The Leaders of Tech4Good: Meet Andrii Shtadler
Today you’ll understand why meeting accessibility demands is so important for websites, and not only.
At KeenEthics, we’re always happy to meet people who make a difference in their environment. These people depart from outdated work philosophy, bring innovation, and show others how the work should be done. One of such people is Andrii Shtadler, our new guest in the Tech4Good rubric. Andrii is an experienced developer who speaks publicly about accessibility. Today, we’ll have the chance to learn a bit more about accessibility in software and look deeper at why accessibility matters.
Who is Andrii Shtadler?
Andrii Shtadler is an accessibility expert. He is a software engineer with more than 6 years of experience. Andrii likes to call himself an agnostic developer. For the last 3 years, he works as a Team Lead, and during this time, his view of software has changed a lot. Andrii’s no longer interested only in feature implementation or launching new products. Now, he deeply studies the internal processes of how business is done, what impact a product has on the world. As Andrii states, each project involves the input that’s passed to a client and the output that’s passed to the world.
How did you choose your career path?
After graduating from school, I choose Finances as my target area. I went to college and was going to become a tax officer. I thought that my future career would be connected to the tax sphere. However, after graduating from college, I realized that my passion is to create something and see the instant results of my work. I wanted to follow my passion. I had two paths to choose: to become an engineer or to become a developer. In fact, developing software is similar to engineering. Engineers create buildings, and developers create code. The only difference is that engineers work in the open air, and developers work in a room. I chose to become a developer because of the progressive work environment. In software development, everything is changing rapidly. It does not allow you to stay in one place. This is how I took my first programming courses and decided to move in this direction.
As I know, you are based in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. How’s the situation with the software field in this city? Are there many software companies in Vinnytsia, or most developers work for the Kyiv-based firms?
When it comes to the software market, Vinnytsia is a pretty developed city. We have a lot of software companies here. The only drawback is that there is a problem with finding space for new offices. I’ve heard about many software firms that wanted to open offices in Vinnytsia but failed to find free buildings. However, in the time of the pandemic, the situation gets better since most people work remotely and do not need offices.
Yeah, safety today is a number one priority. Okay, let’s move to a kind of “philosophical” side of your job. What are the key principles that you follow in your professional life?
Five years ago, one person told me the following: write code as if the one who will read it knows where you live. From that time, I prioritize quality. In daily work, my aim is not just to write code and finish a task ASAP. My aim is to bring value to a client and the end user. When I work with a customer and I see that there are ways to improve their business, I always share my ideas. Sometimes my suggestions help, sometimes no. And that’s okay. What matters is the genuine interest of my team to help clients grow. For me, programming is one of the instruments to drive this growth.
Write code as if the one who will read it knows where you live.
You’ve said that you aim to bring value. And how do you define the product’s “value”? How can we understand whether a product brings value or not?
It depends on my attitude towards a project If I like the idea, no matter how many chances for success it currently has — I will fight for this project. It doesn’t matter if the idea is already well-known and widely implemented. It doesn’t matter if the product doesn’t look user-friendly in the beginning. If I like it, I will put maximum effort to turn this idea into success. The main criterion of value for me is the product’s relevance.
Relevance matters. I also know that you are an avid public speaker: you regularly give speeches on various topics. One of such topics is accessibility. Could you please tell our readers more about it?
Yes, I usually give two kinds of speeches. Speeches of the first type are devoted to my technical experience. The second type is speeches about soft skills. My last speech was all about soft skills. I discussed impostor syndrome and the ways to turn this problem into a source of motivation and inspiration. But accessibility is the topic that relates to both types. On the one hand, I discuss the programming side of accessibility. I explain what should be done to adjust the product’s features to the requirements of accessibility. On the other hand, I tell people more about why it is an important topic.
We don’t have the right to limit the opportunities of people who already have limited opportunities. It’s the main idea of accessibility. When a person having vision problems uses our app or website — it’s already a great achievement for me and a reason to feel proud.
We don’t have the right to limit the opportunities of people who already have limited opportunities.
That’s so interesting! And what inspired you to look deeper into such topic as accessibility?
I’ve always known that it’s a very important topic, but there was one situation when I realized that it’s high time to implement it in practice. Once I went on a business trip to London, where our client was based. We spent a lot of time brainstorming ideas for his product. In one of our team’s meetings, I met a guy who had vision problems — his retina was very sensitive to bright colors. This guy was wearing goggles that protected his eyes from bright light. The goggles consisted of two dark lenses with little holes in each. And this guy saw the world only through these holes. He was a developer, and he had to work with a bright screen. I was impressed by the way this guy worked on the PC: he tried not to look at the screen at all, he just listened to how the code should be written and wrote it. When we talked with him, he said that he had 15 years of programming experience. 10 years ago, his problems with vision started. From that time, this guy tries to adapt to a new lifestyle and work as a normal person.
Analyzing his case, I realized that there are so many people like him around the world. If people in the software world struggle a lot, what about those outside the software field? I’ll give an example. People with vision problems find it difficult to use websites that have no accessibility implementation. While it takes 1 minute for us to make an order on a website, for a person with low vision it might take half an hour. This is why we should aim to reduce their pain and introduce equality into the software world.
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Yes, such situations make it clear why we should care about accessibility. And what about clients? How to encourage them to care about it, too? How to show that spending money on accessibility is a good idea?
First, the main argument in favor of accessibility is that it helps your business stand out from the competition. It helps form a positive brand image and tell a memorable story.
Second, clients benefit from accessibility in a monetary sense. Once I googled statistics on people suffering from vision problems globally. As it turns out, nearly 2 billion people on our planet have problems with eyesight. It means that by adapting your products to the needs of these people, you expand your audience and earn more users. And if only 1 website out of 10 has accessibility functionality, these people will eagerly use it.
Accessibility helps your business stand out from the competition.
Third, accessibility gives you the advantage because of how Google’s algorithms work. Google better indexes websites that have the so-called semantics. Accessibility is the first sign of proper website semantics for Google. The more you care about accessibility, the better Google indexes your website.
Fourth, many countries support accessibility on the legal level. And I think that it is the most effective way of encouraging and promoting accessibility among clients. In some states of the US, for example, people can sue companies that do not follow the demands of accessibility. It means that if a person cannot make an order on some website because of their eyesight problems, they can sue the website’s owner. Accessibility is not only a necessity but also demand.
Wow, interesting! And if we compare the situation on the Western market with Ukraine, for instance, is there a huge difference in the way people treat accessibility? Is the Western software market more progressive in terms of the accessibility question?
To be honest, in Ukraine, developers neglect this question because we lack role models of how accessibility can be achieved. The situation in Ukraine is quite disturbing. We have no accessibility system developed in real life, not to mention the Internet. A lot of multi-floor houses across Ukraine have no elevators and wheelchair ramps. People with disabilities cannot reach their homes or go outside without someone’s help. On the Internet, the situation is quite the same. Our developers don’t perceive accessibility as an ultimate need. They see it as an extra task on their task management board.
As compared to Ukraine, the Western countries care about accessibility more. Take the example of the law in the US that allows people with disabilities to sue companies for neglecting accessibility. They have accessibility employed on the level of mentality. In Ukraine, we still have room for improvement.
But how to encourage developers to change their mind and start working in this direction?
One of the ways is to be proactive. We should share knowledge, create useful sources, conduct seminars, webinars on the topic. However, it seems that developers start looking for useful sources only when they are pressured by deadlines. Or when implementing accessibility is one of their final tasks on the project. In this case, the features are built just “for the record.” And developers still do not see the global value of this subject.
Even if a developer has no task to implement accessibility, they still should bear it in mind. If a developer knows that building a particular attribute will allow any screen reader to read the website, they should build such. Yes, it will take them more time. But they will make people’s experience on this website more pleasant and comfortable, and it’s worth it.
How to make these ideas a reality? The most effective way is to implement the change on the level of state and law. Lections, webinars help a lot. But when accessibility is required on the state level, then everyone treats this issue seriously.
The most effective way is to implement the change on the level of state and law.
I agree. By the way, I see more and more people supporting the trend of sustainability and sustainable fashion. And what about accessibility? Like sustainability in fashion, can accessibility be named a trend in software development?
To make it a worldwide trend, we should get the support of our state. As I said, a change on the legal level will be a great step forward. The same concerns global accessibility. As soon as 5 most powerful countries make accessibility an obligatory condition for software development, we will see how it is turning into a huge trend. I’ve heard that China was already discussing the need for accessibility on the Internet. As soon as the most powerful countries make it obligatory, all other countries will follow their example and start caring about it, too.
And in what ways can software products be adapted to the requirements of accessibility?
There are three levels of accessibility. The first level presupposes that buttons pressed by a user have another backlight color. It helps make the functionality more user-friendly. The second level presupposes that screen readers can read the chosen functionality for a user. The third level involves the creation of a different website version for people with disabilities. It allows them to use the website with the help of automation technologies, screen readers, and so on. On Apple, for example, the third-level accessibility is realized by the VoiceOver function that can read the whole website for a user.
I’ve also made my own typology of accessibility. The first type is formal accessibility. It comprises formal accessibility obligations or rules imposed on software product owners. These obligations make it compulsory for software owners to adapt their products to the needs of users with disabilities. For example, there can be 5 rules that should be followed by companies if they want to pass the Accessibility Certification. But it frequently happens that these rules are met just for the record and are implemented so awfully that it’s impossible to use such products. It’s the same situation as when wheelchair ramps are set at 90 degrees. Yes, formally, they are set, the requirement is met. No, they do not help people with disabilities at all. They make it even more difficult for them to get home.
Another type of accessibility is practical. This type is more important because it shows how accessibility features work in reality and whether they are helpful. It might happen that a website doesn’t meet the formal requirements of accessibility but is perfectly adjusted for the needs of people with poor vision, for example. Companies should not care about accessibility just for the record. They should aim to reproduce the main business logic of their software while meeting accessibility demands at the same time. And for sure, the best decision is to apply both types of accessibility in your development practice.
Companies should aim to reproduce the main business logic of their software while meeting accessibility demands at the same time.
The last question for you. What ethical values do you believe are the most important in today’s world?
The most important thing is to be open-minded and flexible. I can’t stand when people shield themselves from the rest of the world. The business of software is changing rapidly. It’s important to stay open-minded and be ready to learn something new. For sure, it may be hard to keep pace with all these advances: today you work under certain rules, and tomorrow, these rules are changing. But you should stay flexible and understand that growth is impossible without being open to change.
In the end, I would like to add that accessibility is not only about people with eyesight problems. Today we talked mainly about them, but there are many other categories of people whose needs should be considered. If we have such an opportunity, I would like to talk about other aspects of accessibility, too. There are still so many questions to discuss and so many ideas to promote!