I am a recent graduate at ThoughtWorks, and have not long got back from India! During my time at ThoughtWorks University, I had the honour of being invited to TechVisionin Pune. TechVision is a small organisation dedicated to helping those with visual impairments, alongside helping educate them and offering qualifications in a whole range of subjects.
When I walked into the school, they were currently studying the election process of India, with books from previous lessons of economics and accountancy. All that filled the room was the click click click of the braille sticks and the voice of one woman, Meera Badve. Meera Badve set up ‘Niwant Andh Mukta Vikasalaya’, a school for visually blind people in her own home. Badva was also recently recognised in Tata’s ‘Desh Ka Namak Khaya Hai’ [Those loyal to this country].
The diversity of characters were amazing, each with their own stories to tell.
The gentleman on the right is Shivaji Londhe. Shivaji has a passion for languages and works online as a translator. As well as speaking around 4 Indian native languages, Shivaji Londhe, an online translatorhe taught himself German. His motivation came from being blind, and decided to embrace the online community where it didn’t matter at all, since you don’t see the person you talk to anyway.
The next person I met was Samina Shaikh, constructing the chocolate boxes that they sell at TechVision. Unbelievable Samina has a Masters degree in Indian classical dance. She studied by watching videos and people very up close to repeat the moves. After we were shown around TechVision’s home, Samina was even kind enough to show us one of her dances.
After speaking to everyone at TechVision they showed us how they made their chocolates in order to support themselves and the jobs that each people were assigned to. Here the students really gain valuable work experience in a range of different skills and can move from one part of the process to the next. They also showed us how a braille printer works and their extensive collection of braille books that they had printed. We were then taken around their computer rooms which was fully equipped with accessible tools like JAWS (a Windows only screen-reader).
Listening to story after story and watching how visually impaired people use the Internet shows just how independent they can be and just how much they want to be. Listening to the frustrations that they go through, even because of the simplest of things like HTML in the wrong order that doesn’t make sense is awful to listen to. These things that are good practice and what we should be striving to do as any half decent developer.
If I could stress any point in this blog post, it would be to show these people as the real users who are using our systems. When we write personas and paint them as cartoons or the bog standard stock photos we find on Google images we can lose touch with the people who are affected by our software. Accessibility isn’t something you just dump on at the end. It means so much more than even I realise. Independence, freedom, empowerment are all what accessibility provides.
In a few years time my goal is to go back to TWU to be a trainer and try to incorporate a trip to TechVision as part of the experience. Accessibility stretches across all three of the core pillars that this company is built upon. We want to be more diverse and accepting and TW has won awards for its diversity, but we also need to learn how to support the diverse people we work alongside. The tools we buy and the tools we build should have accessibility at the forefront. I’ve heard many people complaining about how bad expensify is, and they’re the people who don’t rely on screen-readers and reliable keyboard only navigation. The experience would not only allow grads to see first hand what they can do in the world of software and what it means to users but to meet some amazing people whose stories are unbelievably inspiring. Meanwhile I will continue to work alongside TechVision as much as I can and will take their inspiration and stories on future projects.
Previous post: Why Be Accessible?
Next post: CodeFirst:Girls UX Workshop