Full Interviews with Bec and Jess

Blog Contributor Portrait
By: Jolene MacDonald
December 3, 2021
An interview with Jess and Bec with their portraits.


Accessibility is an act of love and respect so disabled people can not only survive, but thrive!

A conversation with Jessica Oddi (Designer & Illustrator)
Jessica Oddi.

· Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our audience would like to get to know you a bit. So tell us about yourself a bit, please.

Hi! I’m Jess, a disabled designer out of Hamilton, Ontario. I use she/her pronouns, as well as identity-first language. I’ve been working as a freelancer for just about ten years now! With a focus on branding, websites, digital accessibility and representation through illustrating. Basically, I get bored doing the same thing repeatedly, so the design is a way for me to explore my creativity.
 

When I’m not obsessing over a typeface, I’m hanging out with loved ones trying out delicious foods. Not sure if eating can be a personality trait, but here we are! Currently trying to learn Italian, which has been fun to understand family the more I practice. I usually spend my downtime with movies or video games.
 

· Would you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Much of what I do came out of necessity. Being born with a physical disability, it shaped the paths I’ve chosen through life. And my career was one of them. By the time I entered college, I no longer had the physical energy for traditional art. Instead, graphic design seemed like a great digital avenue with much less fatigue than illustrating.
 

While taking the Graphic Design program at Mohawk College, I quickly realized freelance was going to be the most ideal working scenario. This was over 12 years ago, at a pre-covid time where most agencies didn’t offer work-from-home and flexibility in their spaces. So I carved out my own environment. To work as much or as little as I had energy for and respect my body-mind.
 

The funny part is, I never really considered applying my own accessibility and passion for disability rights with my work until a few years ago. So many practices I worked with and learned from the community came out through my personal work but not client-side. So when I finally realized I could merge these two worlds, the possibilities seemed endless! And it’s been great collaborating with disability-centred practices ever since.
 

· Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about “How working in accessibility area changed your life”?

Good question! I haven’t thought of it from that perspective in a while. It has changed my life in many ways, and at the same time, not much, haha. For one thing, working in accessibility has felt similar to fighting for it in my own personal life. So that isn’t really a change but more of a shift into advocating on a public level.

However, working in the field has broadened my perspectives in so many ways! First off, it has connected with me with amazing people and spaces within the disabled community. Learning from others and respecting the nuances of all the experiences have really shaped the way I do my work. Getting to be part of such a vibrant and beautiful kinship is just beyond words for me. It’s made me confident in my own identity as well as a deep sense of responsibility accessibility work holds for others.
 

· How do you think this concept (Accessibility) will change the world?

Accessibility is synonymous with anti-ableism (and, for that matter, anti-capitalism). The more we integrate it into our world, the more equitable our systems can become. If we can deepen our understanding of accessibility as a human rights practice, we can change the world for the better. We can rest and accommodate our own needs and the needs of others. Simply giving everyone a chance to exist in this world, with no strings attached.
 

· Would you please share with us the most exciting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Oh, it’s so hard to choose! I’ve been so fortunate in my career and have worked with such amazing people. I think the one that comes to me right now was the Yahoo! project for Global Accessibility Awareness Day. To have the honour (and responsibility) of showing the world the essence of disability was not something I took lightly.
 

I was lucky enough to have the platform to create a visual of what disability means to me and everyone in the community I cherish. And I hope that I was able to showcase the beauty and diversity of our space for the world to notice! Because that image is what I envision when I think about disability and community care.
 

· Your last words:

The thing is, the concept of accessibility is already everywhere. Every single person uses tools or technology to make their lives easier. Voice dictation for notes, calendar apps for scheduling, heck using washrooms are all forms of accessibility to accommodate humans.

People just don’t consider these practices accessibility because we live in a world focused on productivity and profit. The sooner we can prioritize access for disabled people as easily as we do for non-disabled accommodations, the better everyone will be! Accessibility is an act of love and respect so disabled people can not only survive, but thrive!


 

When you are designing with accessibility in mind, you are designing for everyone!

A conversation with Bec Westcott (accessibility specialist and designer)
Bec Westcott Portrait.

· Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Tell us about yourself a bit, please.

Hi, I’m Rebecca but known by most as Bec. I am a graduate of Cambrian College’s Graphic Design program and Sheridan College’s Web Design and Development Program. Currently, I am one of a handful of skilled designers working on creating accessible documents directly from the Authoring program and striving to remove the need for extensive PDF remediation. What I have learned she likes most about the industry is a reflection of my structure-based lifestyle.
 

· Would you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Attending high school and college were a struggle for me. Both physically and mentally, it really took a toll on me. But I not only continued and graduated from two programs but three programs plus continued education after. Sheridan College’s Web Design and Development Program gave me hope after a tough few years attending Cambrian. It gave me hope that there were people out there who could work with me and my challenges I have faced to help remove barriers. Throughout my time at Sheridan College, I had one project which focused on accessibility. That was what I consider to be the minimum. However, I felt there was much more to learn, so I found one class that I could register for about 12 weeks long that seemed to go more in-depth. Unfortunately, I quickly learned it wasn’t for me and gave up my hopes of learning more about accessibility for the time being.


After college and course upgrading, I got stuck job hunting at the end of 2019 and early 2020 and got hit with the pandemic; on top of that living in a small community in Northern Ontario. Altogether, it took me about 12 months to find a job where I would step foot into working for a Township about 30 minutes from me, helping to update their website to meet AODA standards. While there, I discovered that I could use my front-end web development knowledge to my advantage after taking a few LinkedIn Courses on PDF Remediation and connecting with a mentor through RGD, who guided me along with the start of my learning.
 

· Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about “How working in accessibility area changed your life”?

Working in accessibility has changed my life with all the connections I have had the opportunity to make. I have a mentor through RGD, I have connected to a PDF Remediation Facebook group where the community only wants to see others help remove barriers for those that face these barriers where possible and have found courses that I am able to complete and gain certificates

for that are made easy enough for those with cognitive disabilities like myself to succeed in completing.
 

· How do you think this concept (Accessibility) will change the world?

Accessibility isn’t going to change the world overnight; however, as a recent graduate, I truly hope that I can be one of the ones to help bring accessibility into the College programs for Graphic Design. If not Graphic Designers helping to implement accessibility across a digital format, then who?
 

There is a quote that I have seen endless since diving into the Accessibility industry. If you are designing with accessibility in mind, then you are designing for everyone. And I don’t believe there is a truer statement.
 

· Would you please share with us the most exciting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I am new to my career but currently, besides being hired by Accessibrand. I have two experiences that I consider to be the most exciting thing that has happened to me. One of them is connecting with Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work. This team truly wants to help get people with dis(abilities) set up for success. I am helping with different tools and courses to get you started in your career for success. They are extremely friendly, quick, and very kind that offer a variety of support and resources. And more help than I could have ever imagined. And the second one is connecting with Bevi Chagnon, a leading technologist for publishing, design, digital media and accessible documents teaching through PubCom.com. She is a knowledgeable woman with a passion for helping those interested in accessibility learn and gain a deep understanding of multiple platforms not just to meet accessibility but go above and beyond.
 

· Your last words:

Thank you to Accessibrand for believing in me and allowing me to become a part of the team.

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