by John M. Williams
(Editor’s Note: John Williams can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Amy Salmon is an unusual woman, with unusual skills working in a field dominated by men. She is not intimidated by the men she works with. She is certain she is just as good as they are. They know she is. They marvel at her skills and confidence. Even though she is legally blind, she can compete with anyone in making websites, kiosks and other technologies accessible to people walking through an airport terminal.
All her life, Salmon has been driven to be the best she can be. At a young age, she realized the value of an education. As a result, she earned an undergraduate degree in mass communication and journalism from the University of Wisconsin. A few years later, she went back to school and earned a master of science degree in rehabilitation for the visually impaired from Northern Illinois University in 2004.
Today, her vision and education have paid off. She is a senior accessibility consultant with Tech for All (www.tfaconsulting.com). For 16 years, Tech for All’s international accessibility and universal design consulting firm has served small companies, Fortune 500 corporations, educational institutions, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations representing people with disabilities. Its sole mission is to help its clients successfully address the challenges of making their products, services, websites, kiosks, and mobile apps accessible for all, including people with disabilities.
When Salmon was 21, she learned that she had retinitis pigmentosa. It affects the retina, which is the layer of light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Vision loss occurs as the light-sensing cells of the retina deteriorate. She was 26 when she became legally blind.
Being blind has not deterred Salmon from achieving her own goals. Rather, her blindness has motivated her to be educated, and to be successful. She believes she inspires others to do the same. An asset in achieving her goals has been the computer and accompanying technology. She holds firmly to the idea that technology is the great equalizer for people with disabilities. “Technology eliminates barriers that historically have kept people with disabilities locked in a room out of sight.”
Salmon has decades of experience working with computers. When she was young, her father transferred his passion for computers to her. He was fascinated by technology, especially computers. As a young woman, she remembered her father bringing home one of the first Texas Instruments computers. An immediate bond developed between Amy and the computer. That bond grows stronger every year.
After college, Salmon worked for several years as a marketing public relations consultant where she specialized in obtaining and managing coverage for her clients in local, national and international media outlets.
Salmon started her career in accessibility in 2002 when she met Caesar Eghtesadi, founder of Tech for All. “Amy had the knowledge and skills that Tech for All needed,” Eghtesadi said. “Over the years she has become one of our technology leaders, involved in numerous projects. She is an inspired and dedicated consultant, an example to all of us.”
Since 2001, Salmon has been evaluating technology products and websites, ensuring conformance with accessibility standards and best practices for people with disabilities. As a user of screen-reader technology, she has been a major contributor to several clients’ projects, including California State University, VitalSource Technology, United Airlines, and Verizon Wireless. Amy has published and presented several papers at the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. She has created and presented numerous accessibility training courses for TFA clients. She also has several articles published in “AccessWorld,” a publication of the American Foundation for the Blind.
Her work is not limited to website accessibility. As a member of the Tech for All team, she assists with on-site and webinar-based training on a variety of accessibility-related projects, and in evaluating software, mobile apps and kiosks for accessibility.
In 2002, Amy decided to return to graduate school. She saw an opportunity to put the knowledge and skills she had developed with computers to benefit herself and other people with visual impairments. She was being swamped with requests from blind students and blind adults to train them on how to use computers.
“I want what is best for blind people,” Salmon said. “Assistive technology equalizes job opportunities for blind people.”
Salmon believes that blind people must have access to a range of technologies if they are going to compete, and accessible websites have an important role in their personal and professional lives. She also believes that, given the incentive, blind people can be competitive with sighted people if they have the same resources and training sighted people do. She is fiercely determined to assist blind people in every way she can to help them succeed.
When she started teaching blind people to use computers, she discovered a major hurdle confronting blind people using computers was the lack of accessibility. This roadblock was contributing to the high rate of unemployment among blind people in the country. “Seventy percent of blind people in this country are unemployed,” Salmon says.
Salmon loves her work. She is overjoyed when she is making a website accessible. How long does it take to make a website accessible? “It takes from two to five weeks to complete the non-visual evaluation, depending on the complexity of the website,” she stated.
Completing keyboard and low-vision evaluation and then analyzing the website code to provide accessibility remediation takes another two to five weeks. “Once we complete the accessibility evaluation and provide the results to the client, it can take anywhere from a couple of months to much longer to remediate the identified issues, depending on the company’s commitment to accessibility,” Salmon says.
When evaluating a website, Salmon uses a variety of Internet browsers such as Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Safari with a range of screen reading programs such as JAWS for Windows, NVDA, VoiceOver and TalkBack.
Salmon loves to teach. From 1999 to 2007, she taught adults how to use computers with assistive technology. From 2007 to 2014, she was an instructor for the Hadley Institute for the Blind, where she taught many technology courses.
When she is not working, Amy spends time with her husband Patrick, her 15-year-old son Andrew, and her 12-year-old daughter, Madelyn. Another member of the family is Wilbur, her 13-year-old retired guide dog.
Salmon and her family love the outdoors. She says, “We love to spend time in our boat as many weekends as possible water skiing, wake boarding, tubing and just enjoying the water.” She and Patrick enjoy riding their tandem bike. She also loves reading and knitting.
Salmon believes companies are beginning to see that it’s the right thing to do to make their websites accessible. She wants to see more people who are blind employed and using computers.