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Accessible Design and Advocacy: Q&A with Jessica Oddi

Canadian Disabled Designer and Advocate, Jessica Oddi, answers questions about her career, inspiration, and personal journey.



 

What inspired you to go into Graphic Design?

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what Graphic Design was! I had done traditional illustration in high school, as well as had a bit of a passion for HTML coding. So, when it was time to pick something for college, all I knew was “I want to do art, and I want it digital because I’m tired and can no longer physically paint.”


My sister suggested that I might like the Graphic Design program she had taken. And goodness, once I got into it I was absolutely hooked! Creating logos and brands became an exciting creative practice. I could still apply illustration into those classes. But then layout and code really stimulated the part of me that always enjoyed math. So, it merged all aspects of my personality in a way that I didn’t know it would.


How, if at all, has your disability influenced your Graphic Design career?

Oh, so many ways! For one thing the entire reason I became a freelancer and started this journey was because of my disability. Many places at the time didn’t offer work from home or flexible hours. I needed something I could do and take breaks from to rest and recoup.


Then as I gained more clients it really started shaping the way I did my work. Not only for my own access, but for those around me. Thinking about flexible practices and working in a way that feels comfortable for everyone! Like I’m an expert at listening to my body and scheduling out myself. Why not extend that ideology to those I work with?



What are some barriers you have encountered in your career?

There’re two different areas where I find barriers. First, the environment itself. I freelance because I need to rest and work my own hours. Sometimes I must push a deadline. That’s not exactly ideal in the design industry. We tend to work towards fast turnaround times and quantity over quality. Things are starting to change there!


Second, is the pushback. Some businesses still can’t “justify” making their business accessible. Or question the necessity of a practice to save cost or time. And when I push for accessibility as a basic human right, sometimes advocacy burn out really sets in. Constantly having to justify practices that are a necessity for the community I love and am part of.


What has been one of your favorite projects to date?

So tough to choose! There have been so many great ones. I’d have to say the brand for Activate Agency. For one thing, anytime I get to work for a group within the disabled community, it brings me so much joy.


But the brand was such a freeing experience. We valued accessibility at the core and made sure to implement their Māori culture. It really became a love booklet for all their values and practices, as well as a cool exploration of their elements. You know, it wasn’t just “oh here’s your palette and type suggestions”. Everything had meaning and purpose.


We built it together over time, while honouring our fatigue and disabilities throughout. It was such a fun collaborative effort.


What is design accessibility and how can social media become more accessible?

Well it has so many definitions. But in general, it’s making sure that what we create can be used or interacted with by disabled people. Design wise, it’s making sure we consider or provide:


  • Visual accessibility with proper colour contrast, readable text, good spacing, and authentic representation of disability.

  • Audio/tactile accessibility with alternative ways of sharing content besides visuals. These can be described audio, closed captions, image descriptions, and transcripts.


But design and social media accessibility also have another component that we don’t always consider. And that’s our process. It’s the way we work together to include disabilities. Providing flexible hours, rest, accommodations for events, and hiring disabled people. That’s just as vital as the designs we produce. The way we produce them, and who we are collaborating with.


In general, to make social media more accessible we need to:

  • Use proper contrast (4.5:1 minimum)

  • Use larger text with good spacing (1.5x the line height, 2x paragraph height)

  • Provide alt text AND image descriptions in our posts.

  • Provide captioning on your video and audio posts, as well as described audio and a transcript when possible.

  • Limit the use of emojis and special characters.

  • Use accessible hashtags in PascalCase or camelCase.



What is something people often forget when working to make their websites or designs accessible? Alternatively, what is important to remember regarding accessibility in design?

The biggest thing people forget, is community testing! We as designers can never assume. The more we get actual testing from disabled people, the more we can advance our practices. If we’re not checking in with the people we’re designing for, then how can we truly know it’s accessible?


An important thing to remember is that accessibility is a journey, not just a set of compliances. It will adapt over time as technology and society change. And we need to be prepared to change things. It’s not just what we create, but why we create them and who we create them with. Disability is community. Accessibility is community care.


What are some tips you would share with budding creatives looking to start their careers?

This is specifically for the disabled designers starting their journeys. Do not be afraid to take up space. It’s your life, it’s your job, it’s your access. We shouldn’t have to apologize or bend ourselves to conform at a pace that doesn’t suit us. You create whatever boundaries you need to thrive and live authentically. I can assure you, if someone doesn’t accept your access requirements, then they don’t truly value disability inclusion.



If you are interested in learning more about Jess, you can check out her website and Instagram, @oddi.jessica .


 

Check out other professional Q&As and Interviews. Meet Occupational Therapist and disability advocate, Sarah Tuberty. Learn more about Art Therapy from Board-certified Art Therapist and LPCC, Katie Prodanovich.


 

Jessica Oddi (pronounced Oh-dee) is a disabled designer. Jess’s espresso-fueled craft is combined with an underlying passion for disabled spaces. She now specializes in accessibility and representation for everyone. Based in Canada, she collaborates to empower communities. And has had the privilege of working alongside incredible groups across the globe. Freelance services include branding and websites, design accessibility, and digital illustration.

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