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Spotlight: Eriol Fox

What is your day job?

I work part-time as the lead designer at The Open Food Network and spend the other days of the week doing freelance projects, open source design contributions and then working on my PhD research, which is around humanitarian open source software and designer contributions. Only some of these things I'm paid to do!

I've recently been doing a lot of mentoring of early career designers both in and outside of the open source software space. Most of the people I mentor are designers interested in social good or human rights work generally.

How has learning about accessibility impacted what you do?

I'm always learning new kinds of ways of being accessible and inclusive but I would say what knowing about accessibility has allowed me to do is to be firmer and stronger in my design work for software. I find myself unable to let inaccessible tech go through the pipeline of development without at the very least signalling and discussing why something isn't accessible.

I think where it becomes trickier is where ways of being accessible and inclusive aren't as general 'well understood' or don't have clear guidance, documentation and resources. I think specifically the ways in which was can make technology and tools accessible to the wider spectrum of neurodiverse folks and folks with mental health needs and challenges.

I've been particularly interested in the last 2 years how we can 're-traumatise' or even start a trauma reaction with the tools we build. This is especially important in technology for civil society, human rights and humanitarian purposes (like I've worked on in the past) but we often forget how seemingly innocuous technology can harm in small and large ways. One of the ways that affect me the most is tools that are not inclusive of non-binary genders and don't consider the complexity of human experiences.

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

I think I would want everyone to think broadly about accessibility and the myriad of ways that tools can be inaccessible by different kinds of people.

Everyone, regardless of your job function, doing more exercises like empathy maps, user journeying and one of my favourite exercises Red team and blue team, by Jonny Rae-Evans where you can really explore as a team how technology is used and how it could potentially do harm and also, be inaccessible to some.

The last thing I would suggest is knowing about the personal risk that folks put themselves in to do accessibility advocacy. In the best case scenario, you're understood and well received and the work is done, but you have lead the effort and taken the time and energy to advocate. In the worst case scenario, you are faced with several difficult and energy draining conversations that might not succeed (but not for want of trying). This work, even when not successful is so meaningful but often unseen.

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