Zoë Haughton

Continuing the series of helping you get to know our awesome team, meet Zoë Haughton! Zoë is doing an amazing job flying the flag for Intopia in New Zealand and is actively involved in the NZ accessibility scene.

We sat down with Zoë to chat about her journey to a career in accessibility, what she most loves working on, and what’s next when it comes to achieving a world without digital barriers.

When did you join the team?

I joined the team in June 2019 and was Intopia’s first international recruit from New Zealand, but not for long I suspect.

Tell us a bit about your work history, and what made you want to join Intopia?

I’ve worked in a wide variety of jobs throughout the UK, Ireland, Spain and Japan. Some of these included coordinating investigations for protection of vulnerable adults for Social Services, web design and development, teaching English in schools and large corporates in Japan and Spain. Hearing Spanish children and Japanese businessmen improve in and speak English but with my broad Lancashire accent was both highly rewarding and entertaining!

My university and postgraduate studies included web app development, computing, human interaction design and secondary education. Teaching digital technologies in high schools seemed like a natural progression to combine my skills. Whilst teaching, I learned so much about effective teaching techniques to accommodate the different learning styles of students.

I then started work as a digital accessibility consultant for the Blind Foundation NZ. My role there included producing e-text and accessible documents for the students at BLENNZ school, training and workshops, auditing and consulting for organisations in government, finance, telecoms, higher education and health.  One particular non-sighted colleague and friend who sadly passed away taught me so much about using screen readers efficiently, assistive tech and getting around accessibility barriers in very innovative ways. He was a problem-solver, an early adopter of new technology and a talented audio producer. Getting to know and see first-hand how blind and low-vision colleagues navigated digital products, as well as the frustrations they experienced when they were not accessible, was a real motivation and eye-opener.

After three and a half years at Blind Foundation, I was keen to join a larger accessibility team and saw that Intopia was recruiting. I had heard great feedback about them, and their culture and values really resonated with my own. I met Sarah Pulis at CSUN 2019 in person after hearing one of her presentations, and this moved me to reach out and apply.

What do you enjoy working on the most?

I love the variety in my work and being part of such a multi-skilled, experienced and supportive team. Every week is different – one week I could be conducting workshops or usability testing sessions, another week auditing, presenting or working on improving internal processes. Ultimately, I feel that whatever I do both individually and collectively as a team, is making a real difference to the lives of people with disabilities. This is a very satisfying feeling.

What are the highlights of your time in accessibility so far?

A major highlight was attending CSUN in 2019. Meeting in person and listening to some of the international accessibility experts I have learned so much from over the years was such an honour and a huge learning curve.

Another highlight as a co-organiser of the Auckland Digital Accessibility and Inclusive Design Meetup has been in seeing the need and appetite for digital accessibility events in Auckland. The events are always well-attended, and we receive such positive feedback from the community.

What’s next when it comes to achieving a world without digital barriers?

I believe it is really important to get to the root causes of the barriers we see, one of which is the lack of education and awareness around digital accessibility taught in high schools and universities. When studying for my degree, there were a few paragraphs in one module about including image alt text and that was pretty much it for covering accessibility. If web development and design courses in universities don’t include and teach digital accessibility requirements and practices, then the problem will be perpetuated when graduates enter the workforce.

What advice would you give those facing roadblocks with implementing accessibility / digital inclusion in their work?

I love WebAIM’s Hierarchy for Motivating Accessibility Change, which illustrates what best motivates people to implement accessibility. In brief, when people see and experience the impact that inaccessible products can have on the lives of an individual with disabilities, they are really inspired. When inspired, they aim for the most accessible product they can, not only because it matters to their users, but because it now matters to them.

Including people with disabilities when doing usability testing will help people to understand that it’s much more than making things accessible (a requirement) – it’s making a difference!

One fun random fact about yourself

I love listening to and playing musical instruments in my spare time which helps me to relax and switch channels. I have been learning the cello for a number of years now and have been gradually working through my grades.