4 of our Accessibility team members spoke with us about their mission to make the web accessible to anyone and their personal drive to make it happen
We all know how annoying it feels to navigate a mobile unfriendly site, how hard it is to figure out what’s written when the text is composed of bad looking fonts, or how difficult it is to find what you’re looking for on a website when contrasting colors make your eyes squinch . For most internet users these problems may be an inconvenience, but for people with disabilities, they can prevent using the web altogether.
With that thought in mind, Wix’s immediate missions regarding accessibility are to make it easy for anyone to create accessible websites and to raise awareness to the importance of accessibility from a few perspectives: it isn’t only a legal requirement and the right thing to do, but it often also brings benefits to all users. Just think of how sidewalk ramps intended for people in wheelchairs also help parents with strollers, or how subtitles intended for a person with hearing difficulties help a person who’s watching a muted video.
To learn more about Wix’s efforts to achieve just that, we met with 4 of our Accessibility team members for a chat about their daily roles and the importance of carefully listening to our users.
Rebecca Nehmar, an Education Specialist for our Performance and Accessibility teams, began her journey at Wix 3 years ago as a Customer Care Expert in Portuguese. Her interest in some of our more technical products led to a position in performance and accessibility analysis, where she was tasked with giving our users the right tools and knowledge to make their sites load faster and be accessible to anyone.
“The most common problem with accessibility is that for many of our users, it’s an afterthought. They're so excited and focused about putting their product out that they forget to do these initial settings, which causes traffic to their site to be a little slower while not being fully accessible,” says Rebecca. “We also help people who get worried about not being compliant with accessibility regulations and we show them that it’s not a complicated thing to solve. A screen reader, for example, can’t analyze pixels in an image to understand its context. You have to supply it with the right content in order to be able to do it and we explain that to our users. The idea is not to just guide them through the settings, but to take the extra step and also educate them about accessibility.”
While a large chunk of Rebecca’s work involves analyzing users’ needs and finding better ways to help our Customer Care Experts communicate possible solutions, another part is pushing hard to create solutions in the products themselves. “Because our Experts speak directly with our users, they catch things that product people might not have realized yet. For example, users contacted us a lot about the Skip to Main Content feature, which lets you skip to the main meat and potatoes of the web page rather than going through the headers. When we launched this feature as On by default, even though it's a requirement in a lot of locations, many people didn't realize what it was for and immediately wanted to turn it off. However, that has legal implications for the user, so when we noticed that, we had to revamp our training to emphasize that if a user wants to turn this off, you can tell them how to do it, but the most important thing is to explain to them why we have this in the first place. At the end of the day dealing with accessibility issues helps raise awareness to something that’s a lot bigger than just a product. For me, the most fulfilling thing is knowing that I’m doing a greater-good kind of thing. It creates a sense of purpose”.
Tammy Salomon also started at Wix as Customer Care Expert about 6 years ago. After about 2 years she moved to UX writing for our Premium team and after coming back from maternity leave she took the same role in our Accessibility team.
“When I came back from maternity leave, I was given a list of teams within Wix where they were looking for a UX Writer and one of the first options was Accessibility. I knew straight away that was where I wanted to be. What drew me to it? After my son was born, I spent a lot of time walking the streets with him in his stroller and would get really frustrated when cars would block the sidewalk or pedestrian crossings, because I would have to take my baby onto the street to get past.
"Then, one day, my neighbor who is in a wheelchair, posted something about a street corner that she can never get through because people park on it. When I read it I realized that it was the exact same street corner I used to walk past every day, taking my son to daycare. Except we could move on to the street to get past, but she couldn't. And I realized that before I became a mum, I was guilty of the same thing. I would sometimes block the way with my car, without even thinking about the implications, because it just wasn't something on my radar. And it was just like a light bulb lit in my head: unless you experience it, you don't realize it's there. But once you are aware of it, you can't forget it. So once I became aware of it, it just felt important to see if I could make a difference for the people whose voices aren't being heard.”
What is it like to be a UX Writer for our Accessibility team?
“My time is usually divided between two main parts. One of them is centered around our Accessibility Wizard that scans sites and tells our users what they need to change in order to make their sites accessible. We’re continuously adding new functionality to it, updating current functionality, making sure everything's working correctly. The other major part of my work is education, teaching other writers about accessible and inclusive writing, and providing support and guidelines. We want Wix to be accessible by design. What does that mean? It means that every product is created with accessibility definitions and considerations built in from the start. For this to happen, everyone needs to know their part. And my part is making sure that our writers know how to use their words to make our products work for everyone.”
When do you feel the impact of your work?
“I get the most satisfaction when other writers contact me and ask me if I can review their products with them. It shows me that my sessions have brought them in, and that they care about making their work accessible and inclusive. It takes time to integrate accessibility into a company's culture, but when people GET IT, it just makes me so happy because I know that sometimes just adding one tiny word to a button makes a huge difference for millions of people.”
“What attracted me about working on accessibility at Wix is the scale - knowing that what I’ll do here will impact millions of websites and improve the lives of countless people out there”
Check out this video to learn more about the importance of accessible websites and online businesses
Elizabeth Patrick joined Wix after a career in teaching and in finance. Then, at 40 and while pregnant, the company she worked for closed down and she had to reinvent herself. “Many years ago - before my teaching career - I studied computer science and wasn’t drawn to it, but then decided to give it another try. I took a course in web development and soon after started working as a developer for a company whose entire business was built around accessibility. I remember testing the level of accessibility of different websites and was amazed to learn how little people knew about designing them to be accessible. You need to step into the shoes of many types of users - some might have vision impairments and others can’t use a keyboard, just to give you 2 examples - and once you do that, you understand how important it is. More than that, as a developer I understood that I have the power to change how things work and that made me fall in love with this whole accessibility field.”
After receiving her Web Accessibility Specialist certification by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals in 2020, Elizabeth noticed an open Web Accessibility Specialist position at Wix and decided to apply. “I wanted to work here because Wix has a reputation of a place in which you’ll be able to constantly learn and grow,“ she says.
Tell us about what you actually do
“Different teams within Wix approach us with their various accessibility issues. It may be asking for support or wanting us to teach them how to do something but the bottom line is that what they build needs to be accessible by design in order to be fully accessible for the user. In order to educate people across Wix about the importance of accessibility, we also have courses for QA people and for designers and we constantly create knowledge base articles so that every issue is addressed and documented. Personally, I help with our Accessibility Wizard and of course I check our many Wix sites to ensure that they’re all accessible.
"My main focus these days is conducting accessibility reviews with all of our UX Designers to make sure new features and flows in our Business Manager are accessible by design. We also conduct interviews with Wix users who have disabilities to find out their struggles with the system. This is being done with the vision that one day all Wix users will be able to grow, manage and even build their sites on the Wix platform, regardless of their disability.”
Alon Fridman Waisbard has been a QA specialist at different tech companies for nearly 20 years, but says that he got into the accessibility field almost by chance. “At my previous job I was told to learn the subject around 2013 in order to meet accessibility regulations that were passed back then, and while doing so I became very interested in it. When my family moved and I had to look for a new job, I decided to search for accessibility roles and became an independent consultant and an accessibility advocate and that’s how I met someone from Wix’s Accessibility team. After a few months, when the team grew, he asked me if I’d like to join. That was in August 2019.
What attracted you about accessibility?
“Basically, like anyone else, I want to do something meaningful. To know that my work improves someone’s life. What attracted me about working on accessibility at Wix is the scale - knowing that what I’ll do here will impact millions of websites and improve the lives of countless people out there.
“Like Elizabeth, my day to day work is less and less focused on reviewing individual sites and checking them for accessibility related issues. These days we’re focused on accompanying design and development teams in the early stages of the building process of their products and educating them so that what they’ll do will be accessible by design from the very beginning.”
Why is it so important?
“When products aren’t built from the ground up with accessibility in mind, the developers treat people like us a nuisance but when you see them in the beginning of the process they’re willing to listen and learn. So I sit with Product Designer early on in the process and they show me what they’ve done and I give them my feedback. When you work like that, the entire design process turns into a dialogue in which you’re a lot more attentive to the developers’ considerations and they are to ours. This dialogue results in much better products.”