Something Magical Happened on the Way to Developer Day

Hi Everyone,

It’s been awhile since  I posted. I have taken on a new role as an Early Professional Development Manager for the IBM Developer JumpStart program. I am happy to say that I am able  to share my passion for accessibility with this new class of early professionals. Here’s one such story.

Developer Day is the second day of on boarding for our early professional developers and the start of a two-year learning journey as part of the IBM Developer JumpStart program. April 2017, I attended my first Developer Day at the IBM MassLab in Littleton, MA. I wanted to see what all the excitement was about so I asked the facilitator and master of ceremonies, George Champlin-Scharff-Scarff​, if I could shadow his class and learn a bit more.

The day started with a Code Retreat which introduced the developers to the best practices of test-driven development, pair programming and Agile. In the afternoon, the developers were introduced to IBM Design Thinking. They were taken through a set of exercises to build empathy for their end user and develop a minimal viable product (MVP) for a defined business problem: A user is going to the movies and would like to purchase snacks for the movie when ordering tickets online.

The developers were given a persona, for example, a teenager, a parent with two kids, a retiree, etc. They were taught how to build empathy for the user by generating an empathy map to capture what the user says, does, feels and thinks.

Wait a minute! Something was missing. I approached George and asked him if we ever introduced the developers to accessibility and persons with disabilities. Having spent a 7-year tenure on the IBM Accessibility team, it remains a passion of mine to spread the understanding of what accessibility and inclusive design really means.

“Hmm.” George thought this was a great idea. George immediately walked around the room and added a disability to each and every persona. The retiree, he is hard of hearing. The single parent, she has multiple sclerosis. The teenager, he’s blind. “What? How would a blind person enjoy a movie?”, one of the developers asked. We explained that there are many ways someone who cannot see can enjoy a movie. They can hear the dialog. They can feel the sound. They can share the excitement of the audience and audio description devices readily available at many theaters can describe what actions are happening on the big screen.

Developers create an empathy map of an Early Onset Alzheimer's patient.
Developers create an empathy map of an Early Onset Alzheimer’s patient

The developers went to work defining their MVPs knowing their users were faced with these physical challenges. George took them through an exercise of how to generate an MVP. The developers created a grid with four quadrants and, using design thinking, generated ideas for solutions and placed them in each of the four quadrants, ranging from low value and difficult implementation to high value and easy implementation. The goal was to find the MVP of the highest value to the user that was easiest to implement.

Something magical happened. Across several groups of developers, every group came up with the same exact solution! They all proposed solutions that would allow users to order tickets and snacks at home, and the snacks would be waiting at an assigned seat when they arrived at the theater. Wow! George repeated this activity at several more developer days across several IBM sites. At each developer day, 85-90% of the developers came up with the same MVP.

Now, as a program manager for the IBM Developer JumpStart program, I get to attend developer days more often and enjoy them just the same as the first. At a developer day last July, the same thing happened. Seven out of eight teams reached the same MVP. The 8th team had a slight variation with the MVP of having snacks available at the seat in their top quadrant.

This activity really demonstrates how when you empathize with your user and include disabilities into personas, you can develop a universal design solution that works for everyone!


Published by

Moe Kraft

For 16+ years, Moe has defended the rights of all abilities to access Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Specializing in Accessibility (#a11y), Moe fights for hyper-personalization of software and web applications including support for the blind, low vision users, deaf, mobility challenged, the aging population, foreign language speakers and those who learn differently. Basically Moe has disciplined herself to create apps for everyone. She is an active member of the W3C WCAG Working Group and the Boston a11y group. She received a B.S. in Computer and Information Science from University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA and has been a software engineer at IBM and Lotus Development for 26 years. “This blog post and postings on this site are of my own opinion and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.” – Moe Kraft

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s