Chancey is an Assistive Technology Coordinator at a New York library. In this video interview, she gives her perspective on why accessible design matters in digital tools and the need for creating a design and development culture that embraces and values accessibility as a design constraint.

Video transcript

PEAT, building a future that works.

Hi. I’m Josh Christanson co-director of the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology or PEAT. I’m meeting with people with disabilities from across the country to reflect on the role technology has played in their career and the potential it holds for the future of work. It’s a pleasure to be here today with Chancey Fleet to discuss accessibility in the era of telework and get her advice on how employers can ensure inclusion of people with disabilities in a tech driven workplace.  I’ll let you introduce yourself, Chancey.

Hi Josh. Thank you for the invitation. My name is Chancey Fleet. I am the assistive technology coordinator at a library in New York which means that I help blind and disabled people figure out how to make tech work for them.

What role does technology play in your day-to-day work life?

One of the things that I have noticed in my education, my professional preparation, and at work is that when technologies are inaccessible, when a timesheet program or a learning management system or anything else has inaccessible components, my job becomes two jobs. I have the job that I was hired to do, which is already a full-time demanding job, and I have the second shadow job that involves time and frankly emotional labor because I have to confront inaccessibility. I have to spend time diplomatically and accurately reporting it. I have to spend additional time devising workarounds or find structures of interdependence within my organization where I can work through an issue with the assistance of someone, and it creates a lot of friction and it really takes my mind and my time away from the core functions where I want my time and my mind to be. So, one of the most important reasons why accessible design matters in digital tools is that we are at our most productive and our most empowered and content as workers, when the tools we use can be relied upon to play to our strengths and not to kind of hang us up on our weaknesses.

Thinking about the workplace and accessible technology, what do you think the future holds?

Honestly, I think the future holds more struggle and fragmentation but a slow arc that bends toward greater accessibility. We have made so many strides in accessible technology, have a higher level of accessibility for blindness, for low vision, for dexterity and hearing impairments across the board than I had dreamed would be possible 10 years ago and that’s very exciting. At the same time, it’s a really big field and there are lots of web designers, lots of app developers who are in organizational cultures where accessibility is not taught. Accessibility is not really taught in a lot of computer science and app development programs and coding boot camps and as long as we don’t have a ubiquitous culture that says that accessibility is as important as security and other aspects of usability, we are going to continue to encounter impasses at all levels of professional engagement and we won’t really have true digital equity until design and development culture uniformly embraces and values accessibility as a design constraint.

What advice would you give employers and how they can support the success and promotion of employees with disabilities?

Beyond that it is really important to take an ongoing look at potential explicit and implicit bias in your hiring processes, so for example, there are some new hiring tools that analyze your gaze when you’re on a video interview and if you’re not making great eye contact you’re not hired. That means I’m not hired. My eyes just do whatever they want. The rest of me will do whatever you want as you as your employee but if you’re allowing an algorithm to judge me by my eyes, you are going miss out on my talent. My friend Liz Jackson wrote in the New York Times in an op-ed that we are the original life hackers and she’s right. We take a problem-solving approach to inaccessibility throughout our lives which means that we’re really creative and engaged and unafraid of problems and we, you want us in your workforce, but we won’t be there unless you make sure that you’re hiring processes and hiring tools are accessible and that they avoid bias.

Chancey, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise and your insight with us and our community. 

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

PEAT. Building a future that works.

PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy under contract no. 1605DC-19-F-00213/P00002. PEAT material does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Labor.