As I am now halfway through my internship, I would like to share my work and experience.
From a general viewpoint, I am working on accessibility improvements to make RStudio products usable to a wider range of people with (dis)abilities. I am a part of the RStudio IDE team under the mentorship of Gary Ritchie where I can focus on the RStudio Desktop and Server accessibility.
As a blind R user and developer myself, I found most of the existing data science IDEs inaccessible to assistive technology (e.g., text-to-speech screen readers and refreshable Braille displays) so it had been one of my high hopes to have a reasonably usable toolbox 1. This unmet need motivated me to apply for the internship program to turn my challenges into ways of RStudio IDE more accessible, not only for myself, but also for those with varying degrees of abilities.
For the past month, I worked closely with Gary to identify and address some critical usability issues in the RStudio Server with special focus on keyboard and screen-reader access. Due to some complex technical issues 2, we made the Server version our priority while aiming at a smooth transition towards the Desktop version. As a result, we made meaningful progress in the latest RStudio release, version 1.3, which supports improved accessibility options for keyboard and/or assistive technology users. As a part of this project, I have written technical articles on how to use RStudio Server with screen readers and how to run the RStudio Server on Windows via WSL2.
Besides the accessibility project for RStudio IDE, I have been also involved in Shiny team since June to make its interface more keyboard navigable and screen-reader-friendly. As Shiny currently lacks accessible components, I have been fixing each widget to meet accessibility standards. This project is ongoing and I plan to share my experiences in detail later on.
This internship has taught me two important things so far. First, at a personal level, I have learned that data science and software engineering are not far-fetched for a blind person even for collaborative work. Fortunately, most of the communication tools used at RStudio, such as Slack, GitHub, and Zoom, have been reasonably usable, so I have been able to collaborate with other senior engineers on GitHub including pull requests, code reviews, and issue tracking without noticeable challenges. What’s more, I have been enjoying chatting with other RStudio employees (with emoticons, of course :) ) via Slack and Zoom with minimal accessibility barriers. This implies a person’s abilities are limited by a tool’s accessibility level rather than their physical or sensory difficulties.
Second, at a community level, I have also learned how beneficial my work with RStudio would be to other people with a wide range of abilities. What makes me push myself forward is that I have received a great deal of positive feedback from many people highlighting the importance of my role at RStudio this summer. I am very grateful that I can be a part of the meaningful changes towards a more inclusive data-science ecosystem—my contribution here can improve many individuals’ lives across academia and the industry.
Thank you to everyone at RStudio and elsewhere for supporting my most memorable internship throughout this summer—I look forward to what’s next.