New year, new beginnings! As part of our new year resolutions, we want to get back into the swing of helping you get to know our awesome team. Who better to start with than our longest-serving team member, Allison Ravenhall, who joined the Intopia crew in September 2016 and was our second ever employee!
We sat down with Allison to get her thoughts on accessibility and digital inclusion, what she most loves working on, and what it will take to achieve a world without digital barriers.
Tell us a bit about your work history, and what made you want to join Intopia?
I worked several in-store and online retail jobs during university. They made me appreciate how important people-first design is to everything. How to speak and write, where to put things, what they look like and what to call them; these can sometimes be the difference between satisfied repeat customers and rude walkouts.
I started my professional career at Australian IT firm Expert Information Services, who merged with global IT consultancy Infosys. During my 17 (!) years there, I worked as a tester, analyst programmer (web), dev team lead, technical architect, UI designer, user experience consultant, trainer, technical writer, and accessibility consultant. I worked for clients in telecoms, finance, higher education, and retail.
My last Infosys assignment was a digital accessibility role and I enjoyed it a lot. It was challenging, interesting, and used many of the skills I’d gathered. I decided I wanted to “do accessibility” full-time so I looked for a company that could provide that. Luckily Intopia was starting to grow and was looking for my skillset.
What do you enjoy working on the most?
I love it when I explain or demonstrate something about accessibility and a person “gets it” for the first time. They hear the gibberish that a screen reader spits out from a poorly coded page. They watch a usability session where someone struggles to use the web page they designed or built. They learn about disabilities and assistive technologies. “I didn’t know”, they say, “I never considered that”. Understanding the negative impact you’re having on another human being is a powerful motivator to improve. I want to show people how to do better next time.
What are the highlights of your time in accessibility so far?
The variety is fantastic! Since joining Intopia I’ve created and run training courses, done audits, provided internal quality assurance and support, and created document templates. I’ve written accessibility requirements and test cases, facilitated usability sessions, written blog posts, live-tweeted events, and spoken at conferences and meetups.
Every week is different. Sometimes that brings its own challenges but it’s never boring!
What’s next when it comes to achieving a world without digital barriers?
Accessibility should be more than a footnote in formal education. There are very few courses churning out designers and developers that give more than a passing nod to accessibility. I wish I didn’t hear “I’ve never heard of that” so often. If only more people knew from the start of their career that accessibility is just part of doing things properly, a non-negotiable like performance or security.
What advice would you give those facing roadblocks with implementing accessibility / digital inclusion in their work?
Don’t get overwhelmed. Granted, digital accessibility is huge, it’s understandable to be daunted. Start with one thing. Semantic code, maybe, or better colour contrast. It doesn’t matter what you choose, just pick something, learn about it, and fix it. Sure, your product isn’t fully accessible yet but it’s better than it was. Then pick another thing, maybe readability or touch targets, it doesn’t matter! Rinse and repeat. Take the time to understand why each thing is important and how it affects different user groups.
Lobby hard to include people with disabilities when you do usability testing. They’ll give you powerful insights that go far beyond any checklist or compliance audit.
Finally, tell us one fun random fact about yourself
My Intopia title is “Digital Accessibility Sensei” but, while I do have a black belt in karate, I’m not quite a real-life sensei. As of January 2020, I’m a third dan (sandan) which gives me the rank of “Senpai”, but no one knows what that means! Check back with me around 2025…