Derek Robinson 00:00:03 Welcome to Data Points, a podcast by InterSystems Learning Services. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite podcast app. Links can be found at datapoints.InterSystems.com. I'm Derek Robinson. And on today's episode, I'll chat with Senior Instructional Designer Michelle Spisak about accessibility in InterSystems Online Learning content.
Derek Robinson 00:00:34 Welcome to the Data Points podcast by InterSystems Learning Services. On today's episode, Senior Instructional Designer, and one of my colleagues, Michelle Spisak, will join me to talk about the various projects she has been involved in around accessibility. One of the major focus areas of the last few years within our Online Learning team here at InterSystems has been improving the accessibility of our content, such that all learners can benefit from it. In our conversation, Michelle will explain a little bit more about what that means, and tell us about several initiatives that help us achieve that goal.
Derek Robinson 00:01:09 Michelle, thank you for joining the podcast. How are you doing?
Michelle Spisak 00:01:11 I'm doing well, Derek. Thank you. How are you?
Derek Robinson 00:01:13 Pretty good. I think you've been on one before, but it was quite a while ago, I think—maybe when we were remote. I'm not sure I remember.
Michelle Spisak 00:01:18 Yes. So we were remote. I think we talked about the newsletter.
Derek Robinson 00:01:20 Yeah, that's right. That's right. Cool. So, probably have to do a newsletter one coming up sometimes soon as well, to get one of those in again. But, before we start, just kind of, for anybody who didn't hear the first episode you were on, why don't you introduce yourself and, and tell our listeners what your role is here on the team and at InterSystems?
Michelle Spisak 00:01:35 Happy to! Yeah, so, I am a Senior Instructional Designer here in the Online Learning team within Learning Services. I review the content that you Content Developers produce, just kind of to make sure that it's information that our learners can actually learn from. And I also lead the Accessibility team within Online Learning, which is what we're gonna be talking about today. It's something that we started within the past couple years and have really kind of dived into and become quite passionate about, so—yeah, looking forward to discussing it.
Derek Robinson 00:02:16 Yeah. I mean, so, you know, you mentioned there your role with instructional design, and like for myself as a Content Developer, that was, you know, since the time I started here, that was part of the core responsibility of you and, and the others with your similar role, which was reviewing instructional design. The last two or three years, like you just mentioned, there's been a lot of other initiatives that have really picked up steam that we quite frankly didn't have on our radar much before that. So, so accessibility is one of those. So getting started, from the 10,000-foot view kind of, what is accessibility and then, you know, building a little bit further on that more specifically, what does that mean in the context of our Online Learning content here at InterSystems?
Michelle Spisak 00:02:54 Yeah, absolutely. So the accessibility initiative that we have undertaken is kind of, it's really just a way of making our content usable for everyone. At its most basic level, some people kind of think of it as something for people with visual impairments or hearing impairments, color blindness, these other, you know, big, heavy hitters—but what we have come to realize is that accessibility is really for anybody at any time. Somebody could, all of a sudden need, you know, assistive technology, or need a keyboard-operable website…something as simple as, you know, say…you're, what—right-handed?
Derek Robinson 00:03:37 Yep. Yep.
Michelle Spisak 00:03:38 Okay. So say you are playing hockey, and you fall, and you break your arm, and you break your right arm, and suddenly you can't use your mouse. Um, if you think of it in terms of, this, this sudden switch into needing assistive technology, it's not necessarily going to be something that you want to train yourself to use your left arm to use your mouse for the short period of time. It'd be much easier if you had a keyboard-accessible website, that you could just kind of tab through and find your way through. So one thing that we try to focus on is, keeping our attention on all of our learners. Making sure that we're taking all sorts of different needs into consideration as we're developing online content. We try to think of a, the, acronym that we, that we use is POUR. We want to make sure that our content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. And we can get more into that if you'd like, but, that's kind of at the high level. Making sure that anybody can access our content.
Derek Robinson 00:04:46 Right. Nice, yeah. And I think that's a helpful description because, you know, everybody kind of has heard of accessibility and knows what accessibility is, but for a lot of people that don't have those accessibility needs, it might be something that they breeze right by when it comes to like, you know, know, setting up an application and like disabling the, you know, the screen reader, or like anything that they don't themselves need normally.
Michelle Spisak 00:05:09 Right. Exactly. They gloss right over it.
Derek Robinson 00:05:11 Right. And so thinking about that more, in the lens of making sure that all of our learners can access that stuff, is really important. So kind of, you know, now from 10,000 feet, bringing back to down to the surface, kind of, why is it important for our content to be accessible? I know you talked a little bit about it, and that we want to make sure that everybody can access stuff, but what are some of the other reasons that it's so important for us to take that jump from not being on our radar to really having as accessible as possible, the content in our, in our catalog?
Michelle Spisak 00:05:38 Yeah. Well, one, one stat that really surprised us, is the fact that, more than a billion people in the world have some sort of disability, whether that be something physical or cognitive; we don't know when it comes to our users, we obviously have no way of telling how many of our users have some sort of a disability. Like I said, we're trying to make our content for everybody. Another thing is the legal aspect of it. We try to make sure that our resources comply with things like the WCAG standards, which is, it stands for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. And another thing is we talked…we talk a lot about non-native English speakers. We have lots of international clients. We want to make sure that we are helping them access our material as well.
Michelle Spisak 00:06:27 One of the ways that can do that is through video captions. Making sure that all of our videos have transcripts, is huge for us right now. We want to make sure that, we're reaching people who don't necessarily speak English very well, or have a hard time understanding it. Sometimes it's easier to read English than it is to listen to it and understand it. So providing that for people as well. Really what it comes down to is just helping our clients avoid frustration as they're going through our material, and again, adhering to legal guidelines.
Derek Robinson 00:07:01 Yeah. Right. Exactly.
Michelle Spisak 00:07:03 We legally have to! So…
Derek Robinson 00:07:03 Right, for sure. And I think, one of the things that, you know, I might steal a portion of your thunder here, if you had this planned already to say, but one thing that you've told our team in the past, when we're focusing on these initiatives, is that making things more accessible is not ultimately only for people that have those disabilities or those issues hearing, or, English as a second language. Like, it's not only for them, right? How many people listening have ever turned on their subtitles on Netflix, right? Because they either couldn't quite understand everything, because the background music was too loud, because they're on the train, cause a slight, you know, accent or dialect on a character was a little bit strong. So I think that, you know, when, when we think of, when we start to broaden it from just people with disabilities, I think it becomes a lot more evident why those things are important.
Michelle Spisak 00:07:51 Yeah. And, and that really connects to what we were talking about earlier as my, my job, as an Instructional Designer, you know, we're trying to make our content, you know, better and better for all of our clients. And this is a huge way that we can do that. Absolutely. I'm glad you've been listening as I talk about this <laugh>.
Derek Robinson 00:08:05 For sure! So turning the corner into sort of, I know you've kind of been building up with the way that we've looked at this, what are some of the specific accessibility efforts that we've taken on? I know you mentioned at a high level, some of the, you know, closed captions on videos, and making sure that, you know, the example of not being able to use your mouse, like having keyboard-accessible navigation, things like that. So what are some of the actual projects that we've taken on in the first few years of this kind of initiative within our content to really make the biggest impact?
Michelle Spisak 00:08:34 Yeah, the first, and I would say one of the biggest, initiatives that we took on, one of the biggest projects, was adding alt text to our images, which again helps, everybody in ways that you might not expect. People who are using a screen reader, obviously they get to at least hear what an image looks like, which is so vital in so many of our pieces of learning content, because, you know, we have tons of screenshots that are illustrative of what you should be seeing on the screen. And so if somebody can't see that screenshot, at least they can hear what's happening in image. And then another thing that alt text does is if there is a broken image, which we obviously try not to let happen, but if it does happen, the alt text is available there on the screen for everybody.
Michelle Spisak 00:09:20 Other things that we have done, we mentioned the video captions and interactive transcripts, including podcast transcripts. Anybody who's listening to this can also read along. Let's see, we also introduced a new color palette, which has an improved color contrast, which is helpful for people who have low vision, color blindness. And even it's helpful even if you just have like the sun shining on your screen, you know, that can be, it can make it difficult to see different color contrast. So we've improved that. The feedback button on our, on the Learning site is now operable by keyboard, which it used to not be. And so that is, that can help, you know, people offer feedback who may not have been able to in the past, or might have been more difficult to. Let's see…
Michelle Spisak 00:10:14 Oh, and another one I wanted to make sure to mention is a new one that we are kind of just rolling out right now. We think of them as, or it's kind of called, code boxes, underneath some recent videos that we've put out. Our listeners may have noticed that there's a chart that includes important takeaway code that was presented in the video, along with a timestamp and a real brief explanation of how the code is used in the video. This does a couple things, actually. It makes it so that the voiceovers are a little bit easier to listen to because you don't have to read out every, you know, character in a line of code. You can just refer to the code box underneath the video. And then also another thing it does is as you mentioned, accessibility improvements, improve things for all learners. So, people won't have to scrub through videos anymore, trying to look for that one method or that one line of code that they want to after they finish a video; it'll just be right there below the, the video. So that is something new and is not everywhere yet, but we're working towards implementing it.
Derek Robinson 00:11:24. Nice. Yeah. And you know, one thing that, that jumps out to me about that last one, which is, something that I can relate to a little bit in the beginning of this, right? So when we talked about first introducing this, some of the things that you mentioned, right? They…at least I don't, I don't feel this way as much anymore, but initially it sometimes would feel like, hey—creative, colorful, kind of unique ways of presenting things in some ways fly in the face of being accessible. Like at times, and that's the way it would feel with the way we used to create some stuff, right? Create a big infographic that has like lots of colorful elements created in Adobe Illustrator. And it looks great, but there's no way for it to be really read by a screen reader, or to be kind of broken down with alt text—it's just one big kind of graphic. And I think that the last example you use there of the code box, right, where the initial first way to make code accessible if we were just to like, stick with the way we created things, would've been, make sure the code is read in the voiceover, right? And so then it's like, oh, man, this creates this real clunky approach to this because we have to you know, have the voiceover now stall for 20 seconds to read this line of code.
Michelle Spisak 00:12:33 Right. You're getting the HTTP semicolon, slash slash, you know?
Derek Robinson 00:12:36 Right. And so I think that was a great example of…insert, you know, a little bit of a creative way to tackle accessibility, that it doesn't have to wreak havoc on the way that you were doing things. It doesn't have to inhibit your creative, or like, sometimes you can call it the sleekness of what you're delivering. Because you want it to still be nice and, you know, you know, fancy looking, if you will. but you can have an alternate solution that can still provide that accessibility. So I think that's a good example of that.
Michelle Spisak 00:13:01 Absolutely. Yeah. We, we've spent a lot of time and effort over the past couple years in Online Learning—as you know, you've been there for every moment of it— developing a look and feel, and, that was one thing that we, on the Accessibility team, we're really focused on trying to maintain. We're not trying to come in between, you know, our Content Developers and innovation or creativity, or anything like that. What we're trying to do is work with you guys to create content again, that anybody can access. And, and we've had a great reception to it. And I think the next steps are gonna be even more exciting as we kinda work towards a more inclusive design upfront.
Derek Robinson 00:13:42 Right. Exactly. Yeah. And, you know, as far as the content development goes, it starts to become second nature a little bit, which is a good thing, of thinking about those things top of mind. Making sure you design something with that in the back of your mind, as far as how it's gonna be received, right.
Michelle Spisak 00:13:55 Or the front of your mind, some might say <laughs>.
Derek Robinson 00:13:56 Front of, of mind as well. Yeah. So kind of, shifting to an, a related question, but sort of, post design and post after creating this content with the accessibility in mind, how are some ways that that gets measured or verified? I know you mentioned before the WCAG standard, you know, not just the, out of the goodness of our hearts doing this for learners, but there's also some standards and requirements to look up to. So what are some of the ways that this accessibility is measured or verified in the industry and specifically for us?
Michelle Spisak 00:14:24 Yeah, so, we went through a long research period when we first started the project, probably about six months of trying to get our minds around…what are the standards? What do we have to adhere to? We did some internal audits to see…using browser extensions. I have to plug WAVE, and Axe, and Axe Pro that we used, to try to identify the gaps, see where we fell short. After that we brought in a vendor actually, to perform automatic and also manual audits on all of our pages. And then they delivered a report, which showed us the gaps that we didn't even know about. So that was in, 2020. So since then we've been, really working hard to fill the gaps, improve quality and accessibility, and it's such like that in our materials.
Michelle Spisak 00:15:13 Another thing that we did to try to make sure, as you mentioned that, Content Developers and also our Production team who do our videos and our graphics, have accessibility kind of, top of mind, is to develop a tips page…to make sure that you guys don't have to you know, constantly be either asking us or doing research yourself; you have all of the, all of the ideas that we've kind of compiled as to how to improve accessibility in our resources, all right there. And that was based on, again, the internal audits we did, the audits that we brought in a vendor to do, and everything like that. So, yeah, kind of just compiling all of the different research that we've done, and all of the different standards that we've learned about and, and audits that we've, that we've performed, is how we've kind of compiled this for the future.
Derek Robinson 00:16:16 Nice, nice. Yeah, and I think those things are really helpful as far as, you know, just that, getting to the place of having it be second nature, having those things compiled are really helpful, so…
Michelle Spisak 00:16:26 Right, yeah. Yeah. And in the future, actually, what we'd like to do is to have real users test our materials, in a way that maybe we could…and I know that this is something that's offered by various vendors…in a way that we can actually watch them performing tasks on our website, using our materials and, you know, bring our Content Developers in, bring our Production Specialists in. Those of us on the Accessibility team as well…to watch people use our stuff and, and see where, you know, how the access actually happens. Could be really enlightening.
Derek Robinson 00:16:59 Yeah, exactly. For sure. So that kind of segues nicely into the last question I had, which, you know, that, being a future-oriented kind of, project that could be taken on, what are some other, you know, accessibility projects, or if not full-blown projects, just kind of like items to tackle in the future that you see coming down the road within this topic?
Michelle Spisak 00:17:18 Yeah. So, we'd mentioned earlier inclusive design, that's kind of the, the biggest goal that we have, is that we're not just…Right now, we're doing a good job of creating individual courses, or videos, or exercises, or whatever, with accessibility in mind. What we want to get to is a place that, as we're developing new learning objects…so, you mentioned infographics. That's a really new thing for us, that unfortunately we started developing right before we got into accessibility. So we kind of had to backtrack there a little bit and fill in gaps. But what we'd love to do is make it so that as we get to the next, you know, equivalent to an infographic, that we do so with accessibility in mind, from the very beginning. We're not just thinking of, you know, our sighted users. We're also, we're also looking at our, our users who have low sight, color blindness, anything like that. All other people with disabilities, all other people who are using assistive technologies, anything like that, as we are developing the earliest stages of these new learning objects. So yeah, that, that's an, an idea called inclusive design that we're trying to work towards. We're also working with our vendors all the time to integrate their accessibility improvements, and kind of fitting our processes around that as well, our development processes around that. And then just continuing to educate ourselves on what people need. There's always new updates to standards that we have to keep ourselves informed of, and then just general evolutions in user experience in conversation with our InterSystems UX team, who I think that you've had on the podcast as well.
Derek Robinson 00:19:05 Yeah, we did.
Michelle Spisak 00:19:05 So just kind of in conversation with them, figuring out what's next in terms of accessibility and inclusive design, and such like that.
Derek Robinson 00:19:13 Nice, nice. Sounds like a lot of exciting things coming down the pike here for accessibility, as we go forward. So, Michelle, thanks so much for joining us, and we'll have to have you on again soon.
Michelle Spisak 00:19:22 Absolutely. Sounds good.
Derek Robinson 00:19:26 Thanks again to Michelle for the explanation and discussion about accessibility. I think it's really important for Content Developers like myself and others, really, in any company, to remember that message: Accessible content can be better for everyone, not just the people who need that accessibility. I'm looking forward to seeing the ways that we can continue to make our content at InterSystems even more accessible without sacrificing any of that creativity, or instructional effectiveness. That'll do it for our accessibility episode. We'll see you next time on Data Points.