Brandon is one of PLUS QA’s accessibility (aka a11y) leads. Before he found accessibility testing, he worked as a caregiver while playing bass in a local Portland progressive rock band. He decided to apply as a tester after one of his bandmates—PLUS QA’s graphic designer—referred him.
Now, Brandon shifts between sound checks and code checks. His advocacy for better technology for people with disabilities and his empathetic personality have made him a natural fit for the a11y testing team.
We interviewed Brandon about what a typical workday looks like for an a11y tester, as well as what advancements he has seen in digital accessibility during his tenure at PLUS QA. Not to mention, he shares a few of his favorite songs (outside of his own band’s music), too.
Brandon, give some background about what a typical day looks like for you as an a11y lead at PLUS QA. How have you grown professionally?
My day usually consists of a11y testing or doing dedicated resource work for a client. Most days, I also assist with a myriad of accessibility-related questions from various teams across the company. I personally have felt growth in my technical understanding since I started here. This is my first tech job, and I feel like there has been nothing but growth in my knowledge of accessibility tech and code.
How did you learn about PLUS QA? What was your career background?
I learned about PLUS QA through my guitarist, Guerd! At the time, I was working as a caregiver and he saw me struggling with how much I was giving of myself and said I should apply here. Before that, I had gone through many different jobs [in different industries].
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
I really love seeing the efforts of inclusion being implemented in technology. I recently did some a11y QA for a VR headset (Oculus) and was very impressed by the guidelines VR (and specifically Oculus) uses for their marketplace. I think my favorite part is verifying fixes the clients make after we report issues. Knowing that end users aren’t going to struggle to do something they want is really gratifying.
In your opinion, what makes a website or app stand out in terms of accessibility and user-friendliness?
I have found the apps/websites that have a simple design are the most accessible and user-friendly, but those do not always stand out in the general user experience category. There have been a few features I have been impressed with while doing accessibility QA, and it has always been due to implementing tools/commands/gestures that are rarely implemented from the assistive technology. Things like using certain gestures for [Google] TalkBack that otherwise go unnoticed.
Is there one feature or improvement you’d love to see become a standard in digital products to enhance accessibility?
I actually am starting to see more granular accessibility settings in apps and games this year than ever before. Previously, that was my biggest gripe. Users were pretty limited to a couple of sliders for things and maybe a group of radio buttons or checkboxes, but some accessibility menus are getting sub-menus for even more granular control. As a gamer, I am very interested in some of the 3D navigation tools that are being tested for non-sighted gamers to be able to play as well. Being able to navigate the map with vocal or sound responses has been implemented, but they are usually on 2D maps. I think that the 3D navigation tools they are aiming to achieve in video games will be applicable in real-world navigation as well.
Have you ever received feedback from users with disabilities, and how has that feedback influenced your approach to accessibility testing?
I regularly speak with one of our co-workers, Jesus (an a11y team member who is blind and hard of hearing), about how to better use screen readers, or how a user experience could be better implemented on a site or app. Any time I talk to him about it he brings wonderful insight. Speaking to an accessibility end user directly really puts into perspective the ways the technology is implemented vs. how it is intended to be implemented. I have also helped my father with some mobile browser things due to the website he was on not rendering well with his large text settings enabled, which helps me think about how to test different text sizes and zoom levels on different screen sizes and resolutions.
How do you promote a culture of accessibility awareness and knowledge sharing within your team?
I think it simply comes down to inclusion, letting anyone in. I try to include any willing person in on news, message channels, process updates, tech updates, and testing tips revolving around the a11y world.
Can you share a funny or interesting anecdote related to your work?
Ahh yes! A few years ago there was some new image recognition software being implemented with a screen reader, so that if there was not any alternative text for an image it would attempt to list similar things to help identify what that image is. This was in the very early phases of it, but every time the International Symbol of Access (wheelchair symbol) would be described, it would say “scissors.” That always gave me a good laugh—good try robots! Now, it will say “wheelchair symbol” accurately. That software has come a long way in its development.
What do you hope to achieve or contribute to the field of accessibility in the coming years?
As a person who does not code, I like the idea of doing design reviews or consultations for accessibility implementations. I feel like as the a11y world grows, it is becoming more important to have accessibility in mind during the design phase. Consulting with people who use the technology constantly is the best resource for preventing potential a11y design flaws. Other than that, I always like advocating for more websites and apps to become accessibility compliant.
As many of us on staff know, you’re a huge music fan. What are the top 3 songs you are playing on your playlist at the moment?
Wow, the toughest question for any musician. Mentally, I constantly play music I have written with my bands, both current and former. However, I listen to a lot of radio, believe it or not. So, if I am not listening to a live chiptune radio station on YouTube (hosted by Krelez), coretime.fm, or KMHD, then I’ll probably be listening to songs like “Red Clay” by Freddie Hubbard, “Fearless” by Pink Floyd, or some heavier metal like “A History of Bad Men” by The Melvins. At least, those are some very frequently visited songs in my searches.
Other than music, do you have any passions or hobbies you enjoy outside of work?
I absolutely love trees and ferns. In autumn, you will find me out on the trails way too late into the night. That is my other real passion aside from music. As for hobbies, I really dabble in everything craft-related. I have done cross stitches, latch-hook, crochet, sewing, micro-chain maille, and recently learned knitting. I also like to mod/tweak games a bit, but it really isn’t much more than editing some lines in the game files.
If you would like to learn more about working at PLUS QA, visit our career page and apply today.