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Spotlight: Frank Elavsky

What is your day job?

Ah! My day job is a bit of a mix of things. I spend most of my time as a research assistant but I'm also a PhD student (busy taking classes). I do consulting and contract work as well one day per week and I'm currently with folks in Human Centered Machine Intelligence over at Apple. I'm in a lot of places!

But at CMU, I build stuff! My research is largely technical and focused on making better systems for working with data:

Generally my time is split between writing code, working in co-design sessions, chatting with folks, reading, and writing.

How has learning about accessibility impacted what you do?

It's funny, I am disabled myself and my life is impacted every day by policy decisions (or lack of) and barriers in my life. But my professional work didn't start really focusing on accessibility until about 2018 (sooner if I count CVD and low contrast work I did back in 2015). But in 2018, it completely changed what, how, and why I do what I do.

I work in data visualization and got hired at Visa in 2018 to build a charting library (Visa Chart Components) with a great team there. Since accessibility is a priority for the whole company, we worked to make it accessible from day one. Since then we open sourced our charting library and I published a little guide (with immense help from friends) on how to audit and evaluate data visualizations for accessibility, called Chartability.

Accessibility work not only made me a better designer but helped me connect the dots between my own experiences as a disabled person and working in a space where access is the focus. I became so passionate that I left a really great job and career to get a PhD and dig in deeper. I have so many open questions!

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

Listen to people with disabilities. Following standards is a bare minimum. But good accessibility is designed with people and not just for people (Oh and pay folks for their time, but that is technically more than one thing I'd want someone to know!).

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