The Blind Can Lead the Blind: Vision Impaired Employee Promoted to Leadership Role at WeCo

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As a blind employee, Nina Phouthasack works as a Certified Test Consultant (CTC) for WeCo, alongside twenty other individuals with visual, hearing, cognitive and mobility disabilities. Despite her blindness Phouthasack combined her experience, knowledge and professionalism to be the first individual promoted to Sr. Certified Test Consultant; this promotion was recognized at a recent WeCo company event.

Nina P. - Sr. Certified Test Consultant

Nina P. - Sr. Certified Test Consultant

A busy website probably looks great, but for me, who doesn’t really care what it looks like, it’s terrible.

Nina Phouthasack has been blind for 18 of her 31 years. She’s had plenty of time to learn how to use the Internet – and plenty of time to gauge how frustrating that can be for a person with a disability. For the past two years, Phouthasack has worked to ease that frustration as a Certified Test Consultant for WeCo, a two-year-old firm that works to make websites accessible to the disabled. Her personal experience of navigating the Internet with her screen reader along with extensive training provided Phouthasack with the necessary skills to be the first individual promoted, at WeCo, to Sr. Certified Test Consultant.

The Internet has opened new frontiers in communications. Because a website can combine moving or still pictures with sound, graphics and other features, it can tell a story in a variety of ways at the same time. But the very features that make a site attractive to a non-disabled person can stymie someone with physical challenges.

Captcha security boxes, poorly labeled graphics and photos, links located at the bottom on the webpage, timed and automatic page refresh and pop-up ads are just a few features that are common in webpages yet are problematic for those who use screen readers. “There’s so much going on sometimes that it’s just too much to go through and it’s confusing,” she says. “It probably looks great, but for me who doesn’t really care what it looks like, it’s terrible.”

Those are just the problems encountered by the blind. Different disabilities present different challenges. For someone whose attention span is shortened by ADHD, for example, a website simply may be too busy, making it all but impossible to navigate.
Phouthasack and all other Test Consultants undergo extensive, rigorous training developed by WeCo. That included training in section 508 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which says that any entity receiving federal funds, as most of the company’s current clients do, must be fully accessible to the disabled (and while the Internet did not yet exist in 1973, the law’s provisions cover the online world). The training also covers business ethics, confidentiality, privacy and other subjects Test Consultants must know.
That is in addition to the technical training.

WeCo Test Consultants are taught what particular problem areas to look for in websites and how to document them so they can be fixed, which is done by the client. That is where the consultants’ personal experience comes in. “You just go through a test case the way you would if you were just doing it in real life ” Phouthasack says. “It’s based on your own experience and your own thoughts, along with my training from WeCo.“

Phouthosack's promotion was recognized at a recent WeCo company event. Sr. Certified Test Consultants take on additional roles including becoming leaders of the other CTCs.

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Toni Grundstrom
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