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How This Journalist-Turned-Engineer Promotes Equality and Inclusion Through Digital Allyship

 
 

March 23, 2022

Laura Lindeman

 
Crystal Preston-Watson is an Accessibility and Quality Engineer based in Denver, Colorado. She is the Senior Digital Accessibility Analyst at Salesforce. Crystal believes that accessibility is a civil and human right and is dedicated to making innovative, inclusive, and accessible applications for everyone.
 

Crystal Preston-Watson’s driving principle as a Senior Digital Accessibility Analyst in Salesforce’s Office of Accessibility is that everyone should be able to do their jobs without any hindrance. As a person with visual impairments, this is an issue Crystal understands all too well.

But if you’d asked Crystal 15 years ago whether she’d be working at a software company evaluating internal tools for accessibility, she might have thought you were introducing a comedy sketch (something she does for fun in her spare time). At that time, Crystal was pursuing a career in journalism, working first as a freelance writer, then as a web editor for an alternative weekly in Denver, and, finally, as an interactive producer at Rocky Mountain News. In all of these roles, she dabbled with CSS and HTML, which eventually propelled her into freelance web development after the newspaper closed.

She wrote what she laughingly referred to as “so much bad JavaScript” during that time, using her personal website as a learning ground for her tech career. There wasn’t the wealth of tutorials online at that time that we have today. So, she spent a lot of time reading blog posts, digging into documentation, and searching StackOverflow to skill up.

 

In 2013, she pivoted into a quality engineering role where she was introduced to the field of digital accessibility. When Crystal got a work assignment to test an accessibility screen reader, she started reading up on the devices and realized they could help her, too! She noted that accessibility was often seen as an afterthought instead of a core design principle. From then on digital accessibility became a central motivation in her career.

Concurrently to expanding her career responsibilities in quality engineering, Crystal began speaking at developer conferences about (what else?) accessibility when she noticed that many of them didn’t have any talks on the topic. Her first talk was at an event called Develop Denver and focused on demystifying accessibility. “You’re never going to break down inaccessibility if the people building the tools don’t know how to build accessibly,” Crystal says. She adds that the message of accessibility is more important than the anxiety she sometimes feels when getting on the stage.

Crystal joined Salesforce in 2019 as a Quality Engineer focusing on accessibility for Salesforce.org’s Philanthropy Cloud, Nonprofit Cloud, and Education Cloud before transitioning to her current role in the fall of 2021. As a Senior Digital Accessibility Analyst, she works to ensure digital accessibility for all Salesforce employees by evaluating our internal tools, documents, surveys, and processes. Depending on the day, she might spend time looking at reports from employees or speaking with the engineers who built a given tool to fix and improve its accessibility.

 

“Coming into this particular role has meant a lot to me, because I know how hard it is to be someone who has a disability and all you’re trying to do is your job, but you’re coming up against blocks along the way,” Crystal shared. “I’m proud to be here because my focus is that everyone should be able to do their job without any sort of issue. The only frustrations you have should be the usual frustrations anyone might have with work, not because a tool or piece of information you need is inaccessible.”

Having worked remotely for much of her career, Crystal has found ways to get into the zone to be successful at work. She has a playlist for every kind of mood, which she cranks up when she’s reviewing tools that have been reported for possible accessibility issues. Her screen reader is a crucial tool for helping her get her work done, along with the native zoom and magnification tools in her devices. She’s also adamant about communicating with her team when she needs to step away to take a break or play with her cats so that she can come back better able to focus — a helpful reminder for all of us! Outside of work, Crystal recharges by playing a lot of games and doing improv comedy.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about accessibility, Crystal recommends the following resources.

  • Getting Started with Web Accessibility on Trailhead — includes good bite-sized content that is not too overwhelming.
  • Inclusive Design by Regine Gilbert — a book not just for UX or designers, even though it has design in the title.
  • Inclusive Design 24 — a free 24-hour conference on YouTube with a variety of good introductory talks but also more advanced content
  • A11y Talks — a virtual meetup featuring speakers and conversations around digital accessibility.
 

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