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Becky Gibson: Paving the WAI for accessibility

Overview

Becky GibsonFor Becky Gibson, long-time friend and colleague of the Human Ability and Accessibility Center, accessibility is as easy as 1-2-3! Becky received her first college degree in Natural Resource Management and was stymied when it came time to find a job in that field. Fortunately for IBM, she embarked on a career in computer science instead. She worked at a computer store, learned Lotus 1-2-3 and developed a training program for it. Subsequently, she was hired by Lotus and did product support, managed several different groups, wrote printer drivers, owned the print subsystem and along the way got her Masters’ degree in Computer Science. She then switched to the Notes group and started working on the Web.

"I was responsible for integrating the browser rich text editor into Notes Web mail and worked on a JSP (JavaServer Pages) tag library for Domino. It was my introduction to accessibility.  We wrote applications to prove the viability of the JSP library and those applications would ship with the product and have to be accessible."

When IBM acquired Lotus, Becky became an IBMer and began accessibility work that revolved around WAI-ARIA and the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) working group (links reside outside of ibm.com).

"My main job was to convince people that a site could be accessible WITH JavaScript and there was no need for a requirement for the site to run with JavaScript turned off. I was also part of the team that developed ARIA, and, I wrote ARIA techniques for WCAG 2.0."

Becky led the effort to make the Dojo JavaScript toolkit core widget set fully accessible using ARIA. She and her team had to make all of the core widgets fully keyboard-, screen reader- and low vision-compliant.

As an accessibility expert, Becky has spoken extensively in and outside of IBM about Dojo and ARIA. During the course of her ARIA work, she was honored with two awards:

Several years ago, Becky moved on from accessibility to work on mobile. She is working on an open source project, PhoneGap (link resides outside of ibm.com). It is a framework to allow developers to build mobile applications using Web technologies. She has not forgotten her roots in accessibility as she strives to make native features added into PhoneGap fully accessible.

Becky admits to being "in at the beginning of the PC revolution" and she has seen everything move quickly. The accessibility arena holds parallels for her to this time. She thinks that things are moving quickly with society and employers making real progress.

"I think people are more accepting of people with disabilities - especially since children are often mainstreamed into public classes. When I participate in Engineer's week to encourage students in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) careers, I make a point of explaining accessibility and asking the students if they know how a blind person can access the Web. Always, at least one student in the room is aware of Braille displays or screen readers. 

I also think that the Web becoming more ubiquitous has helped accessibility. The Web has given many PwDs a fantastic opportunity to work and interact. Working at home is an option for someone who has mobility issues. Independent shopping is now possible for people who may have had problems getting to/from a store or even selecting products. People can now request accessible taxis using their cell phones! And, people who are not disabled now want to be able to use their mobile devices in any environment - while driving, in loud or non-talking environments, for example. Thus, device features initially devised for people with disabilities will be more and more in demand."

Looking to the future, Becky cautions that "we have to realize that we are not finished." She believes that speech technologies will become much better and hopes for:

If we're lucky, Becky Gibson will be leading the way in these efforts too.

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