AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat Podcast with Joschi Kuphal. Web designer, developer and creative entrepreneur and founder of the Open Device Lab Nuremberg

June 06, 2022 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken talk with Joschi Kuphal
AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat Podcast with Joschi Kuphal. Web designer, developer and creative entrepreneur and founder of the Open Device Lab Nuremberg
Show Notes Transcript

Joschi Kuphal has been active as a web designer, developer and creative entrepreneur for over 25 years. Starting in the mid-90s, while studying interior design, he developed his first websites in HTML, and later Flash. With his diploma in his pocket, he founded the web and advertising agency tollwerk (https://tollwerk.de) in 2000, which he continues to shape to this day. He has shared leadership of tollwerk with his team in an equal, cooperative and self-organizing way since 2022. Accessibility has been the focus of his work for almost 10 years, and it keeps him increasingly busy as a consultant, auditor and lecturer.

In 2013, Joschi founded the Open Device Lab Nuremberg (https://odl-nbg.de), which marked a turning point in the previously quiet work environment at tollwerk. For the first time, Joschi turned his focus towards an international community – and soon found himself leaving his mark on this young, but growing network. Connecting with and being connected to this community became his new passion (obsession?). This encouraged him to found numerous community initiatives and event series, which he continues to do to this day. These include:

* the Accessibility Club (https://accessibility-club.org): a flexible, international format around web accessibility and assistive technologies (2014 – present)
* the CoderDojo Nuremberg (https://coderdojo-nbg.org): an open programming school for children and young people between the ages of 5 and 17 (2016 – present)
* the Material Conference Series (https://material.is) in Rekyjavík, Iceland (2017 – present).

Joschi’s efforts are characterized by his tireless drive to make information and knowledge as accessible as possible and to train everyone to be able to use the tools of our time sustainably and confidently. None of his initiatives are commercially oriented; rather, they all thrive on volunteerism and the unflagging efforts of passionate communities. He is convinced that things get complicated as soon as money comes into play!

This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. It is not a commercial transcript AXSCHAT Joschi Kuphal

NEIL:

Hello and welcome to Axschat. I am delighted to be back wearing a heroic beard from not working for a month. And I am delighted to welcome Joschi Kuphal, who is the guy in charge of Tollwerk and also responsible for Accessibility Club in Germany. A friend of one of our dear friends Beatriz Gonzalez Mercedes. So, really glad to have you here on Axschat and to be back in the saddle after a month out playing around, lounging around, doing nothing. Enjoying the sun, drinking Caipirinha's on the beach.

JOSCHI:

Nice to be here.

NEIL:

Yeah, glad to have you and so can you tell us a bit about your journey into accessibility and start because I know you do a lot, talking about Accessibility Club and all of the events that you run and all of the work that you're doing, which is really great in Germany?

JOSCHI:

Sure. Well, I have to begin with that I cannot really remember when and how I really started working on accessibility topics. I am in my late 40's. And I started doing websites in the middle of the '90s so, it's quite a long time. You probably know that, at that time there was just HTML and CSS and the beginning of JavaScript. So I was really like learning it from the very beginning and with the most primitive building blocks. And I think if you do that then you actually you cannot really work around accessibility. So, kind of, this has always been part of my work but it was not the main focus until I can't really remember. Maybe 2005/2008, something around that time. That was something around that time. That was when we really began to put a little more focus on that and it became really intense when we started something that was called an Open Device Lab and I don't know if you know what an Open Device Lab is, but that is, it was a kind of a community from 2013 and the following years. And a friend of mine, its Jeremey Keith, from Brighton in England. He actually started the first Open Device Lab. He was writing his blocks something like oh, we've got a couple of devices in our office and they mostly lie around and we don't really need them so, why don't you come over and use them for testing your stuff. And that was actually the beginning of Device Lab Community and we kind of took note of this and this was actually what we were needing at that time as well. So, we were jumping on the train and we founded and Open Device Lab here in Nuremberg and I think we were the second or third in Germany or something and we quickly became the biggest one, in terms of devices and stuff. So, that was actually when we really got in touch with the community because up until then we were just working in our office doing websites and stuff. So we were not really connected with the world and from that time we were kind of connected and we got in touch with a couple of people. Then there was a funny incident there was a mailing list around these Open Device Labs and there was an American woman and she posted into that mailing list, I would like to give you some money, someone can apply for this money. I think she was talking about €1000 or something which is quite a lot of money and she wanted to give that as a donation to one of the Open Device Labs. But she said, if you apply for this money, you have to do something that has something to do with accessibility. And you need to tell me what you're going to do and there should be some sort of long term plan for that. And I was thinking, oh, that is a nice situation. I would really love to get that money and we are also a bit into accessibility but what could we do actually. And then I was calling a friend of mine. You might know him, it's Marc Crozier, who worked for Mozilla, until recently. And I asked him Marco, if you had €1000 or dollars or whatever, what would you actually buy for an Open Device Lab, what would you, yeah, what would be nice for an Open Device Lab. And he said, well, I probably wouldn't buy a device but I would buy a screen reader licence, because that is actually really interesting for people to come over and test with that. And I said okay that is great he got me in touch with a guy. He is living in Nuremberg actually and he is like a dealer for assistive technology. So, he actually gave us, or, yeah, we got a developers license for jaws actually. So that was the beginning of well, of the official part of accessibility work we did. Because when he gave me, when he handed me over the license for Jaws, he said it's really nice that you got a screen reader license now but the problem is you actually don't know how to work with it. So, you need some sort of training because if there are people coming to your office, to your Open Device Lab and want to test with a screen reader you can't really explain what to do. So, you should get training with that and that was actually the beginning of the Accessibility Club because I thought he was so right. And I just had the idea, yeah, I could gather a couple of like web designers, web developers and just lock them in one room with him and his screen reader and he could just show his screen reader. And that is what we did. We were like nine or ten people. There are the photos on the Flickr I just sent you, actually. It was in 2014 and we met at the local co working space. Really small group and like the guy, he was showing his screen reader and we actually planned to do this for one hours or two hours. In the end they threw us out after four hours and we saw that. There are so many things we could do actually and so, that was actually when the Accessibility Club started. That was the first meet up.

DEBRA:

Wow.

JOSCHI:

And over the years it got bigger and bigger after that. So, we did a couple of smaller events here in Nuremberg, then we went to Berlin. Then we had in the end, in 2018, we had a big conference there. And in 2019, we had a two day summit with conference and workshops and stuff. So it kind of grew over the years and then came the Pandemic obviously. So, yeah, we will see what is going to happen next. So that was actually my path into the accessibility work. And I think around five years ago or something we decided to go all in with my agency. That was when we started, like we made a new website and we wrote there that we are just doing accessibility stuff and not doing anything else any longer. Which is not really true because we have still got a background with all sorts of web topics. But that is like the main. That is like the main theme in the meantime. So, we don't really talk about the other stuff anymore.

DEBRA:

Joschi, welcome, welcome to the programme and I think you brought up such an important point about your Accessibility Club because I remember one time, I was training a client, a large health care client and I brought in a gentleman who worked for me at the time and his nickname was Mr. Jaws because he was so good at the screen reader. He was so good that you sort of didn't want him only to test with accessibility because he knew so many work arounds, that a novice user that you would not know, that you would have false negatives and false positives. But I remember something happened and something went wrong with the screens. Something went wrong with the computer. So we called in, during the class, we had a full class. We called in the IT guy and he came in and he took one look at the computer without a screen and he was like, I have no idea how to do this. And then they worked together and the class watched. And it was so fascinating because in the first place we were saying; can you turn down that speaking speed because it was gibberish to me and to most of us, right? So, what happened in trying to solve this problem on the fly in training, which happens, the education that we all got, about how brilliant this man was and we should not feel sorry for him. We should feel sorry for ourselves that we are not as good technologists as he is. It was very powerful. But, so, I think something, often I see left out of the conversations is the understanding of how assistive technology compliments accessibility. We know a person that doesn't believe in assistive technology. They think it's a scam for, you know people with disabilities, making them buy things that they don't need, and when you all you need is an accessible website. I keep saying, yeah but we have to navigate the computer on and then we got to navigate to the Internet and then navigate to your website and then, I don't want to turn my assistive technology off. So, I just think, what you're doing marrying those together is so important to true inclusion. So, I just really want to compliment you on that. But do you find, has that continued in your accessibility clubs, really understanding how the people that you are trying to make sure can use your systems actually are using the computer to get to yours systems. Has that continued to be a very important theme?

JOSCHI:

It has continued. That is true. Actually the Accessibility Club turned out to be not one of the same thing all the times. It kind of changed. It's shifting its shape from event to event. We still have smaller meet ups and maybe having guests talking about a particular topic or something and when we have bigger conferences or the summit, for example then we have workshops. So, there are people doing things or talking about a very specific topic and it kind of continued. That is true. As soon as we started doing the bigger events, in the beginning we were kind of, we did not really know if we can get so many attendees that it really pays off to have a big conference because you know, Germany's like rather small, community wise and not comparable to for example the Netherlands or Great Britain maybe. So, actually we were sceptical if we can have a big crowd joining the events. So we tried to have like some things really interesting for absolute beginners and also stuff for the experts. And so, we mostly did something like a bar camp style. I am sure you know what a bar camp is so, with topics that people could bring themselves to the events. So, that can always be some like presentations for experts and they obviously need to know different things than the beginners. So, what we did for example in Berlin in 2019, we had an accessibility 101 session in the beginning or actually it was even before the main event started. So, even some folks who really don't know anything about accessibility could come and they would get the first like the first concepts and ideas of accessibility and assistive technology. So, we always tried to teach that as well. Not teach. It's a community thing. It's not yeah. So, yes, we try to continue this and try to cover all sorts of topics. It's not a particular thing we are doing, always shape shifting.

NEIL:

So I know Antonio has got a question, but you mentioned something that is particularly of interest to me and that is you said that the German community is quite small. Now, Germany is not a small country. You said it's smaller than the Netherlands. It's smaller than the UK. But I know there is growing interest. So, how do you see accessibility progressing in Germany? What will it take to really sort of expand the profession and really get people engaged because it's a huge topic? Germany is in active laws recently around the public sector and also now for private sector with European Accessibility Act coming into play. So, there is a need for the skills. What do you think it will take to grow the skills and attract people to the profession in Germany?

JOSCHI:

That is the real good question and if I knew the answer to that. Well, the thing is you're right, I am seeing progress over the last couple of years. That is true and especially, I am watching like the event communities. I am kind of involved in a couple of other conferences as well or at least, I knew the people running these conferences. And what I really like about them is that I see that accessibility is kind of being mainstreamed in the last couple of years. So, there is for example a conference of a good friend of mine. The conference is called Beyond Tellerrand and that is actually just a creativity and yeah, a creativity conference. And of 20 talks, the conference has maybe three or four in the meantime are about something accessibility. Which really changed over the last couple of years? In this particular case this is also because I am a close friend of the organiser and we actually I am always piggybacking with the Accessibility Club in his conference, so we are running that just on the day before the conference or after the conference and then we are kind of exchanging speakers. For example, Leoni Watson was talking Accessibility Club and then she moved over to Beyond Tellerrund and was giving a talk there twice in the meantime. And the other way around obviously as well. So, I think there is, the interest is growing and accessibility got more visible, which is really, really important. Then what I am really experiencing is that especially, the younger generations also designers but also developers, they are really interested in what is going on there and they are also taking part in these kind of events so, so this is really. This is, I am seeing growing interest in that area actually. And what is really helpful in Germany and in Europe as well in general is what you already mentioned, that there are legal things going on and that people must do accessible stuff in the meantime. So, that is really helpful because otherwise I think we would not see any progress or we would not see that progress we are seeing at the moment. And it will take a little bit more time to really lend accessibility in Germany. I think the European Accessibility Act is really important in that sense. That is true.

ANTONIO:

So Josh, when you are talking within your community. Talking with people that are outside your network, working on accessibility, what type of feeling do you get from people when you're talking about accessibility, do they say Oh wow this is something completely new for me or do they say, well yeah, this is something I really need to do, feel the need to explain yourself too much or people really go and understand and see it and understand the importance.

JOSCHI:

It's also a very good question. I am, you said, if I am talking with people outside of like the accessibility community, the problem is, I am mostly inside. I am really rarely talking to someone outside of this bubble. So, like, with my team and with my agency we are trying to, we used to work mostly for like public authorities and people who really need to do accessible stuff. But at the moment, we try to move back again to like other industries which are not public actually and we would really like to carry accessibility topics into that area. But when we talk to people there then it's mostly some like companies who are in some way connecting with topics like sustainability or like other stuff which kind of really goes well together with accessibility. So, when we are talking about accessibility topics with them, they mostly already know what I am talking about. They mostly did not really work on accessibility but they at least, it's rather easy to get them on board and I think the majority of industries is probably still, has no idea what accessibility is. And I think there is a lot of yeah. Yeah, a lot of you really need to convince them and you really need to explain what accessibility is and why it's important. So, I think it's not really common yet to know what accessibility is about unfortunately.

ANTONIO:

Okay, you mentioned before that you no longer own a car.

JOSCHI:

That is true.

ANTONIO:

And you know that Germany has a long tradition public transport and there's a lot of investment on that. Can you give us, I know it is not your area, but can you give us a bit of a glimpse, how is that in terms of accessibility? Can people really move or do they need to struggle. They need to? It's just the fact that you want to travel, it becomes a burden and you find it difficult, how do you see the mobility area in terms of accessibility in Germany?

JOSCHI:

I think this is a difficult topic and I am not super into that. But I am trying to give you what I at least I got notice of. I think there are two different perspectives on the mobility community in Germany, in general. That is I experience a lot of people living abroad coming to Germany and thinking that the public transport systems are really, really good. That is at least what they tell me. From the inside of Germany, people are really angry with the public transport system and think it's really bad. So, there are like two perspectives on that in general. Especially among my friends with disabilities, I think there is a lot of complaint about the public transport system because for example, the German Bann which is the main company there just ordered a couple of new trains and they are not accessible and people are asking, how can that be in 2022? How can, because it's a public, it's owned by the State. So, how can that be that they buy inaccessible trains? That was just right now. I was reading some Tweets the other day, so.

NEIL:

That is surprising, I have to say because yeah public procurement has been you know, doing accessibility for a long time and you would have thought that they would have continued to do this. Was this for the ICE or was it for...?

JOSCHI:

I think so, yes. I mean, as I said I am not really into that but I'm reading all these complaints on Twitter and in my bubble because this is obviously, this is really embarrassing right. It should not happen and I know there is this friend of mine. He is an activist in Germany. He is using a wheelchair. You might know him. He is also the guy who started this ableism project, we were talking about earlier. And he is actually the inventor of wheel map. I don't know if you know that one.

NEIL:

Yeah, yeah.

JOSCHI:

And he is also one of these people who are really complaining loudly about such things and he also started a couple of projects around public transport and especially accessibility for example elevators of train stations and that is also part of the transport system. And he was really famous for writing a story about one of his journeys with public transport where he was just left somewhere on the countryside and he couldn't travel on because there was kind of no elevator from the train station to get out of there and there was no train to get away from there. He was really famous. So, that is scandal, yeah.

NEIL:

Yeah. I think it's not uncommon. We know that journeys for people with physical access needs in the UK take significantly longer, have a lot greater complexity because, if you're using public transport not all of the stations are accessible. Some of that is due to legacy. We have built our underground railways over a century ago. The latest one, which opened actually a couple of days ago, is accessible and has larger trains and I am sure people will find fault. But at least, this time around they are planning to make it better. But I do think that the challenges of sort of using public transport, are quite often underestimated and it's not just whether or not the station is accessible. Quite often the infrastructure breaks down and people don't get notified. So, like your friend then you end up stranded. So, there is a whole bunch of work can be done with smart cities and in that kind of technology space, where just by provision of better information, you can provide a better quality. I know Debra had questions?

DEBRA:

No, I totally agree with what you're saying and I was just going to pick up on the topic, that Joschi was talking about was ableism because besides doing the accessibility club, your team is, I am looking at my notes to say, right, your team has been involved in ability watch and also the hashtag ableism killing, which is a scary hashtag. But I was just wondering if because I have heard of this gentleman in Germany and he is doing amazing things. So, we would love to him on the show. Joschi, you should introduce us to him. But the other part that you are doing is sort of, like you said when you were doing it. You thought maybe you would get like two or three. So, can you tell us more about that because that is a really powerful project you've all been working on as well?

JOSCHI:

Okay. I am going to try my best, never thought about this in English words.

DEBRA:

Oh, sorry.

JOSCHI:

No worries, I am trying my best. There was this, on April 28th last year, there has been a case in Germany in Hotstam, where a woman working in some sort of, how to you call that in English?

DEBRA:

A nursing home. Yeah, something like that. And this person working there, killed four people with disability and really seriously injured a fifth one. And this was like, it got in the media and there was a lot of people were really and it kind of disappeared from the media rather quickly. And so my friend Rahul, he and, obviously not him alone but there was a couple of people around him, all the people from Ability Watch, but they are a couple of people complaining about stuff like that. They wanted to do something about this and they wanted to make it visible that there is a real problem and it's not like one case. There are probably more cases. And it's going for lots of years already and this is kind of a systemic problem. And he wanted to do something because he is a political activist. And he what happened to do something about this and wanted to make it visible. So, he found like a couple of other people and then he called me and asked me if I would support them or if we would support them with a website to make this visible. And I said, yes, sure because this is an important topic. I am not; I must admit I am not too much into that ableism stuff. At least I was not at that point. But I said obviously I will support this because it's an important project. We do some pro bono projects once in a while if we can afford. That was something because there was no money in that. We just said we are going to support this because it was going to be a quick and easy website and Rahul, he was kind of kind of thinking allowed and he was like maybe we should do something like a single pager and we could collect three or five cases maybe. I am not sure how many we will find and you know it does not have to be rocket science but it should look quite okay-ish. So that I can go and be loud about that and go to the politicians and stuff like that. So, I am going to support him and then we started working on that and it quickly, there grew a big team of people and there were people from all over Germany and even abroad starting to do some research on these cases. And it grew and grew and then there were a project manager and a couple of people doing this research and they found so many cases. They found hundreds of cases over the last 20 or 30 years. And it was really, I mean in the end we were a team of almost 40 people, I think. Obviously a couple of my colleagues here at Tollwerk, helped building the website. But still were were like three or four people or 40 even. We even had in this team coaches doing the research because it was do depressing to do the research on that. So, we actually wanted to launch this in September and then it got November and then it was end of the year. And finally because the project grew bigger and bigger and took so much time. And in the end, we launched it at the one year anniversary of that case in Hotsham back in 2021. And actually, I think next week will be the first team meeting after the launch and we will get feedback about what was like the feedback on the whole project because obviously I am going to see all public media stuff about it. But I did not really hear about what was the personal feedback we got so far. So, this is going to be interesting. And I know that there is going to happen a lot more in that. I think it was a success. Like, the project was a success. Obviously it's a very depressing topic. Right, but it's an important topic that we need to talk about.

JOSCHI:

True.

DEBRA:

And I love the website. You did a fabulous problem. Very easy to navigate.

JOSHCI:

Thank you.

DEBRA:

The topic is really hard. But I think you know just because a topic is chilling to go into doesn't mean we don't go in and explore it and I know here in the States every single one of our States has a disability centre that you can report abuse to. Here in Virginia for example, we have the disability law centre. They get so many complaints. And I have a daughter that is 35 years old with Down Syndrome and she actually was in a supported apartment living situation, during part of the Pandemic and before that. And some really unfortunate bad things came down. She now is back at home with me where she is safe and the group that was working with her actually filed, they did an investigation internally and found that this is what they said. They had violated her civil rights and I will be honest with you it was accidental. They did not mean to it. But still, my daughter suffered the consequences. And to date, even though she has now been home with me over a year because she came home last May. Now of course, my husband and her father died in the middle this and that did not help. But she will not sleep with the lights off. She was so traumatised by what happened to her and yeah, I did not like that. But it's so important that we do talk about these things. They cannot be hidden in the darkness. But I would also wonder if you're getting funding now because this work should continue and what would be wonderful is what we are supposed to do here in the States, when they get these complaints, they're supposed to investigate it. But there are sadly so many complaints. They can only investigate the most grievous ones and that is really very sad as well. Go ahead Joshci.

JOSCHI:

You asked about the funding and I am pretty sure there will be funding. Part of the problem is that is a crazy situation and this is what we were talking about earlier before we launched that project. Part of the funding now comes from the organisations who actually run the nursing homes and stuff because they.

DEBRA:

Oh?

JOSCHI:

And not just to yeah, I mean because they have actually, you know as you said, something happens and it's probably accidental. In general, they want to do good stuff and they really want to eliminate this problem as well. But so, it's kind of a difficult situation for them because they don't want these cases to happen obviously because their charity organisations and stuff. So, it's kind of difficult and there is, there will definitely be funding at least this is what I suspect because you know this is the part of project that is not actually my part. We just did the website kind of, you know. I am not the political activist in that case, so.

DEBRA:

Great I think some corporate brands. You've some powerful German corporate brands that are working on accessibility, including us. And so, I'd love to see some of the corporate brands step in and help too. But, I think that is such a good point that you brought up that sort of the nursing homes. And we call them here assistive living and memory care. But, I also wanted to just note because you were talking I thought of this. And then, I am going to pass it back to Neil. My mother who is now deceased as well, my mother went into a nursing home and she had got really sick because she fell and everything. She went into the nursing home and like a week later. I was in Virginia and I was in Florida. They called me and told me she was in the emergency room, something had gone wrong with her heart and I was so shocked because that was not what was wrong. But we rushed in. And my Mom was very ill. She almost died. At the last minute they figured something out. Her lungs were filling up with water and the doctor found an antibiotic that stopped it. Well, what would up happening after it was all said and done was the nursing did know what had happened to my mother but did not tell us, even though it would have saved her life even though luckily the doctor. So, they had Legionnaires Disease because the apartments had sat so long for years and they forgot to run the water and they had Legionnaires Disease in these nursing homes and they knew it. Almost killed my mother did a kill a few women and so we sued them because you know, we are the United States and I think people should be sued, when they do something like that. They hid it and that I have no patience with. If it's an accident. Let's work together and let's improve processes. But I just wanted to say that one comment too and Neil, I know you want to come in and Joschi, let me turn it over to you if you want to comment too?

NEIL:

No, I was just shocked by the story and I think that the thing that was interesting was we had Andy Imparato on that long ago, a while back now and he is a disability rights lawyer but essentially paid by the state to sue the state. So, it's a very sort of similar situation. You know the State knows it needs to be held accountable. So, it's Disability Rights, California and so they pay DRC to do the work of holding them to account. So, I think that it is a model that does work because you can't really police yourselves. We know self-policing doesn't work very well in industry. So, it's good to see that happening. And really important work that you've been doing. We are pretty much at the end of our time. So, I would like to thank you very much for joining us today and really looking forward a very vibrant Twitter chat. I need to thank my Clear Text for keeping us keeping us captioned and it's good to be back.

JOSCHI:

Thank you for having me. It was fun.

DEBRA:

We have missed Neil and Joschi, we love your work and our entire community wants to get behind what you're doing. So, I am so glad, you are on Axschat today. Thank you so much for your work.

JOSHCI:

Thank you.