lunchBOX interview 002
Front End Developer | Cambridge Core
Programme Manager | Online Services
10 November, 2020
lunchBOX: Hello, good day, and welcome to lunchBOX. On the menu today, we're delighted to welcome James Carr and Julie Elsden from Cambridge University Press for a suitably socially distanced lunch. James and Julie have been central to the adoption of inclusive publishing at CUP and are the driving forces behind the Digital Accessibility Champions network at the press. The burning question is, of course, what do they like for lunch? Let's find out. Bon appetit everyone...
1. Who are you and what do you do?
JC: I’m James and I’m a Programme Manager within the Online Learning Services team at Cambridge University Press. My role involves ensuring that online courses are designed, developed and delivered in a way that fully optimises the learning experience.
Outside of work I play (and watch) lots of tennis, practise yoga, take photos of sunsets and try to attend as much theatre as possible.
JE: I’m Julie and I’m a Front End Developer within the Cambridge Core team, also at Cambridge University Press. I work across a variety of Core family platforms (such as Higher Education and Open Engage), mainly focusing on identifying and fixing accessibility issues.
I come from the Czech Republic and I love music, comedy, travelling and spending time with my 10 year old daughter.
2. How did you come to be involved in the world of accessibility?
JC: Through Julie actually! One of my previous roles at Cambridge University Press involved helping to manage our academic journal and e-book platform. Julie gave our team an introductory talk on accessibility and ever since I was hooked. I started to work with Julie on what improvements we could make to the platforms and the rest is history as they say!
JE: After coming back from my maternity leave I was sent on a number of courses related to my role, one of which was about Digital Accessibility. The trainer asked us all to use a screen reader and other assistive technology, this was an eye opening moment. I never knew anything about the subject and never even considered that other people may use technology in a different way to me. Since then accessibility has always been the favourite part of my job.
JC + JE: Since then we’ve both improved our knowledge and experience of accessibility by gaining accessibility certifications, speaking at and attending accessibility conferences and performing testing with end users who use assistive technology to access our digital products.
3. What does accessibility mean to you?
JC + JE: Celebrating and embracing our differences. Experience has shown us that a disability is a mismatch between a person’s abilities and their environment. We really believe that all users, regardless of ability, should share the same experience when accessing resources in an online environment.
One of the things that we really love at Cambridge University Press is our mission to unlock people’s potential with the best learning and research solutions – for us accessibility is an intrinsic part of this.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in promoting accessibility?
JC: Finding enough time to focus on accessibility work alongside all the other things that my job entails. Fortunately I’ve been really lucky to work in teams who also view accessibility as a matter of priority which makes things much easier.
JE: Same as James and also trying to unify our approach to accessibility across such a large organisation with so many different departments and teams. At the moment there seem to be many silos with varying levels of accessibility maturity and general accessibility understanding.
5. What’s been your biggest success in relation to accessibility?
JC + JE: The accessibility audit and subsequent improvements we made to our Cambridge Core website. The audit was carried out by users of assistive technology and highlighted issues that we couldn’t have discovered ourselves. One of the outcomes of the audit involved us updating the accessibility statement for the site. We asked for our restructured statement to undergo an ASPIREreview and were really pleased when we found out we had achieved Gold status.
More recently, launching the Digital Accessibility Champions network to promote and share accessibility knowledge with other colleagues has been really rewarding. We’ve run monthly sessions with some fantastic guest speakers (including textBOX’s Huw) but are always on the lookout for more – so if anyone reading this would like to share their story with us, do get in touch!
6. What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
JC: Collaborating with a variety of different people including university academics, students, designers, developers, agencies…the list goes on and no two days are the same. I feel very lucky to work alongside some really talented online learning professionals on resources that help widen participation in education.
JE: Getting people excited about accessibility. I enjoy talking to my colleagues about anything accessibility related and love seeing people such as developers, product owners or QAs embedding accessibility (e.g. using screen readers or keyboard only) into everyday tasks.
7. How have you or your organization made a difference?
JC + JE: The entire organisation is now starting to think of accessibility as a fundamental rather than an afterthought that can be done after a product launches or content is published. We know we’re not perfect but there is a definite sense that things are changing and a strong desire for us to improve.
This desire for change can be seen in the wider publishing industry. Cambridge University Press has representatives in the Publishers Association Accessibility Action Group which aims to develop guidance and best practice for publishers on relevant accessibility matters.
8. If you could click your heels and make one thing easier for yourself at work, what would it be?
JC: Some way to make scheduling meetings easier. I often have to set up polls to check for people’s availability and it would be great to just have the information to hand straight away. Alas, there’s one thing knowing someone’s availability and another ensuring the relevant people have time in their diaries to meet!
JE: Having a digital accessibility team within our organisation, with accessibility specialists (such as James and I) as well as people with disabilities so we could spend all our working time on ensuring that all our products can be used by everyone.
9. What is the most exciting development you’ve seen this year in the accessibility sector?
JC + JE: The UK Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations. Although these came into force back in 2018, the deadline for compliance recently passed – in September 2020. Having specific legislation has really brought accessibility into the mainstream and increased awareness of what it’s all about and why it’s so important.
10. Where do you see accessibility in 10 years? Any new developments you are keeping a close eye on?
JC + JE: We hope it’s something that is considered a core part of any organisation – in the same way that HR or finance is. We feel (in the UK at least) there will be further legislation to cover the private sector as well as the public sector.
We’re interested in finding out about the next version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) – 2.2 – and how they will improve the usability of our products.
11. How and where do you learn about new accessibility initiatives in the sector?
JC + JE: The TechShare Procast (AbilityNet's podcast), email newsletters, Medium, The Publisher's Association Accessibility Action Group, TechShare Pro annual conference.
12. What or who is your accessibility inspiration?
JC: Esther Vergeer - undoubtedly the greatest wheelchair tennis player of all time (did I mention I was tennis obsessed?). When she retired in 2013 she had accumulated 48 Grand Slam titles, 7 Paralympic gold medals and was undefeated in singles matches for over nine years – that’s a LONG time not to lose a tennis match! For me she symbolises grit, persistence and will power.
JE: Khadija Raza – she is a severely sight impaired university graduate, who came to our team last year for her work experience. She really helped the whole team understand the importance of accessibility and she showed us how technology helps her in everyday life. Even though she’s had to face various challenges throughout her university life (e.g. inaccessible course materials and resources), she is one of the most positive and happy people I’ve ever met. She is currently focusing on various projects such as the e-scooter campaign - ensuring that the rental scooters would not become a danger to visually impaired people.
13. Which single accessibility tool do you use the most?
JC: I’ve recently been using the Accessibility Insights for Web browser extension. The ‘FastPass’ process helps identify common, high-impact accessibility issues in less than five minutes and the Tab stops function is a really useful way of visualising keyboard navigation on a webpage.
JE: Yes, I like this tool too. I used to mainly use the WAVE tool, which is similar but it sometimes reports false positives as well as false negatives. The HeadingsMap plugin is also great for showing the headings hierarchy on the page.
14. Tell us your favourite accessibility story.
JC + JE: We were both really liked the story of the Be My Eyes app when we attended the TechShare Pro conference in 2018:
Vicky, a mum of three in Edinburgh has been blind since birth. Her husband Robbie has very limited vision. They mostly manage as a family independently. But Vicky says that sometimes she just needs someone with vision to help her with tasks such as matching her children's socks or in situations such as checking the expiration date of food in her fridge.
This is where Be My Eyes comes in. The free app, created by Hans Wiberg, has more than one and a half million volunteers who are available day and night via live video link to help a blind person in such instances. It's currently being used in 150 different countries with help provided in 180 different languages. We're volunteers and encourage you to become one too!
15. Which lunch would describe your organization and why?
JC: Pizza Margherita – classic with a wide appeal. Good quality ingredients with historical connections but still very much enjoyed today.
JE: Goulash with dumplings (made by my dad) – traditional, satisfying, great quality with a bit of an edge.
16. What would be your favourite setting for that lunch?
JC: A sunny terrace in Dubrovnik overlooking the blue waters of the Adriatic.
JE: With my family in Prague.
17. Which 10 people from any time or place would you invite to your lunch?
18. What are you reading at the moment?
JC: Mythos by Stephen Fry. I’m a huge fan of Greek mythology and the way they are retold is fascinating.
It’s all in the Booklet – Festive fun with Fanny Cradock by Kevin Geddes. Such funny commentary on the BBC ‘Fanny Cradock cooks for Christmas’ series, this book includes all the original recipes including the legendary mincemeat omelette (yes, it’s a thing)!
I’ve also recently picked up a copy of The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo, who I’ve heard is the Japanese rival to Agatha Christie. You can’t beat a good whodunit so I’m looking forward to starting this one.
JE: I am getting slightly obsessed with David Walliams’ books at the moment. I read these with my daughter, they are hilarious. Currently we are reading Awful Auntie.
19. What are the applications/services that you couldn’t live without at work or personally?
Google Maps – to work out just how bad the Cambridge traffic is.
Shazam – so you can work out exactly what that song you know but don’t know is.
YouTube – videos of funny dogs, for when you need to just relax.
MetOffice weather app – rain or shine?
Amazon Echo/Alexa – our family could just not live without it now for music, quizzes and games.
Couch to 5K – running/jogging app for beginners. I am trying (quite unsuccessfully) to get fit after so much time spending at home (on the couch) lately.
Spotify – to listen to my favourite tracks when on the go.
Rebtel – to phone my parents in Czech Republic and my brother in Arizona.
20. Anything totally secret to tell us? We’re amongst friends…
JC: Julie and I have nicknames for each other in the office. She calls me Jim-Bob (as in the Waltons) and I call her Jools (as in Holland). We have no idea how or why those names came into existence!
JE: Hey, I didn’t know mine was to do with Jools Holland! Oh, and James is also a massive Eurovision fan ;-)
lunchBOX: Good secrets - and, of course, they are completely safe between us. And on that slightly musical note, thank you for sharing your lunch with us today, James and Julie. Or should that be Jim-Bob and Jools? You're doing so much inspiring work at Cambridge University Press and we appreciate your time in sharing your insights and tips. Thank you for your patronage. We know that you could choose other luncheon establishments. We'll take care of the bill...
If you'd like to learn more about the lovely work that Julie and James are doing at Cambridge University Press or just to chat about David Walliams or Japanese murder mysteries, then please feel free to contact them:
Julie Elsden: firstname.lastname@example.org
James Carr: email@example.com