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Lucy Greco

  Accessibility in Education


"Challenges are Part of my Work Description, But Giving Up Isn't"

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Lucy Greco, Web Accessibility Expert at University of California, Berkeley, gives us a comprehensive account of a typical day at work: testing, reviewing and providing feedback on software and services for users who are blind and / or visually impaired, on and off campus.

A Typical Day at Work:

In my last post (We All Experience Technology Differently), I talked a little bit about a typical day at home and work with the technology I use. In this post, I would like to talk about the challenges I face at work.

It’s been a little over ten months since I began my current stint at UC Berkeley as a web accessibility expert. I have been allowed to define the scope of my role as I go along and set benchmarks that our web accessibility initiative should reach. Needless to say, my work includes reviewing a lot of websites. In addition, a lot of my work includes writing posts just like this.

Lucy Greco at work Currently, I am the only person with an extensive assistive technology background working at the UC Berkeley campus. As I am well known all over campus as the "disability technology expert," this means that I often get messages from people in various departments wanting to know what assistive technology can be used to help individuals with disabilities. For example, I may get calls from the IT people needing to install Dragon NaturallySpeaking for a staff member who’s recently been injured and is unable to type. On other days, I get calls from fellow blind and visually impaired staff members needing help with the multiple applications we use on campus as part of our jobs.

As part of the commitment to help plan future accessibility, UC Berkeley has directed me to review as many of these applications and tools as possible. Much of what I use in my daily work is accessible. The laptop I am using is the standard configuration for our campus and I use a word processor that works extremely well. This laptop is a Mac Air so that I can quickly switch to text in both the Windows and Mac operating systems. My day-to-day working configuration is Windows 7 with JAWS for Windows and Dragon NaturallySpeaking professional, connecting the two with J-Say Pro to connect Dragon and JAWS. 

Last year was a major turning point as UC Berkeley initiated a project to create standardized productivity suite of applications for the staff. Now, all staff members on campus, as well as students, have unlimited access to the entire Microsoft suite of Office applications. So, I use Microsoft Office for my word processing and email. We just recently upgraded our email to use Google applications for education. As the Google apps suite is not the most accessible, I made recommendations that all the screen-reading staff members use the Google apps sync tool to synchronize their calendars and emails with Microsoft Outlook. This has turned out to be the most accessible way to use the Google applications. Personally, I only use Outlook to read email and I use the web interface for the calendar. I find the calendar to be very accessible but email to be somewhat cumbersome and problematic.

For example, because Gmail “threads” conversations, as opposed to organizing them chronologically, I found that I have often missed a message from someone when I was strictly relying on the web interface. Using Outlook, I simply search for unread messages once a day to make sure I haven’t missed out on an important message. I do find it difficult to schedule a calendar event on Outlook, but using the web interface is very easy and accessible. It’s not unusual for my computer screen to have Outlook showing my email and Firefox showing my Google calendar. And yes, I sometimes even have Internet Explorer open with my personal Gmail account in the web interface. This way I keep up to date with what’s happening in the user interface for Gmail, just in case it becomes more accessible or less accessible. And I can be ready to help any new users learn how to use these tools.

Tools of the Trade:

Let me tell you about my testing environments. On my laptop I have a generic test environment. This is a user profile I have created for which I have not changed any of the default settings. Just to make sure I am as complete in what I can test as possible, this laptop is a Mac Air running Windows 7 and Mountain Lion, so I can quickly test in Safari and Voice Over as well as Windows. However, I mostly use Windows. With this user profile, I can test with JAWS for Windows, or Non Visual Display Access (NVDA), a quickly growing open-source, free screen reader) just by clicking the appropriate application on the desktop. I have Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Google Chrome browsers installed and can switch between all of them just as easily. I have installed all the accessibility toolbars that I know of: Wave, Firefox, Juicy Studio, AMP (Accessibility Management Platform), and the Internet Explorer accessibility toolbars. I don’t have these toolbars installed for myself but for the development teams I work with. 

Although I am learning to use these toolbars, I am not a coder, and don’t wish to become one either. Instead, I test for usability and work with development teams on understanding the user experience. I am slowly learning how to use all these tools, but I admit, it has been a painful process. The difficulties I have had are mostly due to the fact that I don’t know what’s actually on the screen. When I am navigating around through the Firebug toolbars, for example, I am not really sure where I am in relation to the other toolbars. Remember, how I spoke about getting an assistant to work with me occasionally in my last post? This would be one of those situations in which a sighted assistant would be very helpful. If I could sit down with somebody who could describe interactions on the screen to me, I think I would learn these applications a lot more quickly and effectively. But for now, I am learning them one part at a time. I don’t think it has been a deficit that I don’t yet know how to use these tools because the web designers I am working with do know, and when we encounter a usability problem, they can just click the mouse to use the tools themselves.

Testing Times:

I am incredibly lucky to work in a paperless office. In my previous job, there were many forms I had to sign and submit on paper. However, in my current office, I exclusively use electronic forms and many of these are quite accessible. My current boss is extremely understanding about the ones that are not accessible and helps me inform the owners of the ones that are not, both that the forms are not accessible and how to make the documents more accessible. There is a wonderful man in my office, Kin San JUNG that I can turn to for help filling out these inaccessible forms. But this is not the most practical of situations since it’s time consuming for both him and me. However, I know that it’s my job to work towards ensuring that these forms become more accessible in the future so that professionals at other work places, who are blind or visually impaired, can benefit in the future. At the end of the day, you could say that challenges are part of my work description, but giving up isn't.

Lucy Greco at work at UC Berkeley with one of her clients

Image: A typical day in the life of an accessibility expert - Lucy Greco at work at the UC Berkeley campus with one of her clients

I also participate in a lot of meetings at work. Many of these meetings are conference calls. As more often than not nowadays, when a conference call takes place, it has a web interface and this is when I am most disabled. I have taught many of the people I work with to send me the documents they will be sharing on the screen ahead of time, but frequently this cannot happen. These web conference calls use a variety of tools, and to date, I have never found one that allows me to use my screen reader to interact with the presentation. 

Next, when it comes to voice or text messages, my Android phone also acts as a barrier. We have all experienced the conference call. You are given a phone number and an access code. Here’s where I face an issue. My Android phone defaults to having the keypad turned off when a call is made. I have learned that if I swipe right once, I can actually get to the checkbox to turn on the dial pad. However, putting the phone close to my head to hear what the buttons that I am going to press are turns off the speech for the screen reader of my phone. Yes, I know this is a setting I can change, but it’s more important for me to stop speech when it’s reading on and on, or to not have speech going on while I am on the phone. I have just recently learned that if I turn the phone so that it’s facing away from me, I can get it near enough to hear the speech tell me which button I am on in order to press them. I am getting used to the new angle so I might be able to do this effectively very soon. In the meantime, whenever I have conference calls, I book a room or work from home. I don’t have a desk phone.

Looking Ahead:

As a person with a disability, it’s really difficult to balance needing accommodations and other people’s perceptions of my skills. In previous jobs when I asked for accommodations, I have actually been told that I was just looking for someone else to do my job for me. This was not the case and I hope is never the case. My current bosses are fantastic about accommodating my needs and have shown wonderful insight about what my limitations actually are. Because of the linear way a screen reader works, my bosses understand how much longer it takes for a blind person to get tasks done. One of my supervisors sits down to help me compose some of the documents I need to get done in a hurry. I actually find this very valuable, because not only is she helping me format and correct the documents, but also I get to benefit from her experience with policy and campus culture. We all know that it’s always better to have someone else look over your work when at all possible.

At this point, I would also like to take the opportunity to let you all know that all my drafts are edited by one of my very good friends, Amey Garber. She has worked on assistive technology in the margins for years and has turned out to be a valuable editor. She and I work through email and have developed the technique of using “track changes,” which is very difficult with JAWS and her inserting comments liberally throughout the document. When I am reviewing her edits I read through the track changes in the document several times and then turn it off in a separate document and start adding the answers to her questions. Amey does a wonderful job of helping me get these blogs out to you.

In my next post, I will talk about technology I use around the house. But after that I would like to do a post that answers some of your questions. So please don’t hesitate to email me comments or questions about what you would like to have me write about. You can write to me at or drop me a line on Twitter @accessaces. I enjoy writing these blogs and want to make sure that my writing is relevant, timely and finds resonance with all my readers.


Related Resources:

News: Accessibility Upgrade: EPUB, Libraries and Ebook Accessibility | Read news article.

Blog: From Classrooms to e-Accessible Classes: Making e-Learning Inclusive by Lucy Greco | Read the blog.

Publication: Technology Use by People with Hearing and Speech Loss for Communicating with Emergency Response Services | Download free PDF.

Event: 5th Universal Design Summit at St. Louis, Montana, USA on May 6-9, 2013 | Event Details.