Meet Jennison 

Jennison Asuncion has worked in the digital accessibility industry since 2006, starting on RBC's IT Accessibility Team in Toronto. Currently, he is LinkedIn’s Head of Accessibility Engineering Evangelism.

Outside work hours, and in addition to co-founding Global
Accessibility Awareness Day, Jennison has given time to promoting
digital accessibility through various involvements, including founding the Bay Area Accessibility and Inclusive Design Meetup group and Accessibility Camp Bay Area.

He actively shares content using Twitter (@jennison,
@a11yEvents and @a11yJobs) as well as on LinkedIn. If that wasn't
enough, since 1999, Jennison has been co-directing the Adaptech
Research Network which conducts and publishes research, in part, on
the use and accessibility of ICTs by and for postsecondary students
with disabilities/impairments in Canada.

Last June, Business Insider Named Jennison among 30 "power players and rising stars" helping new CEO Ryan Roslansky run LinkedIn.

In honor of the 10th anniversary of Global Accessibility Awareness Day this month, we sat down for a one-on-one interview with Jennison. 

 

Q+A

 

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and why accessibility is important to you.

A: I first began my personal journey understanding the positive impact
that technology can have on the lives of people with disabilities
when, as a teenager, I participated in SCORE, a program run by the
CNIB back in Canada which brought together youth who are blind or
visually impaired to learn about different technology and how it could
be used to better our education and eventually help us in our careers.
Now, as someone who is blind myself, I used technology growing up in
school.

However, I hadn't interacted with lots of other youth who were
completely blind or who had different degrees of visual impairment
before then, and observing how they used different screen reading and
screen enlarging software and Braille displays, some for the very
first time, had a profound impact on me. Then, when I got to college,
I volunteered, training  students with a variety of different
disabilities/impairments how to use technology, which again, furthered
my interest. I also got to better understand how people with
disabilities/impairments could be using a variety of different
adaptive hardware and software.

I've been working full-time in digital accessibility since 2006. I
started on the IT Accessibility team at RBC, Canada's largest bank. In
2013, I was recruited by LinkedIn to come and formalize their
accessibility efforts and in 2019 I took on my current role as their
Head of Accessibility Engineering Evangelism.



Q: That's a unique title; How do you build evangelism for accessibility?

A: That you need to know is that I'm on a continuing quest to make the
art and science behind "accessibility" more accessible to your average
Engineer, Designer, or Product/Project Manager because I get they
don't teach this as a core skill in school, but more importantly, I
understand that most people do not interact with people with
disabilities in the main and therefore don't think about the
possibility that we could be interacting with (or at least wanting to
interact with) the products they are building.

I lean a lot on social media as well as strategic use of hashtags on
LinkedIn and Twitter to make sure information gets in front of the
eyes of as many Engineers, Designers, Product Managers and others
working in tech as possible. In addition to tweeting using @jennnison,
I also tweet about accessibility-related job opportunities using
@a11yjobs, and relevant accessibility events using @a11yEvents.
And because not everyone reads LinkedIn Feeds or uses Twitter, I
founded and co-lead the Bay Area Accessibility and Inclusive Design
Meetup group (www.meetup.com/a11ybay) and organize and run
Accessibility Camp Bay Area (www.accessibilitycampbay.org). A quick
plug, the next Camp will be May 22, deliberately on this date to
extend celebrating GAAD’s 10th anniversary. The schedule will feature
15 talks on a variety of digital accessibility topics, so register
without delay.

More recently, I've been spending time talking to folks interested in
either getting into the field of digital accessibility or how to
integrate accessibility into the work they do. Please feel free to
reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter if you fall into one of those
categories.

 

"I'm on a continuing quest to make the art and science behind "accessibility" more accessible to your average Engineer, Designer, or Product/Project Manager"



Q: While developers play a critical role in improving accessibility on the web and mobile apps, it can't be a siloed effort. Why is it important to get everyone thinking about accessibility? How can departments like Product, Customer Service, Marketing, etc support the initiative?

A: The first thing I want to say is that absolutely, accessibility is a
company-wide effort and not just one that lies with the lone a11y
program manager or typically small accessibility team.
In terms of product Managers, In my years working in the industry,

Accessibility has largely been associated with Engineering and Design,
and getting them trained up and being the focal point for a11y
efforts. Rarely, except in the last few years have I heard PM and
accessibility spoken in the same breath. I'll admit that I've only
recently become a lot more informed on the role of the PM, and as many of us  in our industry are seeking to shift accessibility as left in
the product development process as possible, they become that much
more important to be on-board and who, in my opinion, should
ultimately own accessibility for their product.

PMs own the user requirements, roadmap, user stories,, among other things. If accessibility isn't something intentionally represented in these
areas, and if it is only brought up weeks before or after launch, well
you can imagine how that story goes. So yes, I'd say that we in
accessibility need to pivot our attention to our PM colleagues and
training them on their accessibility role.

One of the first suggestions I make when talking to companies just
starting their a11y journey is to talk to their customer ops/service
areas and find out if they've gotten inquiries or feedback on
accessibility, or any social media signals. If so, perfect, grab some
of that, minus names of course, and include it when building a
business case to fund accessibility. If they aren't doing so already,
these folks can also be trained to field accessibility feedback too.
So I see this group or team as a vital source of data and a first-line
support mechanism.

Finally when it comes to marketing, I've always said that if you are
going to invest so much in making your product that much more
accessible, it's kind of important to let the world know in general,
people with disabilities more specifically. Marketing your product as
accessible ultimately becomes a competitive differentiator, I'd say.

Q: You co-founded Global Accessibility Awareness Day with our co-founder, Joe Devon. What has your experience been watching the reach of that event grow every year? Where do you hope to take it as we enter a new decade?

A: I have always said from the start that speaking for myself, I never
thought GAAD would take off the way it has, and all from a random
tweet that lead me to Joe's 2011 blog post. Ten years? No way. But
here we are. To truly make GAAD realize its global mission, where I'd
like to see us go is by significantly expanding the awareness and
conversation around digital access and inclusion beyond the
English-speaking world.

We're enhancing our site for the tenth anniversary with information in Simplified Chinese, Swahili, and Hindi, joining other languages such as Arabic, Russian, and Spanish, to name a few. We need to bring to the table more of the one billion plus, people with disabilities/impairments and make sure they are being served by inclusive and accessible technology and digital products, while bringing awareness to the non-English speaking mainstream tech community about the importance of building tech that is usable for everyone.

Q: Are there any emerging technologies that you think could change the way people with disabilities experience digital spaces?

A: There is lots of work being done in two areas that are worth watching. The first is gaming accessibility, which is great because why
shouldn't people with disabilities be able to benefit from the social
benefits that video gaming provides everyone. I'd recommend folks
check out ablegamers.org as a starting point.

The other area that is getting accessibility in at the ground level is
XR and accessibility. The potential is endless if we can make
Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality experiences
accessible. One organization that is leading the charge is XR Access
(xraccess.org, and a leader to follow in this area is Thomas Logan
(@TechThomas on Twitter).

Q: Many coding schools today are teaching new coders to
code - inaccessibly. How do we reach these bootcamps and make sure they are passing the importance of accessibility on to the next generation?

A: I honestly believe it's the case where leaders of these design and dev
bootcamps simply haven't been educated about digital accessibility and industry, for its part,  hasn’t been signaling that this is a skillset
in demand. I know this is a passion of mine, and there are others out
there, like Teach Access, who are thinking about ways to educate and
equip bootcamps on the importance of up-skilling their students on
accessibility. What I can say for the minute, is stand-by.

Q: You’ve volunteered and worked with a variety of nonprofit
organizations in the accessibility world - Is there a specific
experience that stands out to you as the most meaningful?

A: That's tough because I am intentional with choosing each of the
nonprofits I work with, so it’s hard to choose a single experience. I
will take the opportunity to highlight one nonprofit I’m currently
involved with. A significant reason why we aren't moving the
accessibility needle as quickly as we want to is because there is a
gap in that we aren't teaching accessibility fundamentals to every
college student studying computer science, engineering, design and
related disciplines today.

Teach Access (www.teachaccess.org) is the only organization that is singularly focused on seeking to address this issue, for now in the US. They have a faculty grant program, for which I've been a reviewer of applications, which awards funding to those willing and interested in integrating accessibility into a course they teach. They also have a Study Away program that gives interested college students a multi-week exposure to what those of us in the digital accessibility industry do at companies who make accessibility and inclusive design a priority. Through both of these initiatives, and others, Teach Access is leading the way, building a pipeline of graduates with accessibility knowledge ahead of them pursuing their careers in tech. It's a unique organization that I have lots of time for.

Keep up with Jennison's work by following him on Twitter at @Jennison. For more information on Diamond, follow us at @DWSLA, and visit our website, www.diamond.la