Women Working with Accessible Technology

Ada Lovelace day is here – March 24 – so this post is about women in technology, as promised. Accessible technology was an even nicer goal, so may I present

These women work in fields that influence our members directly or indirectly. Personally, I am in awe of them, and I hope I can be like them when I grow up! It is their passion for sharing knowledge that is especially inspiring. They – or others – have already written biographical blurbs, which I want to share as their introduction.

Let's begin!

Judy Brewer

Take a deep breath now as I share this bit from the official bio at w3.org:

Judy Brewer directs the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Since September 1997 she has coordinated five areas of work for W3C with regard to Web accessibility: ensuring that W3C technologies (HTML, CSS, SMIL, XML, etc.) support accessibility; developing accessibility guidelines for Web content, browsers and multimedia players, authoring tools, and XML
; improving tools for evaluation and repair of Web sites; participating in the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG); and monitoring research and development which may impact future accessibility of the Web. WAI guidelines developed through this work include the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, adopted by an increasing number of governments around the world, and Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines and User Agent Accessibility Guidelines.

Whew! There are even more details at the official W3C bio. What comes across from reading about Judy Brewer is not only her technical knowledge, but her ability to, well, connect the dots. She aims for clear communication about her knowledge and discoveries. Are we surprised to see that she has a background in technical writing? :)

Wendy Chisholm

Another impressive person (and also working at W3C), is Wendy Chisholm. She tells us about herself on her blog.

As a staff for the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for 6 years, I helped synchronize work on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines with developments in internationalization and mobile/device independence. Having worked with Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, I bring a unique vision to groups that I work with. From the beginning, Tim designed the web to facilitate communication between people – *all* people and that has evolved to include people in a variety of situations using a variety of devices. I've focused on this aspect of web design since 1995. As a developer (B.S. in Computer Science) and Human Factors Engineer (M.S. in Industrial Engineering/Human Factors), I can bridge communication between developers and designers, since many of the techniques for making web content adaptable are technical…and being an engineer, I always love a good problem.


Once again, we have a woman who is tech savvy, but who also understands the need to "facilitate communication" about that technology so that teams such as developers and designers, can build on each others' strengths. Her interest in "bridging communication" reveals – at least to me – the heart of a technical communicator. :)

Her book, Universal Design for Web Applications: Web Applications That Reach Everyone, co-authored with Matt May, may interest you.

Shawn Henry

The following bio comes from W3C (yes, another one of those W3C people – looks like they know the value of women in technology!):

Shawn Henry focuses her personal passion for accessibility on bringing together the needs of individuals and the goals of organizations in designing human-computer interfaces. Shawn leads worldwide education and outreach promoting web accessibility for people with disabilities at the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). She has worked for Fortune 500 companies; nonprofit, education, and research organizations; and international standards bodies to optimize user interface design for usability and accessibility. Her most recent book Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design is now available online.

[Update, 2020: According to her LinkedIn page, Shawn is now working on several projects: W3C WAI Accessibility Education and Outreach Lead at MIT; at the TAdER Project as the Lead Researcher—Low Vision Accessibility Advocate; and as an Accessibility Educator at uiAccess.]

Book cover of Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design book

Shawn Henry is another person in our article with a background in technical communication. Perhaps it is that background that helped her to produce such a great book like Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design. Do explore the book. You can show your support by posting a supporter badge on your site.

Small badge that shows support for the Just Ask book.

It is incredibly generous to publish such useful information online where everyone has access to it – but that is keeping in line with Shawn Henry's passion for accessibility.

Henny Swan

The fourth woman in technology – or accessible technology, as I'd like to phrase it – has job title that I love – Web Evangelist! Let's read what Henny Swan, Web Evangelist, says about herself.

I have always been passionate about connecting people and seen the web as the tool of choice for overcoming traditional barriers such as location, culture, ability or disability. As such this blog looks at the overlaps of web accessibility, internationalisation, and mobile access together with the importance of web standards: making the web usable for everyone.

I'm currently a Web Evangelist for Opera Software having previously worked as a Senior Web Accessibility Consultant for RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People). You can also find me over on the Opera Developer Network Blog and Dev Opera.

A hectic travel life seems to go along with the job title. 2009 has already been a busy year for @iheni, as I know her best on Twitter. She participated in a W3C workshop on the future of social networking (www.iheni.com/is-it-time-for-social-networks-grow-up/) in January 2009. In that same year she gave presentations at both SXSW Interactive and CSUN, (Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference at California State University, Northridge).

[Update, 2019: She is now working as the UX Director at The Paciello Group (TPG).]

Who's Next?

Our SIG also has many women who deserve recognition on Ada Lovelace Day. As technical communicators, they are doing their part to promote accessibility through their skills in writing, programming, usability, testing, teaching – oh, you name it. I encourage these women to post a little bio in the comments section, continuing the list of inspiring role models.

All of these women are great inspiration for the next generations – and the current generation, too!

Ada Lovelace Day 2009 – who should we write about?

I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same.

Suw Charman-Anderson

And Ada Lovelace Day was born. (More about what we expect from you, dear reader, but first, a little background.)

Suw Charman-Anderson set up a pledge site to find those one thousand other people. She described the purpose of the day as follows:

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women's contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

To refresh your memory about Ada Lovelace or to learn about her for the first time, start with a visit to her page on Wikipedia (hint: she is consider the first programmer).

The Ada Lovelace blog mentions an interesting article "Women need female role models" about how women need to see more female role models than men need at see mail role models. Many of these stories are not being told, but now we have a chance!  Updated

When Suw Charman-Anderson launched this pledge, she hoped to get 1000 participants by March 24th, the day chosen for Ada Lovelace Day, which, by the way, was just a day that was clear on her calendar, having missed other relevant dates related to Lovelace! She managed the task in only 7 days, not 77 days. Pledging is still open and will remain open until March 24th.

If you would like to participate, register at the website set up to collect pledges to blog for Ada Lovelace Day. Participate and pledge to publish a post on Tuesday, March 24, 2009. Remember that many blog tools allow you to set a future publication date, so you can write it now and publish on the 24th.

You can also follow the development of this blogging event by following the Twitter account called @findingada. In fact, the STC AccessAbility SIG first announced this event on its Twitter account, @stcaccess!

Why do we have a question in the title of this post, and what would we like from you, dear reader? Suggestions! And something special about those suggestions.

The word "Disability" with a red x across "dis".

We would like to write about women excelling in technology who just happen to have a disability. This blogging event will give us many stories about women in technology. We would like to focus on women who were not only dealing with gender issues, but also with disability issues. It would be a lovely way to demonstrate how we aim to take the "Dis" out of "Disability"! Lovelace herself did not have the best of health, according to the Wikipedia article, but that was not a barrier to her.

Add your suggestions in the comments. If you want to do the same, keep visiting this post to see what ideas others provide. We look forward to hearing from you. And thank you!