Another round of techTalks, and this time in West Flanders! We spent a delightful evening at Sweet Mustard in Kortrijk in the company of Emma Dendooven and Rune Devuyst talking ethics, accessibility, data and privacy. Enjoy the recap!
Ethical Responsibility as a Software Developer by Emma Dendooven
As a software developer, Emma is always excited to discover new things to learn 👩💻. She enjoys volunteering at CoderDojo and Tajo to show kids that anyone can code. She is a people-person and tries to spread good vibes wherever she goes ✨. Emma believes it's essential for developers to think about the impact of their work because they have the power to make a difference in the world. She's all about going out there and creating positive change!
Let us introduce you Katie
Emma sets the scene by describing us Katie, a mobile developer who works for a company called Chatty which sounds exactly like Tinder but with short video calls instead of pictures. She loves her job but there are a couple of things that niggle her: the app is designed to be addictive and the user data has been shared with third-party.
Emma guides us through the rumbling of thoughts in Katie’s head. Should she just do what she is asked to do? If she doesn’t pit herself against this project, does it mean that she supports it? And if she doesn’t oppose herself who will? And if she does, is she just going to be laid off and replaced by someone who is willing to do it?
Sharing our personal experience
Emma handed us out some post-its and asked us to write down tricky situations on ethical responsibility that occurred to us or people we know in tech. We then voted to select the ones that seemed more thought-provoking and discussed them together.
The debate was lead with a conversation technique called fish bowl. There are four chairs and only three can be taken. Only people who are sitting on these chairs can talk and if someone from the audience wants to speak they can sit on the empty chair and the person who has been for longer on the chair would leave, so one chair would always stay empty.
Here are the main points of the three conversations that sprung from the selected situations
What if you were asked to develop a page that is showing fake news to attract more users and retain them for longer?
This situation might be even more difficult to navigate if the company is not super transparent about the content: it would already take some effort from the developer to tell apart clickbait from fake news and to figure out whether the use of the latter is deliberate.
One hard question to answer was if developers were to be considered as ethically responsible as the business in this scenario. Developers can definitely oppose unethical decisions, but the company will have the last word on the product.
A question of power was also brought up. If you are an intern or a junior, you might feel like you just have to execute your task even tho you find it ethically dubious because you need the experience, or maybe you don’t feel like the you have the knowledge to argue with that. If you are a more experienced profile you might have more authority and influence on certain decision. This may still be different if you are a freelancer, where you get to select your projects and you can step out of questionable situations.
What if you were asked to develop software with no attention to accessibility because “as long as it works it’s fine since it’s enterprise software”?
Someone said that it is the frontend developer’s job to make the interface accessible, regardless if the client or the management think that it is important. An interesting solution could be to just include time to deal with accessibility in the time estimates and to go ahead with that as a part of the usual workflow.
Schools and colleges are training students to be aware of the importance of accessibility. It is important that government should mandates companies to comply with accessible standards: we are waiting with impatience for the European Accessibility Act to come into force in June 2025!
What if you were working on developing an online contest which behind the scenes only aims at collecting users’ personal data?
With all the developments of the last decade in terms of data protection, such as GDPR, sneakily collecting users’ personal info for a business gain is just plain illegal. Reminding a client or a manager that this is now an illegal activity might be a good way to flag that you do not agree with what is being done, without even having to debate ethics.
With all big tech companies already in possess of our data, it is sometimes hard to draw a line. Data collection often comes from the marketing department which is preoccupied with sales and needs their data for their own metrics. If this is done by a specific small company might it appear as less serious because “they have my data anyway”. But as someone said quoting Edward Snowden: “Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
See Me, Hear Me, Include Me: A Journey through Disabilityand Web Accessibility by Rune Devuyst
Rune is a web developer and designer passionate about creating accessible and visually appealing websites for all users, regardless of their abilities. She believes the web should be accessible to everyone and strives to make this a reality through her work. Additionally, Rune takes an active role in educating and guiding others on these subjects.
What is web accessibility
Let’s start from the basics: web accessibility is the practice of making a website usable for as many people as possible. You have probably come across the shorthand A11y (first and last letter of Accessibility and the number of letters in between them) or the symbol.
The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is the series of practices and regulations that you have to comply with if you want your website to be accessible.
What is a disability
There are several different categories of disability
- Visual Disabilities
- Auditory Disabilities
- Speech Disabilities
- Mobility, Flexibility, and Body Structure Disabilities
- Cognitive Disabilities
- Seizure Disabilities
- Psychological Disabilities
- Multiple Disabilities
People often have a very rough understanding of what a disability might look like. For instance when someone has a visual disability they immediately think that they must be blind.
Actually disabilities are much more elaborate and nuanced than that. Everyone has a disability at some time in their life, which can be temporary, permanent or situational. A visual disability might as well be when you are trying to see what’s in your phone’s screen in the sun: then you have a situational visual disability.
A disability doesn’t mean less, just different
Rune shared her personal experience as a dyslexic person: how challenging it was for her at school and how she has managed to leverage her disability now.
Today she experiences her dyslexia as a strength: she pursued an education in art school where the visual aspect is prevalent on the language. There she felt in love with coding and switched to a more technical path in programming and design. She also started using a screen reader, which really helps her to go through content much faster that she would do on her own.
She believes that dyslexia makes her a better developer and designer. She now makes more attention to structure, title levels, in order to make the web better.
More than 295 million people worldwide affected in some way by a vision loss.
There are two types of color blindness:
- Red-green (deuteranopia) the most common
- Blue-yellow (tritanopia)
It is important to check color contrast to make test readable for people who are color blind: one great tool to do it is Color Review.
We should also avoid using color as communication. For instance in this date picker price is conveyed solely through color which, as you can see from this image, is hard to perceive for color blind people.
The Alt Text is also primordial in visual accessibility. It is an alternative text that you provide for those who are not able to see the image. If there is no alt attribute the screen reader is going to behave slightly differently according to the different software but the baseline is that it is going to ignore the image. Which is fine if the image in purely decorative, but a real problem if an important part of the content is blocked to the person who is navigating the website with the screen reader. A good Alt text should be very accurate, descriptive and factual. Absolutely avoid stuffing the Alt text with keywords just to score high on Google: it is not going to give the intended result and it is going to be an awful experience for those using a screen reader.
More than 1.5 billion people worldwide affected in some way by a hearing loss.
Providing subtitles are the most impactful thing one can do for the hearing impaired. In a video with different characters and a complex editing associating each character with a color might be a good practice, so to clarify who is talking even if they are offscreen.
For customer services it is important to provide alternatives to the good old phone call: people with a hearing impairment might prefer to write. It’s always good to offer the option!
The intimate gathering made it easy to take part in Emma’s interactive session: everyone was encouraged to share their thoughts on ethics and it was refreshing to hear different takes and voices. Rune’s presentation on accessibility through the lens of her personal experience perfectly resonated with the tone of the event and created a lot of interesting overlaps! Until the next techTalk!
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