Conversations with Accessibility Experts: Dennis Lembree
Diamond had the chance to talk with Dennis Lembrée, our Director of Accessibility.
Dennis has nearly 25 years experience in the digital publishing and development industries, much of the time as a front-end web developer. He is the Director of Accessibility at Diamond Web Services. Previously, Dennis worked for five year as Senior Accessibility Consultant at Deque Systems, and several years on the PayPal and eBay accessibility teams. He also has experience at several start-up companies and has contracted at large corporations including Google, Ford, and Disney.
Diamond: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about your origins in accessibility.
Dennis Lembrée: Back in 2001, I was working in Orlando as a developer of web-based training courses. The company had many government contracts, and Section 508 had recently been enacted. One of the projects required Section 508 compliance, and I was tasked. When learning about web accessibility, I was intrigued about how there is so much crossover between accessibility, usability, and web standards. And I continued on that path.
Diamond: What are the best ways to add alternative content for images and videos over social media?
Dennis Lembrée: Fortunately, many social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram provide a method to input alternative texts for images. Unfortunately, the alt text is not required, and the controls are very difficult for a user to find. As another option, you could add the alt text in the main text of the post.
For video, there is quite a range in support. It’s most important to remember that your video must be captioned, and to burn them — embed them — into the video itself if necessary. Also know that although automated captions are helpful, they should be corrected if possible as they aren’t accurate enough — yet. You can say the same for machine-generated alternative text for images.
Diamond: What is the biggest divide between tech and digital accessibility?
Dennis Lembrée: Lack of awareness first comes to mind. Digital accessibility is usually not taught in schools, included in online courses, nor listed on job descriptions. Also, the general lack of HTML skills is a huge problem in the web development industry. If semantic HTML was implemented better, there would be far fewer accessibility issues. One organization, TeachAccess, is helping with these problems.
Diamond: What are the most fundamental factors of inclusive digital design?
Dennis Lembrée: Inclusive design to me is all about putting the user experience first — creating user interfaces that are helpful for all types of people, including those with a disability, rather than the fictional “average user”. This means designing for the extremes and the unexpected. For example, how someone inputs text; what size and orientation of the screen is used; how someone better understands information.
So, among other things, a product design should give control to the user and provide different ways to consume content. For inclusive design, it’s important to concentrate on prioritizing these types of techniques over specific technical goals such as complying to an accessibility checklist, or hacking code to support a specific screen reader-browser combination..
Diamond: As an advocate for accessibility, what advice would give for those who want to learn more?
Dennis Lembrée: Digital accessibility is tremendously rewarding but also very challenging field. It can be considered a niche, but there sure is a lot to know, too much really. There are many areas within accessibility in which to specialize such as web, mobile, document, gaming, and assistive technology.
I suggest starting with an area you’re interested in, and build upon that. It takes a lot of time to build expertise, so be patient. Also, feel welcome to reach out to the tremendous accessibility community — there’s a wealth of knowledge on the internet such as Twitter, Slack, blogs, and online meetups and conferences..Follow Dennis on Twitter at @DennisL. To keep up to date on his work at Diamond, explore this website and follow us on Twitter at @DWSLA.