Robert – From Journalism to Web Accessibility Advocate

Robert – From Journalism to Web Accessibility Advocate

#61 - With influences like Stephen King and Lemony Snicket, Robert Kingett, who was born blind and with cerebral palsy, realized at a young age that writing was a fantastic way to express himself.  Initially setting out to start his writing career as a journalist, Robert built up a portfolio by writing about anything and everything from human interest stories to sports coverage. While he had a solid plan for how to get noticed by the big local Chicago newspapers, it didn't take long for Robert to realize that newspapers did not value the stories he wanted to write about.

As he considered how to pivot, blogging became an obvious way for him to express his opinions and educate people about topics surrounding the disability and the LGBTQ communities, a crossroads in which he sits at the intersection of.

His blog was a hit, but not with the audience he expected it to resonate with, and that opened up a number of unexpected doors for Robert. Now, he works as a web accessibility consultant as well as an expert witness for lawyers in accessibility cases. Between these jobs and his work in the Audio Description industry, Robert has built up a safety net that allows him to spend time writing works of fiction. These works allow members of his intersecting communities to see themselves reflected in the characters and hopefully, the stories will allow Robert to one day join the ranks of his esteemed childhood influences.

Find Robert’s work on his website blindjournalist.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @wweirdwriter

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The below transcript is A.I generated with light editing and may not be 100% accurate.

Transcript
Jonathan Collaton:

Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, you're listening to career crossroads. And if you're new here, welcome. And if you're not new welcome back. I'm Jonathan Collaton. And this is the podcast where I talk to people about all the pivots, changes and life events that led them to their current career path. Today I am talking to Robert Kingett, Robert defines himself as proudly gay and proudly disabled. He is blind and has cerebral palsy, which have played a factor in the career path that he's experienced. And that is why I was so eager to talk to him today. Robert is an expert on web accessibility, not just because of his disabilities, but because being an expert is part of the reason he is on his current career path. He is very open to discussing his disabilities, and how he's adapted to a world not built for people like him. And I wanted to learn as much as possible from him. So while most of the interview is about his career, I also asked him about some web accessibility tips near the end of our conversation. In the spirit of learning, I also didn't want to avoid asking a question because I wasn't sure of how to phrase it or because I was scared of using the wrong language. There's a moment you'll hear in the interview where I couldn't really figure out how to phrase something. But Robert knew what I was getting at and was happy to help me learn about his job. A couple notes on audio quality before we get into the interview itself. Firstly, there was some periodic clicking sounds from Robert's mic, that neither of us could really figure out how to fix but I've cleaned that up as much as I can. And I don't think it will be overly noticeable. But I do want to point it out, just in case. anybody's wondering what that clicking sound is, yes, it's probably coming from our audio. And secondly, Robert has a significant stutter. And I've cleaned that up to help with the clarity of the interview. And to shorten it up from its original length. This was all done with Roberts permission. And I only mentioned it in case you're listening. And you happen to know Robert and wonder why he sounds a little bit different. Okay, a lot of good content to get to in the interview. So let's get right to that. And then afterwards, we'll talk about what we can learn from Roberts career path. Robert, thank you very much for joining me today.

Robert Kingett:

Thank you for having me.

Jonathan Collaton:

Well, I'm very glad you're here. And after we first got in touch, I have to tell you this, I Googled your name. And I want to know if anyone else has ever said this to you before. The first result that popped up is your own website with the headline, Robert Kingett at the fabulously gay blind author. And I have to say that is a fantastic way to grab somebody's attention.

Robert Kingett:

Well, thank you and and no, nobody. Nobody's ever told me that. So thanks. I am really happy that captured your attention.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah, well, I'm glad to be the one to provide that kind of feedback for you. So obviously, some of the things just in that title. The fact that you were blind, I imagine is going to have some sort of impact on the story we talk about today when we discuss your career path. So to kind of get into that. Tell me about where it is that you grew up, because I know you're in Chicago now. But have you always been in Chicago?

Robert Kingett:

No, I have not. And it that confuses a lot of people because I have a Florida, a Florida phone number. So but anyway, I grew up in St. Augustine, Florida, essentially, I was born in Islip, New York. And then I lived in St. Augustine, Florida, and I lived there my whole life up until a few years ago.

Jonathan Collaton:

Oh, okay. All right. So growing up in Florida, what was life like for you? What was your your family like? What sort of things were you interested in? Tell me all about that.

Robert Kingett:

So my family was really they were sort of your classic American family. They weren't really religious. They didn't have any really any strong beliefs about pretty much anything my immediate family anyway. My grandparents however, were very much into literature and, and reading and me asking all kinds of questions and trying to obtain more knowledge for the sake of knowledge obtaining. So growing up, I lived a life that was pretty comfortable, up until my grandfather passed away from the cirrhosis of the liver. And then my grandmother had a stroke, which led me to move in with my mom. And that was a completely different scenario from living with my grandparents, I grew up in a very, very abusive home. And, and with me having disabilities on top of the abuse, that just made things more, either terrible or interesting, depending on how you want to look at it. So I definitely have a unique outlook on life as a result.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay, I expected that you might have a unique outlook. And that's one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you. You mentioned on your website, you have both cerebral palsy, and you are blind. And I want to hear what the kind of perspective was on what you thought you might be doing long term as a career path. So did those two different disabilities affect your vision for what you thought you'd be doing in your future as you were growing up in Florida?

Robert Kingett:

They, so actually, a lot of people put those two together in a very interesting way. Many people assumed that I would actually become a lawyer for for disability, disability rights and disability cases and everything, a lot of people. A lot of people actually thought that a lawyer was in my future. But I knew that from an early age, I wanted to become a writer, like Stephen King, Lemony Snicket and other fiction authors.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay. And was that I guess that was perhaps a result of the the books and the acquiring knowledge and things like that, that you were talking about before? I mean, that's my outside connection. But yeah, okay. So yeah, right. Yeah, exactly.

Robert Kingett:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. And like, also it, like I learned, from an early age that writing was an Wow that's very, very ambitious. So tell me about the the adaptive tool for me. So I learned very much, very quickly, that if I was going to have opinions and thoughts and things, the most fluid way for me to get them articulated, was to write down those thoughts and opinions. And so that was partly the reason for me becoming a writer. The other part of me just really wanted to tell stories through a fictional lens that would highlight the imperfect, yet hopeful strides that humanity is taking on. practical side of how that would happen. And I know, you told me in high school, you were interested in journalism and being a writer. Was there a specific type of journalism that interested you? And what specifically did you think would be the path to pursuing that or to getting some of the extra skills that might make you a successful writer? Yes. So So in high school, I was very, very much interested in, in human interest Journalism. I really liked the notion of, of showing how policy and everything affected everyday humans. Plus, I also wanted to become an investigative journalist, because I really loved a good mystery and drama, and things like that. So I assumed that that those two beats would be the path that I would go down.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay. So does that mean you were looking into further education out of high school for something like English or journalism or something along those lines?

Robert Kingett:

Yes, yes. Yes. Growing up, I was looking at going to college. Higher Education in with a degree in journalism specifically. It never occurred to me to get a degree in English or, or anything like that. So journalism was my career goal for the longest time. And that's what I worked towards, in higher education plus in high school.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay. So I often ask people, what were the motivating factors behind the specific school they picked for college or university? So what were some of the things that you were looking for in a college or university? Was it, did it matter if it was close to home, or for you with the disabilities that you have was the size of, say, an accessibility office? That could provide some of the accommodations that would help you be a successful student? Was that kind of a factor for you?

Robert Kingett:

Yes, I, yes, all those things were a factor. But I was also extremely low income. So what was the factor for me was looking at community colleges rather than four year universities, because I thought that going to community college and getting my associates would actually be a lot cheaper and better for disability commendations, the classes I thought would actually be smaller. And so I just thought that because I was very low income, that community college would help me to get a foot in the door easier than a four year university of financialy speaking and disability accommodations also.

Jonathan Collaton:

Gotcha. So I sense a little bit of laughter there. When you talk about the class sizes, was it not exactly what you were expecting?

Robert Kingett:

No. No, no, my school was a school for blind. So you had classes, at the most, you had maybe, maybe six kids in, in a particular class. So very, very small. Yeah. So. So, needless to say, I was wrong about the class size in community college.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah, that is a that is a small small education setting for sure. So how do you think that kind of setting influenced the style of education you received? Or did it did having such small classes influence your, you know, time with your instructors? And did that impact your overall education? You think?

Robert Kingett:

Well, like it is a positive cuz you had many factors. So like, so when I was at the school for the blind and visually impaired, things were tailor made to be accessible from the get go. So you didn't have any months or years of advocating to do you just you just had to be a normal teenager and do your work and and have detentions and things like that like, like everybody else, with the added convenience of having things in Braille, having things in a digital format, when you needed them and the teachers were not so swamped with dozens upon dozens of kids in your class, that they could not help you individually, either during class or outside of classes. So I would say that it's positively affected my education. However, I strongly think that that society needs to do better in integration efforts. We can't just shuffle kids off to a disability institution. That's, I don't think it's right for society. However, going back to my education, yes, it was a positive that the classes were superduper small.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay, and don't worry, because I do actually want to get back to some of that discussion later on. Because I think some of the jobs that you have done, really make you a very good person to educate the general population who doesn't have a lot of knowledge of what kind of accommodations can be provided to make education more accessible for people like yourself. So we're definitely going to talk about that towards the end of this interview. But let's go on to then your post college year. So as you're wrapping up college, you've got this journalism degree, associate's degree. And what exactly did you think you were going to get into? And what was the process of actually finding a job right out of college? Were you looking for jobs while you were in school? Were you waiting until you finished? Was the process totally different? Tell me about it.

Robert Kingett:

Sure. So um, so once I got my associates degree, I started looking for internships on my own, I was told that colleges helped you with those kinds of things, and securing internships or getting some kind of work experience. But I just chose to do that on my own. At the time, I was graduating college in the early 2010s. Blogging was very, very much a thing. So I thought that was one of my paths to showcase my work. But another path that I didn't see a lot of people take, I thought could really help me was to try to get a few assignments for the local paper. So I, so after graduating college here in Chicago, I applied to work for loads of local papers here on the north side of Chicago. And luckily, the editors really liked my tenacity. I applied to the Chicago Tribune in a very unique way, which landed me the job interview, but I didn't actually get the job. But that's for for later on. To be clear, I didn't get the job right away. I had to work for the Chicago Tribune position after that. But anyway, I applied to local papers. Because I thought that I could get a lot of different experience covering a lot of different kinds of beats that I didn't really want to do. But I thought that if I covered them, they would make me a more rounded reporter. So I covered things like local sports, which is so far out of my wheelhouse, that I'm quite amazed that I did a good job. And I gained quite a bit of experience through working at local papers, because I would do these little news stories like like, for example, I would interview a police officer for the Chicago Gazette. I would write about construction happening on the North Side of Chicago for the, for the local paper here on the North side of Chicago. So I would do little assignments like that to build up my resume, and to get some payment here or there as I was building up my resume, because unpaid internships just did not appeal to me. Frankly, I consider it a form of slavery to, to have unpaid internships, and it's especially at large institutions. But in my case, I knew I never wanted to do an unpaid internship. So I did a lot of little assignments and kept building up my resume. And then once I had a portfolio, I would pitch larger publications, like the Huffington Post, and things like that and say, here's the story. Here's my previous clips. And I, here's why I'm the best person to cover this. And none of your other reporters are good enough to cover this.

Jonathan Collaton:

Very bold of you.

Robert Kingett:

Yeah, yes. I was quite bold. And, and so that's how I kept climbing up the ladder.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay. All right. So, one, obviously, I didn't ask to specify, but it sounds like the college you went to was in Chicago, right? Yes. Okay. Great. So you stayed there after you graduated. And was that because of specific job prospects? Or you were just like enamored with the city at that point? Or was there a reason you didn't go back to Florida?

Robert Kingett:

So I was enamored with the city. And quite frankly, I just wanted to be around diversity. There isn't, there isn't a lot of diversity in Florida especially the part of Florida where I was living. So you didn't have the sprawling city like Chicago. So the reason why I stayed in Chicago was because I was just enamored with the city, and the job prospects also. So when I had amassed a sizable portfolio, I applied to the Chicago Tribune, which was my dream paper. That paper was my golden ticket, I thought. So I applied to Tribune in a very unique way. I printed out everything, my resume and everything like that, and a cover letter, and I put them in a shoe box. And then I put one shoe in the shoe box. And then I had help attaching a note and everything to it. And the note said, I just wanted to get my foot through the door. So

Jonathan Collaton:

That's a pretty good one. I saw that coming. Yeah. I like that. That's a good one

Robert Kingett:

Yeah. Thank you, I guess a lot of people at the Tribune they didn't really like it. But they were like ehh well, he's kind of clever. So we're going to give him an interview or something. So.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay. All right. Also, and you know, what I wanted to comment on before we get too far away from it was. So you said you graduate the early 2010s. I graduated in 2012. So we might very well be around the same age. And that was absolutely the golden age of unpaid internship.

Robert Kingett:

Yes.

Jonathan Collaton:

They were everywhere at that time, so good for you for not falling for it. I didn't go in that direction either. So I'm glad that some people fought back.

Robert Kingett:

Yeah, because it was astonishing how so many people literally told me ,well, you could just do an unpaid internship. And my comment was always, why? It doesn't let like I don't think it solves anything. I just don't think it helps you at all. Especially now with Coronavirus and everything.

Jonathan Collaton:

Oh yeah.

Robert Kingett:

COVID. But yes, I vehemently, like I said, I did not want unpaid internships at all. Partly because I knew a lot of people would try to shuffle me to an unpaid internship so they didn't have to pay the disabled person.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah, when that's a different perspective that you can provide that, like me, and a lot of people listening are they're not going to have have that perspective. So. So instead, you as you said, you built up this portfolio by doing not odd jobs, but you did things that are all in the realm of journalism, right. But you got yourself out of your comfort zone, you covered sports, you wrote all these little articles. And what was the culmination of all of that when you had this specific sized portfolio, were you then trying to use that to get your foot in the door, as you said? Or at that point was that was that after you had applied to the Chicago Tribune?

Robert Kingett:

Yeah, yeah. So so that was yes. So the the portfolio was to try to make a case for why more national newspapers should hire me, like the Huffington Post, and The Washington Post and things like that. So it all was, I use my portfolio to try to get those better paying journalism jobs for more national newspapers and everything like that. Because local news, it doesn't pay squat. Like, here in Chicago, if you wrote a news article, one paper would pay you 30 bucks, another paper would pay you 120. So they didn't pay nearly as much as these national papers. However, national papers, they don't train you like local news media does, there's lots of ways that you can get training through your local news organization, that a national paper just isn't going to have the time to do. Because you are just one reporter out of hundreds of people. So

Jonathan Collaton:

Now what kind of training is that? Is that like further education? Or what exactly?

Robert Kingett:

No, it's, it's more like, it's more on the ground training, or you co-write a story with another more experienced reporter.

Jonathan Collaton:

Oh, yeah, that makes sense. I get it. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. All right. So you're trying to get one of the jobs at one of these big national newspapers. How did that go? Did you end up getting one of those jobs? Or was there a certain point where you decide, maybe you've got to modify the way that you're looking for work or change what your goal is entirely?

Robert Kingett:

The Huffington Post hired me for a few assignments here or there. The Chicago Tribune hired me for a few stories here and there. They reached out to me for disability news and disability coverage, which I was like in heaven at the time, like, yeah, it's actually paying off, except I was starting to become critical of corporate media. And they weren't really covering the issues that I wanted to cover, especially in the the realm of disability and things like that. And so I looked at blogging once more, because I thought, well, if I have a blog, then that means that I can pretty much say whatever I want to without any precedents, bulldozing my ideas. So I started a blog, and I wrote a lot about accessibility and Technology and Disability and how those things intersect. And I wrote about the discrepancies in the communities, the LGBT community, and the disability community, and how they just can't seem to understand each other. From a purely societal point of view, I am at the intersection of disability and LGBT identities. So I had a very unique point of view on a lot of things. But a lot of editors, they were like, well, we don't have an audience for this kind of opinion, we don't have the readership for this kind of opinion, nobody's gonna really want to listen to your opinions, unless they live in those same intersections as you. And so that's when I was kind of like, well, no, you're wrong. Because I see a lot of Caucasians, really caring, you know, about the struggles of African Americans, myself included, so that was simply not true that there's not an audience for disability coverage in mainstream media. But I didn't know how to fight it within. So I just kind of retreated to my own little corner of the web. And that's how the blog started. And that also led me to doing accessibility consulting, as well, for quite a bit of companies and things like that.

Jonathan Collaton:

So Okay. On the one hand, you're writing about the things that matter to you and getting your message out there, which is great. From a from a career standpoint, was that helping you at the time by by paying the bills? Or were you writing articles for newspapers on the side? And then when this accessibility consulting showed up, is that the thing that became a primary source of income for you?

Robert Kingett:

Yes, yes. So I was writing on my blog, and taking donations, kind of like a, hey, if you like this, throw me some money. Except I learned that there are a lot of people. And by extension, a lot of companies that don't really know anything about accessibility, like screen readers, or how they work or how to make your website accessible to blind or visually impaired. How to make, how to make your HTML markup easily navigable for screen reader users. So the things that I was writing was actually being very helpful to a lot of corporations, not so much, people. So I started to receive quite an influx of corporations, saying, hey, from your blog, and everything like that, if you remove the swear words out of it. You're very knowledgeable about this and this and this. So I was wondering if you would like to consult with my company on this new app for this new website or this new product. And we'll pay you, quite handsomely, I might add. So, I shifted to doing consulting full time, and then writing on the side or whenever I feel like it.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah. So it seems like your blog just had a little too much personality at first for these companies.

Robert Kingett:

Well, I mean, they found it quite useful. So

Jonathan Collaton:

Oh, yeah. No, I did the swearing is what I'm talking about. Yeah. I understand.

Robert Kingett:

Yeah. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. But I mean, that was me starting out. Yeah. It's very different nowadays,

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah, I have not seen one F bomb on your whole website.

Robert Kingett:

Well go back to 2012 or something

Jonathan Collaton:

It'll be a little bit different, yeah?

Robert Kingett:

yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Jonathan Collaton:

Alright, so you're doing this consulting, which the, I guess what we can really look at here is like, you didn't, you weren't able to get some of these bigger newspapers to hire you to write the content that you thought was important. So you just start writing it on your own. And through the power of the internet, instead of somebody having to pick up a paper and read what you're doing. People are finding your articles online, bigger companies

Robert Kingett:

Sharing them.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah, sharing them, realizing that what you have to say is incredibly valuable for the work that they are doing, ensuring that it can be more accessible to more people. And suddenly, you have paychecks coming in that were substantially more than you would have been getting if you were just working in journalism anyway.

Robert Kingett:

Yes, yes. A lot more, a heck of a lot more. So.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah. Okay. All right. So you said you were kind of doing those, you know, when they came in, it's, I guess, when you have that kind of like flexibility would allow you to keep doing whatever you wanted on the side, like, were you doing sort of multiple jobs at the same time between the consulting and the journalism and the blogging?

Robert Kingett:

Yes, yes. So technically, I had three jobs. Technically, I had four. So I had to maintain my website, which is a full time job of itself. I had to keep producing content, I had to do quite a bit of consulting work. And I still do journalism. So like, I didn't completely give it up. I mean, it's still in me, but I don't do journalism as much as I used to. Now it's more consulting, being an expert witness for lawyers doing accessibility cases, and kind of being paid knowledge for corporations and companies. So

Jonathan Collaton:

yeah, okay. Yeah. And so I saw on the notes that you sent me before this, you talked about after being an accessibility specialist, you were a tech writer. And then you said, audio description writer. So I want to hear what kind of technology you were writing about. And then audio description writer, tell me what what that is because I have ideas in my head, but you're the expert here. So tell me all about it.

Robert Kingett:

Right. Yes. So for tech writing, you know, those manuals that you never read, but you do happen to read them, and you learn that, hey, some of them are actually useful and helpful. Yeah, so.

Jonathan Collaton:

So so like, what exactly? I'm not sure I know what you mean by that.

Robert Kingett:

Like manuals on how to use software or a piece of hardware?

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah. Okay.

Robert Kingett:

So copywriting, tech writing, teaching others through writing on how to use this technology, or how to do this, or how to do that. So that is my tech writing. And then the audio description, writing. So audio description is a service initially for the blind and visually impaired, but you can use it to watch movies and things. If you are cooking or laying in the bed or something and your eyes are tired and you want to watch a movie or TV show. It's a secondary audio track that is mixed so that a human narrator will describe what's happening on the screen between natural pauses and in the movie or TV show.

Jonathan Collaton:

I think I know what you're talking about. I've actually I've seen it. So like it would say Robert stands up from his chair and heads into the kitchen. That kind of thing.

Robert Kingett:

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So how I sort of came into that was I, I care very much about the industry and it was a service that is for the blind and visually impaired, and was created by the blind and visually impaired yet, now within the industry, you have a lot of sighted people sort of taking it over. And so my goal with the audio description writing was to try to get more blind and visually impaired professionals in the audio description industry, including the engineering, the narrating, and the writing of it.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay, so how exactly do you do something like that? Are you? Are you? I don't even know the way to ask this question. Robert. Do you know what I you know what I mean?

Robert Kingett:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So yeah, so how I would write an initial script for the audio description is I would, whereas a sighted person can just look at the screen and tell what's happening. I had to get a series of amateur kind of opinions about what's happening on the screen, who's wearing what and what color of hair they have, and things like that. And so then from there, four to five to six amateur descriptions, I would take their clunky words, for lack of a better phrase. And, and using my journalism background and my writing background, I would craft a sentence that would fit within the time codes necessary.

Jonathan Collaton:

Gotcha. Okay, that actually makes a ton of sense. Yeah, using your professional skill set, like, you know what sounds better, and you have a better, you have a better well of words that you can use, because you are a legitimate trained professional, unlike, you know, somebody who I was gonna say me, but then I'm like, well, I actually do write scripts for this sometimes. So I'm not a total amateur. But, you know, there are people out there who wouldn't know the best way to write it in a way that if someone hears it will be the most descriptive and the most useful, and you're the person who can do that.

Robert Kingett:

Yes, yes, exactly.

Jonathan Collaton:

All right. And so you mentioned like, your goal was to get more people from the visually impaired and deaf community into that, how would you go about doing that?

Robert Kingett:

I'm so I don't have a clear cut way. In things like this, there is really no clear cut way. But what I would try to do is his show the industry by just doing it, that, that, hey, here's a talent that you're missing out on. And, and hopefully, what I would like to have happen is, is that we build upon each other. So I have a lot of writing background, so I could mentor someone in writing, except they may not be very good at writing, but maybe they are an exceptional audio engineer. So then maybe they could take their engineering skills and, and help someone else do something else related to the field. And then eventually, we just we build a network of professionals and we refer each other to jobs and positions that maybe we can't take on right now. But we can write to people and say, Hey, even though I can't take this on right now, here's a narrator I think you would like here's a sound engineer that would actually be suited for for your, for your project. Okay, and things like that. So, yeah,

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah. So you're you're basically really just creating a referral network of people who are experts in this field. Because they are often the people using this type of service, or they know people who are using this type of service.

Robert Kingett:

Yeah, exactly.

Jonathan Collaton:

I mean, that makes sense, right? hire the people who are, it's like a Stakeholder Relations type of thing, right? You want the people who are going to be utilizing something to have a say in how it is created, because then it's going to be the best possible most useful thing you can create. So that's a, it's a great idea to utilize that kind of referral service that you're you're talking about. Yeah. So it sounds like you've got your hands and all of these different things. And, you know, when I, when I talk to people, when I think, like, what is your career now versus what you set out to be doing? You are, you are not just doing one thing, you're doing many, many things. And two things I want to touch on that we haven't really spoken about yet. Like so yes, you've got the tech writing. Yes, you've got the audio description stuff. The the accessibility specialist stuff. You mentioned, I assume this is where it came from. But you talk about being an eyewitness or an expert witness for lawyers when dealing with web accessibility cases. I imagine that came from your work as an accessibility specialist, right?

Robert Kingett:

Yes. Yes. You hit the nail on the head. Yes.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay. So what was? What was that like the first time somebody calls you up and says, I want you to be an expert in this web accessibility case? Like is that something where, where the first time you did it, you just were like, wow, this is something I very much enjoy doing. And you knew immediately that that could be sort of part of a long term career for you, in that it would sort of make you money. Because really, what it comes down to with careers is, it would be great if we could all just do stuff we loved all the time. But at the end of the day, you also have to make money, right? You have to be able to buy, feed yourself, buy clothes, pay rent that kind of stuff.

Robert Kingett:

Yeah, exactly. Like, like, that is a big reason why I immediately jumped on the chance when it was given to me, because I knew that it would create a financial safety net for me, which it has. And and that's mainly why I, I said oh my god, yes. Use me for whatever case you need me for, I will be more than happy to, to testify in court for you and things like that. So,

Jonathan Collaton:

yeah, no, I'm glad that that's worked out for you. That sounds like a pretty great safety net to have. And, and the other thing I wanted to talk about was, you have a whole section of writing on your website, books and anthologies and short fiction. And a lot of what we've talked about so far has been the technical writing the audio descriptive writing, the blogging about accessibility issues, or accessibility pieces of interest, but books, anthology, short fiction, is this something you've, you know, you talked about reading and Stephen King before. And is this something you've just sort of worked on on the side ever since? Or is this something you ever thought you would make a career out of? Or just do you do it for fun? Like, where does that play into all this?

Robert Kingett:

Right now, it's something that mostly it's something I work on the site, I want to eventually get to a point where, where it's not like a side hustle, I want to get to a point where, where that also is a sustainable career path for me.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay. And so what kind of stuff exactly do you write about? Because I saw you wrote a book like four and a half years ago, or I guess it's a book off the grid living blind without the internet, and you for a month lived without using the internet, which is like that would be difficult for anybody in the modern era. So how do these ideas for things like that come to you? And is it things like this that you would want to write or are you looking at more stories like the Stephen King type of thing that you have an interest in?

Robert Kingett:

I'm looking at more story, stories like the Stephen King type of stories. Off the grid was a very fun, social experiment. But I want to educate through stories. I want people to know that, hey, well, there are blind and visually impaired characters that can slay dragons or can save the prince, or the princess or the non binary royalty person. Or you could have a space ship that is designed with inclusive designs in mind. So diabled astronauts won't have a disadvantage when say, having a blaster fight on your ship or something. I want to educate through through fiction as well as through my nonfiction work as well. So it's all about education.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah, that's a, like, on the one hand, that's a really just cool career aspiration. On the other hand, something that I can only imagine is, is very much needed. And nobody better than someone like yourself to provide that type of voice. So people who are also blind or visually impaired can have those stories the same way that people with vision can have those stories. So that's a I like that. I'm just looking at your locker 13 story right now, on your website looks like it came out yesterday, it looks like

Robert Kingett:

yes, it's brand new. So I'm trying my hand at serial fiction. So serial fiction is very episodic. Releases a chapter every week or two weeks or something like that. Except, I can't write and publish in real time, because I'm a pantser. So like, for example, chapter two's characters may change from chapter one and things like that. So I have to write out the whole thing beforehand, go through it and make sure that the point of view is the same. And there's continuity and things like that. And then release chapters every week or so. And till the book is complete.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay. Did you say you can't do it one week at a time because you're a cancer? Like, the zodiac sign? Is that we use it.

Robert Kingett:

Pantser? Yeah, yep. Pantser, it's our writing terminology. So like, so you have outliners, where there's stories are plotted from beginning to end, in a very nice, nice outline. Whereas a pantser generally has a beginning, and has a middle ish kind of section, and then has a resolution and how you get there. It could go this way or that way. Or loopy loop and, and yeah,

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay, this is a new concept for me, I'm gonna have to read up more about this. So you've got many, many different things that you do as a career, you're not just a guy who we can say, you are this for your career, you have many different things you do that make up your career. And it seems to me I mean, I get the vibe from everything. I've heard from you that even if you became this uber successful fiction author, and are able to sell the short stories for millions of dollars, and you didn't have to worry about money at all, I feel like you'd still keep doing some of this other work. You're doing the some of the accessibility work, because it sounds like it's something that just matters significantly to you.

Robert Kingett:

Yeah, exactly. It does. I mean, I live it and I'm sure that a lot of people would agree with me that if you do live in a marginalized body, that you can't take a day off. Your your whole existence is a full time job. And so you're correct on that. I would not give up any of the other things I was doing. If I happen to to move make a living from my fiction work.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah. So that brings us up to your current spot in your career, which, in many cases, that would be the end of our conversation, the end of the interview. But because we have an accessibility expert like yourself here, I want to try and educate some people who might be listening, who are not familiar with some of the things that they can do day to day easily to make life a little bit easier for people like you. And I say that because I, whether it was on your website, or something you talked about, I think on Twitter, you talked about the importance of alt text, for example, that is something that I very recently have started to get very used to using as I have a mailing, mailing a weekly newsletter for my job at the moment. And I constantly have to make sure I'm adding the alt text for any images that we add. So tell me about some of the things that people who are not considering web accessibility on the in the day to day can do to be more conscious of web accessibility.

Robert Kingett:

Sure, so. So if you want to try to become more conscious about web accessibility, I would try to put yourself in the shoes of a person that is disabled. And what I mean is, don't just close your eyes for 20 seconds. And imagine your life as a disabled person, I really want you to think about things like if you're using your mobile phone, and if you're trying to read something on the screen, and the sun is really glaring, and you can't see view very well. So how would you access the material? If you if you're in a very crowded home, and you're trying to watch TV or something, and you can't hear the actors? Then how would you access the material, if your house is is extremely crowded, and things like that? So what I would try to suggest is try to think about accessibility in terms of in terms of how it will affect you, if you're temporarily disabled, such as if you're carrying a lot of groceries, and you can't use both of your hands, cuz you're carrying a lot of groceries, how would you use your your mobile phone, and things like that. So don't just try to make your social media and things accessible for disabled people, try to make it accessible for those who are who are temporarily disabled or disabled by means of like a situation or something like that. And one way to get thinking about accessibility is start doing small things. Like if you use hash tags on Twitter, or Instagram or Tik Tok, make sure they're in camel case. If you are on Twitter, make sure that you add alt text to your images, because you just never know where you're going to be. And you might actually be in a location where you don't have a lot of data available, and you need to reference a picture of something on your social media, but you don't have enough data to reload the picture. But if you have the alt text there, you can still reference the picture.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay, that is some great initial advice. However, if people want more advice, you, as we know, are an accessibility expert. And I imagine they can reach out to you because you do consulting. So your website, your Twitter, tell me where the best spots are for people to get in touch with you for that kind of stuff.

Robert Kingett:

Yes, so the best place to get a hold of me is my web site, which is blind journalist.wordpress.com. And if you go there, you'll see all my social media handles and things like that.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay, fantastic. And I'll put the link to that website in the show notes. So on whatever app you're listening to this on right now, you can either swipe to the side to scroll down and find the show notes where you can find the link to that website, or go to careercrossroadspodcast.com. And look for Roberts episode there, that will also have the link to his website and his Twitter account, which is pretty funny. But there's I can't read out some of his tweets because they have F bombs. And this is a family friendly podcast. So Robert, we'll talk about that when we when we end the interview. But in fact, we're wrapping up right now. So I really want to say thank you for coming on and sharing not only your career story, Robert, but sharing some tips about accessibility that everybody can just start to use in their daily lives when thinking about how to make things more accessible. So thank you very much.

Robert Kingett:

Thank you for having me.

Jonathan Collaton:

All right, that is Roberts career path so far. From journalism to web accessibility advocate and expert witness. This would be the perfect time to throw in the law and order theme song. But I can only imagine how obscene the licensing fees are for that music. And the good news is you all probably know that song and just played it in your head right now. So I do not need to pay for it. With my mandatory one joke minimum out of the way, let's get into talking about what we can learn from Roberts career. I'm going to summarize some of the major pivots in his career to help me better illustrate a point I want to make. So let's go back to when Robert was graduating from college. All he wanted to be was a journalist and he had a vision and a plan for how to execute that. The plan was to write articles on all kinds of topics, including sports, which he admitted was not in his wheelhouse. But the plan was to build up a portfolio. And that portfolio would then help him get connected with big regional papers like the Chicago Tribune, or big national organizations like the Huffington Post. Despite Roberts very unique application process of submitting everything in a shoe box to get his foot in the door. I still like that joke. It turned out that those organizations were not really interested in writing the kind of content the kinds of stories that Robert wanted to write. So what did he do, he took to blogging to express his opinions on matters of importance to the disability community. And what happened next was that Robert was right. What he had to say was important and useful, which is why it got traction with large companies who were looking to improve their website accessibility. They looked at Robert as an expert, and that expert tag has allowed him to since move on to consulting on apps, as well as for accessibility law cases. All of this brings Robert to where he is now where he has the flexibility and a safety net, to allow him to broaden his horizons, he can now spend time working on the short stories and other works of fiction, the Stephen King type dramas that he wants to write about, where people with disabilities will be able to see themselves in those stories because he is writing it with them in mind. So why am I rehashing all of these pivots we just heard Robert talk about, I am rehashing them, because most of those were not part of his plan. And that is the point I want to make. plans do not always work out. And sometimes you need to adapt. But if you really believe in the core of your plan, the value that you think you can bring to people's lives, then do not give up on the core idea. Find another way to provide that value. Because what I think we can learn from Robert is that if you really believe in what you have to say, and it is a really important message, doors will open up that you didn't expect. Sometimes these are doors that you didn't even know existed, but all of a sudden, you might have opportunities that will set you on a different path. I also think it's important to acknowledge Roberts role as an accessibility expert. And hopefully we've all learned something about accessibility today. I'm pretty lucky that I work at a major university, and they offer free classes on things like web accessibility. So I do use all text in the weekly newsletter that I started managing in the last couple of months for my job. But talking to Robert made me realize that there is more room for improvement. Because alt text is something that I have totally neglected for the newsletter I send out for this podcast. So I'm going to have to be more conscious in the future about remembering to do things like that, because it's these simple little things that help everyone enjoy the content you're trying to create. And I want to encourage you to think about what little changes you can make to allow your content to be more accessible to a wider audience. That music means we have come to the end of this week's episode of career crossroads. So thank you very much for listening. As a reminder, go and check out everything Robert does on his website and Twitter, which is linked in our show notes. And while you're there looking at the show notes, please consider supporting career crossroads through our Kofi page, or by leaving a rating and review or sharing this episode with a friend. If you want to hear more interviews like this, go to careercrossroadspodcast.com Or subscribe on your podcast player of choice