I arrived at the University of Dundee as a mature student in 1998, to take one year out to get an MSc in Applied Computing, and then go back into industry. Well, it took me rather longer than a year…as in the intervening time I found myself developing for myself a hybrid role of accessibility and inclusive design researcher, teacher and consultant. It’s been (mostly) terrific fun, but it came to an end this week as I start a new job with The Paciello Group. I’ve been very lucky to discover an area of work that in 1999 I had no idea existed, and strikes the right balance (for me) of technical knowledge and sensitivity of human diversity and needs. So I’m really pleased that I’ll be able to continue working in this field, joining a terrific team of people.
It’s been a tough time in UK Higher Education, and as I write this I’m acutely aware of the uncertainty facing many good colleagues in the sector, so I know I am very, very lucky to be able to voluntarily take control and have the opportunity to move in a direction I really want to. I will though say that, without a 100% focus on ruthlessly developing a research profile, operating in the sort of hybrid role that I did seemed to make it increasingly difficult to justify my contribution in an academic environment. Yet, a strong wall needs mortar as well as bricks.
I’ve previously talked about the special nature of the University of Dundee as a place to become involved in accessibility, especially in giving others the knowledge and skills, and learning from others who have years of experience in the field. That learning started with Alan Newell and Peter Gregor, without both of whom I wouldn’t be doing accessibility at all; and I wish my long-time colleague Graeme Coleman (@graemecoleman) all the best as web accessibility torch-bearer at the University. I’ll also put on record again my appreciation of the way that so many people outside of academia willingly and freely share valuable accessibility knowledge, which is a particularly strong attribute and appeal of my new colleagues; and Twitter in particular has become an indispensable route to new knowledge .
But, and forgive me if I sound like I’m going all Oscars acceptance speech on you here, amongst the many great accessibility people I’ve met and worked with over the years, there are three people I want to mention who have had huge influence on my thinking. Three people with whom I’ve had long conversations over the years, people I’ve learned from and had a chance to form – or change – my views on inclusive design, accessibility, and ultimately on creating great technology that genuinely benefits the people it’s intended to support.