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CCATP #623 — Lila Brissette on Accessibility from a Young Person’s Perspective

While we were in Las Vegas for CES, we carved out some time to have dinner with our good friend, JF Brissette, who is also the editor of all of my videos for ScreenCastsOnline. He brought his daughter Lila to dinner and she started talking to me about her journey of discovery into accessibility on Apple devices. I asked her to come on the show to talk about her perspective on accessibility as a young person without any disabilities. She’s delightful and intelligent and I really enjoyed seeing these topics through her frame of reference.

If you’d like to connect with her, you can find her on LinkedIn as Lila Brissette.

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Outline of discussion topics:

Tell us a little bit about yourself

  • UNLV Entertainment Engineering Design
    What exactly is Entertainment Engineering? / How old is this program?

    • an engineering program with an emphasis on artistic endeavors. Think Disney, Universal, but it has other applications in things like gaming and escape rooms.
    • we’re a new program, and we actually have two parts (EED/ETD depending on how much you want to torture yourself with math), but we have a pretty large board made up of folks from the industry. I’m a student ambassador for board meetings to make sure that decisions made are beneficial to students
    • I attended NAMM this past January with a group of my fellow students. Our passes were donated by a fellow member of the board for that Friday, where we were able to meet experienced professionals in the audio and lighting world.
  • I have been an Apple user for most of my lifetime. I might be the only person on your show that’s younger than the Macintosh.
  • Fun game: guess how old I was when the first iPhone came out!
  • Depending on who you ask, I’m either a late-born Millennial or a Zoomer.

What started your interest in learning about accessibility?

  • From a young age, I’ve been a kinesthetic learner –– I like to figure things out by throwing myself in the deep end and hopefully coming out the other side with a better understanding of the thing I threw myself into. It’s a pretty flawed approach and I end up Googling quite a bit, but this kickstarted my interest in accessibility when I accidentally turned on VoiceOver and realized that I suddenly had no idea how to use my phone. So after that happened I can now use VoiceOver, but now I’ve moved on: what else can my phone do? And I think that, like many people, I started to find accessibility features that have made my life better, even if they aren’t necessarily made for me. Now I use Screen Time to get control of my phone use when I’m supposed to be doing schoolwork etc., and since iOS 13 launched Voice Control, I’ve been using it when I can’t use both my tiny hands to text.

Is this something that’s common in young people?

  • Not exactly. My generation is split when it comes to understanding and using accessibility on our phones. Young people who use assistive technology are great at using things like Made for iPhone hearing aids, Braille keyboards, VoiceOver, and Switch Control, to name a few of the options listed in iPhone settings alone for accessibility. However, those of us who don’t use them may not know where to find them, or how they work, or even what they’re called. I think that one reason why is that many of us deal with problems as they come –– usually by googling the answer. But, what if Google doesn’t have the answer?

Why wouldn’t Google have the answer?

  • I found a specific case where Google does not have all the answers, and that’s when it comes to troubleshooting hearing aids. It shocked me considering how much information we have about other devices that plenty of the population uses every single day, but this piece of technology that quite literally dates back to the 19th century has so little information about how to troubleshoot software issues. When we have a problem with our phone, what do we do? I know that the first thing I do is go to the support forums and try to see if this is something that can be fixed at home. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go to an online chat or phone support, and then if it really comes down to it, I’ll see about finding some in-person support. I started to wonder what that would look like if I used hearing aids, and I needed support for a problem I was having with them.

What did you find out?

  • I researched some popular hearing aid brands out there. So far I’ve got three down out of five that I initially picked from a list of Made for iPhone brands recommended by a blog, which for the life of me I cannot remember the name of. The three that I’ve researched so far are ReSound, Signia, and the Costco Brand, Kirkland Signature KS9.0. I read up on everything I could possibly find –– FAQs, forums, I downloaded all the little pamphlets, I found out which apps they all use to connect to the phone, and I found out three things:
    • First, most hearing aid companies post their at-home troubleshooting guides that are included with the hearing aids, which is awesome. I think that keeping paper instructions has become something of a lost art, so companies who post everything online like that really resonate with me.
      • Second, most of the solutions for hearing aids are to turn them off and back on again, change the batteries, or clean them. I’m sure that most of the time it really is as simple as this, but naturally, the next question in my mind is, what if it doesn’t work? What’s the next step?
      • That brings us to the third thing I found out: if these solutions do not work, it’s recommended that you see your audiologist to have them troubleshoot the problem for you. Depending on a few factors –– if you don’t have health insurance, if extra visits aren’t covered for you, or if you live far away from your provider –– that could come at a cost. This is already frustrating if I’m thinking about this flow from my perspective, but if I think about the population of people who use hearing aids that aren’t tech-savvy youngins like myself, I can see situations where someone ends up in the hole for an appointment just to get someone to troubleshoot an issue that easily solvable. Or, even worse, they see their provider, and they aren’t able to fix the issue, either. I mean, there is a pretty ridiculous number of hearing aids out there, and even if their construction were completely uniform, the different features and software they all have is enough for me to believe that some audiologists may not know what to do for certain brands of hearing aids.

So, how do we approach this issue?

  • As a young person, I understand my duty to my elders as the front lines of tech support, and I believe that learning the most you can about accessible features of your phone can have a positive effect for everyone. There’s actually a pretty interesting social phenomenon that essentially proves that to be true, called the Curb Cut effect.

What is the curb cut effect?

  • Well, it’s not a novel concept. The Stanford Social Innovation review sums it up like this: “Laws and programs designed to benefit vulnerable groups, such as the disabled or people of color, often end up benefiting all of society.” I mean, duh!
  • Although the translation isn’t exact, it’s an extremely relevant point, and the story behind it is an important one. It started in Berkeley, CA in the early 70’s. The first “curb cut” in the city was installed by a group of disabled activists. A curb cut is that dip or small ramp on the corners of sidewalks. I couldn’t even fathom not having since they’ve been around my whole life, but I’m sure you remember (zing!). After that there were curb cuts everywhere in America –– and society was better for it! People pushing strollers with babies, workers pushing carts, pretty much everyone had an easier time navigating the streets of Berkeley, and of America.

So, how does this apply to learning about accessibility?

  • What I’m going to say is definitely not a secret to anyone. I think it’s an unfortunate truth. Some young people don’t like being the front lines of tech support for the people in their lives. Definitely not true for everyone, but there is a nonzero number of young people that don’t really care for taking on that role. I think that’s another reason for the split I talked about earlier: those among us youngins who need accessibility are able to use it and pick it up fairly quickly, but others don’t know how it works, and some of us may not know that these options exist at all. I also think that demystifying accessibility for myself has helped me understand that being the tech support Millenial/Zoomer isn’t so bad. So, the solution to my hypothetical hearing aid problem is really twofold. First, of course, we need more extensive troubleshooting guides from the companies, or even a greater volume of posts on online hearing aid communities for troubleshooting. But second, those of us that Google everything to fix stuff should use our powers for good.

What’s next?

  • I’m still right smack in the middle of developing my own little reference sheet for hearing aids resources, and at this point it’s become a passion project for me. I’m considering finding a way to post what I find online so that there can be a comparison shop specifically for the apps that these hearing aids use, and so that I can link the super useful videos I’ve been finding about using apps with your hearing aids to switch programs.

What are programs?

  • They cover the concept really well in this really old movie I watched once… They’re essentially saved settings on your hearing aids that are adjusted for different environments and noise levels. They can only be set by your audiologist, actually, which is another good reason to provide as much information as possible about troubleshooting – that way you can save your appointments for things like that, which can only be done by your doctor.
  • After hearing aids, I’ve been learning so much about iOS features that I’ve started to see what options are out there for Android users. Of course, Google has been making some improvements to their systems as well, my favorite of which has actually been YouTube automatic captions. Not just because of how useful they are, but also because it’s fun to see what a computer thinks people are saying. On top of that I found what I think is my favorite YouTube video ever, the 2019 Google I/O where they’re talking about accessibility updates. This poor guy is up there having the worst luck imaginable trying to demo these features, and I truly feel for him, but from the bottom of my heart, it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a minute.


1 thought on “CCATP #623 — Lila Brissette on Accessibility from a Young Person’s Perspective

  1. Caleb - February 4, 2020

    If you listened to the latest Chitchat across the pond, you heard a mention of the curb cut as an example of accessibility that helps everybody. If you’d like a more detailed history of the curb cut and the fight for accessibility check out this 99% Invisible episode —

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