I have returned to working as an independent front-end / accessibility / devrel person. My first project will be at the Dutch government's NL Design System team.
I recently left Sanity, where I worked in the developer relations team. After doing some “developer relations”-like work at the W3C/WAI, this was my first full-time role in the space. I loved the variety: I could create tutorial videos, improve onboarding, facilitate content design workshops, help with meetups, inspire people to structure their content (more abstract than HTML) and just generally try to make complex stuff easier to understand. Among people I liked and bonded well with… how lucky I got!
It was also an opportunity for me to leave accessibility as my primary focus, at least for a while, and broaden my horizons. Well, leave accessibility as my primary focus… though my manager at WAI had warned me about this, calling it a bit of a Hotel California situation. He was, of course, correct. At Sanity, I did spend more time in the React community, learned lots about modern tooling and challenges like real-time content management. But I also ended up as the resident accessibility go-to person and did a preliminary accessibility conformance evaluation of the core product. It was appreciated, and I, in turn, appreciated having curious and dedicated colleagues to work with.
Having said that, my job at Sanity stopped existing. After some explorations, I'm going back to be a freelancer / independent. I've worked in that capacity for about 15 years, it feels like a comfort zone. I also have a very exciting project to start with, that manages to combine a number of my previous interests: developer relations, web accessibility and designs systems.
NL Design System
This month, I'm joining the NL Design System core team. This project doesn't just create a design system for use by Dutch government, it creates a space for collaboration on front-end components in the open. This is the sensible thing to do, because there are a lot of Dutch government websites and services (in the tens of thousands). Many of those have their own design systems, suppliers and ways of working. But they all need to meet the same accessibility standards and there is a lot of overlap in user experience needs. Collaboration in these areas should be super beneficial. Of course, it comes with challenges, too, and the team is ready… well, as far as one can be.
I'm looking forward to help with:
- accessibility: of components, in documentation (I have opinions) and in applying standards well
- developer relations: technical writing, outreach between the core team and collaborating teams (current or future), improving the product based on developer feedback
This is a team that people have wanted for a long time serving needs that have gone unserved for a long time, too. There's a lot of realism to be had, because, of course, one design system or team cannot magically make all the websites better, but I strongly believe in design systems (and specifically this project) as a multiplier for accessibility efforts. I am, in other words, thrilled to become part of this particular team.
Workshops / talks
In addition, I will continue to do full day workshops and other public speaking about the web and web accessibility. Two things in particular:
- a full-day workshop called “Accessibility for design system teams”, which I've started to deliver to in-house teams that are keen to use their design system as a way to increase accessibility in their product(s) and want to understand what that means in theory and practice
- a talk on popovers and dialogs that I'll present at various conferences this year, the first one at CSS Day in Amsterdam, which is pretty much my favourite front-end event
Workshopping at Sanoma Learning
Lastly, I also plan to do a small amount of accessibility conformance audits, focused on helping teams figure out which accessibility barriers their site has and how to fix them (I call this issue oriented reporting) (and sorry, that also means I will probably say no to teams whose only goal is a report).
That's all. I hope my new freelance life will also allow me to do some more blogging on this website. The drafts folder isn't the issue, I guess 😁. For now, thanks for reading!