Jen Luker is a relentless accessibility advocate... and other things I learned recording her DevJourney

This week, I published Jen Luker's #DevJourney story on my eponym Podcast: Software developer's Journey. Among many other things, here are my main personal takeaways:

  • Jen started coding as a child, typing listings out of computer magazines. A clone of DonkeyKong for instance.
  • Jen first followed her idol, Ayonna Howard and enrolled into a CS-Masters degree combined with a degree in applied mathematics and physics. Her dream was to work on trajectory computations for satellites and other space probes. Unfortunately, geographical relocations had the best of her, and she could not complete her degree.
  • Jen felt into PHP trying to make her life easier. Working on Web technologies in the early 2000s, she didn't have the feeling of being a programmer... instead she described herself as a "web developer" (which had some kind of a negative connotation back then).
  • Discussing the neverending topic of Tabs vs Spaces, Jen clearly felt on the side of "whatever scratch your itch, as long as IDE-extensions like Prettier or ES-Lint make it consistent with the project guidelines at the end. And the reason you want the code to look always the same is to "remove clutter and help developers orient themselves faster"... such a splendid answer :D
  • I loved how we went an "old-geezer spiral", remembering some of the pain points of developing software in the early 2000s. And this was a great reminder of how grateful we are of what we have today. Programming has come a long way!
  • When Jen spoke about how Jen learns, she answered "people" almost right away and then reading other's source code, pair programming, etc. One more example that our industry strives on human-connections, not seclusion.
  • We spoke about the sentence "Make it work, make it right, make it fast" (attributed to Kent Beck). Thanks to Agile processes, we have the "Make it work" pretty much nailed down. It forces us to do a 1/2-done-right already. Otherwise we cannot deliver. But it is impossible to get it fully right, since "right today" will not necessarilly be "right tomorrow". Well said!
  • Jen was sensibilized to accessibility issues outside of IT for her whole childhood. It was then a no brainer for her that accessibility should be a focus online as well. But she also realized that the only way for others to give it a first thought was for her and people like her to advocate for it. That's why it became one of her focus, no matter how exhausting it is.
  • One of our (web developers) biggest mistake is/was to not use HTML as it was intended and work around the built-in accessibility features with CSS and Javascript.
  • In order to learn more about accessibility, Jen encourages us to use the Axe chrome extensions.
  • We discussed the importance of knowing "why", of knowing the effects of our inactions or side-steps for people with disabilities. But even better is to make a "personal connection", have a human-connection with someone, will imprint the "why" in us forever. Once we have a person in mind when we speak about something, it stops being a feature and becomes a bug!
  • But Jen was also very open about how hard her advocacy work is. It is a battle everyday, against people who sometimes either don't care, or care only to not be sued. But changing one person's perception once in a while is worth every bad day!

Advice:

  1. Use an accessibility linter.
  2. Make the commitment that each piece of software you produce, will be run through an Axe-like tool and harvest the compounding effects, bit by bit

Quotes:

  • "Once the problem is embodied in front of you, accessibility stops being feature and becomes a bug!"

Thanks Jen for sharing your story with us!

You can find the full episode and the shownotes on devjourney.info

Did you listen to her story?

  • What did you learn?
  • What are your personal takeaways?
  • What did you find particularly interesting?

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