While our physical doors were closed for twenty-six months, we continued to provide tons of virtual programs and to expand services, that meant hiring new employees. One of the employees who joined us during that time is Access Technology Specialist Sean Dougherty.
Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Sean has Cone Dystrophy, a genetic condition which causes a high degree of light sensitivity. Sean has low vision and, while he’s been a lifelong user of access technology, he admits that he wasn’t always comfortable using it.
“When I was younger, although I had challenges with reading the board in the classroom, I would kind of ‘get by’ by doing things like using high contrast mode on my computer and pasting text into Word and making it bigger. I would hide my use of access technology. People knew about my eye condition, but I wasn’t open about it. A lot of tools were presented to me at that time like text-to-speech, but I was pretty resistant to trying them due to a fear of standing out.”
Sean went on to study liberal arts with a focus in History at the University of Michigan for undergrad. After that, he started his career at a nonprofit he founded with his dad, called Education at Work.
“It was a company that hired college students to do customer support work for other companies in the tech and financial industries. We were able to pay those college students a wage, plus as a nonprofit we were able to pay them tax-free tuition assistance, too. Our whole mission was around reducing student loan debt and helping students gain entry level job skills and, then, when they went to graduate, we would try to place them into full time jobs with our clients.”
Sean was still not comfortable with his blindness, but he attended and volunteered at ReelAbilities, a national disability film festival, which was a turning point for him.
“Through that, I met some amazing people—like a Supreme Court Justice from the state of Michigan who’s completely blind. Just meeting people like that pushed me. It was exciting to see what people in our community were doing.”
After Education at Work was sold to a larger nonprofit in 2017, Sean went to work on the education team at Google, which is what brought him from Ohio to the San Francisco Bay Area. It was at Google that he really started using accessible technology in earnest.
“As I got more into the workforce, I realized I wanted to increase my productivity. When I got to Google, they were a very open and accepting organization. So, when I first started there, I was very transparent about telling them the condition I had. I realized that access technology was a different way of doing things to reach the same end goal.”
At Google, Sean’s focus was working on technology partnerships and co-marketing with education technology software and hardware developers. He also met Laura Allen, who works on the accessibility team at Google and is a LightHouse board member. Sean got to work with Laura on several accessibility-focused projects at Google.
“There was a lot of overlap between accessibility and education at Google. I really loved working in education, but I really wanted to make the transition into accessibility and access technology.”
In August 2021, Sean joined LightHouse as an Access Technology Specialist, and one of his main roles is teaching students. Asked what he would say to someone who wants to know why access technology is important, Sean said:
“I always try to focus on their goals and work backwards from there. I might say, ‘Okay, you know you want to get a new job, or you want to go back to school. So, what do you need to learn to do that successfully?’“
Sean’s work also includes accessibility testing of websites and apps. He highlighted one service in particular:
“One thing we offer is an accessibility walkthrough. The accessibility walkthrough is essentially where we’ll schedule a time with that client, and actually walk through their website or app with them. We’ll show them how it works with a screen reader and magnification tools. It’s helpful for them to understand the user experience of someone who utilizes a screen reader or magnification to navigate their website or app. Even if the code is meeting the accessibility guidelines, there might still be usability issues and it’s incredibly important to test the product with users from our community.”
Sean is continuing to learn more about Access Technology by completing his master’s degree online in Assistive Technology and Human Services at California State University Northridge.
And now, a couple of fun facts about Sean:
“I wear very dark sunglasses. I’m always looking for the darkest lenses I can find, and I found some lenses made for ice climbing that are incredible.” The brand Sean wears is Julbos.
In his free time, Sean enjoys traveling, tasting new foods, and outdoor adventures through activities like snow skiing, skateboarding, hiking and biking.
If you are interested in finding out about Access Technology services at LightHouse, visit the LightHouse Access Technology webpage. To sign up for access technology training, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For design consulting and user testing services, contact Jeffrey Colon at JColon@lighthouse-sf.org.