Lisa Del Monte has always been interested in the potential of technology to have a positive impact on people’s lives. When they were growing up in Austria, their grandfather had a degenerative neurological disease that caused him to gradually lose brain function. “He was communicating by pointing to an alphabet sheet, and eventually, just by blinking. Being able to use an eye-tracking device would have been a game-changer,” they say, lamenting that our current technologies in speech and visual impairment were not readily available at the time. Now Del Monte is making sure that all Audible users can have their own game-changing experiences.
Del Monte joined Audible as a visual designer in early 2016, working on our desktop and mobile websites. Right away they started researching accessibility, which they explain is “a way to enable people with diverse abilities” to use Audible. “Audible’s product is itself an accessibility tool,” they point out, “as audio entertainment is enormously helpful to visually impaired people.” Accessibility includes considerations such as choosing colors and contrast levels that are visually easier to parse, removing the difficulties that can come from navigating small phone screens with our fingers, and examining cultural assumptions to be sure design is inclusive. For example, “universal icons that can be understood by all demographics and backgrounds,” they say.
When Audible’s UX team was migrating the website to a new design system, it presented an opportunity for Del Monte to apply the accessibility best practices they’d been learning. “My manager really encouraged me to spearhead the accessibility part of it and to educate the team,” they say. “I sort of became our spokesperson for accessibility: I did a talk on accessibility at a Write/Speak/Code event in 2018, and at a Women in Product meet-up.”
Although they loved the work they were doing, Del Monte decided they “needed something more active,” and that they wanted to help people in a new way: by becoming a firefighter. They left Audible in late 2019 and began training, but the pandemic hit and changed their plans. For several months, they worked as an EMT in the Catskills, until they realized that they could resume their UX accessibility role at Audible, given the new remote work model.
When they returned to Audible, they found that several teams were pursuing accessibility on behalf of our customers so those teams formed a cross-functional task force including UX designers, quality assurance, developers, product, and more. The group conducted research to learn how cognitively and visually impaired users found the experience of using Audible’s service, from content discovery to purchasing to listening to titles. This helps because “you can create inclusion by recognizing where in the process people get alienated,” explains Del Monte.
Now Del Monte is embedded in the design systems team, ensuring that from the start, Audible’s products and features employ best practices for the most inclusive experience. “UX happens very early in the project lifecycle, so if we get that right it sets us up for success.” This approach benefits all users because their team is also solving for issues most people will face, like making it easier to see the screen when standing in bright sunshine. “If you design for edge cases like motor and visual impairment, you’re creating a better product for everyone else.”
Del Monte loves that accessibility is a high priority at Audible, and even has office hours to advise colleagues on it. They point out that accessibility “is baked into the language of Audible’s People Principle of Customer Obsession: ‘Audible inspires our listeners’ dreams and feelings, as well as serves their needs. That our customers depend on us is an honor, and we work to ensure our service exceeds their expectations in every way.’”
In that spirit, our customer support team sought Del Monte’s help improving our help center pages for accessibility, and created a core team of accessibility specialists who can advise Audible customers who may need extra assistance or who use assistive technology. Customers have been telling the team about the difference this is making in their lives. One customer shared: “I'm an 81-year-old retired literature professor with significant vision problems that impair both my reading capacity and my ability to use computers. I received Audible as a gift three years [ago], and have no words to describe the difference it's made in the quality of my life. It's enabled me to reconnect with magnificent works that I once taught and cherished. I could not manage to continue ordering the books without the help of your wonderful telephone customer service.”
This kind of feedback lets Del Monte know our accessibility efforts are on the right track and making a difference. Thinking about how their accessibility work impacts others reminds them of their mother and grandmother helping Del Monte’s grandfather communicate, and of experiencing firsthand the challenges he faced, which they say made them a more empathetic person. “It's a different way to assist people, and I can see myself doing this a long time. It’s rewarding, seeing the improvements, hearing from users how much they were helped.”