Continuing the series of helping you get to know our awesome team, meet Vanessa Grech! Ness is one of our latest recruits, having joined us in October 2019.
We sat down with Ness to ask about her career highlights thus far, what drew her to the field of accessibility, and her advice for overcoming roadblocks in this area.
Tell us a bit about your work history, and what made you want to join Intopia?
I worked for Coles for many years predominately in Coles Online. I started as a Graduate, then moved into a Digital Business Analyst role, and eventually into a Senior Accessibility Analyst role.
In 2014, I remember my boss sitting me down and asking if I knew anything about accessibility. The answer to that was I knew very little, and by very little I mean I knew it was about access of some kind, but had no idea how it related to my role. This is really where my passion for accessibility started. We were fortunate enough to have assistance from an external accessibility consultant for several months.
As an analyst, your greatest gift is asking questions and extracting information and so, it began! I remember asking questions like, what is a screen reader? How do you use it? Who uses a screen reader? What issues do you think these users are experiencing on the website? What other disabilities are there? How do I write accessibility requirements? What are the key things I need to look out for? What in the world is WCAG? The list goes on!
From there, I championed accessibility in Coles Online, then in later years in Digital. I was primarily responsible for writing accessibility requirements, test scripts, guiding and educating developers, testers and designers, executing testing, prioritising defects and being involved in usability testing. Everyone is probably familiar with the history of Coles Online, and whilst I won’t speak to that specifically, I was involved in the rebuild of the Coles Online website for many years and worked with auditors to ensure that the website was compliant.
I then joined NAB, working as a Senior Accessibility Analyst in the mobile app space before becoming Digital Accessibility Manager.
Intopia was always on the cards for me. I love what this company values, its people! Plus Co-Founder Adem Cifcioglu has had a significant impact in my initial and continual learning in this space.
What do you enjoy working on the most?
I love working with people, so for me it’s two things – usability testing and facilitating training. Those moments in a training session where you see someone have a light bulb moment, and they start to get it, and get excited by it too. Or in a usability testing session, when a user interacts with a product that your company has built, and they are so grateful that you got it right. These are some of the most rewarding moments.
What are the highlights of your time in accessibility so far?
- Most definitely the rebuild of the Coles Online website and championing accessibility on that project. That project just taught me so much, and the outcome was a positive one. It’s really hard to get a website as complex as that to be fully compliant, and I’m so proud of what we achieved there.
- I remember my first week at NAB, my ears pricking up as the word ‘accessibility’ was mentioned by so many people in technology. I felt comfort in knowing that I had joined a company that valued it as much as I do.
- Working with the NAB mobile crew to streamline accessibility processes and move it to a well-oiled engine
- Training a large number of the design community at NAB on design best practices
- Becoming a manager and leading a team of 10 amazing humans
- Volunteering at the Special Olympics
- Watching Jess Irwin’s inspiring keynote presentation at Accessibility Camp 2017
What’s next when it comes to achieving a world without digital barriers?
A world where accessibility is included in university curriculum, so that those studying design can learn about inclusive design, or those studying engineering can learn about accessible code. When the time comes for them to enter the workforce, they will already have a strong awareness.
What advice would you give those facing roadblocks with implementing accessibility / digital inclusion in their work?
It’s not easy I admit. When I first started out, I wanted everything to be perfect and it would frustrate me when people didn’t understand, or that there was no buy-in from leadership. The reality is, there will always be pushback in business.
What I have learnt over the years is:
- Be patient
- Recognise you cannot make everything perfect
- Be pragmatic – prioritise those things that will make the biggest impact
- Find your allies, and slowly educate them on accessibility to help build a community of champions
- Create those foundations – it may only be on a small scale to begin with, but it will make a difference
One fun random fact about yourself
I am a big scaredy cat, but I took a leap of faith in 2018 and ziplined through the tallest mountains in Split, Croatia. There was a lot of screaming, and maybe there were some tears (caused by the wind of course!), but funnily enough I would do it again.