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Spotlight: Alex Chen

What is your day job?

By day, I’m a product designer at a custom software agency called Table XI. I work with integrated teams to deliver software in a number of different industries, such as automotive, healthcare, and non-profit. In general, I’m passionate about designing technology that provides value to people, that is accessible and intuitive, and that does not perpetuate oppression or harm.

I’ve worked in the tech industry for about 7 years and I arrived at my focus on usability and accessibility about halfway through that journey. I have lived experience as a trans person part of a Chinese immigrant family, so I’ve always been interested in the concept of inclusive design. However, I wasn’t actively engaging or acting on it beyond a surface level interest.

I was inspired by my friend Sky Cubacub, founder of the trans and disabled wearables line called Rebirth Garments, who creates access in tangible ways (such as skirts that are shorter in the back for wheelchair users, or garments with no seams or tags for people with sensory sensitivities). This led me to researching digital accessibility, compliance, and WCAG (web content accessibility guidelines) much more deeply. That eventually led to me creating the tool Access Guide - a friendly introduction to digital accessibility.

How has learning about accessibility impacted what you do?

Learning about accessibility has really helped me grow. As a designer, I’ve really come to understand foundations of visuals, interaction, and usability through the lens of accessibility. It pushes me to have a deeper relationship with my teams and explore the ways disabled people use technology. It’s also helped me grow as an activist in solidarity with marginalized peoples everywhere. Specifically, I discovered Disability Justice through this work and the thought leadership of organizations like Sins Invalid and activists like Mia Mingus, Alice Wong, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, and countless others who have really transformed my thinking.

What’s one thing you’d want someone to know about doing accessibility work?

The one thing I’d want someone to know about accessibility work is that it doesn’t need to feel limiting, it can feel expansive and creative as well. Oftentimes I think people interpret rules as “you can’t do this” or “you’re going to be punished if you do this.”

I’d encourage everyone, myself included, to think of all the possibilities and opportunities to engage with people and come to creative solutions. How might we create visual excitement without using flashing lights that could cause a seizure? How might we create a minimalist interface for our podcast that includes a full transcript? I find this work powerful and engaging and I hope others do too.

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