Ather Sharif has found how far from ready the web is for people with various disabilities. And now he’s doing something about it.
A native of Pakistan, he began using a wheelchair following a car accident in 2013. He moved from North Dakota, where he was getting a master’s degree, to Philadelphia for treatment and launched the Spinal Cord Injury Video Blog. The blog features video explainers and other tutorials on tips for people with disabilities — like how to get into a car or do various gym workouts. Now, he’s founded EvoXLabs, a consultancy on web-accessibility best practices.
"The more inclusive any kind of service or website is, the more diverse group of people can use it."
For now, the group, which includes visually impaired mobile developer Austin Seraphin and Unlock Philly developer James Tyack, who met Sharif at #Hack4Access last summer, is offering free services and web builds to nonprofits and other community organizations. They also hope to develop basic web apps and lines of code to help make the web easier to be consumed, particularly around visual impairment. Seraphin does professional consulting for companies who need guidance — like he did for online ticketing service Ticketleap.
Around the web, there are conversations about needing open source standards for accessibility and an ever-evolving standardization group, but much is still lacking, said Sharif.
“As we delve further into this research, [sharing more best practices] will get more technical and more complicated,” said Sharif. “What we need is more involvement from the community. That will be the biggest challenge that I believe we will face.”
For Sharif and his team, that’s feedback from both a community of people with disabilities and a tech community familiar with web standards and developer trends. One of the early priorities for EvoXLabs is to work with those with visual impairments. Sharif and his team began their process by researching web accessibility.
“We try to replicate exactly how people with vision impairment would see a website or app,” Sharif said. “A few of our team members are vision impaired as well so they test it out and focus on the areas we need to improve upon, such as images that they can’t see or if there’s no appropriate way for them to know what the images are about. We try to make products which would help them see the world as we see it.”
EvoXLabs is an organization that remains sustainable through donations. The team members volunteer their time to make the initiative possible. Sharif is a full-time graduate student at Saint Joseph’s University pursuing a degree in computer science. Along with him, Tyack and Seraphin are Justine Noel, Babak Forouraghi, Rachel Haney, Siri Urquhart and Walei Sabry. Both Tyack and Sharif have worked together to improve bugs on web apps used as screenreaders for the visually impaired.
EvoXLabs is hosting a Philly Tech Week event April 17 with the goal of engaging more students from a variety of universities about web accessibility. For the team, which works out of Rittenhouse coworking space Benjamin’s Desk, the goal is let more people celebrate our favorite parts of the web.
“I think EvoXLabs is a fantastic cause,” Tyack said. “The more inclusive any kind of service or website is, the more diverse group of people can use it.”