It has been a while since we have interviewed one of our team members. During the past couple years our team has continued to grow and we have added some fantastic team members. This week we sat down with Abdul Kamara, expert and Test Lead on our Accessibility testing team.
Hello Abdul, can you give us a little background about yourself?
My family hails from Sierra Leone, a small country in West Africa. It is there that I spent much of my childhood, but my high school and college years were here, in the States. I completed a double degree in mathematics and economics, with the intention of attending law school in the North East, but it was toward the end of college that I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition. The prospect of entirely losing my vision awoke in me a sense of urgency about my life, so after graduating from college, I moved to London to study international law. My subsequent professional pursuits in the field continued in Denmark, Switzerland, and Kenya.
Tell us about your professional background and experience.
My professional background begins nearly 20 years ago, as an Information Technology Consultant for a number of state governments and educational institutions. My expertise was in network migration and integration. The over-coming of access barriers is a lived experience for me, but it was during my work as a consultant that I became acutely aware of the systematic exclusion of disabled persons in consideration of the development of information technology. The effects of this I knew were severe. Whether it is with education, health, or the world of work, the absence of an inclusive design of information systems meant that disabled individuals were denied an equitable playing field.
As I was often the only blind person in a room of decision makers, I came to realize that I offered a unique perspective on the design and implementation of IT solutions. I challenged the prevailing assumptions about the cost of accessibility, and successfully persuaded many of my colleagues that business needs and inclusive design are mutually aligned and reinforcing goals. I advised decision makers on the procurement of assistive technologies, and developed strategies to advance digital access in service of persons with disabilities.
I came to see that equal access to information in education is a fundamental human right. This approach paved my way into the study of law, and eventually the United Nations where I monitored member state compliance to treaty norms that advance the equal employment and vocational rehabilitation of persons with a disability. While at the UN, I became aware of a paper by Sebastian Buckup titled “The Price of Exclusion”. The thesis of his article is that economic growth is advantaged by the inclusion of disabled persons in the world of work.
Upon moving to Kenya in 2012, I sought to demonstrate Buckup’s thesis, and opened a restaurant. The concept was dining in the dark. Customers dined in a completely darkened space, attended to by blind wait staff. The restaurant was well attended, and included visits from the first family of Kenya, and business leaders from throughout East Africa. For many of the attendees the concept upended assumptions about the nature of ability and disability, which is especially meaningful in a country where the disabled are severely marginalized.
Joining Plus QA feels like a journey full circle. As a QA lead I find myself often advocating for inclusive design, but I am no longer the lone voice. Now, I belong to a team of allies who are firmly committed to the same. Their expertise in software accessibility is (in my humble opinion) unparalleled, and for as much as advocacy for accessibility is a lived experience for me, I have and continue to learn so much from them.
When did you first hear about Quality Assurance testing?
It was during high school that I first had thoughts of becoming a software engineer. During my junior year of high school, I had an internship with the now defunct Northern Telecom. It was there that I observed the software development life cycle in practice, and the crucial role of quality assurance testing. It was not until joining PLUS QA that I became familiarized with the methodologies of QA testing.
What is your current role at PLUS QA?
I’m currently a QA lead with the accessibility team. My responsibilities include, but aren’t limited to design review and accessibility testing.
Tell us how you bring awareness about Accessibility testing to your co-workers and the clients you work with.
Let me first start by saying that my team is (in the word) “awesome!” Our methodical approach to accessibility testing empowers our clients to make informed decisions about user interface design that is inclusive of persons with disabilities. That is why some of the top companies of the world come to us for accessibility testing. That is true before I joined PLUS QA. The rubric that our team uses for accessibility testing is the web content accessibility guidelines, an international standard that is recognized in US jurisprudence. It is an objective standard. What I offer my team is a perspective that is not cleanly reflected in the WCAG. For example there are design choices that may not necessarily be characterized as an accessibility violation under the guidelines, but may yet frustrate the user experience of a disabled individual. I think I’ve been able to help my team think more broadly about access barriers in the digital space, and in turn, they have helped me focus my understanding of accessibility to a standard that can more effectively be communicated to our clients.
What are the key qualities for an accessibility tester?
You need patience to execute test plans, which can be a slow and laborious process.
Equanimity: A tester has to be okay with when an app doesn’t work as when it does. A finding of either informs engineers to correct problems and to do more of the things that already work.
Good oral and written communication: A QA tester must be able to clearly describe problems and solutions that arise from the testing process.
Interpersonal skills: not all disagreements are fights. There may come a time when you will disagree with your clients or colleagues as to whether a problem is really a problem, and if a solution is even viable. Conveying disagreement to a person in a respectful manner, and also in a way that fosters rapport is (to my mind) essential to the job.
Sense of humor: Okay, this is a throwaway, but you can’t do this job without having a sense of humor. I prefer the dry kind myself.
Do you think testing offers a career path for people with disabilities?
I believe that people with disabilities are uniquely qualified for a career in Quality Assurance testing. We offer perspectives that can inform a more holistic understanding of what makes for a functional app, a perspective that benefits abled and disabled alike.
What are your favorite things to do outside of work?
Playing tug-of-war with my dog Faye.
Cooking of late, I have been honing my skills with Indian, Thai and Moroccan cuisine, and I have been able to convince the matriarchs of my extended family to teach me recipes from Sierra Leone, our home land.
I love a good hike, though preferably with friends. Skiing, skydiving and paragliding I also enjoy, as weather permits.
I love playing the clarinet, and hope after a full recovery from jaw surgery, to join a klezmer band. If you don’t know what klezmer is, what have you been doing with your life?! I also play classical alto sax.
I’m a voracious consumer of non-fiction and science fiction.
I am a news junky. If it weren’t for an iPad, you might see tower high stacks of the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Financial Times on my coffee table.
Give one word to describe your experience at PLUS QA.
I hate to use the word “happy”, instead I will opt for “content”. I have a great job in a great company with a leadership that cares a great deal about the work and the people doing it. My colleagues are amazing, all of varied and interesting backgrounds. What more could I ask for? Oops, this was supposed to be one word.
Interested to learn more about our Accessibility testing services?