iQ Interview Series: Omar Bonilla on Accessible Design (Part 1)

December 07, 2022
By iQ Staff
iQ interview series with Omar

iQ 360’s Interview Series asks leaders in our network to share their experiences, expertise and insights on the future of communications.

Senior accessibility product designer Omar Bonilla is passionate about making tech work for people with disabilities. He shared his thoughts on accessible design and what corporate communicators should prioritize to reach all stakeholders effectively in this two-part interview series.

 

How did you get into this field?

I began as an intern in web accessibility at Western Governors University, which is a primarily distance-based school. I had finished a technical undergrad program and had been looking for that first opportunity to put it into practice. I had never heard of web accessibility before, but it was a perfect fit for me because I have family members with disabilities and being able to apply my skills towards improving the digital experience for people with disabilities has come to be challenging and rewarding for me.

 

How would you define accessibility?

Accessibility, to me, is the practice of placing people with disabilities on the same level playing field as non-disabled people through equitable hiring practices, inclusive research and design strategies, and by shifting accessibility up the chain as far as possible.

 

Why is accessibility important?

People with disabilities are the single largest minority group in the United States, yet often do not get the same visibility as other minority groups. In addition, the way we have designed our physical and digital environments has not placed sufficient emphasis on the disabled experience, and as such people with disabilities find themselves without meaningful access to resources that allow them to live full and independent lives - not because of their disability but because we simply did not design a space that accounted for that disability.

 

How do you address pushback from people who are hesitant about adopting accessibility?

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.” This Teddy Roosevelt quote sums up a lot of what it means to be an accessibility professional. Advocating for accessibility requires a balance between having a deeply collaborative mindset in which you take into account the needs and pressures of multiple stakeholders at various seniority levels within a company, and also having the ability to be firm when required in order to call out instances in which design practices are inherently discriminatory, or when pointing out that inaccessible designs leave companies open to risk of lawsuits from people with disabilities and advocacy groups. Which approach to take depends heavily on the situation at hand.

Depending on your organization, you may be a part of a dedicated accessibility team that can carry out larger initiatives such as rethinking brand colors or having staff on hand to directly consult on designs or to test products for accessibility. In this kind of environment, you might enjoy more direct decision-making power. Other times you may quite literally be the only person dedicated to accessibility, and you’ll have to wear many more hats and you’ll have to find more indirect ways to influence decisions. In both scenarios you need the ability to find deficiencies, identify the solutions for them, and get the necessary buy-in to execute on those changes. Each organization is unique, and an approach that works at one may not work at another.

 

Stay tuned to our blog for part two, where Omar will provide short-term, medium-term and long-term recommendations for business to become more accessible.