Chris Ashton

dai11y 17/02/2023

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Meet the first-ever accessibility engineer at The Washington Post

The Washington Post hired Holden Foreman in January. Holden is keen to stress that whilst he is the first person at the newspaper with the ‘Accessibility Engineer’ title, accessibility is not a new concept there and the lack of formal roles at smaller news organisations does not mean that those places don’t care about accessibility.

Holden started working at the Post in 2020. Interestingly, he was key in pushing for the creation of an Accessibility Engineer role:

I started an informal working group at the company with biweekly meetings for skill shares, news, internal updates, shoutouts and other discussions related to accessibility. With the help of Julie Bacon Arsenault, one of the Post’s engineering directors, I delivered a pitch last year for an accessibility engineer job title. Arturo Silva, an engineering manager who oversees the Washington Post Design System among other things, was willing to make a home for the role on his team.

He sees his role as exploring new opportunities in research and feature development, as well as educating others at the company and being a resource for support. He also hopes to create a stronger dialogue with users, to learn how people actually use the Post’s tools.

Holden adds that accessibility isn’t just about coding, or even about disability:

It’s essential to think about accessibility not just in the context of disability but also in the context of other inequities affecting news coverage and access to news. For instance, writing in plain language for users with cognitive disabilities can also benefit users with lower reading literacy.

[The Post published a plain language version of Foreman’s introductory blog post]

The interview more or less concludes with Holden’s thoughts on the role:

It’s definitely stressful to be the first in this new role. I feel deep down like I need to justify its creation with every step that I take. My managers and colleagues have been fully supportive, and it is thanks to them that the role exists, so I would say that the pressure feels self-enforced. Thankfully, there is a lot of collaboration in the accessibility world, and I have already been in contact with some folks from outside of The Post regarding how we can support each other.

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