By Bill Danbury
During our Team Retreat, there was a breakout session with the Development & Quality Assurance team to focus on generating empathy through experiential activities. The team split into pairs to construct lego figurines, fold origami, and identify objects while one member wore special glasses, blindfolds, or movement-limiting gloves to approximate a limited visual or mobility range. The other team member verbalized the pictorial instructions to complete the task.
Given this team’s background in developing and testing for website accessibility, most teams started from a baseline of describing the pictures of each step as they would have done in composing image alternate “alt” text. Some found it challenging to give spatial instructions as pieces were added. They found that the constructed object changed size, shape, and orientation in real-time – often unexpectedly. Color references were nearly useless, and some lego pieces had minuscule differences that were extremely difficult to identify. Teams found their rhythm after a few steps in the process and each group successfully finished their task.
Following the team activities, the members identified some of the barriers they had to overcome in working together. Some were surprised at how the simulated visual disability affected their progress and speed in different ways than expected. One team used glasses simulating peripheral-only vision that blocked their ability to look directly at objects. This immediately changed their approach; they used their sense of touch and widened their working area to accommodate their needs. Other members used gloves to simulate arthritis as they constructed an intricate figures or folded origami. Each member was surprised at how the simulated physical limitations impacted their fine motor skills.
The team identified a common thread among their various simulations: Humility. Each member is a well-trained technician who can create an accessible digital experience following the recommendations of the community. But by getting hands-on with the very specific simulated accessibility needs, the team noted that “rules and recommendations” do not equate to 100% coverage for each individual need. I lost count of the times I heard “I didn’t realize” spoken during this activity. But it’s in identifying that you don’t know everything that you find new ways to help more people.
Humility opens the door to Growth, and Empathy holds the key.