Episode 36 • Joel Hooks

Championing a11y and Being Authentic with Lindsey Kopacz

Lindsey Kopacz, web-developer and accessibility blogger, joins us today to discuss:

  • The positives that being authentic and public with your emotional state provides.
  • Her blog and the excellent dev.to community
  • The business value of accessibility
  • Accessibility in a sense that isn't limited to people with physical disabilities


"Championing a11y and Being Authentic - with Lindsey Kopacz" Transcript


Lindsey Kopacz:

Joel Hooks


Joel Hooks: Hi Lindsey.

Lindsey Kopacz: Hello Joel. How are you?

Joel Hooks: I'm doing really well. Thanks for taking the time out to chat with me today. I am interested in a lot of the things that you've been up to, specifically ... to start with, just to throw this out there ... is you talked a lot about ADHA and anxiety, and kind of dealing with that in the fast paced world of web technology. I was wondering do you think software is special in that regard? Do we have special place in the realm of high anxiety fields of study and work?

Lindsey Kopacz: I definitely do. Of course anxiety and ADHD is generally not ... it's not stuck with just tech, but it is exemplified I think with tech. So for example, with everything constantly changing it is ... I'm not the first person to say imposter syndrome exists in tech. Everybody knows that. But I think when you have an anxious go-getter mentality, especially with all of the indie hackers going on now wanting to keep up, and wanting to make sure that we're current, it's really hard to get caught up in that. So I think with other careers, like I don't want to say things don't change, like constantly change or anything because I think that's false, but I think with tech it's just like we're ... a lot of times we are feeling like we're thrown in the deep end. Even if we love that feeling, it's still a very anxious feeling as well, so.

Joel Hooks: It's almost like a magnet for folks that kind of lean that way, in a lot of ways, because on some levels you have to enjoy it, right? Like if you don't enjoy the constant change at some level, you're going to have a really, really hard time. And I'm sure that's true for some folks. To me, it almost seems like it's the bright light and we're anxious moths trying to get to the light.

Lindsey Kopacz: Right. I think it's kind of, as you said, it's sort of a double edge sword. If I didn't have that I think I'd be completely bored. I'd be so bored with that because I love that there is a lot of change, there's new things to learn. I'm currently earning D3, and it's one of those things that I almost feel like a new developer again, because there's so many things that I felt really solid on, but I'm feeling like a newb again and it's actually kind of great that way.
But it is anxiety evoking if you're not mentally prepared to deal with it, and deal with all that change, so I think for me, and something I always advise other people who are struggling with it, is just know that it's okay. It's okay to struggle with it.

Joel Hooks: You tend to be pretty open about it. I've seen you speak and write about your own personal experiences with ADHD and should we be more open and be more willing to talk about these things in public space? Or how does that help you personally I guess is really the question?

Lindsey Kopacz: Well I think when it comes down to it, one of the best assets that I add to the community and to my employers and whatnot is my authenticity. So I try to be very open about it mostly because one, being authentic lowers the pressure a little bit, because I don't feel like ... if I am struggling with something, I can kind of take step away and not feel as self-conscious about it. Usually because I don't feel self-conscious, it doesn't manifest into this whole snowball of ridiculousness in my head. Because if you suffer from both ADHA and anxiety, it feeds off a lot on each other, so you'll get distracted and then you get anxious about the fact that you're distracted and you're like, "Oh wait, what was I working on? Oh wait, I'm a highly productive person and I'm not able to focus."
And I'm not even go further than that, but let's just say it snowballs. It can go downhill really quickly. But I just have to be mentally prepared to deal with that. And now I'm feeling a little self-conscious because I have ADHD and I'm like, "Did I even answer his question? I don't even know."

Joel Hooks: No I think you are answering my question. Like to me, how does it personally help to be open, and like the opposite to that is to squish it down into a little ball inside, right? Like when you take all these feelings that you're truly feeling, and disguising your true nature or whatever in the hopes that other people won't be offended or won't be shocked what's occurring. And I think, especially since it is so prevalent in our field, that maybe people do understand. And also you're in a situation where folks don't understand and aren't equipped to help you or be understanding about that, then it's probably not the right place to be at the end of the day.

Lindsey Kopacz: I think one of the best moments I had in my career, which sounds kind of weird in retrospect, is ... I guess it was about three years ago ... I actually had a complete meltdown at work because I was suppressing so much of it. One of my co-workers, who was my friend, just went to my boss, who actually was very, very, very kind. I don't know why I was afraid to tell her, but she was like, "Yo, Lindsey is struggling right now and we might need to give her a little bit more mentorship and support." And I look back and I realize that asking for help when you're struggling isn't a sign of weakness, and I had always thought it was.
I think I took that lesson and every single time I'm struggling with something, I ask something or ask the question that I need to. The fact is, usually people are way more willing to help. Nobody thinks you're stupid. People are just like, "Oh yeah, this is a tricky thing." Or a lot of developers understand the rubber duck technique where you just like basically talk to yourself and figure out the answer. But still, getting it out there is such a calming thing, and it's probably one of the most important things I've learned as a technologist, let alone as a person.

Joel Hooks: Yeah. Has it ever backfired? Like being open, have you seen any negative side effects from being more open and presenting yourself in that way?

Lindsey Kopacz: Mostly no. In fact, I think I reap more benefits than negative consequences from it, but when I'm open about it online ... I remember I wrote something on Dev.2 and it wasn't ... one of the few things I didn't actually include in my personal blog, but I wrote about tips that I've learned working remotely, and one of them was like, "If you need to step away and cry, just do it." Like that's one of the benefits, is you don't have to worry about people seeing you. You can just get it off your chest and then move on. And somebody basically told me like I need some serious professional help because I was recommending that to people. I mean, I thought that was really obnoxious.

Joel Hooks: Yeah, that's like a drive by internet analysis.

Lindsey Kopacz: Well the ironic part is I've gotten help. I've been in therapy probably on and off since I was 10 or something. My mother was a therapist, which probably helps a lot in understanding my perspective of things, but the good thing about my mom being a therapist is when things were bad, she sent my ass to the shrink. So it really helped that way. I think it's one of those things that we have this huge aversion to crying, but crying is very therapeutic. I found for myself if I suppress the crying I'm way more likely to cry for like hours versus me going and crying for like two minutes.

Joel Hooks: Yeah, it's like putting the pot on simmer all day versus just letting it out.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, exactly. I just started a new job like a month ago. But at my old job if I was struggling, I'd tell my co-workers I'm like, "Hey look, I'm not doing work right now because I'm just having a mental struggle right now. But I'm going to calm myself down and I'll come back to work in like an hour." It was a little easier to do because I was working remotely, but I felt the fact that I could be authentic was actually really respected. People were like, "Wow, you take care of yourself. We care about you." And it felt good to do that, you know? I think most of the times people appreciate it because they know that you care about your work.
And something that irks me, the other podcast I was on about mental health does, is they talk about resources and how much money you can lose if you don't address these issues, because when it comes down to it, it's important. When we're suppressing it, we actually end up costing ourselves more money, so we might as well give the people who struggle the things they need. So that's why I actually went on their podcast, because I absolutely really care about that.

Joel Hooks: I wish more businesses would think about that in terms of ... You know, well what's the business value of being kind and giving the employee space to have a full range of emotions instead of just ultra productive and happy all the time, or trying to pretend to be those things. When you know if you do that for too long I think you end up crashing, right, like you can't sustain that and you end up leaving if it's a toxic workplace, and that kind of churn is you lose valuable people that way, which is definitely a business reason to have a calm place and give people space.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, like that. And just like caring about your workers but like sometimes you have to present it originally with the monetary savings that you keep a business because it's just easy to get caught up in the numbers. But still, you know. You know how that goes.

Joel Hooks: So you talked about your blog, and that's a relatively new thing for you. Is that true?

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah. I actually launched it on my birthday last year, so I wanted to add some poetry to it so it'd be like, "Oh, my blog's birthday is on my birthday. How sweet."

Joel Hooks: Yeah, that is nice.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah and also I would always just remember that because it's my birthday, so I remember launching it on my birthday. But yeah, it is relatively new. I've been sticking to trying to blog once a week. In December things just got ridiculous so ... as they do ... so I had a little bit of a pause there, but now I'm back in the roll of things, so.

Joel Hooks: What's your motivation there? Why would you start a blog in 2018, I guess is my question?

Lindsey Kopacz: It was something I was toying around a lot with at the beginning of the year. I originally built it in [inaudible 00:10:10] because that is what I knew. That's why it kind of got slowed down because I don't know if you know anything about [inaudible 00:10:17] hosting, but it's expensive. My motivation for blogging has a lot of folds. It's one, my own learning. Two, I actually do really like to write. Three, I love accessibility and something I've really noticed is that there's so many developers who want to learn about it and every time I've given a talk, I have people walk up to me and be like, "You should write about this, because the way you present information makes it way less intimidating and scary."
So I just wanted to establish myself as like an empathetic subject matter expert on that. It's been a really interesting challenge. It's gained more traction than I thought it would. But yeah, just that and also I care about teaching a lot. I think when it comes down to it, that's really where my main Dev passion comes, is like with teaching, which is why I was really interested in becoming an Egghead [inaudible 00:11:15] instructor.

Joel Hooks: Yeah it kind of spreads it out a little more.

Lindsey Kopacz: Exactly.

Joel Hooks: So you have your blog, and that's up and running. You're doing ... You have quite a few posts. You kept a really great cadence actually, and I encourage you to keep it up, because what's interesting to me is you look at that and you've been doing this for months now, and keeping your cadence, but now you have this catalog and a resource that people can come to. And not only learn about accessibility, and the other things that you're teaching about, but then also learn about you. And you're really presenting your expertise which I think is, to me, one of the biggest advantages of having your own personal space, and having it in your own space. Because yours is ... what's the domain name?

Lindsey Kopacz: It's a11ywithLindsey.com. Just in case people don't know accessibility, that little abbreviation it's a-1-1-y. A lot of people actually don't know that. So now in retrospect I'm like, "Maybe I should change the domain to be accessibility with Lindsey, but it's a11ywithLindsey.

Joel Hooks: You can always get that one and have a redect.

Lindsey Kopacz: That's true.

Joel Hooks: Like have a redirect back. We'll put a link in the bottom there for folks to click on.

Lindsey Kopacz: Awesome.

Joel Hooks: But now, so you're building your presence on the internet. You're not like some cog in the medium butcher shop, or whatever, I'm not a big fan. I love that you've started your own space and you're doing your thing on your terms. I think it's great. And then you also ... it looks like, so Dev.2 is a really great online community that allows you to post there as well and give like the canonical, like Google juice, back to yourself too I think. Is that how it works?

Lindsey Kopacz: Right.

Joel Hooks: Because I noticed that there's cross-posting going on.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, yeah. They do allow the ... wait, I always mispronounce this ... canonical, did I say that right, Url. Yeah and plus the community's just way more specific than medium guy, I like that you know my audience is a little bit more targeted there. People can find accessibility, stuff like there's an a11y tag and so if they're looking for accessibility stuff they can click on that. My stuff will definitely appear in some of it. But I cross-posted most of my stuff there. I think I'm only ... I've only not cross-posted my most recent posts. I can go into why, but in order for brevity or whatever I can keep that off unless you want to know. I think that the thing with Dev.2 that's really nice for me is getting feedback too, because I haven't figured out comments yet on my own personal blog and I'm uncertain if I want to add them to begin with.

Joel Hooks: I removed mine. They're horrible.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, part of me is like, "Do I really want to go through that?" I don't know.

Joel Hooks: You just have to moderate it at that point. But that's the thing. Like to me, I'm not into moderating it. And to have people go off and then arguments happen, and I've never had like a good quality conversation in blog comment space at all, like ever.

Lindsey Kopacz: I feel like it's comments in general.

Joel Hooks: Yeah, I mean you have comments on YouTube. They're alright on Egghead because we actually limit it to only people that are paying, and even then they go off the rail sometimes. It's like ugh. So I'm like, "Hit me up on Twitter." Like that's my comments, right. Like If you want to talk about it you can email me, or hit me up on Twitter. Basically someplace where I can block people more easily. It's so ... and you know this kind of gets back to the just general anxiety and people expecting and feeling entitled to your time and presence. A lot of times I'm more than willing to give people that, but then people that demand it or are like 100% totally inappropriate, like I just don't have time for that.

Lindsey Kopacz: Right. Oh yeah, no I feel for bloggers that have been blogging for longer than I have, because I'm in that fortunate sweet spot where enough people know who I am, but not so many people know who I am. So I don't have my Twitter DMs clogged or anything yet, and people are demanding for me to give them free advice, which I am very mixed about which I can go into a little bit more detail if you'd like. The reason why I even paused with that is I have so many feelings about things that I could go on the longest tangent in that one respect. But your listener's time, your time, all that, but yeah. Comments in general are just, are good on Dev.2 because they do all the moderating for you first of all.
And second of all it's like so specific, like Dev community's only had a few fires, for all intents and purposes. My comments, like even the one who I said before who said that, he I think it might have been some sort of language barrier because he actually directly emailed me after his comment got removed and said he was so sorry. So I guess that was kind of a nice thing. But then there's one who was pretty much mansplaining extensively to me, and I'm like ...

Joel Hooks: And here's how it actually is, accessibility expert.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, and then you know I had one of my friends who is blind was responding to him, and then he wasn't listening to her, and I'm like, "Oh my God."

Joel Hooks: And it just goes circular. I think that's what interesting to me about Dev.2 is the community there that allows that cross-posting, and allows those conversations. It really to me is one of the most inviting spaces for developers on the internet right now. I try to pay attention to that stuff, and I think what they do is really quite fascinating and such a good, positive space to have, that we need. We desperately need these spaces where people can feel comfortable and can speak and share and help one another.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, and I've learned a lot from other people's posts too, which is awesome. Sometimes when I'm stuck on a bug, sometimes I search Dev.2 first before I go on like Stack Overflow or any other that.

Joel Hooks: Yeah. So aside from that, what other ... are there other communities that you're involved with that their spaces that have maybe similar traits?

Lindsey Kopacz: Yes. I'm in the DC area, so I'm heavily involved with the women who code DC Group. I used to actually lead the front end night, or be one of them, there's three or four other leads at this time I think, but now I'm one of the leads for the Entrepreneurship group. So like kind of talking to people about site hustles, freelancing, start-ups, stuff like that and trying to kind of get a lot of interactivity, learning a little bit more about this business side of things. Even things that are kind of boring like accounting, I know that's like every entrepreneur's ... well, I don't want to make assumptions. I know a lot of entrepreneurs hate that. They're like, "I just want to work on my thing."

Joel Hooks: I hate that stuff.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, a lot of people do. But you know, helping people with that, understanding even just like how much money of my income ... or how money of my income do I put aside do I put aside? How many dollars?

Joel Hooks: Or how much do I put aside to pay a bookkeeper? And it's funny because people hate it, and I hate, and it's one of those things where you'll bury your head in the sand, but you desperately need to not bury your head in the sand, and face it right up front as quickly as possible otherwise it's gets really bad.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, you don't want to screw yourself over.

Joel Hooks: That's a personal experience story folks.

Lindsey Kopacz: Not to scare anyone. Start your own thing, but don't ignore taxes.

Joel Hooks: That's an interesting concept. So you're saying in real life communities that you participate in. I'm just kidding, that sounds great. Like I think you know like getting out of the house and going and interacting with other people, so. Communities in that space is healthy.

Lindsey Kopacz: It's definitely different now, because I'm working in an office, but I was working remote and it is so hard to get myself motivated to go out, during the winter especially. Because you know, you're just like, "Oh, I'm at home. Here's my cat. I wanna chill here." The next thing you know you're like you haven't been out of the apartment in like three days, and so it forces me to kind of get out. Interestingly enough, I am actually a pretty social person. It's just, like I can easily get in that habit too, so I'm not leaving my apartment when I'm working from home. So let that be a lesson to your listeners. Even if you're extroverted make sure you get out of the house when you work from home.

Joel Hooks: Yeah. So I had a question.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah?

Joel Hooks: Why should I care about accessibility? Like I don't need accessible websites, so why should I care about accessibility?

Lindsey Kopacz: I guess this is a little blurb from my upcoming next blog, but my next blog post is going to be why accessibility isn't an edge case. It's one of the few blog posts that I have that doesn't go deep into tech and it's more like an argument. But accessibility has ... there's three main things that I think of. One, business. You'd be shocked at how many E-commerce sites are inaccessible. So if, let's just say we're taking the American population, I believe the statistic is about one out of every five people suffers from some sort of disability, and granted that range is from a variety of things. But you're missing a huge chunk of pie, essentially, of the money pie, if you are leaving off your users from being able to straight up purchase something.
If you think about basic user experience, and if you make something difficult for a user, they're going to leave. They're not going to buy your products, they're not going to look at your ask. Like I guess that's more marketing speak, like you have an ask of your consumer. They're not going to go searching for that information if you make it difficult for them. The other one is legal. Very relevant now is Beyounce.com actually got sued for-

Joel Hooks: Yeah, I read about that.

Lindsey Kopacz: From a legal standpoint, like I think she was unable to access the menus with her keyboard, and this is a blind user. She was unable to purchase a hoodie, she was unable to learn about tour dates, and it's like, you think about that from a legal standpoint, it's almost like discrimination. You know? And the sad part about it is it's not intentional. Like people don't intend to do it, but it's just a blind spot a lot of us have. Even myself, like there are things I'm still learning, and I'm like, "Wow, I didn't even realize I had that bias or made that assumption."
The last part is, it's just good practice. Even if you take the accessibility argument out of it, good HTML is inherently accessible, so using semantic HTML also saves the developer time. One of my blog posts was like three simple ways to improve keyboard accessibility. It was actually one of my most popular posts. But one of the tips is using semantic HTML. Like if you have a button, don't make it a div, make it a button. I mean you might have to override a few pieces of styling because you don't like the way the button looks, but you can access it with your keyboard.
You don't have to build it in JavaScript to make sure that it works with key presses. You can just, once you put a click event on it, it works. It works with your enter key and you're good to go. So it's good HTML and it makes it easier for a developer, especially when you start using JavaScript. It builds in a lot of that functionality for you.

Joel Hooks: I think a lot of times folks consider accessibility just in the perspective of folks with disabilities, right? And it is very important that we consider that and build our websites and web applications with those folks in mind. But accessibility really at the end of the day is for everybody. Like the more accessible your website is, the more inclusive it is and the more people can use it. The faster it is, the better it works. The easier it is for people to navigate and get around and find what they need ... that in and of itself presents, you know, you're casting a wider net and you're making your service more available, and ultimately more profitable and more useful and more valuable across the board.

Lindsey Kopacz: Right. The thing I personally struggle with is I always just want to be like, "Why should you care about accessibility? Because you want to be a good person." Unfortunately that usually doesn't win over stakeholders because they have bosses and they need to have more compelling arguments, and you need to give them. Like a lot of times they actually agree with you, but they need to have something to tell their boss or like-

Joel Hooks: The business.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, you know because even from a financial standpoint if you're like, "Oh we could get sued," that raises eyebrows. But accessibility, like you said, it's good for everyone. I think about it now, I very, very rarely use my mouse to navigate through things on my Mac. Like I use the app switcher, I use keyboard shortcuts to go through all of my tabs, which is like right now, oh gosh, at least 20.

Joel Hooks: It's better for your hands, for one thing. Right? Like just long term using a computer, like keyboard navigation and that sort of thing. You know for some folks I think a mouse is probably the most appropriate device, but then for other people using the keyboard is the way to go. It's just more efficient. [inaudible 00:24:56]

Lindsey Kopacz: Exactly.

Joel Hooks: So talking about like the work situation, right, like you're in a job and my observation is that every time accessibility is a priority on a project, it's because somebody is being the champion and insisting that we focus on that and bringing it up in every meeting, and every sprint planning session there's a person in the back that's saying, "Hey, how are we making this accessible? Are we focusing on keyboard navigation? What are we going to do for screen readers?" And I was wondering if that's something you've experienced and if so, how ... and should we, you know as developers be individually championing the accessibility of our applications that we build? An accessibility champion.

Lindsey Kopacz: Do you want to be like an accessibly champion? Is that what you mean?

Joel Hooks: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Lindsey Kopacz: Okay. So if you were like new to accessibility I think the best part for being an accessibility expert for me is I can always chime in and say, "Hey, have we thought about this? Have we thought about that?" Even if you're not an expert, you can start that right now. You can be like, "Hey, this is ..." For example, I'm doing a lot of D3 stuff right now at my new job, and you have to think about okay, so what are we going to do for the people who can't see these crafts? Like how are we going to give them the data? How are we going to give people the data, like if it's an interactive D3 visualization, if somebody cannot use their mouse how are they going to interact with that data? How are they going to see those data points?
Like sometimes you click on something and the little like a tool tip pops up or something, so making sure that we, at the very minimum, have a fallback for it, and we're thinking through those things. So even just thinking about like you know the senses right? Like if somebody cannot see, how are they going to interact with somebody? If somebody has difficulty moving, like how are they going to interact with that? And just thinking about even things like cognitive disorders, like what is going to stress people out? One of my favorite posts that I researched was actually one about dyslexia because it's one of the things that I never really thought about. Even as an accessibility expert. So it's very much a learning post for me.
So like I started thinking like how, if my content is overwhelming, what are the ways I can make my content better? And one of the things that I realized is having a fallback like letting people listen to my posts, which I think benefits a lot of people not just people who suffer from Dyslexia, but people who maybe want to like listen to it in the car, or whatever. So I've been using my friend Kyle's product that he's been building called Parler.io, so it's P-a-r-l-e-r.i-o. And it's really cool, like if you have a RSS feed you can just put it in for your blog and you can select whatever blog post you want to do, and it transcribes it for you and you can just pop it right in. It's really cool.

Joel Hooks: Oh that is neat.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, I've been using it. I think I've sued it on all of my blog posts. So if not, I should probably do an audit and make sure it's on all of them.

Joel Hooks: Yeah, we have like the opposite problem on Egghead right? Because we have videos, and videos are inherently inaccessible. So for the longest time we didn't have transcripts, and then we got transcripts, and then those are okay. But now we're going back through and actually, well if somebody's just reading this how can it be ... how can they get the same amount of value out of that, and enhancing them to where they're more like a written tutorial with in line code and all that kind of stuff. Then last year we finally, finally got closed-captions in only English so far, but it's like a layer up process of how we can make this more useful to more people ad make the internet a better place for the most people possible, I think, is a pretty good goal.

Lindsey Kopacz: Right. And you know you also think about that too from, like my instinct is not only does that help from an accessibility standpoint, it also helps from your mission. Your goal is to help people learn, but some people learn better from video tutorials and some people learn better from like listening to things or reading things or whatever. So like it kind of helps with multiple different learning styles. So you know one of those things again is accessibility is beneficial to everyone. So, another selling point to that.

Joel Hooks: Yeah, I agree with that. Well Lindsey, it was really great talking to you, and just to close it out, where can people find you on the internet? Where are you at and hanging out in various communities?

Lindsey Kopacz: I'm on so many slacks. I'm on ... you know what, I can't even remember slacks. But the first thing I will always tell people is to interact with me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is LittleCode0903. I am fairly active on there. Sometimes I have quiet times, probably during the weekends but I really like interacting with people, talking about tech. It's a great space. I've actually learned to really develop a community there. And yeah, I'm trying to think. I'm on so many slacks. Like I'm on Dribble Slack, DCTech Slack.

Joel Hooks: Now you need to like do a blog post that lists all your favorite slacks. I think that's the next step.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, yeah. There's a few also that I know I want to join, too, so like I think I'm a member of like 25 slacks, but I'm only active in maybe like five or six of them.

Joel Hooks: I've gone the opposite direction with slack. Where I was a member of about 25 of them and now I've reduced it down to one or two.

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, I mean it's overwhelming, so you kind of have to.

Joel Hooks: It's the notifications. They get me. And like I just ... I've been on a rampage of reducing notifications and all that [crosstalk 00:30:52].

Lindsey Kopacz: Yeah, luckily I'm pretty good at using the DND setting, so unless I like see the little one or whatever, the little message thing on slack, I avoid it.

Joel Hooks: Great, that's the way to go. All right Lindsey, it was great talking to you. Cheers.

Lindsey Kopacz: Cheers.