22NTC Field Notes: Day 1

  1. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 1
  2. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 2
  3. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 3
  4. 22NTC Field Notes: Day 1
  5. 22NTC Field Notes: Day 2
  6. 22NTC Field Notes: Day 3
  7. 23NTC Field Notes (Days 1-3)

Day 1 of 22NTC is in the books!

There’s no replacement for going to the sessions, but I hope my notes are a consolation for people who can’t attend NTC or went to different sessions. Just about everything I watched today ended up being about inclusion in one way or another.

Since these are notes, they aren’t edited (much), and are long and wide-ranging. I recommend quickly scanning through everything to get a sense of what’s there and then dive in to one session that seems most interesting.

If you have any questions about a session I attended, post a comment or @ me and I’ll do my best to provide more details.

Alice Wong Keynote Conversation

The morning keynote was a conversation between Alice Wong and NTEN’s executive director Amy Sample Ward. Alice is the founder of the Disability Visibility Project and has a soon-to-be-released memoir. Since this was a conversation, my notes here are a chronological list of quotes (as accurate I could get them) or paraphrases.

Alice started by saying she came to the keynote as a disability activist rather than a nonprofit technology expert, but then made the fabulous point: “[Technology] users are experts.”

  • “Ableism is so baked into our society that we don’t realize how much we’ve internalized it, disabled or not.”
  • Alice discussed how a majority of her activism takes place online which is often seen as less than “IRL (in real life).”
  • It seems like things are “opening up” right now, but the way people’s risks are being ignored with optional masks and heading back to the office feels like a backlash to the rights gained through the A.D.A. The risks of COVID are not evenly spread across society.
  • Amy noted that COVID allowed people with lots of privilege to benefit from accommodations like remote work and flexible scheduling that have existed as accessibility accommodations for a long time. And yet, people don’t seem to have really learned how inclusion and accessibility can benefit us all. Because of the pandemic, Alice has barely left her house in the last two years and still cannot.
  • “If you really care about DEI, give the most marginalized people within your organization as much power as possible.”
  • The conversation turned toward nonprofit service providers. Organizations are often seen as “clients” or “patients” rather than people who are right in front of you who you have mutual respect for and want to build a relationship with.
  • “Accessibility should be a standard. Incorporate accommodations before someone has requested them. Don’t be defensive when people have critiques… Back up any statement or performative post with action. That’s what really matters… That change will remain.”
  • Regarding her title of “Disabled oracle”, she explained that it’s because people in marginalized communities see the problems and solutions to social problems way way way before society acknowledges and [sometimes] accepts them. For example, many people with disabilities were very familiar with wearing masks well before the pandemic.

Reminiscing about Conference Coffee

There was some good light-hearted chatter about the best and worst of coffee when NTCs are in-person.

But beyond posting pictures of coffee, this is a good reminder of much of what was discussed in the keynote.

Back when we could meet in person, there were people who couldn’t attend for accessibility reasons. As we dream of meeting in person again, what can we do to avoid returning to the old exclusionary ways?

People First: ISO My Identity in Demographic Data Fields

Presented by Gergoriah Hartman, Jason Lott, Melissa Chenok, Rumi Matsuyama

“People First” session collaborative notes

Each panelist shared ways in which digital forms have excluded them in the past. This included uninclusive gender options and ethnic demographic questions that only allow one selection.

They asked us to share ways forms have excluded us in the past and I shared two examples from my own life:

1. As a proud hyphenated-last-name-haver, every few months a website tells me that I have an “invalid last name”.

2. My children have my partner’s last name. When we ordered birth certificates, the system *warned* us that the child’s last name was the same as the mother’s rather than the father’s. We had to confirm that their last name was correct. This was an irritation for us, but I can’t imagine how hurtful this could be to folks in other situations.

Great point from Gregoriah: Some demographics like gender and pronouns are not static.

Not seeing yourself in a dropdown menu can be really unwelcoming. This is bad for website visitors and organizations, since it can lead people to not complete a form/signup.

One thing I always like to mention when talking about this subject is that online forms can literally be “othering”. Too often, “Other” is used as the catch-all term for gender, ethnic, racial, language, and other identities. If you have forms, go look at them right now and make sure you’re not doing this!

One lesson learned by EveryAction (a tool built by some of the presenters) is that “perfect can be the enemy of the good”. The best possible solution—both for people and with technology—can shift over time. This means we should always strive to do better and we should embrace receiving feedback so we can make improvements.

Some Tips: "Not Listed" is better than "Other". A multi-select option is better than a "multi-racial" label. Offer open text boxes or "pill" module (Latice solution). Consult (and pay) outside experts. Don't just rely on internal staff, do your homework. Say "pronouns" or "personal pronouns", not "preferred pronouns". Deadnames/Deadnaming: Do use: "Previous" or "former" name; "the name on one's government-issued ID". Don't use: "Chose" or "Current" name, "legal name". Names: Expanding character limits and diacritic support allows correct, complete, affirming, and proper spelling!
(Acknowledgement: The “deadname” label isn’t used by everyone.)

More tips from the chat:

One thing we do at NTEN is make demographic responses optional. I think for many even the whole process is too painful and we want them to know they are still welcome.

Something I know I struggle with: Not all names map to the western concepts of “First” and “Last”. Asking for “Name” or “Full Name” is often preferable, but it can be really hard to avoid First/Last because of how many systems assume that data structure for names.


Expanding character limits & also for special characters

Tradeoffs and Constraints: Open text boxes may require data cleanup. Balacing inclusion with suability, reporting, and segmentation needs is a challenge. Ask if you really need analytics. Congressional web forms required prefixes. Federal contractors / HR Software may require binary gender reporting. Voter file records and secretaries of State have data conflicts. Older legacy systems are expensive to update.
Emphasis: Do you really need analytics!?!?!?!?!

About the Alternative Text in this Post

At about this point in the day, I tweeted about this very blog post! You can bet that I put my money where my mouth is and write alternative text for every screenshot in this post. In a lot of cases, that can get pretty verbose and tricky!

Service Design: Better Experiences for Everyone

Presented by Janice Chan

“Service Design” session collaborative notes / #22NTCServiceDesign hashtag

“Service design” is a new concept to me.

“Services design is about the end-to-end experience, and everything that needs to occur top-to-bottom along that journey to create value for both the end user and the organization.”

Example: It’s not just the “In memoriam” field on a donation form but the entire process that leads someone to use it and the outcome of their donation.

Mapping and diagramming - for services, ecosystems, stakeholders. Stakeholder mapping diagram. Y-axis: Stakeholder interest. X-axis: Stakeholder influence. Chart values in quadrants, starting top-right and moving clockwise: Manage closely, Keep satisfied, Minimal contact, Keep informed

A key part of service design is that it is sustainable both for the people providing and receiving services.

The double diamond from The Design Council. Two diamonds, side-by-side with dotted lines splitting each in half and in between the two. Each segment is labeled: Discover, define, develop, deliver.

This “double diamond” diagram is very interesting to me and comes from design thinking. Two phases are about ideas the opening of ideas and possibilities while the other two phases are about narrowing plans and putting them into practice.

Mapping and diagramming - for services, ecosystems, stakeholders. Stakeholder mapping diagram. Y-axis: Stakeholder interest. X-axis: Stakeholder influence. Chart values in quadrants, starting top-right and moving clockwise: Manage closely, Keep satisfied, Minimal contact, Keep informed
A more equitable approach would replace the “Stakeholder influence” axis with “Impact of outcomes on stakeholder”

I really appreciated Janice’s thoughts on how we involve people:

  • Staff should only be consulted during working hours
  • External stakeholders should be compensated
  • It should be extremely clear that participation is optional. Informed consent is critical when doing research with external stakeholders.
What is a service blueprint? A service blueprint is a way to visualize a service from end to end, and all of the components and interactions needs to make that happen from top to bottom. A series of boxes in columns and rows show different processes and the components that make them up from start to finish.
These blueprints can either be “current state” blueprints—how things are—or “ideal state” blueprints—how things should be.
Participatory Design or Co-Design. Spectrum from left to right: Point 1 (left-most): No external input. We (Designers) build what we think is best. Point 2: Gather one-way input, but designers interpret and decide what goes into the design. Point 3: Engage community in creating the design, contributing ideas, but they have no say in decision-making process. Point 4 (right-most): Community members are part of the design team and part of the decision-making.

Great point: Unless you work with people who you know are dealing with trauma, you’re probably working with people who you don’t know have experienced trauma (still!). Practice trauma-informed design by thinking about inclusion, accessibility, informed consent, etc.

“All Things WordPress” Community Conversations

“All Things WordPress” session collaborative notes

I was excited to host a very informal conversation with WordPress users during the [Seattle] lunch time “community conversations” session.

We talked about:

  • Fearing updates. Everyone agreed that having easily restore-able backups was critical and than updating has gotten a little easier.
  • Confusion between…
    • WordPress: Free open source software
    • WordPress.com: For-profit WordPress hosting company founded by co-founder of WordPress open source software
    • WordPress VIP: One of many enterprise-level hosts owned and operated by WordPress.com parent company
  • Can data in WordPress power an app? Yes! There is a REST API for WordPress. Whether that’s the smartest technical solution for your needs will vary. (It could be! But it might not.)
  • Content Audits
    • Content Audit is one of my favorite plugins
    • Doing the process of a content audit is good no matter what. That might be in a spreadsheet, third-party tool, or with this plugin.
    • One participant shared how valuable the process was and also how it highlighted the need for content governance to make sure new and existing content is maintained.
  • Managing relationships with contractors/agencies

Building Accessible Forms

Presented by Becky Gibson and Erica Braverman

Building Accessible Forms session collaborative notes


Accessibility is a journey, not a destination. Digital accessibility comes step by step! Today is one step of many. "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." - Maya Angelou

Tips for Making Your Forms Accessible

Form Structure & Formatting

  • Pick an easy-to-read font (simple serif of sans-serif)
  • Make font large enough
  • Sufficient contrast between text and background colors
  • Text above input fields
  • Text to the right of radio buttons or checkboxes (unless you’re using a right-to-left language!)
  • Keep text close to fields (especially valuable for people using screen magnifiers)
  • Add support for dark mode for people with photo sensitivity
  • Contain radio buttons and checkboxes in fieldsets
  • Split longer forms onto multiple pages and have a heading that clearly identifies what section of the form they are on
  • Add instructions within form labels, not as separate paragraphs
  • Try to always have a visible text label for each form field

Write Plainly

  • Write with plain language!!! (“clear, concise, well-organized and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field of the intended audience”)
    • I learned there’s a Plain Writing Act requiring US federal websites to be written clearly!
    • Write to your audience
    • Keep instructions simple
    • Organize text in logical order
    • Avoid jargon, spell out acronyms the first time
    • Resource that’s new to me: PlainLanguage.gov
  • Demonstrate the expected format of data and accept multiple formats whenever possible
  • Don’t use placeholder text (grayed out text in empty form fields) instead of a label.

Form Errors

  • Keep stressors to a minimum (punitive language, exclamation points, all caps, red/orange
  • Don’t use color by itself to indicate problems
  • Give next steps and encouragement (highlight things that need fixes, provide contact info, set good expectations)

Even More Tips!

  • Before people fill out the form, set expectation for information people will need to complete the form and how long they’ll have to finish it.
  • Time limits are a barrier. Try to avoid it. Make the timer long. Allow extending it.
  • Give visitors option to save and continue later.
  • Make sure form fields are large enough to easily identify and select
  • Remove distractions from the page (animations, sounds)
  • Provide alternative ways to submit information or get help (email, phone, text, etc.)

During Q&A I asked about considerations for conditional fields. One of the presenters suggested:

  • Let screen readers know it happened (I assume this would be with aria-live)
  • Consider alerting users to new fields or make sure that the conditional changes happen after the current field.

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