We added some exciting members to the Siteimprove team, including Keith Bundy, our newest digital accessibility consultant and trainer. You may have met Keith before, as he travels all over the country sharing how users with disabilities access the web and demonstrating his own day-to-day experiences as an internet user with visual disability. Today, we sat down with Keith to review how far assistive technology has come, and how we can work together to create a better web for the future.
Hi Keith, welcome to Siteimprove! Can you tell us a little about your background and experience in web accessibility?
I was born blind. I went to learn Braille at a very early age. Around four-and-half years old, they started teaching us Braille, so about the time most sighted people learn to read print. Back in those days, the computer was part of a science fiction movie. So I went through high school mostly with Braille and some taped books, and ended up getting several college degrees. All of this was done without the benefit of any other technology than Braille, tape recorders, and a typewriter. In high school and college, I also used a typewriter, having learned to type in the fourth grade. Most instructors couldn’t read Braille, so we had to type.
By 1986, when I got my second bachelor’s, they’d come up with some rudimentary “talking computers.” It was pretty spendy, and would’ve been very difficult to get one before the mid-80’s. I remember getting a Tandy from RadioShack and I had a talking word processor and another program that would read the DOS screen. Never dreamed that computers would become such a part of my life.
I have a wife and four children, and Mercury [my guide dog]. I was introduced to him in February of 2011 and we’ve been working together ever since. I was also a pastor for 27 years and also worked in the human services field. In late 1996, I was asked to become a computer instructor at the rehab center for the blind in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I learned Windows, and then in 1998, the internet started to gain popularity. So that’s really when the push for accessibility began.
I always had an interest in accessibility, but not a tremendous amount of involvement until 2007. I was Assistant Dean for Student Development at Dakota State University (DSU). I directed the counseling center, was the ADA coordinator, and taught one online class. Then I had the opportunity to be part of the creation of–and chairing–the Barrier-Free Learning Committee, which was in essence an accessibility committee. We didn’t have an accessibility committee at that time. In 2007, I took it to my supervisor and said I thought we could do a lot more in accessibility if we made this a concerted effort. I served on that committee for several years. That’s where I first met Kevin and learned about Siteimprove. I did workshops on and off for several years and just waited for the right time to come to Minneapolis so that I could become a part of the company, because I love what Siteimprove does.
What role does web accessibility play in your day-to-day life?
One of the biggest ones is email. When I worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, I walked back from lunch and there’d be all these pieces of paper with messages on them sitting at my door, and I’d have to go out to my secretary and have her read me the messages so that I could write down their phone numbers in Braille.
Now with email, any message you get, I can get at the same time. If there’s a message for me it can easily come in email. At DSU, I had to read a lot of medical documentation and instead of my secretary tape recording them, she could scan them and email them to me in a PDF file, and I could make those readable. It really speeds those things along. I think about texting. My kids would rather text than talk! But the cool thing is that a few years ago, texting wouldn’t have been possible. Phones are becoming more and more accessible. Now I text with my kids and my wife all the time. I text as much as anybody. Also very few restaurants have Braille menus. Now, most places have online menus and I can go on and check out the menu or access it when I’m there on my phone. I can either listen or also take my Braille display and hook it into the phone with Bluetooth connectivity and read the menu in Braille myself.
Web accessibility even impacts matching my clothes in the morning. In the old days, you’d have to put Braille tags in the back of your shirts or cut slits to match colors. All the things with one slit matched, or two. Now I can take a picture of the clothes I want to wear, send it off to a service that sometimes uses a database or crowd sourcing, and it’ll write back “tan pants” or whatever. It’ll tell me what color my clothes are.
When I was working in the ministry, I used to have to hire people to come read out loud or on tape so I could go back and study things. Now you get services where books have already been scanned, or I can use an app to scan it on my phone so that it can read it back or give it to me in Braille. Reading anything is totally possible. It was possible 15 years ago, but inconvenient. Now, I can read any book I want to read. Most of my library is right here in my phone.
It’s amazing how far technology has come in such a short time. What do you think about where we are now?
Like I said, you wouldn’t believe the distance we’ve come in the last few years. It’s been fantastic. But we also still need to continuously emphasize accessibility, because there’s a long way to go. I was trying to pay my cable bill the other night. Apparently, when they verify your name to sign up for an account, you only have a certain amount of time to do this. But there’s a guideline stating that you have to be able to flex that time so that people using a screenreader, etc., can slow it down. But there was no way to slow it down. I typed it in ten times before I memorized the fields and could get it in quickly enough. That’s just one example of everyday stuff.
Have we come a long way? You bet. I never dreamed I could read newspapers on the iPhone or the computer, or read just about anything I want to. Most people who are blind shop on Amazon, get their groceries delivered, whatever they want to do. Things have greatly improved, but we still have a long way to go.
Accessibility is a moving target. There’s never going to be a point when we say “Every single page on this website is AAA-compliant”. We’re not going to get there. But I think what those of us with disabilities are looking for is if a company or organization is actually attempting to make their website better, and if they’re open to making those accessibility changes when they receive feedback about their website.
Absolutely. It seems the more I talk to people about web accessibility, it’s usually never a “oh I don’t care,” attitude. They just haven’t thought of it!
Definitely. I would say most people are working hard to meet the guidelines of accessibility, but a lot of people don’t even know why accessibility exists. That’s one of the things I see as part of my mission at Siteimprove, is to show people how someone uses a screenreader on a computer. If you’ve never seen accessibility in practice, you don’t know how it operates or why it’s so important.
One of the goals that I have is showing people I’m a real person. I use the computer just like you do, except I need a screenreader and certain things have to be true of your website to be accessible.
With everything that’s happened in just the last 50 years, what do you imagine next for web accessibility?
It’s not going to be too long before blindness is just an inconvenience, because I can basically do anything you can do, other than drive legally. But that’s coming! They’re working on the Google cars. I believe I’m going to drive legally before I die. As you see technology changing, you realize the potential there is unreal. Before the ADA, I would go apply for a job, and their standard line was, “We don’t have a job here a blind person can do.” And they would not listen to my qualifications.
Now, they’re working on artificial intelligence where if I walk down the street and know somebody, I can recognize their face. I saw a piece in Canada this year where they have these glasses with a camera and a remote control, and you can take a picture as you walk. If I were to see you, I could take two or three pictures of you and tell the device it was you, and the next time you walk down the street and come into view, it’ll tell me, “Here’s so-and-so.” Those things are coming, and it’s exciting.
For people just learning about web accessibility, where are the best places to get started?
So many people will go to a library with a screenreader and turn it on and see how it works. Then they’ll think they have it down, but they’ve been looking at the screen with their eyes the entire time. That’s a nice thought, but you won’t find out how it works that way. You can find some demos online of people using screenreaders. You can talk to a local agency working with visually impaired people and they can show you some demos and how people use things. You can contact a blind person you know and ask them to show you how their computer works. Those are good places to get started.
At Siteimprove, we’re excited to partner with Keith full-time and continue in our journey together to create a better web for all. Want to start your own web accessibility journey? Download our free e-book, “The Must-Have Web Accessibility Handbook.”