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For me, streaks are such a powerful motivator and I have no idea why.

Originally, I was going to title this post, “My Thoughts On Streaking”, but at the last moment, I thought that just might seriously send the wrong message and draw the wrong kind of attention. :). But I do want to talk about streaks today because I’ve come to recognize that for me, they’re an incredible motivator and I’d really love to figure out why.

What do I mean by streak? You’ve probably come across them in apps that recognize you for using them consistently. For example, yesterday, I got a notification from WordPress recognizing my 6-day streak because I’ve posted to my blog consistently for the past six days. But these streaks are everywhere: My journaling app, Day One, shows my current streak which is based on my writing at least one entry per day. The app I use to help me manage weight loss, Lose It!, shows a streak based on the number of days I log all my meals. And these are just two examples, my phone and digital life are filled with many many more.

I think the first time I really started noticing and paying attention to streaks was with the old version of what is now called Swarm. Swarm is a check-in app that allows you to virtually “check in” to a location and share that check-in with your friends. I thought the idea behind this was cool because seeing the places that my friends were checking in to, gave me ideas on places I might want to visit. In fact, I’ve tried many restaurants and attended many events inspired by the check-ins of my friends. Swarm took this concept one step further though and made it possible for users to become a virtual mayor of a place if they had the most check-ins at that place. I absolutely loved this concept and collected many virtual mayorships; I was even the proud virtual mayor of a number of bus stops in Minneapolis at one point. And while these virtual mayorships didn’t have any real value, I was absolutely hooked by the gamification of it all. In fact, I was even a tiny bit sad when my little mayorship empire was overthrown after a job change no longer necessitated my visiting my usual bus stops.

And so I’m curious, is anyone else motivated by streaks? I mean I figure people must connect with them in some way as otherwise apps wouldn’t have them, and yet, I haven’t heard anyone really talking about this topic or the psychology behind it. So, what do you think, or what have your own experiences been with streaks? Let me know in the comments below. And with that, I better get this entry posted quickly, so that I hit my 7-day blogging streak. 🙂

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An open thank-you to @YNAB for improving accessibility in an incredibly meaningful way..

For years, I’ve been a fan of YNAB, You Need a Budget. I love the principles behind their budgeting methodology, I love the app, I love the company, I’m just a really huge fan. YNAB has helped me to pay down debt, feel more confident about where my money is coming from, and going to, and generally feel way more in control of my financial life. Unfortunately, on 07/14, I downloaded an update to YNAB’s iOS app, an update that contained significant accessibility issues.

Tweet from Steve

I was hurt. I was up-set. I was not sure if I had set enough money aside to cover my rent payment — in short, it was not a very good day.

When it comes to making products and services accessible, it’s really important to understand that accessibility isn’t a nice-to-have, or a feature request. This is especially true if you offer a product or service that people might depend on. Sure I could have changed to another app, but I also would likely have had to change my budgeting method to one that would align with whatever new app I had chosen. That would have been especially challenging as I couldn’t put my financial life on pause while I figured it all out.

Fortunately, the fine folks at YNAB were extremely responsive and understanding, indicating that they were already working on fixes and, more importantly, were working to ensure that issues like this wouldn’t happen again.

And so here we are, roughly three weeks later, and I again get a notification that an update to the YNAB app is available. Even better, the “What’s new” section of YNAB’s App Store entry mentions:

• Two major accessibility wins:

◦ We made many improvements to VoiceOver interactions.

◦ We changed our background colors so that the Increase Contrast accessibility setting will now apply to the YNAB app and actually increase the contrast.

What’s New section in YNAB’s Apple App Store entry for version 3.01

I downloaded the app and was absolutely blown away. YNAB is now more accessible than ever, it’s a complete accessibility transformation. Because of their work on accessibility, I can use the YNAB iOS app way more efficiently than ever before.

Steve’s tweet thanking YNAB after being blown away with their 3.01 update

So, what does all this mean? Certainly this is a win for me personally, but it goes way beyond that. By

working to improve our approach to accessibility concerns to prevent instances like this in the future

Mentioned by YNAB in a follow-up tweet

YNAB has helped ensure that I remain a loyal customer: I’m happy to continue using their product, and I’m happy to continue paying for it because I feel listened to and I feel valued. And that’s a big part of accessibility that often gets left out of the conversation; accessibility is about equal access to products and services, but it’s also about listening to, and responding to, customer needs; and isn’t that a key component of many brands? When a company values me, and goes the extra mile to show me that I am valued, they create loyalty because like most consumers, I appreciate companies and brands that appreciate me.

So Thank you, YNAB team, for your work on accessibility over these past few weeks. Not only have you transformed your iOS app in an incredible way, but you’ve also demonstrated, by taking action, that you value me and others who use assistive technologies. I’m proud of the tremendous amount you’ve accomplished and am excited to see what comes next.

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It must be awful to be blind

Oh if only I had a nickel for every time someone said this to me, I’d be a very rich man. I’ve heard variations of this all my life, so often in fact that when I was younger, I actually asked someone if there was something wrong with me because I didn’t feel my life was that awful. Anyway, since this is something I continue to hear over and over again, I thought I would blog about my perspective on the subject.

Before we get started, I want to clarify that the following is strictly my perspective and may not represent the perspective of all blind people. I feel it’s important to call this out up-front because often I’ve seen that when one member of a community says something, it’s assumed to be fact for all members of that community rather than just that one person’s perspective. OK with that out of the way, let’s get started.

Imagine this.

To put things in perspective, let us go on a short imaginary trip. Let’s say you’re walking down the street, maybe going to work, your favorite restaurant or coffee shop, or just out for a nice stroll. It’s a sunny day, the temperature is just right, it’s just a great day to be outside, one of those really awesome days when it’s just great to be alive. As you walk, you come upon a pigeon. The pigeon is just doing its thing just as you’re doing yours when out of the blue it says,

“Jees, it must be awful that you can’t fly.”

How do you respond to that statement? Let’s be honest here, it would be really cool to fly. I mean birds make it seem so easy and Superman did some really cool stuff with his ability to fly. But is your life really that bad because you can’t fly?

“I don’t know”, I’d say to my new pigeon friend, “I don’t think my life has really been that bad. I’ve gotten to visit places around the world and I’ve done it without ever flapping a wing.”

Perspective and judgement

Perspective is a very powerful thing. From the perspective of the pigeon, an inability to fly might seem like something that would make life very difficult. And that perspective is perfectly valid. We all have our own perspectives on things, it’s totally normal. Where perspective turns into a really bad thing however, is when judgement is cast — when the pigeon decides that since he can’t conceive of life without flight, it truly must be an awful reality. It’s one thing to shift one’s perspective, but something else entirely to reshape what one deems to be reality.

So, is it awful to be blind? Well, I certainly don’t think so and over my 40+ years, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder the question. As mentioned above, I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit including getting to visit some really cool places like Europe and India, I have a good career, I have a family, I enjoy the city in which I live, all-in-all, not really a bad life, at least in my opinion. Just like with an ability to fly, there are aspects of being able to see which I sometimes think would be cool, things like being able to jump in a car whenever I want, but even these aren’t things that prevent me from living a really awesome and fulfilling life. Take the car thing as an example: Sure it would be super convenient to just jump in a car and go, but I can get an Uber, often in less time than it would take someone to find a parking space. It’s a tradeoff, but one that is off-set by not needing to worry about car maintenance, a car payment, insurance payments, gas prices … I’m sure you get the idea. Being able to pick up and read a book or piece of mail would also be pretty cool, but with the evolution of technologies, even this doesn’t pose much of a barrier anymore. With most restaurant menus being online, I often know what I want to eat before the server even comes to take my drink order. And, with curb-side pickup offered by just about every retailer these days, shopping has gotten easier than ever. My point is that while there are times when I feel having sight would be useful, or just plain cool, there are usually ways to accomplish things without it. Do I know all these ways? Certainly not, like everyone, I’ve had to learn along the way, sometimes from friends, sometimes from family, sometimes from teachers or trainers, sometimes from books, but isn’t that how we all learn how to do things in life?

In conclusion, I don’t think that being blind is an awful thing, it’s just a thing. Just like not being tall, or just like not being able to run very fast, or, well, anything else. I know people may be curious about how I do certain things and that’s OK, curiosity is natural, it’s why we have the ability to ask questions and it’s how we learn from one another. So just know that if you’re reading this and you have questions, I think that’s great. Just please, please don’t pass judgement based on assumption because at least for me, my life as a blind guy has not been awful; I actually think its been a very fulfilling and beautiful thing.

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How I got into the accessibility field

When people ask me how I got into the accessibility field, my answer is that for me, it was more by accident rather than by design. I had just graduated from college, moved to a new state, and was excited to begin my career as a network or telecommunications engineer. I knew I would be hired very quickly because after all, I had a shiny new degree and back then, I was still young enough to know everything there was to know. And so I waited for my phone to ring … and I waited … and I waited. Eventually my phone did ring, but it wasn’t with the awesome job offer I was expecting, rather it was a friend who called asking for help. My friend had gotten a new job and was excited to begin work, however, he wasn’t sure how — or even if — the computer system he needed to use could work with a screen reader. For anyone new to this blog, a screen reader is an assistive technology that takes text that normally appears on an electronic screen and renders that as speech or braille output. Put another way, it’s a technology often used by (but not exclusively by) blind/low-vision people to hear the textual information that appears on a screen.

I was surprised when my friend called for a few reasons. First, my phone hadn’t rang in so long that the sound nearly startled me out of my chair. More important though, I had been using screen readers for quite a while and just sort of assumed that every other blind screen reader user must surely be as proficient as I was. What I didn’t fully understand is that not everyone was as into technology as I was and that my interest in technology could really be used to benefit others in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I was happy to help my friend, but even happier when I saw the impact that help had on his life. My friend told people about how I had helped him, those people told other people and before too long, my phone was ringing quite a bit.

If I had to define what accessibility means to me in one sentence, it would be: To empower and enable people to accomplish whatever it is they want to be able to do in life. Over the course of my career, I’ve had the honor to help people utilize technology to accomplish incredible things. I’ve also gotten to play a part in the evolution of technologies which continue to help more and more people every day; it’s been an incredibly awesome journey.

Often I’ve been asked, “What kind of background is ideal for someone wanting to get into the accessibility field?” I think what’s really needed is a passion for equality and a willingness to be open-minded. Empathy also goes an incredibly long way. Certainly there is a technical component to accessibility, but some of the best accessibility professionals I’ve met come from user experience, teaching, and a variety of backgrounds, each adding their own special experiences and perspective to what is becoming a tapestry of equality.

One more thing I want to address in this post is this idea which I keep hearing, that people with disabilities are a natural fit for the accessibility field. Certainly there are some really amazing people with disabilities in the accessibility field, but simply having a disability doesn’t necessarily make someone a good fit. For example, I have spoken with many other blind folks who feel that accessibility would be a good fit for them because they are very proficient screen reader users. The thing is, accessibility is way more than testing content with one particular type of assistive technology such as a screen reader. I think what often gets overlooked is that accessibility is about equality, not just equality for people with a specific type of disability.

I’m always happy to talk about accessibility, it’s an incredibly amazing and rewarding field. If you’d like to learn more, definitely continue the conversation in the comments, or feel free to contact me. Also, if there’s a particular aspect about the accessibility field you’d like me to blog about, please leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to write a post on the subject.

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