#5 Progress, Not Perfection with Nick Ng

 
 
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This episode of StrategyCar comes to you after months of getting caught up in perfection instead of progress. It features Nick Ng, a designer and accessibility advocate who describes himself as being of modest personality, resolving to make lives less iffy and more spiffy through accessible, functional and friendly web and digital design. He co-organizes Chicago Digital Accessibility and Inclusive Design meetups and helps people find technology conferences that are accessible and inclusive through Confa11y.  

Read Further

nickng.co

A11YChi, Chicago Digital Accessibility and Inclusive Design meetups

Deaf Kids Code

Illinois Association of the Deaf

Confa11y

Transcript

[THEME MUSIC]

ALAINA WIENS: It was during my last big redesign project that I learned maybe the most important lesson of my career. I’d pushed a launch date twice because the product just wasn’t where I wanted it to be and I wasn’t willing to launch until I felt like it was ready. After weeks of anguish, I finally confided in my boss that I was worrying the delays were hurting my credibility. I felt like the girl who cried website, but I wasn’t willing to let it go. It wasn’t ready. It wasn’t done. He looked at me and he said, “Let me ask you this: Will the new website be better than the one we have now?” Emphatically I told him it would. “Will it help us do our jobs better, be more successful?” Of course. “Even in its current state, is this new website better than what we have now?” Well, yeah. And then I realized: By delaying launch, I was holding us back while I was waiting for this thing to be perfect. 

It was suddenly clear. The value I had placed on perfection had hindered progress, which is the exact opposite of what I was trying to do. I wasn’t just in my own way now, I was in everyone’s way. 

So that website launched. It launched with a punch list and was framed as a “first step,” but it launched. And since then, in all things, I try to remember to focus on progress instead of product. 

It’s a lesson I have to re-learn all the time. Progress, not perfection. But, it’s really hard.

This episode of StrategyCar comes to you after months of getting caught up in perfection instead of progress. It features Nick Ng, a designer and accessibility advocate who also happens to be deaf. Given that this podcast is typically consumed in an audio format, we had to get creative. I’d hoped to find some tech solution that could bridge the gap between text and sound for when I delivered this podcast to you. I’ll say there [are] tools out there, but none that I felt like would do this justice. So I hesitated. 

But, just like Nick reminded me when we talked all those months ago, it’s important to get out of our own way if we want to make progress. We have to find ways to truly listen to each other. 

Today, I want you to listen to Nick.

[TRANSITION MUSIC]

Nick Ng describes himself as being of modest personality, resolving to make lives less iffy and more spiffy through accessible, functional and friendly web and digital design. He co-organizes Chicago Digital Accessibility and Inclusive Design meetups and helps people find technology conferences that are accessible and inclusive. 

Himself being deaf/hard-of-hearing (D/HoH), Nick is a board member at Deaf Kids Code, building mentoring relationships between D/HoH professionals and youth, strengthening the next generation and bridging severe economic and social gaps. He also serves as a trustee for the Chicago Chapter of the Illinois Association of the Deaf, working to improve the social, educational, and economic well-being of deaf/hard-of-hearing citizens in Chicagoland. 

Nick counts himself fortunate to have grown up immersed in the deaf community, but he had difficulty befriending hearing people because of communication barriers. However, in the late 90s when the internet introduced email, forums, and instant messaging, he realized that he could interact and participate in communities on equal footing. Since then, Nick loves seeing how internet technology draws people together or, better yet, when it enables anyone to flourish.

For this StrategyCar conversation, our internet technology of choice was Google Docs. Even before the official interview with Nick began, I learned something newso you’ll find some extra pre-show notes in the transcript for your learning enjoyment.

A huge thanks to Nick Ng for being the most patient and gracious podcast guest ever.

Now, tap or click the episode link in your podcast app of choice to get the full conversation. You’ll be glad you did.

[OUTRO MUSIC]

Interview

Pre-Interview

ALAINA WIENS: Hiiiiii

NICK NG: HIIIIIII, I’m also in Google Hangouts if you want to do face-to-face, too.

ALAINA: I’m not sure it would add to the experience. It’s been a morning. The four-year-old sprayed the ceiling with allergy medicine and a bunch got in my hair. Glamorous.

NICK: Cool, cool. Here then. 😀 How do you want to start each sentence with? Like “Nick:” and “Alaina”?

ALAINA: Usually in my transcripts, I’ll start that way, but I’m happy to add that back in later, too.

NICK: Let’s do it then.

ALAINA: I’m trying to decide how official-podcasty I should sound here. 😉 Okay, so after we’ve completed the “episode,” I’ll create an intro and such to lead in. I can share that with you later when I have it. So for now, I’ll get started with the question/conversation portion. Sound good? (Also, it seems I’m terrible at typing with an audience!)

NICK: Sounds good. Before we start, I should mention that in deaf/hard-of-hearing (hoh), in the past we had TTY, which we have this concept called “GA” which means “Go Ahead” to signal that I’m done and it’s your turn to talk. Want to try that?

ALAINA: That’s great! I’m already learning things. I’ve just Googled TTY and I think this will be good experience communicating in a new way. So “GA” at the close of a question or response?

NICK: Yep! Like this. GA

ALAINA: Excellent. Here we go…

Interview

ALAINA: Nick! We’ve done it. Thank you so much for joining me for the end of StrategyCar’s hiatus. I know we’ve been talking about this for a long time and I really appreciate you helping me get back on track. GA

NICK: Happy to be here, and thanks for having me. Life has been busy for both of us, but glad that we found time to do so. GA

ALAINA: We first metwhen?at a conference over a year ago. Which city was that, even? GA

NICK: Hartford? Yeah, Hartford. 😀 It was at HighEdWeb. My first, and I’m sure your one of many, right? GA

ALAINA: Definitely not my first, but one of the first I attended after leaving higher ed. And I was really starting to think more about accessibility and strategy at that time. I remember that you and I had a great conversation about your work in Chicago. Do you remember what you were working on then? GA

NICK: At the time, I was mostly focused on the Chicago Digital Accessibility and Inclusive Design Meetup. I was a co-organizer assistant, and since that conference, I became a co-org lead. So shouldering some more responsibilities. And adding several more co-orgs to the team. Dennis (former org lead), few other co-orgs, and I had been thinking of going beyond just meetups, so now, that’s my next focusfiguring out how to make Chicago Accessibility (A11YChi) go beyond just local, but also providing/creating resources across the country and the world. It’s a lot at the moment. Phew. GA

ALAINA: I remember we talked about Chicago Digital Accessibility. You were with that initiative from the start (or close to it), right? GA

NICK: Close to it. I joined around 1.5 years after it started by Dennis. When I first started attending, I was suggesting a lot of things that could be improved to Dennis, and at some point, he just said, “Hey! Do you just want to become a co-org? I could use some help!” And so I did. GA

ALAINA: So you’d been attending the meetups before then? GA

NICK: Here and there. Unfortunately, a lot of meetups don’t have live-captioning or sign language interpreters ::points to ears:: because I’m deaf/hoh. So when I go, I don’t usually stick around long. It gets exhausting. However, another meetup, ChiHackNight, started around that time having interpreters. So I started going there, too. But so far, A11YChi has been the only meetup I know that consistently provides live-captioning at every event. GA

ALAINA: I imagine these were some of your suggestions for Dennis? Were they things that had been considered before? GA

NICK: Live-captioning had been happening at A11YChi before I started attending. Dennis had been good at making sure there was access for that. The suggestions I made were more like tweaks/improvements. And how to make the event itself more accessible. Even a few years ago, there weren’t many resources/checklists to consider. Now, there are more and more popping up, but still, many events don’t have it registered in their mind until much later…usually when someone requests accommodation(s). GA

ALAINA: I think it’s really interesting that a meetup that, presumably, started to support accessibility on the web also became more supportive of accessibility in experience. The spaces where technology and real life intersect allow for all kinds of innovation, I think. I’ve heard it said that when things are more accessible to everyone they work better for everyone. Did you see that being true for your events/group? GA

NICK: Very true. Trying to think of an example here, but for onelive captioning isn’t just for deaf/hoh, but those with cognitive disabilities. They can backtrack if they miss something. Also for a person with typical abilities, they can also benefit from it, too. Live captioning widens the circle. Going off a little (side-track!)when bringing web accessibility experience into the “real life,” it can be interesting. Partly, I think for us who are digital professionals, we work a lot in the digital sphere…but when we step away to interact in real life, some of that translation gets lost. For example, web accessibility professionals seem to forget to make their slide decks accessible, e.g. high contrast, image description at events. Not sure why that’s the case, but it may be slide deck tools that don’t enable or remind about accessibility. Something I’ve been thinking about in the past year. The reverse of digital going into real life accessibility. GA

ALAINA: I realized last year during a conference presentation of my own that I was a bit guilty of that. Usually my slides are just compliments to what I’m speaking, but there’s sometimes an image or funny gif that I think adds to the experience. Someone in the audience was blind, and fortunately my co-presenter knew him and saw him join us. She suggested that whenever there was an image in the slide deck that I take a moment to describe it. Such an easy thing to do and something that had never occurred to me. I was grateful for the advice! I’m realizing more and more that accessibility isn’t all semantic markup or development practices. There are a lot of ways we can all be mindful and inclusive with the content we share and the work we do. GA

NICK: Definitely. I think the ongoing talk/stressing on semantic markup and dev is because we’re still seeing fundamental stuff being broken. So, somehow we hear about them again and again, which feels like that’s what accessibility is…but it’s really more than that. In design, I’m seeing that too with “inclusive” as a kind of prefix to “design.” I do wish design in itself was inclusive rather than being separated from it. It seems like we have to argue for it all for time. GA

ALAINA: Yeah, I get that identifying things as inclusive helps facilitate the learning and conversation, but these concepts should be baked in from the beginning as people are learning their craftsand there just isn’t the understanding across fields to even know how/what to teach, it seems. And then (at least I can speak for myself here) once we start learning more about how to design/write/code/create inclusively, it feels like such a large concept that it’s hard to know where to start. GA

NICK: It’s a large concept for sure. At meetups, we have attendees asking to where to start. In a way, for those who had formal training in their fields, I wish inclusiveness process was implemented more into their training. I think University of Illinois Urbana Champaign has accessibility courses for their engineering students that they can take. That’s great. Also, last year A11YChi partnered with Designation, a design bootcamp, to bring more accessibility knowledge into their program. So it’s a start. For those who coming in later in their professional fields, it can be difficult to start picking up new concepts and challenges. So A11YChi exists to serve that purpose, too, helping them getting started. For a while, A11YChi has been doing live-streaming, so those who aren’t from Chicago can join us. We’ve had people dropping in from both west/east coasts to England and recently someone from South America, I believe. My question for you: From where you are nowwhat kind of challenges do you face in learning more about accessibility? GA

ALAINA: Hmm. Some of the challenges are self-imposed. I come at this as someone who works in marketing and content, and cares very much about digital, and I get a bit of imposter syndrome when it comes time to insert myself into conversations where I think there’s improvement to be made. My strategy so far has been to learn as much as I can, but there is a lot to learn! These days I try to focus on the areas where my own work can improve. But I don’t know what I don’t know. I think I asked you when we met, “Where do I start?” I was really inspired by how much the A11YChi group had grown. GA

NICK: Perhaps interesting, but when I first started getting into web accessibility, I didn’t know much either. I mean, I’m deaf/hoh, so I have some experience in accessibility, but mostly in real-life type of issues. I started getting more into web accessibility because of email development. When I was tasked to do email dev, I started coding in HTML and CSS stuff which I had known before, but I had missed adding alt tag image description to the emails. I had been doing it for several months until I read a tweet reminding folks to do so. This was in early 2010s. And I realized that as someone who is deaf/hoh, I was also imposing barriers on another group of disability. I felt guilty. So I reached out on Twitter to see if anyone knew more about it. No responses. Basically, I just Googled a lot. Wasn’t until 2015-16 that I saw more resources coming out. Nowadays, I still feel like there’s a lot to learn after 6 years of being in web accessibility. Still somewhat feels like being in a wilderness. GA

ALAINA: I’ve definitely had that feeling of realizing I’ve been missing a step or doing something in a way that imposes a barrier. It’s easy in those times to feel like “Who am I to be telling other people they should be thinking about these things when I don’t have it figured out?” I’ve tried to reframe all this as more of a philosophy than a concept with a concrete end/success point. That drive to learn and do better, and the empathy for other humans, make us better at what we do no matter what we do. GA

NICK: I like thatyou reframing more as a philosophy than a concept with success point. I think that progress is more messy than linear. When people feel like progress needs to be linear, or have their cards all in the right place, it doesn’t work well or prevents them from making small steps forward. Web is such a messy place, right? And I think that can be a pro in a way, as long as we’re guided by the right philosophy/values, progress will be made. GA

ALAINA: I think that’s why conversations like these are so important. If we can’t share our challenges and be honest about what we’re all learning, progress is going to take a lot longer. So here’s a question I’ve been saving for you: Do you have any advice for facilitating conversations like these with people who are less familiar with the topic? I’ve been thinking a long time about how to support a conversation about accessibility in my own community, but I don’t hear anyone else talking about these things. I don’t know that I’m the right person to lead the conversation, but I think I can help convene. Which brings us back to: Where do I start? GA

NICK: Oh wow. That’s something I could talk about a long time. But if I could share a takeaway for this personit’d probably be…to listen. It could look like creating a space for disabled people to voice and share themselves. In my experience, many of the people who started getting interested had some kind of interaction with disabledlike hearing a story from a video or in person. Once they see/hear, it reveals the problem, and in our case being digital, a  technical problem. So, if a person who’s not familiar or wants to start that conversation, it’s to signal-boost the voices of disabled communities. Does this answer your question? GA

ALAINA: You’ve brought it back to where we started in a way. Instead of focusing so much on digital accessibility, fostering a conversation about supporting accessibility in all things might be just the thing to help people see how each of us can play a part, try something different, or learn something new. Digital is just one part of it. An important part, but not the only part. It’s that whole thing you were saying about broadening the conversation. I bet more people can see it as a conversation that they should be part of this way. Now we’re making the conversation accessible. I like that. GA

NICK: Same. In this case, the “podcast” is a “DocCast” haha. Thanks for creating a space for this conversation. Highest of fives. GA

ALAINA: Well, I hear this is how all the kids are doing things these days. GA

NICK: We have to keep up with the kewl kids. We’re digital pros. We’re getting paid to be “innovative.” GA 

ALAINA: Oh, I’ve taken a lot of your time! This has been really helpful for me, and I so appreciate you. The last thing I like to ask people, which I’ll ask you now and you can answer at your leisure if you need to move on with your day, is this: What are you working on now that you’re most excited about? GA

NICK: For A11YChi, we have our 2nd Accessibility Camp this fall. That’s exciting and scary (always with conference planning). There are others that I’m focusing on: Confa11y, which helps people find conferences that are accessible and inclusive; and Deaf Kids Code, which is an org hosting workshops for deaf/hoh youth to learn more about coding and technology. I have few others in early stage, but I’m just doing too much now (hah). Also working at 18F has some good stuff happening. That’s life happening at the moment. 😀 GA

ALAINA: I’ll look forward to following along as all of these things are wildly successful. And I’ll be sure to check in along the way while I keep having these conversations. I always find your perspective so helpful. Thank you, thank you, thank you! GA

NICK: A pleasure! Thank you. I hope there will be more Strategy Car conversations coming! Keep up the good drive? Err… I’m failing at this car-pun thing. Heh. GA

ALAINA: All car puns are good car puns.