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Access Granted: Lenovo Part 2

Ablr's Mike Iannelli talks to Onyx and Sara of Lenovo on episode 6 of the Access Granted podcast.

Access Granted: Lenovo Part 2 Transcript. Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts.

Mike Iannelli: Welcome back to Access Granted. Today, we’re diving deep into inclusive design within the tech industry, hearing direct insights from global technology leader, Lenovo. Joining us are Lenovo’s talented UX team members, Onyx Mintah and Sara Weir. In this episode, we’ll explore the significance of various manual testing methods and the importance of sourcing qualified testers.

And we’ll discuss their team’s approach to inclusive design. Alright, so talk to me about the Ablr squad. I want to know a little bit about your thoughts on the process. 

Onyx Mintah: So I have a background in UX research coordination and operations. So I have never worked with an external company before. I think Sara has, but I have not. I have been used to either doing the, the recruiting myself, or doing the recruiting myself. I’ve always done it. 

Mike Iannelli: That’s right. Cause I remember you mentioned that in our first conversation. 

Onyx Mintah: Yeah. So I think that the turnaround time that we were requesting was very, very quick. So, I think the quality of participants that we got was like spectacular, really.

And I know that, you know, recruiting for a, I guess a specialized population because, you know, it takes more time to, to try and find the right fit for, for people, here in our research space. I had a fun time and I think that the, because Ablr cares as well, there was a lot of communication back and forth, which was awesome.

I mean, John Samuel came to our sessions and sat in and I mean, come on. Like, yeah, that’s, that, that was really, really special and really awesome. And you coming and Logan coming. It’s amazing that the people who are, who have built and are running and are in charge of the company were there to help us and to give feedback and to like provide value as well.

That’s amazing. 

Mike Iannelli: I’ll second that just being from the outside when I was away last week and I missed out because I was so taken back by the, the ASL team. God, I just didn’t, didn’t even know we were moving that fast. And to hear that John was there. I was, I, I joke with John a lot, but I was, John is a, is an operator all day long and the mission and vision that John has for this company and where we’re going, it’s, it’s really remarkable.

We’re, we’re that kind of company too. And that’s why I think when I, when we walked in, it’s like, it felt organic. It felt natural. It felt like we were all just in this together. And to have our team there and just, we really rallied around it. We had a lot of fun. We had a really good time. The team was really excited and we pulled some stuff together pretty quick, but we had a great time.

Yeah. And it was really fun. 

Onyx Mintah: Sara, do you want to comment on your experience? 

Sara Weir: I think it was great. We had been recruiting for that project, trying to recruit for a while. And so you all really came through and not only pulled it off, but pulled it off with awesome participation from participants who were really awesome.

And both the team, the participants, everyone was really enthusiastic. Really great feedback, really positive attitudes. And I think it went really well considering timeline and constraints that we were all under. I think it’s awesome that we pulled it off. 

Onyx Mintah: Yeah, we did a lot of laughing. 

Sara Weir: Yes.

Mike Iannelli: Laughing is good.

Onyx Mintah: Yeah, it was fun. 

Mike Iannelli: Alright, so one of the things too, and I want to talk about before, you know is. So we talk about testing, we talk about, and a lot of times in accessibility, there’s always this AI and this automation and then their manual. And there’s like kind of three different ways of doing testing, but you all are in the manual side of testing. And y’all believe in the manual side of it. Which we always talk about everyday, manual testing with screen reader users or native users of assistive tech, you know, you garner 97, 98, 99% of the overall violations. So you’re getting much better insight into the context of the violations and actually the usability of the violation. So if you could, talk to me a little bit about sort of what you’re comfortable with at Lenovo and the incorporation of manual testing and why in terms of the product side and tech side, manual testing is so much more important than just running scans and doing things like that.

Sara Weir: So my understanding, I just want to make sure we’re on the same page. My understanding of manual testing is that you are actually testing the, that the product or website or whatever you’re looking at is meeting certain criteria. 

Mike Iannelli: And using human beings to do it.

Sara Weir: Yes, yes. So, but meeting certain criteria in terms of like it’s passing or failing a certain marker.

And so we’re, I would say like, we’re a little bit step back from that. I think we could get there but, we’re testing with participants a little bit earlier in the cycle. So we’re trying to on our team, look at accessibility from a point of innovation. So we’re trying to get at it before the products even in development.

Like these are prototypes that were really smoke and mirrors for the participants, but just to get an understanding of, is this idea valuable at all to them? Does it meet a need? And so I think later on, if, depending on what we take forward, we would then get into something that’s more along the lines of actual manual testing and seeing if it meets accessibility criteria. 

Mike Iannelli: Alright so, seriously though, from an accessibility standpoint. Let’s talk about this for a minute because, I’m interested, and you may not have the answer to this. You may have, or you may not be comfortable. But I’m wondering when you think about other, other companies and just other tech in general, are you seeing or not seeing the shifts and movement that we should be seeing in today’s day and age with tech, with inclusion?

Sara Weir: No, I personally don’t think so. I think there’s, there’s so much innovation out there that we’ve only like started in accessibility. We should be so much farther along in what accessibility can do. I think there’s so much more potential. So I would just say no, we are not there. 

Mike Iannelli: We are not there. And, and, and I would agree. Have you seen anything that has jumped out at you that gives you hope? 

Sara Weir: I think people are trying, and I think that is hopeful. Like we’re seeing, you’re seeing more products on the market from larger companies. And while I don’t think they’re always hitting the right mark, I think the fact that people are putting out ideas and trying different things is reassuring.

Mike Iannelli: And would it be safe to say that you believe in, in any product environment, testing environment, that folks with disabilities should be leveraged for testing to ensure that not only are they compliant, but they’re actually usable and accessible and work for all people. 

Sara Weir: 100%. And as early as possible too. 

Not once you have a product and you need to find it out. I think getting people in the room early in ideation, in prototyping, in co-creation exercises have the understanding, how they use their devices, how they want to. I think it’s critical because even in our sessions, I learned so much and you would have never, we could have done so much research and we could have done virtual testing, remote testing as much as we could have, and we would have never learned what we learned in those couple hours.

Mike Iannelli: Onyx, what are your thoughts on that? 

Onyx Mintah: I agree with Sara that no, a lot of the conversations we have regardless of whatever product it is, whatever idea it is, is like, I just want it to work. I just want it to do what I need it to do and do it consistently, regardless of whatever it is that we’re talking about.

That’s the one thing. So yes, I agree that people are excited about, you know, innovation and their ideas. And you know, those things are exciting. And then once you put it in front of a real person, they’re like, I just need it to work. I don’t need it to have bells and whistles. So I think that people who are developing things need to work with the people they’re, they’re aiming the product for.

You got to work with them. You can’t. 

Mike Iannelli: Which sounds pretty obvious when we’re talking about it. 

Onyx Mintah: For us, without us or something like that. 

Mike Iannelli: Nothing with us, without us. No, nothing for us, without us. 

Onyx Mintah: Yeah. That, that. 

Sara Weir: I also think that when thinking about innovation and accessibility, I would personally like to see things that are actually incorporated into existing devices rather than being accessories or totally new devices.

Cause you can only have so much tech and added things with you at all times. And so I would rather see things that are on the market designed for general population, have the ability to be customized or readily accessible for everyone. Rather than someone having to get like an extension, an accessory, an add on to make it accessible for them later on.

Mike Iannelli: So in theory, you know, it really starts from the very beginning. And that, and it goes back to the top down too, right? So it says, hey we’re going to do something. We’re going to build something. We’re going to create something, but we’re not going to just create it for this target. And I think it changes the way you look at audience segments as well. 

Because there’s a, you know, there’s a general population, you know, DEI is sort of shifted sort of audiences a little bit. Because there’s this fear of, well I can’t target. Right? Because it’s, I’m leaving people out.

But when you, if you take that off the table for just a moment. You think about I’m creating something I need to make sure it works. Not works for you know Caucasians or African Americans, or folks that have visual impairments, or folks that are in a wheelchair, or elderly folks, or skinny folks.

It should just work for every folks, all folks. Every folks probably, we’re going to let that stay in there because it sounded fun, but I think I said that wrong. But my point is, you’re saying, and I agree, that whatever you’re creating should be considered for all people from the very, very beginning. Period.

Sara Weir: Yes, and I think this is a little bit contradictory. I think that’s the goal, but it’s easier said than done. That’s really hard to say, hey design this product that meets everyone’s needs. It’s a great goal, but it’s really hard. Probably not possible to meet the needs of every single person in your first attempt or first go.

And so kind of what we’re doing is we focused in on. Based on some discovery work, we focused in on particular target users, with certain abilities. And then I think you learn through. We learned through testing and through feedback, how that can benefit other, other people as well. And so I think that’s kind of one of the misconceptions too, about designing for accessibility is that it’s a small target audience.

And I think that that is not true. I think it’s a target audience that’s hard to measure. Because if you look at, strictly look at blind and visually impaired. It spans so many different people in so many different ways. It can be people who are elderly and are losing their, losing their vision kind of slowly and gradually, but it’s just natural, right?

There’s nothing particularly wrong. There can be people who are born with it, there can be people who temporarily need glasses or had a surgery or are going to have an eye issue for a little while. And so I think it touches a lot of people, but it’s really hard to quantify. So when you’re trying to talk to people, higher up in organizations or people who are, have the decision making power. It’s hard to be able to put statistics or numbers to say, hey this idea is great and it affects X percent of our target, total audience.

Because those stats just aren’t out there. And so I think that is part of like kind of a common misconception and what makes it really hard. But I do ultimately think designing from the start for everyone is.

Mike Iannelli: I mean, I think it’s a great point.

And I appreciate the correction because you’re right. I mean, I think in a perfect world, that’s what we want to do. That’s the goal. But as you dive deeper, not everything is for everybody. But your point is absolutely taken because there’s so many different levels of disabilities. It really should be inclusive, at least from the start, and then you can dissect your segments and your audiences and get a little bit more refined with your product.

But starting off with the right mindset, I think is super important. I think that’s what I take away from your, your position on that. 

Sara Weir: Definitely. And I also like your point of, you can say, okay my target user is blind, visually impaired. That’s a great start again, but again, it’s really not enough because there’s so much variety. And that’s true across all of the categories and it’s so hard because every person, every person’s situation is going to be different.

And I also think too, that disabilities come often in pairs. So I, I see a lot of people, you don’t usually don’t just have like one issue. 

Mike Iannelli: You might have autism and have a visual impairment.

Sara Weir: You might have like visual issue and learning disability, and so it’s really hard to say that this one fix is going to be all you need, and so I think that’s another point to kind of push for designing for inclusivity at the beginning. 

Mike Iannelli: That’s well said.

Onyx. You said, hey I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now. And I just got so lucky because I’m a team leader and I just kind of collaborate and it’s what I do. But have you learned anything along the way? 

Onyx Mintah: Yeah, I’ve done accessibility work at the other companies I’ve worked at as well. And one thing I’m always kind of blown away by is how creative and just ingenious that people make, make things work by doing little fixes that you don’t really think of. 

Because that’s not your everyday experience. Simple things that people have to shift to make their environment work for them. And even when we are doing testing, we are speaking to individuals like that. Because it’s their existence every day, they don’t really have to think about explaining it.

It’s just their everyday life. And so getting people into that mindset of like, oh yeah I guess I do have to change X, Y, and Z to make it work for me. That’s, that’s been a really interesting thing to witness. One, how creative people are. Two, that they have to change their, you know, things that I may interact with it and don’t think about needing to change it to suit them.

And that getting people to explain the shifts and changes that they make, you kind of have to like bring them into a different mindset, which is also cool. And, and a really unique trait that, researchers, skill that researchers have. 

Mike Iannelli: And so thank you for that. And Sara, is there anything that you have learned over the last couple of years in doing, you know, obviously being with Next UX and this new generational sort of focus. But is there anything that might have jumped out at you and you were like, wow I didn’t know that, or this is really wild.

It’s changed sort of the way I think. 

Sara Weir: So a very specific one to our recent testing is how I kind of conduct or run a session with our deaf and hard of hearing participants. Which was my first time doing in person sessions with deaf and hard of hearing participants. And so we had prototypes and we had interpreters in the room.

And so I, in previous sessions, talk through. I’m talking, I’m motioning with my hands. I’m explaining a prototype that’s in front of them. There’s multiple things happening at once to convey the product. And when we were working with the, our first round with the deaf, hard of hearing participants. I realize it’s very hard for them to follow me, follow the machine and watch the interpreter at the same time.

And so realized that kind of halfway through and corrected, but I think doing in the next session kind of autocorrected from that and trying to do it all at once. To okay, I’m going to read you what I have to say. They can watch the interpreter, if needed. And then I’m going to demo and explain the, what’s in front of you.

And so I think that was a good experience and a learning, a little bit of a learning curve for me. And how that even just order of operations within a session, you can think you have everything planned and there’s still sometimes a learning curve along the way. In general, I would say my biggest learning over our past year in accessibility is just the important of access to accessibility and accessibility settings.

It’s so hard and I don’t understand why it has to be so hard all the time. It should be easily, ready, available and accessible. Shouldn’t have to go 10 clicks in to find your accessibility settings. That’s kind of my biggest take, takeaway. Is I feel like that’s an easy, easy thing to tackle. 

Mike Iannelli: On that kind of note, I was going to ask you sort of, if there’s one thing related to inclusion, related to accessibility, related to tech, related to our time together, related to anything that you could provide for us perspective on. That you would maybe recommend people think about or organizations think about or people take a step back. Something that you could leave your stamp on, so to speak, as you walk out today. What’s something you’d like to say or like, like to share with potential listeners of the show? 

Sara Weir: I would say I’ve said it kind of multiple times, but include people in the process as early as you can.

I think having perspective early on is going to push accessibility forward and create solutions that really matter and are successful. And I think lack of that so far is maybe why solutions are not sticking, that are coming out currently in the market and that we’re seeing. And that’s not to say that it’s easy.

From our experience, it’s recruiting and doing research for accessibility has been difficult, but it’s definitely worth it. And the insights and the knowledge you get are definitely worth it. And so I would say just put in the extra time, the extra cost and the extra effort, and it’ll bring better, better insights going forward. For multiple teams, whether you’re a developer, designer, researcher, across the board. 

Onyx Mintah: I agree with. Sara wholeheartedly. 

Sara Weir: I have two follow ups. 

Mike Iannelli: Please. 

Sara Weir: I forgot earlier. 

Mike Iannelli: We got a lot of forgetting going on here today. The three of us. 

Sara Weir: We have another cool thing that we did when we were doing remote testing for accessibility is we offered multiple ways for participants to get involved. So we would ask the question, but then they could write a response.

They could upload images, like if it like written on a piece of paper. They could also upload a video. And so I think people, giving the people options, how they can participate is also really helpful and something that has also stood out. 

Mike Iannelli: So eliminating barriers. 

Sara Weir: Yes, definitely. 

Onyx Mintah: Shout out to Sara. 

Sara Weir: We have gotten so much just like thank yous and notes afterwards. About just thank you for doing this. Thank you for including us. I’m excited to be here. Across the board and the whole year, and I’ve never gotten that in any other user testing. The only other notes I usually get is, “when am I getting my payment?” So, so it’s really exciting. 

Mike Iannelli: That is amazing actually. 

Sara Weir: And just how important it, how important, how little there is being done right now.

Mike Iannelli: Just feeling included, just that feeling is so overwhelming that they feel gratitude for being included. 

Sara Weir: Yep. 

Mike Iannelli: Like. 

Sara Weir: And asked to participate in usually further, further studies. 

Mike Iannelli: Mm. Thank you for adding that. So I know Onyx was going to add something. I think we skipped away. Talk to me about the empathy lab.

Onyx Mintah: Creating empathy within, within the company as a whole and within researchers, designers, engineers, anybody, you know. Getting those, those kinds of people who are involved in development or even, you know, everyday person to understand, or at least put themselves in the shoes of somebody who, who experiences a disability every day.

And there’s no way to do that a hundred percent. But, like we were talking about, the temporary, temporarily being disabled, that in and of itself gives you just a snippet of a glimpse into somebody’s life, who’s experiencing that every single day. 

So if there are ways to grow that empathy and educate people, you can create allies through people who have gained an understanding of, you know, what somebody else might be going through and to champion for that person.

And an advocate is somebody who is like in the fight themselves. They don’t have to have the same experience, but they’re like on the front lines hand in hand with the person advocating for them. So we can build more allies and advocates through empathy. 

Mike Iannelli: Well said. But I, I am sincerely honored, one, to be working with you guys, because that’s amazing. But two, to the work that we have done together. And then to be able to sit in a room, just five, four, three, eight weeks, whatever it is, as human beings that are trying to do good together.

I just think that’s amazing. And I think the more people that have these conversations and more people that talk together about these more people that have more friendships and work, and enjoy what they do more, I think this is just fantastic. And we are, we are beyond grateful. I mean, it was great meeting you at the GAAD last year.

You were both at GAAD, right? That’s where I met you both at GAAD. And so hopefully you guys will be joining us this year at GAAD. 

Onyx Mintah: We’re also very grateful to be here and to. I know that you’ve done some work with other teams within Lenovo, and they spoke incredibly highly of you. And actually a bunch of other panelists that we have that are professionals also recommended Ablr.

I think like, yeah, I think like three people were like, have you spoken to Ablr? And we’re like, yeah let’s go do that. 

Mike Iannelli: I got to tell you, I got to tell you, just, just that in itself is amazing. I mean, when John and I were, were starting out, we. I remember that was just “focus on your first 10” and it was, it was hard.

I mean, four years ago, people are like, I don’t care about accessibility. It doesn’t bother us. Right, you know? But to have an organization like Lenovo, know who we are and see the work. And you know, we’re not a perfect organization, we’re not perfect people, but our intentions are good. We’re mission driven and we, we genuinely, sincerely love our clients.

Like we love our clients and we’re so grateful for them. And you guys are awesome to work with. I’m grateful for you being here. I’m hoping that this content, which I believe it will, will be nice content, compelling content that people can learn from. And that’s what we’re hoping. We want people to learn from these conversations.

We’re all in this together. So thank you all for being here. You guys are great. And your input at Lenovo and the work you’re doing at Lenovo matters. And I was sad that Ellis wasn’t here. So please pass on my sadness that he wasn’t here. I had a couple of questions for you Ellis if you’re listening so you’ll have to come to the next one. 

But you guys have a great team. You work beautifully together. We were honored to be there. And we very much appreciate your business and your service and everything you guys do to support the mission. So it was great having you here. Thank you. 

Sara Weir: Thank you.

Mike Iannelli: Thank you. Thanks for joining us on this insightful journey into inclusive design and tech. We’ve heard directly from Lenovo’s UX team, Onyx Mintah and Sara Weir. Together, they’ve given us invaluable insights into Lenovo’s commitment to accessibility. As we wrap up, it’s clear that Lenovo’s approach to manual testing and inclusive design exemplifies their dedication to accessibility for all.

Until next time, reminding you that accessibility isn’t just a feature, it’s a necessity.