait until it has become a ‘requirement’, try to always include accessibility within your designs. And if you want to do it the right way. Invite people who you think will benefit from this new feature, or design and ask THEM.

  • Does this make your life easier?
  • Would you use this product/service in it’s current state?
  • How can I improve my product to meet your needs?

Aside of the fact that a LOT of people are missing out in using the services offered, you make then feel excluded. Perhaps they even think they’re not important enough, and that would be a shame.

Eva also shared some links with us, so please check them out!

Our third and last speakers were Dr. Cara Antoine & Lisanne Brons from Microsoft the Netherlands. They also had a personal story to share and told us how the Microsoft vision plays a role in accessibility.

At one point in life, all of us will experience ‘disability’

I found that such a powerful thing to hear, and fully agree! With that mindset you have a completely different view on the things you use, design, perhaps even on the world.

Cara also gave a very simple example when mentioning that a lot of disabilities are ‘invisible’. If those in the audience wearing glasses would take them off for the rest of the presentation. Those people would not see very well, but how many people are wearing contact lenses? You have no clue, but they also count as ‘disabled’.

So if you develop your products with future you in mind who may the same, or may be disabled in one way or another, you are thinking ahead and including those people.

Empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more

Lisanne told us how machine learning (a way of achieving AI) is not much different from how children learn. They pick up information eventually start speaking and when making mistakes we correct them. We also cheer them on when they get it right.

She also gave a demo of one of their apps SeeingAI. With this app you take a picture and it will verbally explain what is on the picture. It was very cool to see this, but what got me and a colleague even more excited was the app where you can become a buddy for someone who’s visually impaired (I forgot the name). If you cannot see something clearly, you can call someone, who will see what you’re seeing, and tell you what to pick or which way to go. I believe this app wasn’t available yet in The Netherlands, only in USA.

Other amazing app mentioned were:

microsoft translator, this can translate from one language to another. So if you’re speaking in Spanish, but I cannot understand it, it will translate to a language I do understand making it possible to communicate with far more people than before.

Stream, in this video platform it is possible to:

  • Search for text or spoken words within videos
  • Enhance accessibility for everyone with closed captioning
  • See all speakers and jump ahead to where they appear in your video
  • Play your video while viewing or searching its transcript
  • Discover a variety of content without relying on metadata

As a developer who learn a lot through videos. I find myself often searching for something I’ve seen or heard in a video. If the stream features were used on youtube as well, my life would be so much easier!

Also a shout out to the catering for this evening. The food was deliciousss! Thank you very much!

This summary of the evening turned out to be quite a long post, but I really wanted to share how much I appreciated hosting this event, having such wonderful speakers and truly feeling blessed by those around me!

I hope to continue seeing more powerful women making a change in this world for the better. If ever you see a GirlCode meetup, don’t hesitate! They’re always a lot of fun, and you always leave with a bit more knowledge.

Thank you for reading.

Until next time

Original post by Elisabeth Boldewijn can be found here.

 

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The next meetup is being organised as we speak! Keep an eye on our Meetup page to RSVP once it’s up!

 

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