My name is Jonathan. I am the Chief Accessibility Officer at SSB BART Group a company that specializes in accessibility standards compliance. Although most people imagine that a career in computing is about programming, only about 25% of my time is spent programming. The rest of my time is divided between technical writing, research, management, and consulting. I am responsible for maintaining our accessibility testing methodology, creating best practices, and staying current on new standards. I write blogs, reports, and provide consultations to large and small organizations.
How did you get interested in computing?
I like computing because it allows me to solve problems and create. Over the years, I’ve taught myself a lot about computers. I also have an excellent foundation in computer science from the University of Mary Washington, where I earned my bachelor's degree. I’m in my position because I worked hard, learned new languages and applications, took charge, led, and mentored others. I also believe I’m here because of God’s providence; I personally believe God has a plan for each of us.
How did you end up in your current position?
In college I had a multimedia programming internship at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. This internship gave me a glimpse of various programming opportunities and also gave me experience in a real work environment. While the content I worked on was exciting, I wasn’t sure I wanted to work in a computer lab all day long. I also had additional opportunities such as doing work study programs in my college’s computer labs and training people who were visually impaired to use computers at a summer camp. These experiences helped me determine my future.
Before landing in my current role, I was an accessibility consultant and then a lead accessibility consultant. Basically, these roles involved more hands-on evaluation projects and work with users with disabilities. While I was in these roles I took on responsibilities that would prepare me for the position I wanted in the future. For example, I went beyond my job description and made recommendations, took a lead role in projects, learned new technologies on my own time, and went to conferences. These experiences prepared me for my current position.
Does your disability affect your career?
I have a visual impairment. I’ve learned that I need to be prepared in order to be successful. I bring the tools I need when I work with customers. I memorize presentations before I deliver them and find ways of compensating when networking. For example, if I can’t see who someone is or what their nametag says, I’ll just introduce myself and start a conversation. I use a variety of assistive technology to help me be successful including hand held magnifiers, bioptics, reading glasses, and enlargement and screen reader features of devices such as the iPad and similar technologies under Windows.
What can I do while I’m in high school if I want to pursue a career in computing?
Not everyone is called to computing. If you’re in high school and thinking about a career in computing, take some time to learn on your own–you can take apart computers and put them back together. You can also explore computing by pursuing an internship in the field. Read books on computing and write sample code. Once you learn more, consider how you feel afterwards and whether computing is the right field for you. Computing is not for everyone–just as college isn’t necessarily for everyone. Both are important, but I believe you should go to college or go into computing because you want to and not because you think that’s what people with disabilities do or that’s what your parents want you to do.
You have to make choices and be accountable for your actions. Don’t assume college is like high school. In college you have opportunities to pursue the areas you are interested in and you have a lot of freedom to make decisions and choices. Who you become because of your college experience means more than the degree itself. Problem solving skills, the determination to solve issues, and the ability to learn on your own are all important when you’re pursuing a computing field.
Why should I study computing?
There are many ways that you can impact the world through a computing career. You can ensure that the web is accessible to people with disabilities. You can show that people with disabilities are in the workplace. And you can create new technologies and apps to assist people with disabilities, including veterans.
April 24 2012