Q & A With Ornella Friggit: How can we incorporate accessibility practices in our web development?

Ornella Friggit is a Front-End Engineer who aspires to have everything that she codes to be inclusive for everyone. She currently works as an Associate Software Engineer at Disney Streaming services where she is currently working on Disney+. I asked her her thoughts on Accessibility from the lens of a software engineer. Curious about her thoughts? Continue reading!

Please note that these are Ornella's thoughts and they do not necessarily reflect the views of Disney.

Ornella Friggit

What got you interested in learning and advocating for better accessibility within tech?

I think the first time that I started to learn what web accessibility meant was at the HalfStack conference in 2019, where Bekah Rice, an Interactive Designer & Developer, gave a very informative talk on coding accessibility best practices. Researching more about accessibility, I realized that it was, in so many respects, the right way to do things. After all, if not everyone can use your product, how good can it be?

When you think of accessibility within the tech space, what comes to mind?

The first thing that comes to my mind is web accessibility, particularly as defined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. As a front-end engineer, it is part of my responsibilities to ensure that all the guidelines are met, and that does occupy a significant part of how I think about accessibility.

However, as time goes on, and I learn from people who know a lot more than me, I realize that accessibility goes way beyond W.C.A.G. and digital accessibility. You can make sure your site is accessible with screens, screen readers, and keyboards, but that does not make it inclusive if the content does not match up. For instance, is the language that you use inclusive? Is it easily understandable? Does it say everything it needs to say? This area of expanding accessibility beyond strictly digital accessibility is where I am currently learning and growing the most.

How do you contextualize accessibility and inclusion?

The other day I was visiting a design website, and I tried to perform an action and a confirmation modal popped up. It had 2 options: “I’m good” and “Sure.” As someone who speaks English as a second language, I instinctively clicked “I’m good” to confirm since that sounds positive. Of course, this was likely written by Americans, for whom “I’m good” means “No, thank you”; so I had to repeat the process. Although this was a small inconvenience, for people with disabilities these kinds of experiences can be repeated and magnified.

Another example is my grandmother, who is turning ninety-seven next month, uses the internet almost daily. Since she is not a “digital native”, she sometimes runs into roadblocks when navigating the web. It can be challenging for her when a certain behavior on a site is implied because it is supposed to be intuitive, like when the user should swipe to see more, but there are no arrows, or when there is some text that is linked and clickable, but not underlined.

What have you done within your current job to ensure accessibility is top of mind?

To me, the first step is to self-educate. If I stay engaged with the community and keep learning, then I can keep improving. Recently, I’ve attended an outstanding, very thorough talk by Angela Hooker, who is a Senior Accessibility Program Manager at Microsoft. It encouraged me to document all the work that has been done on the accessibility of my app, which I have found to be particularly important when onboarding a new team member.

Also, in my current job, whenever a new feature is brought to our team, I consider accessibility as early in the process as possible and speak up when I perceive any usability concerns. I do regular audits of the sites I work on, using automated tools and a manual checklist, to make sure nothing is getting out of sync. Finally, I am currently working on writing good documentation on accessibility for the projects I work on. Beyond all this, I’m always open to feedback, I connect with other people who can teach me, and whenever a concern comes my way, I make it my priority to address it.

Have there been any challenges when it comes to getting people to focus on accessibility first?

As a developer, you often are the last step in the chain when it comes to creating and implementing a new feature. While the company I work at does take accessibility seriously, inevitably, things sometimes slip through the cracks, and it has happened once or twice that I received designs to implement and had concerns about how their accessibility. Thankfully, not only does this happen very rarely, but product managers and designers have always been responsive to my concerns, and we’ve worked together to address them.

What do you think the future is for accessibility within tech?

I think accessibility is the future of tech. As more people with different lived experiences, people with disabilities, make their voices heard, accessibility becomes as central to tech as it needs to be. I think that accessibility is now becoming an important part of the conversation that starts at the engineering level regardless of years of experiences.

Thank you Ornella for sharing your experience and offering you insight. If you want to connect with her, you can connect on LinkedIn LinkedIn. If you would like to be featured you can fill out this form here.