In this episode, we interview Meggan Van Harten, who spoke about embracing inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility, and sustainability.

Episode 412: Embracing Inclusion to Disrupt the Culture With Meggan Van Harten From Design de Plume

Summary:In this episode, we interview Meggan Van Harten, who spoke about embracing inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility, and sustainability.

Episode 412: Embracing Inclusion to Disrupt the Culture With Meggan Van Harten From Design de Plume

Summary:In this episode, we interview Meggan Van Harten, who spoke about embracing inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility, and sustainability.
In this episode, we interview Meggan Van Harten, who spoke about embracing inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility, and sustainability.

Table of Contents

I love what Meryl Evans has said about progress over perfection, right? And I think that’s such a fundamental component of accessibility. And inclusion is just, just get started, just try. And even if you get it wrong, like, let’s not chastise each other, let’s build each other up and take those learnings and apply them differently and better the next time.

Episode 412: Embracing Inclusion to Disrupt the Culture With Meggan Van Harten (@Meggan_DDP) From Design de Plume Episode

Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrill, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:51.36] This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of our Future of Work series Powered by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT works to start conversations around how emerging technology trends are impacting people with disabilities. This podcast is powered by Ace The HR Exam and Upskill HR. These are two courses that we offer, that I offer, for HR certification prep and re-certification for Human Resources Leaders. Before I introduce our guest for today, I do want to hear from you. Text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. That’s 512-548-3005. You can ask me questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. Let’s get on to our guest. So, today we’re talking about inclusion and accessibility from a design lens. And I’m so excited to have Meggan van Harten, the partner and strategic leader for Design de Plume, a woman-led, indigenously owned design circle focused on inclusive and accessible design and also solutions for good. Meggan brings equity and accessibility to the heart of the business, bringing a decade of experience in design to her leadership role. She sets the vision for projects, establishes standards, and builds both business and client strategies that lead to greater impact. Meggan, welcome to the Workology Podcast.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:02:20.25] Thank you for having me.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:22.02] I’m so excited for this conversation. But before we dive in, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you led, how all of this led to the work that you do?

Meggan Van Harten: [00:02:34.09] And so I started off my career as a graphic designer. I loved graphic design because of the problem-solving component of it. It really drew me in. I was always like creative at heart in everything that I do. Um, and that’s really how we started Design de Plume as graphic designers. So the three of us were really focused on doing and executing the design work. But we quickly realized that when we started our business, being young women of diverse backgrounds, we brought a unique lens and, how we started our business, we realized like, we’re not playing the same game as everybody else. Like we didn’t have the same opportunities, we didn’t have the same mentorship, all of those things. And so we really had to look at like, what do we actually want to do with this business? Because we’re not just going to be like graphic designers for the rest of our lives. We’re going to, we’re going to do something different. And we went through this process of like, okay, well, if we’re not being acknowledged for who we are, we need to look like everybody else. We went through this process of like redefining who we were and like, how could we blend in? And we removed all of our pictures from our RFPs because we were being told, you’re too young, you’re, you know, inexperienced.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:03:45.55] And then they’d give it to, like somebody else who just looked different than us but had the exact same number of years experience. So we were, we went through that process and we went through that process of examining who we are, what do we want to do? And then we got all the way to the end of it and looked at this final result of saying like, oh, well, now we look like everybody else, but we don’t look like us, and it doesn’t feel like us. And we decided to really like, shift our business. And we said, okay, well, if we can’t work with these people, let’s go find people who actually want our diverse vision and who match our values. And so, being true and authentic to our business and to ourselves has really evolved over time. But I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done and the growth that we took on as young women in business at the time, and we just chose to commit to those personal values. And we found clients with better alignment with us. So it was, it was quite the journey, I would say. I feel like I’ve lived many lives in my career, but I’m really happy about the work that we’re doing now and the people that we do it with.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:54.75] I love when you figure out that you can be yourself and grow your business like the power that that has just in being your authentic self and the people that you attract into your life when you’re when you’re able to step into who you are. It’s, it’s a wonderful thing.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:05:14.82] Oh, absolutely. And I 100% recommend it. Like I said, we went through that full process of like, how do we, how do we look? How do we talk, how do we feel? How do we approach people? How, how is everybody else doing it? Let’s do it the same way as them. And we got all the way through that process and said, wow, this is really not me, this is not you. Let’s not do this. And it was the best decision we ever made.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:39.66] I know there are probably a few HR folks who are listening to this who are thinking about like consulting, or moving into starting their own business. And while this isn’t about the topic that we’re going to chat about today, I definitely think being true to yourself and authenticity, bringing forth like a sense of you into your business, can be really scary. But it can be so amazing because you don’t have to shut off that other part of yourself. You just bring your whole self to your business and to your life every single day.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:06:08.10] Well, and you would be also bringing that uniqueness to the whole field. That’s what I really noticed when we really embraced our indigenous ownership, when we embraced inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility and sustainability, when we embraced all of these facets which are just part of our human selves, we really disrupted the culture in the industry. You know, where designers are now focusing more on accessibility, and they’re being called to do that work more often. And I’ve been doing it for so much longer that I can help all these people like that are embracing that system and wanting to do better. But I’m so much further ahead in my career because I did it authentically for, well, now, over a decade.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:59.34] You’re in Canada and I’m in the U.S., and there are differences in terminology, particularly with the word that you have used a couple times already, which is indigenous. So I would like to get your perspective and maybe clarify what you mean when you say the word indigenous.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:07:18.44] So, in Canada we use the word indigenous because we have many groups of indigenous people in Canada. So, when I use the word indigenous, I’m talking about First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. Each culture is totally unique. And in, within each of those cultures, within a First Nations group, Inuit community or Métis community, each one of those is unique and needs to be treated with its own nation and authority. So really, when I’m talking about indigenous, it’s like a very broad term inclusive of all these groups. But, fundamentally, when we’re working with indigenous groups, we take a very individualistic tactic and really embrace that community as a whole, as well as their individual characteristics. So, for instance, there’s many First Nations groups across Canada. Many First Nations languages, and each one of them is unique and deserves to be recognized for their own special qualities and needs to be elevated. Each group has their own stories, histories, and it’s really my job to make sure that we’re being as inclusive as possible and really communicating well with those groups and communities.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:44.20] This is also an example of inclusion, right? Like, I want to understand what you mean by the word so that I can make sure that the context is there. Even though we’re neighbors, like U.S. and Canada, like context and what we mean can be really different. Why? Which is why it’s important to ask. So that I understand where you’re coming from. And then I can make sure to use correct terminology and references as we’re having conversations together.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:09:15.83] Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, like you’re in the U.S. and I’m in Canada. But those borders, you know, when it comes to indigenous communities, really feel arbitrary, because somebody like really came through communities and drew a line and separated the same, like two brothers or two sisters, but that really was the same community. So even, even that like border system like is, is, is a contentious, like kind of like thought, because it’s not really, it doesn’t really exist. It’s like somebody drew a line, but fundamentally, like we’re all talking about North America. Turtle Island is a reference to North America, and that’s where we can learn from each other, share these terminologies to help, you know, create a better, inclusive environment.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:02.13] Absolutely. Well, I want to focus on accessible technology a little bit and maybe talk about the lack of inclusivity around accessible technology, specifically around indigenous languages. What is, what does that look like or feel like or sound like?

Meggan Van Harten: [00:10:24.29] Yeah. So there’s assistive technology out there for accessibility. But really for indigenous folks, there’s a far less like far less options out there. So for instance, there’s no screen readers with language modules for Canadian indigenous languages. So, even if you have a document fully prepared in Anishinaabemowin or Cree or any other indigenous language across Canada, which there are vast and many different languages, if they’re using screen reader technology or assistive technology, it’s still only going to get read out in English because there’s no support there. And then like also, within that setup, from an accessibility perspective, there’s this perspective on only emphasizing a monolingual setup. And so what I mean by that is like when we’re developing documents or websites or materials of any kind, like any communications materials, typically you’re presented with like all English or all French or whatever the language is. But when it comes to indigenous languages, what is actually the most accessible way of promoting that representation, those languages, is to have a blend at times, because there has been a forced erasure of language. Not everybody has been able to connect with their culture.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:11:47.45] Not everybody has been able to connect with their language. So having that represented in only a monolingual format and then without screen reading technology, we’re not really making things accessible at all. And we have to get really, really creative in, if we actually want to make it accessible. So like, for instance, like if you have a website, you could have a video which also has like audio in that indigenous language. So then that way, like you have the English, maybe the written component of that indigenous language represented, but then you have the audio, and there is a huge focus for indigenous communities on auditory experiences, because oral tradition is the way that information was passed down. And it is historical. And even though it’s not documented in the same way that Western like thinking was, which is like written, it is accurate, like the oral stories are accurate and historical and important to represent. So, you know, building in these like auditory experiences, these oral traditions into our accessible design thinking is actually the best accessible way to, to really include indigenous folks.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:02.00] This is really important and something that I have been thinking a lot about, particularly in my videos that are out there on the internet. And so, personally, we’re going to do some testing and start small. And I would love to, to have everyone in terms of languages, but we’re a small team. And so we’re testing with some captioning for Spanish in some of our videos starting here in the New Year to see the reaction, the response, the engagement level conversations that come through from this. I think that sometimes when maybe somebody’s listening to this podcast, they’re like, oh man, another thing that I need to be doing and it, and I just want to preface by saying it doesn’t have to be done 100% to start. Right. Everybody had to start at some point. So, starting in small bite-sized pieces to be more inclusive, particularly in this area that you’re speaking of, when it comes to indigenous accessibility through audio or closed captioning, can really help the employee culture, the conversation, just them feeling valued because you care enough to even start the process in terms of making these things available.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:14:25.93] Yeah, absolutely. Start small, start somewhere, right? There’s a lot of different ways that you can attack or tackle, um, accessibility in all of these different inclusion methods. I love what Meryl Evans has said about progress over perfection, right? And I think that’s such like a fundamental component of accessibility and inclusion is just, just get started. Just try. And even if you get it wrong, like, let’s not chastise each other, let’s build each other up and take those learnings and apply them differently and better the next time.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:03.40] This, this is such an important thing. And I just want to make sure to, to emphasize this, because I spoke at the SHRM Inclusion conference not too long ago, and I talked about career site accessibility. And it’s not the first time that I’ve talked about career site accessibility and the things that we can do. However, a lot of people in the HR space are burnt out or heading that direction, and I could see and feel their energy like, like I want to do a good job. This is one more thing that I need to be doing, and a lot of the conversation with, with the talk centered for, for the, those in the audience centered around like, what should I select and how to get started. But I think the most important thing is to start and be, and be mindful, because the effort of moving forward, just showing up, and making a small change is, is like you’re saying, progress over perfection, is enough. So don’t be bogged down. Like all these videos or my entire onboarding process and new hire orientation needs to be accessible and inclusive for all these things. Otherwise, we’re never going to move forward with anything because we kind of are in analysis paralysis mode, like, oh, it needs to be perfect. Well, it’s not going to ever be perfect, number one. And number two, the only way to see if, how this helps your organization or the impact of it, is to start in small pieces.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:16:33.25] Definitely. And be iterative about it. Like, you’re not, like you’re not going to get it right the first time. And that’s okay. And it’s okay to start small and build over time on this. It should be an iterative process. You know, accessibility changes, you know, like technology changes. So, we have to be ready to go with that change. And the only way to do that, like sustainably, is to do it in sustainable chunks. And these like small steps to move forward.

Break: [00:17:03.37] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you are listening to the Workology Podcast powered by Ace the Exam and Upskill HR. Today we are talking with Meggan Van Harten, Partner and Strategic Leader for Design de Plume. This podcast is powered by Workology and it’s part of our Future of Work series with PEAT. They’re the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. This is part of their Future of Work series. I do also want to hear from you. Text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you.

Break: [00:17:44.92]The Workology Podcast Future of Work series is supported by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT’s initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. Learn more about PEAT at PEATWorks.org. That’s PEATWorks.org.

Accessibility and Artifical Intelligence

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:13.48] I want to talk about some of the pitfalls around artificial intelligence, or AI, when it comes to accessibility. This is something that I’m particularly passionate about because it’s a good thing. But there’s also some not so great things right now, especially in the areas of closed captioning. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Meggan Van Harten: [00:18:34.24] Yeah, for sure. So according to 3Play Media, auto captioning for, I’m assuming English, is about 90% accurate. And it really needs to be 99% accurate captions in order for it to be fully accessible. But, for indigenous languages, it’s 0% accurate. The way that AI interprets indigenous languages, it completely fails. And there’s no way to engage in conversation with the AI in terms of like, captioning. And to tell it like, hey, I’m going to be speaking in Anishinaabemowin today. Can you make sure that when I’m talking about these words, that you represent them in a good way? So, Anishinaabemowin is a, is a, Anishinaabe are indigenous people in Canada. So when we’re talking about the words from that language, like the word maamwizing. So, in my presentations about indigenous accessibility, I like to share a little bit about the, the words and what they mean, because it’s really important to understand the context of indigenous languages and how each part of a word has a sub meaning, and it kind of creates this whole like ecosystem behind the word. So, in my presentations about accessibility, I’ve shared the word maamwizing instance, and like the rough English translation of maamwizing is coming together, which is like a beautiful meaning. But when we break down each letter and all of the sub meanings, it’s actually like a much more grand concept than, than just coming together, people coming together. But I’ve witnessed the challenges of AI and captioning and the way that it interprets even the word maamwizing. So I’ve been on stage with live captions happening beside me and watching it twist the words to saying like “mom was saying,” “mom was in,” or “mom whizzing,” like literally my worst nightmare.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:20:36.82] And this has happened multiple times now, and might even happen here if, if we’re going to use auto-generated captions today. So, it’s really such a like, I think you described it as a pitfall. It’s just a vortex because it’s not accurate at all. And fundamentally like we’re not going to get that meaning behind that word. And it’s really tragic. And now, so every time that I talk about this in a live scenario, at like a conference, for instance, I always preface it with, hey, the captions are going to get funky, all right? Please follow the slides if you can, because the captions are not going to help you right here. And it’s really, really tragic. And it’s just a way that we’re kind of contributing to this forced erasure of languages over and over and over again, because we’re kind of dealing with the same problem. Like the technology was never developed with that inclusive mindset that there could be other languages, or that we might have a blend of languages when somebody is talking. And you’re just witnessing it every single time that you, that you bring up these languages. So it’s, it’s, it’s actually a really important issue and extremely tragic because again, like, I feel like we’ve just built this technology with this like cycle of, of, of unconscious bias. And it’s just going to continue to perpetuate that same gap of inclusion and accessibility for indigenous people.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:11.61] So we use, for this podcast, an AI tool to help us with transcription. So, I’m really interested to see when we, when we run the transcription, it’s called Sonic.AI. And we’ve used it for, I don’t know, six years I think. It is not perfect. No, as you said, no AI tool is. So, I can’t wait to see what the rating is because they rate the, the audio of how many words they think they got right. And then what we have to do is we actually have a person come in and review and listen to the podcast to help make those changes and adjustments for us, so it can be as close to, to the actual audio as possible. So, what we’re doing with, with this podcast, knowing what we’re going to be talking about, is that you’ve provided us some information so that my team can go in and say, oh, “maamwizing”, okay, this was something that Meggan mentioned, and then they can make that adjustment for us. What I’m hoping to do, and what you and I were talking about is being able to later on show kind of a side by side versus what the AI created versus what actually happened, so that you can see for yourself. The English language, it’s definitely not perfect, but when you’re dual language, you’re speaking multiple languages, and maybe one that’s not offered, I’m assuming that this is not offered by Sonic’s AI, so it’ll be interesting to see, but these are just some things to think about.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:40.68] The other thing that I have been really focused on and we, I try to offer all captions possible when I’m on TikTok or Instagram and different places because, number one, it’s, it’s just the right thing to do. Number two, I like to read closed captions, and especially when I turn my audio off, maybe I’m on TikTok at 3:00 in the morning and I don’t want to wake up my partner. I like to, to, to still participate and learn at the same time. Um, one thing that you mentioned, Meryl Evans. Meryl has been on the podcast and I’ll link to a show with her that was amazing. But, one thing she recently said, I think on LinkedIn, was talking about Instagram in particular and how it’s not accessible captions. And I hadn’t really thought about that because I had been using Instagram and I’m like using the captions tool. And that is because right now all the captions are in all caps, which is essentially yelling. And it’s not something that is true, because if we ran this podcast and put part of it on Instagram, we’re not yelling right now, but that’s what’s coming through. So, that context in terms of closed captioning, I think is also incredibly important, as well as offering multiple language options for these kind of things. Would you agree?

Meggan Van Harten: [00:25:06.60] Oh, yeah. Like definitely. And especially the way that they’re presented, um, that it has to be presented in an accessible way with accessible fonts and with legibility, readability in mind as well. So, all of those good factors as well make up good captions.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:25.71] Let’s move into the fonts direction, because this isn’t something that I have given a lot of thought of, but you, as a inclusive and accessible graphic designer and business owner, are focused in this area. So, talk to us about fonts and accessibility and maybe how fonts might exclude people.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:25:44.10] Yeah, for sure. So, one of the pitfalls of typography right now is that there is such a focus on the English language alone. So, we have lots of robust options to choose from, but not necessarily robust in the, in, in character glyphs. So, like incorporation of many languages. So in, in indigenous languages, for instance, you might have different characters and symbols that are not used in the English language. So you have to be really mindful of choosing fonts that have diverse and robust character glyphs within them, so that you can actually incorporate indigenous languages. Um, and like, this is like a, again, like a systematic problem from a design lens, because typographers are so focused on the English language that we actually don’t have that many type options for like indigenous languages or like, even like Japanese and like different, like different foreign languages. There’s like really not many very, very robust type sets or something that would be good in English and in an indigenous language. You might have to like, use one or the other in order to compensate. But what you should be looking for in terms of like fonts, just to give some like practical advice here, is you should be looking at legibility so that each character is distinguishable. So, like an example of that could be that the uppercase I doesn’t look like a lowercase l.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:27:26.34] There’s lots of really good, or like that it’s not like a B mirrored with a D, like something like that, right? That they have to look unique enough that everybody can distinguish what that character is. So that would be legibility. Readability, so that’s the arrangement and flow, the reading level as well. So, like if you are writing at an academic level and this is meant for um like the general population, for instance, it doesn’t matter what font you use, it’s still not going to be accessible because you’re not writing for the right level. So I would say like that reading level and readability kind of play into each other. So, like using appropriate grammar, speaking at the right level, making sure that the arrangement is close enough together that people aren’t misunderstanding what words are there. Likeability, this is kind of a newer concept to me, but like it makes sense, right? That like, the more that you like a font or that you feel drawn to it, the more likely the chance that you’ll be able to read it. You know, whatever, it has like innate properties that just resonate with you. A little bit harder to, to like track that.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:28:40.38] But, there is also this fourth component which is familiarity. And this is something that is, can be built upon over time. So that’s what I love about familiarity is that like our understanding of what feels familiar is only good for today. And as we develop new technology, new typefaces and, you know, design changes and trends change, we’re going to see that familiarity change over time. So it’s like you can’t just use the same like toolbelt of like, I’m just going to use Helvetica because that’s what I know, or Verdana or like something like that, that, you know, somebody once told you was accessible. That’s not necessarily the case today. So like keeping those good factors in mind legibility, readability, likeability and familiarity all very, very important for like how to choose a really good accessible font. And like I would also add to that, you know, because we work in indigenous languages, is like that robustness, like it should be robust, that you can use this in multiple languages. If your organization is bilingual or you’re looking to engage with diverse communities, again, make sure that the fonts can be robust enough that you can, like, speak in the language of those people. So, it makes sense, but it’s not necessarily embedded in that like accessibility, compliance nuances.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:30:11.29] Well, we’re such creatures of habit, right. And so maybe you’ve been using a certain font for fifteen years. I mean, I just was having a conversation with somebody yesterday about ellipses and how I was watching a series of TikTok videos that said they’re no longer cool, and they’re a sign that you’re generation X, and that’s the dot, dot dot, which I am, like I love me some ellipses, so I use them everywhere. And I was like, oh, that’s so sad because I just use them in my everyday life. But, in order, when it comes to accessibility and especially that likeability factor in terms of fonts and just graphic design, those are things that we, we really should be thinking about. So don’t get locked in to just one thing, you know, because it might send the wrong message or impacts the experience for, for another group of people.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:31:09.62] Absolutely. And that kind of comes back to some thoughts that I have about like prescriptive feedback. And so like always telling people like only use these color palettes, only use these fonts. Like all of that is actually not helpful. Like people need to understand the framework of something in order to make it accessible. So yeah, like you can’t come into that and assume like this is going to work forever and always. It’s again, accessibility is such an iterative process. We have to be ready to evolve and change as we get different tools available to us. And fonts are a tool.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:31:47.35] Or as how we use the technology changes, you know, like live, live video or video tools like TikTok. Those weren’t something, we weren’t thinking about how that was changing our lives, with the short-form videos and the importance of, of captioning. I remember the first time I was able to use the zoom caption auto caption feature in, in a, in a conversation here, and it was amazing. But it’s not fully there yet because they don’t offer these inclusive or indigenous options. So but it’s a, it’s a step in the right direction, just not where we need to be just yet.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:32:31.62] Yeah. And like you said, you can use it as a building tool, right? Like you can still use the AI in English settings at least, and then have somebody there that can update the captions afterwards and like get a good transcript afterwards. The problem is really in these live settings. That’s where it’s really not going to work. So like at a conference or like in a meeting which again just excludes people, so from those settings and those groups. So I think that the most accessible way right now that we have is to have live captioners for those events. But again, like not every conference can afford to have that. But I do think that right now that that’s like generally the best solution to it, until we have better technology that we can, you know, because like with a live captioner I can have that dialogue in advance and set them up with that good understanding of these words that we’re going to switch languages and that they’re prepared for it, and that I’ve engaged them in a good way as well, that they have a good understanding and I’m not setting them up for failure.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:33:42.21] This is where I think AI isn’t taking our jobs just yet. Like this is, this is an example of, of this in real-time. Can you talk to us a little bit about maybe tools that help you succeed at work, and maybe if there are any digital tools that you have found especially helpful?

 Meggan Van Harten: [00:34:00.10] Yeah. So for in design, like what we, uh, what I like to recommend are free tools, right? Because again, like, it’s just more approachable that way. So tools like WAVE, axe DevTools, WebAIM, Lighthouse, Google Lighthouse, these are some tools that can be great for accessibility guidance. Mind you, a computer is only so good at detecting accessible, um, accessibility errors or mistakes. So, I like to focus as well on the tools that are inbuilt in the system. So like if you are using Canva, how do you make Canva more accessible, or like how can you approach it from a mindset of a design, like that accessible design thinking, accessibility design thinking first approach in Canva. Because like to say again like, oh, you can’t ever use this product or you can’t only, like you can only get this far with this system. That’s true. Like a technology might be limited to how far it can take you. But if you think about accessibility from that design focus first, or like the content focus first, you can capture a lot in that good accessibility design thinking. And it may not be 100%, but it’s a progress and it’s a good starting point.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:35:24.62] Perfect. I was taking notes with some of the free tools, so we’ll have this on the transcript of the podcast. If you’re like, yes, I need this list. It’ll, it’ll be over there on Workology. And you can grab that list directly from us here. I wanted to ask, for the final question, can you tell us about designing with accessibility in mind? Maybe any other best practices that we should be thinking about doing? What are, what are those? Get us up to speed. Maybe in, you know, 60 seconds or so.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:35:57.65] Yeah. So I think the power is really in developing those accessible frameworks rather than the prescriptive feedback. So, I’ve seen this done in the past where they have like posters and they’re like: “do’s” and “do nots” of design and like only use these colors, only use these fonts, only use these icons, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And I think that that really limits the, the understanding of accessibility. What I think is actually better in terms of designing with accessibility is understanding who it’s for and the why, rather than the how or the what or like the actions of like doing. It’s important to follow that up with the actions of doing. But you can learn a technical skill. But in order to embrace your empathy and like your problem solving skills, like all of that is like the trained part of accessibility that I think we’re undervaluing right now. We need to shift accessibility design thinking to the beginning, and also communicate it through every phase of the project and through every phase of the organization. That those decisions and commitments are on the whole team, that it doesn’t rest solely on whoever the accessibility specialist is or the accessibility owner is of the product or the company. It’s not just them. It’s a full company lens.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:37:15.92] Like, we have to be ready to ask ourselves, who are we willing to exclude? And if that answer is no one, then we have to prioritize accessibility first, right? And it has to be embraced through everything that we do. Rather than trying to solve it as, at the end of a project, you know, like then you’re only applying a band-aid or you’re remediating an issue when you could have been, from the start, solving the right problem. And that also brings in the idea of bringing in inclusive teams to solve the correct problem. We make assumptions when we don’t include the right people, and we need their input at the beginning stages, because what our objectives are, or what we think the problem that we’re trying to solve, if we’re not including the people that solution is for, then we’re just making a guess at that point. And we’re not really asking or engaging those people from the problem-first standpoint. It’s really important because we can spend all day remediating or like fixing things. But again, if nobody’s going to use it or if it’s not actually serving like a function, what’s the point? So those are, those are kind of like my, my like good tips about designing with accessibility first.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:38:41.81] So important to start with a conversation with as many people as possible so that you can be inclusive. It’s one of the reasons that we’re in the situation that we’re in right now with a lot of this technology not being accessible, because we didn’t have conversations or people involved, the tools weren’t and the tech wasn’t designed from the beginning to, to have these accessibility components baked in, and now they’re having to add them at the end or the middle in whatever the 175th iteration of the tech. And it’s costing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to be able to make this change because they didn’t start in the beginning. And that’s just like if I think about any work changes or like change management is what happens when we aren’t talking to the end users or the group of population that would be able to use this and have their input from the beginning. It takes more time to, to build the tech or to create the programs, but it’s so much better from the beginning, because we have taken time to get everybody’s unique point of view and then build that into our training programs, technology, whatever it is that we’re doing in our organizations.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:39:59.88] Yeah. And if we really want to change that system of exclusion, we have to be ready to destroy as well. Like, start over is literally, can be the answer in some cases. Now, I’m not saying that in a situation where, you know, you’re trying to start small and start somewhere, that’s not, my criticism is not for you, but certainly for the juggernauts that are out there and continuing to perpetuate this cycle of exclusion. Yeah, you have to start over. You have to break this thing and build it better with inclusion in mind from the start and with indigenous people in mind from the start. So much of technology has left those people out, left out indigenous people. And even when it comes to compliance, they were left out. So, we have to be ready to accept that we need to start over in some cases, or that we need to work backwards in order to get to the right answer.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:40:59.30] Well, Meggan, I just want to say thank you so much for your insights and your expertise here. I know that everyone who is listening to the podcast right now is making a list and thinking about things, hopefully in a new and different way. So we will include, like your LinkedIn, your X, your username for, for Twitter or X there so that they can connect with you. Because I know that you’re speaking and talking and sharing more resources, um, really all over the world in this area. So, I really appreciate your time and I hope that everyone connects with you and takes this conversation and really maybe steps back and thinks more about inclusion and accessibility for indigenous peoples.

Meggan Van Harten: [00:41:57.23] Thank you.

Closing: [00:41:58.73] Considering that 1 in 5 Americans have a disability and that 1 in 8 Americans are 65 and older, if your website and application process or training and development experience isn’t accessible to them, you are losing out, not only on potential job candidates, new employees, new customers, you’re also exposing yourself to legal risk. Meggan really sets the tone for us not to just think about accessibility in terms of disability, but accessibility in terms of inclusion for everyone, especially indigenous peoples. When we create platforms or products, we must think about who might not have access to key features and information, or just simple things like closed captioning experiences. Check out the links in the section of the resources of this podcast over on our transcript. I so appreciate Meggan’s insight and expertise with us today. It’s so an important conversation to be had, and I appreciate her being a part of the Future of Work series powered by PEAT. I do want to hear from you. This podcast is nothing without your interaction and insights. Text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask me questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. Thank you so much for joining the Workology Podcast. We are powered by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. Have a great day and I’ll see you next time.

Connect with Meggan Van Harten

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

– Meggan Van Harten on LinkedIn

– Meggan Van Harten on X 

– Design de Plume 

– Design de Plume on X 

– PEATWorks.org

– 10 Tips for an Accessible Website | PEAT  

– WAVE

– Google Lighthouse

– Episode 369: Making The Workplace Accessible Both For Employees And Contractors With Meryl Evans

– Episode 403: Structured Learning In Community For ADHD With Margaux Joffe

– Episode 406: Digital Equity, Inclusion, And Accessibility With Oneisha Freeman And Nikhil Deshpande

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