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Spotlight: Josh Kim

What is your day job?

My day job is to help teams at the US Department of Veterans Affairs design accessible digital services. I’m a researcher by heart, so I’m less about remediating solutions after the fact and all about including disabled Veterans into our studies from the start.

I also contribute to accessibility and DEI efforts within my company from co-visioning a playbook for accessibility beyond compliance to advocating for more inclusive hiring practices.

How has learning about accessibility impacted what you do?

Learning about accessibility has had an impact on everything I do from how I communicate, to how I design, and even how I make sense of the world! The concept of “shifting left” has especially changed how I approach user research. I spend a lot more time thinking about how poorly planned research studies can produce inaccessible insights, and ultimately, become the root of inaccessible services.

For example, if a team is using a survey to recruit participants for their studies, they’ll need to consider a couple of things to prevent ableism from creeping into their work:

Failing to consider accessibility in user research may exclude people with disabilities from sharing their experiences and trigger a domino effect of ableist insights and decision making.

On the flip side, including disabled people into user research has the exact opposite effect. Inclusive research leads to inclusive insights which leads to inclusive services designed with (not remediated for) the disabled experience in mind. In the near future, I hope we can see more researchers specialize in accessibility.

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

I’d like folks to know that no disabled experience is the same. In my research, I’ve observed an incredible diversity of preferences, behaviors, and pain points even among people who have the same disability and use the same kind of assistive technology. Why? People are complex and intersectional.

Coming from an immigrant household, this rings even more true as I’ve seen my Veteran father’s mental disability be stigmatized differently than the assumed “norm.” To make sure we don’t unintentionally marginalize underserved people (like my father), I think it’s important for us to assume less and ask more.

Learn how to challenge best practices, as there’s rarely (if ever) a “best” solution that works for everyone. Seek out disabled people from underserved groups, pay them to participate in your research, and hire them onto your teams. Good luck!

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