I’ve been a software engineer for more than 30 years now. I was one of only two women in my computer science graduating class at UMass Amherst when I was hired in 1989 by IBM to write assembly code for the VM operating system. I gradually worked my way out from the operating system to middleware and eventually to user interfaces.
From the beginning, I loved to program. It was a fun way to solve problems. Once I started developing user interfaces, I enjoyed the instant gratification of seeing the results running on the screen.
In 1999, my director sent me to a class to learn about accessibility and how to develop for the IBM Home Page Reader. I thought it was so cool that computers could read the screen to you. Soon, I discovered how instrumental screen readers were for some of my colleagues, as well as IBM customers who are blind. It was amazing that we could provide access to information technology to support them in their jobs and provide for an enriching life.
Since that time, a large part of my career has been to ensure persons of all abilities have access to Information Communication Technology (ICT). It’s a simple human right; however, it’s a very important one.
Truth is, everyone benefits from assistive and accessible technologies that have become so mainstream. We talk to our phones and they talk back to us. We have access to the internet from almost any corner of the globe to do our banking, work, or shop. Additionally, assistive and accessible technologies provide us a path to close the STEM talent gap as I outlined in my blog post on Access to Economic Opportunity. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17.6 percent of persons with a disability were employed in the United States in 2013. With accessibility and assistive technologies, more persons with disabilities have access to education and employment opportunities helping to change these statistics.
IBM Accessibility and open source
Recently, I have taken on a role to lead IBM Accessibility in a transformation which includes a renewed interest in open technologies and standards. In the early 2000s, IBM donated code to Mozilla Firefox, an open source browser, to ensure that rich internet applications could be made accessible and supported the launch of a new open standard, the Web Accessibility Initiative Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI ARIA). This standard is used by every browser today to communicate information about the rich elements on screen, such as instructions to fill out a form or alerts when information has changed, to assistive technology.
Today, we are taking a closer look at what we can do to provide the open community with the open standards, toolkits, samples, and platforms that ensure that everyone can participate and leverage an ecosystem of accessible solutions that provides access to ICT for all. It is so essential that accessibility remain open.
With open source, IBM wants to ensure that accessible technology is not only easier to use, but is more available to designers and developers. This allows us to alleviate any roadblocks during the agile development process, especially with those who are less familiar with accessibility.
IBM has released two open source projects on developerWorks Open, AccProbe, an Eclipse-based accessibility inspection tool that supports the impending U.S. Section 508 standards refresh, and Va11yS, a set of validated accessibility samples that provides developers and testers with working examples that demonstrate how to implement accessibility for web and mobile applications.
I also recently joined the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Accessibility Conformance Testing task force as co-editor of a new standard we are developing that defines a framework for testing for accessibility. In the accessibility standards and testing community, we are striving for consistent and repeatable interpretation of web accessibility requirements and how to test for them.
I’m really excited to see all of these initiatives in open accessibility. They will truly make life better for everyone developing and using these solutions.
I am very competitive by nature. I was the 1980 Level III Massachusetts state gymnastics champion. I love both team and individual sports, including tennis and soccer. I also enjoy dance, hiking, yoga, and just staying in shape. At home you will find me playing cards or dominoes with my husband, family and friends, or just hanging out with my dog and two cats.
I’m a foodie, which is easy to do when you have a sous chef for a son. I love healthy food, made easier by having a daughter who’s a nutritionist and by growing fresh vegetables. I also enjoy working in the community, especially with kids. I was a soccer coach for 15 years, a Girl Scout leader, and, most recently, a teacher of computer programming to Girls Who Code. I find it extremely important that we get more women interested in technology careers. Look for me at the MassLab in Littleton, MA, at a Super Women’s Group event, or roaming the halls of 75 Binney St. in Cambridge. Stop me anytime to ask about accessibility or just about anything, and I will gladly greet you with a smile.