Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Hi I'am Sophie, born and raised at the Dutch/Belgian border, I have always been a mix of both countries since then. I live in Antwerp and share a flat with my cat Puffy. I work as an Accessibility Consultant for Eleven Ways.
What is your job and what does a typical workday look like for you?
My workdays are from 08.30 to 17.00. Before I start working, Puffy gets her food and I prepare breakfast for myself. While eating, I check if I missed calls or messages and scroll around on Twitter.
After breakfast it is time to turn on my computer and the radio (or some music on my PC). I always start by checking my inbox for new mail. If that is handled, it’s time for deep work: I either start a new audit or continue with an audit.
Auditing a website is performing a series of tests to check if there are inaccessible areas on the site. I report those issues and provide solutions (or at least some pointers) for the developers. With the explanation of WHY something is an issue and HOW to solve it, along with links to resources, I hope developers can take action but also learn from it.
The day ends by diving in my inbox again, making sure my calendar is up-to-date and completing my time tracking.
During the day I am in touch with my colleagues through Slack and there is also the occasional video call.
What kind of projects/clients does Eleven Ways work on/for?
We work for goverment and non-profit organisations. Clients include the VRT, VDAB, the cities of Ghent and Antwerp. We also do work for the European Commission.
What are some of the most common misconceptions people have about accessibility for the web?
I would say that people think it is very difficult. There also seems to be the conception that you can’t have a nice design if you want an accessible design (spoiler: you can have nice things!) and that accessibility means catering to blind users. While there are many more disabilities that benefit from it.
Do you have any tips for (starting) web developers to make accessibility part of the very foundation of each of their projects?
Start thinking about accessibility when the project is in its infancy. Treat projects as multidisciplinary (you may need to involve different teams) and get everyone onboard and on the same page early.
- Do the colours that you have picked have enough contrast? Make sure the designers know the requirements!
- Is using custom components really necessary? Quite often native HTML elements do the trick.
- Work very closely with the content team: make sure the content is written clearly and simply, that they know how (and when!) to provide alt-text, transcripts and subtitles.
- Test, test, test. Review the design, validate the code with axe Devtools and the HTML Validator, review the content. Do some keyboard testing.
- Help each other and learn from each other.
How do you become an accessibility consultant, what requirements are there?
- Have basic knowledge of HTML and CSS
- Understand the basics behind websites (that a website is hosted and most of the time has a content management system)
- Being able to understand how browsers work
- Experience with the dev-tools of different browsers
- Have an understanding about needing to apply different kinds of tests
- Have a good understanding about the WCAG success criteria and how to apply them.
- Write and adapt reports for your clients/stakeholders, so that they understand them. And if desired, present your findings to your clients.
If you already have basic knowledge of the following points - that's great! But on job trainig is definitely possible.
- The theory of accessibility (Tip! You could do a course on that to build knowledge via Deque University)
- Experience / practice with screen readers, both on PC’s and mobile devices
- An interest in certain parts of the law, WCAG is being used within the US and EU laws
People skills are an important part of being an accessibility consultant.
Being able to talk to both users with disabilities and clients. It is important that you can stand up for people with disabilities, if a client wonders if an issue you found really has a lot of impact.
Have a decent understanding of the different types of disabilities that exist and how they impact the use on the web. While testing, you need to be able to put yourself in their shoes. Empathy and compassion are the most important skills you will need.
Being curious and eager to learn is also important. Don’t be afraid to ask other experts something!
What can we find in the toolbox of an accessibility consultant?
- A couple of browsers
- axe devtools
- HTML Validator
- WCAG Quickref
- A contrast analyser tool, I use WebAims own and the one from the Paciello Group)
How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?
I take singing lessons and I also like to do cross stitching, building with Lego, writing in my journal, improv (sadly that has stopped because of covid-19), playing board games with friends (sadly that stopped because of covid-19 too). Since autumn last year I decided to cut down computer time in the evening, as it was a bit too easy to continue being on the computer.
One of my big interests is royal families (especially their history and royal jewels), so I like to keep up with what is happening and create content for my website All Things Royal. My favourite royal is the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dutch Queen Máxima (I have seen her in real life four times). I am also very interested in Da Vinci and the so called “Bokkerijders”.
Since the Snowden-revelations I have started to become interested in privacy and security. It is a very interesting field with things that I would like to learn or do, especially in combination with information or data. It is also a very tough field, so I don’t see myself becoming a security expert. But I certainly want to learn more about (cyber) security, how it is entangled with privacy and why people confuse the two.
What are some of your favourite board games?
I like (Settlers of) Catan and Ticket to Ride. They are easy to set up and don’t take long. They are ideal to play with a group of friends! To be more competitive and to incorporate strategic thinking I love to pick Risk! It makes for very fun but also a heated atmosphere sometimes.
How did you get into royalties?
That started around 1990/1991, when a young Sophie was mesmerized by pictures of Diana, Princess of Wales and the gossip on the marriage. When Charles and Diana separated, I was firmly #teamDiana. When she did the famous Panoroma interview in 1995 (“I don’t think Charles will be King.” “There were three of us in the marriage. It was a bit crowded.”) I was basically sitting for the TV: “You go, girl!”. I was shocked when she died and my heart went out to the boys at the funeral. That envelope addressed to “Mummy” on the coffin still gets me.
I also read about other royals in the gossip magazines, but didn’t follow them exactly. That started from 1999 on, when the Crown Princes in Europe started to marry. But from that moment on it escalated: a lot of books and magazines followed and my pages on royal families became a real website.
What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech?
That credit absolutely goes to my late father. IT was always an interest of his (he even had his own company for a while), so when I was born it would only be a matter of time that I would get interested (books came first!) too. As a youngster I liked to play games on the MSX2 we had.
But 1996 was a gamechanger for me. My dad worked as a local journalist and got a new computer with Windows 95. Sometime later an internet connection followed (with an internal modem, with those lovely noises, high telephone bills and “I need to call!” shouts). My father eventually began making websites. With his programming knowledge it wasn’t too difficult to do. And in 1997 I was curious enough that I wanted to learn it as well. So he taught me! Together we made lay-outs and basically experimented around.
Soon enough I had my own website and pages on royal families, VC Andrews (favourite writer in my teens) and my dog's breed (English Cocker Spaniel). A real fun, and lovely time! I didn’t care much about going to the disco. Instead of asking if I could go out as a 14/15 year old, I asked my parents if it was alright if I created an email address, hahaha! (I was really the first one in my class to have a Hotmail address and later MSN Messenger.)
Creating websites was fun! It was great to share my interests with other people and to find people who had those interests. With making websites I learned very quickly about usability, and later accessibility too. From that point on it was always my dream to work in those fields.
If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?
To get rid of the imposter syndrome, to not be afraid to let my voice be heard and to set boundaries.
Are there any particular women in tech who have inspired you?
Quite a few!
Rachel Andrew was the author of the first web design book I bought: on designing without tables and with CSS!
Rian Rietveld and Iacobien Riezebosch always have inspired me with their knowledge and work on accessibility. Especially Rian has a big part in getting me interested in and passionate about accessibility.
Laura Kalbag is an inspiration because she fights for privacy and against Big Tech. She and I believe a decentralized web that respects privacy and security is the way forward to a more inclusive web.
Marie Poulin is inspiring because she has built a business in no-time around a tool she is an expert in.
Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow?
Jakob Nielsen is well-known for his articles on usability. Many people started making better websites because of him.
Small Technology Foundation is the initiative of Laura Kalbag (see previous question) to work towards a decentralized web.
For the latest IT-news Tweakers is a household name in The Netherlands and Belgium.
Carl Pullein is a productivity guru and expert in Todoist.
Elizabeth Filips makes great videos on productivity and philosophical topics too. Her podcast on philosophy is really great!
Sheen Gurib has a great series called Woke Wednesdays where she dives into deep topics with a guest.
Tom Scott always manages to come with interesting people or places for his videos. And he is such a nice guy!
How to ADHD is a great resource to inform yourself about AD(H)D or to look for support. Jessica is awesome.
What made you join the women.code(be) community?
Being a woman in tech can be challenging sometimes, so it is nice to have a ‘safe space’. And it is interesting to learn about other people's careers. I also hope to connect with the other members and perhaps even make friends along the way!
How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?
Simple: treat them as equal. Don’t be an asshole.
But it also should start at school: showing that being nerdy is not something that is “boys only”. I think telling about Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper and the other women who worked in tech is important as well, to show that PC’s would not be where they are today if it weren’t for those women.