Beyond Barriers with Cameron

Beyond Barriers, an accessibility podcast, with Cameron Macdonald, Frontend Developer at Ameriprise Financial Services

In the latest episode of Beyond Barriers, we dive deep into the world of accessibility with Cameron MacDonald, a seasoned programmer turned user experience (UX) and accessibility specialist. The conversation spans MacDonald's journey into accessibility, the importance of design systems, the role of AI, and the future of accessibility in various industries, particularly video games.

The Journey into Accessibility

Cameron MacDonald began his career as a computer science graduate focused on software development. However, his path took an unexpected turn when he discovered UX accessibility (user experience). "I started my first job and was very set on doing that software development path. But as things happen, I ended up being exposed to user experience," MacDonald recounted. This exposure led him to explore front-end development and eventually dive into the world of accessibility, especially within the design system space.

The Importance of Design Systems

Design systems play a crucial role in ensuring consistency and accessibility across digital products. MacDonald's first encounter with a design system was Google's Material Design, which he found to be an excellent learning resource due to its clear documentation and thoughtful design philosophy. "The biggest thing I was learning from it was a lot of their philosophy and the thinking that went on behind the scenes of why these decisions are made," he said.

MacDonald emphasized that while leveraging established design systems like Material Design is beneficial, it's essential to adapt these systems to fit specific use cases. "Not everything they do necessarily applies to your use case... you might have to change some of these offerings depending on what it is that you're trying to accomplish," he explained.

Knowing Your User

A recurring theme in MacDonald's approach to accessibility is understanding the user. "The biggest thing to remember is that your user is a human being. And I think speaking to even a subset of your users is better than not speaking to any users," he stated. This user-centric approach is vital for creating intuitive and accessible designs.

MacDonald highlighted the importance of accessibility testing with diverse user groups, including those with disabilities from birth and those with acquired disabilities. "They have completely different ways of how they approach working within the bounds of that disability... It's important to consider those contexts because they might intuitively know how to use a screen reader and those technologies because they grew up with them," he explained.

Challenges and Successes in Accessibility

One of MacDonald's significant successes in accessibility was conducting an accessibility audit early in his career that led to substantial improvements in the usability of a product with minimal effort. "It ended up creating a lot of really easy, good wins and changes for these applications... It's not actually as difficult as people think to at least make some parts of things accessible," he noted.

However, MacDonald also faced setbacks, particularly in getting buy-in for accessibility initiatives. "Sometimes you just don't win those conversations where you're trying to explain to someone why it's important and trying to get it prioritized," he admitted. Despite these challenges, he remains persistent, gathering evidence and re-approaching the issue when necessary.

The Role of AI in Accessibility

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a hot topic in accessibility, but MacDonald is cautious about its current capabilities. "My issue with AI is that it's a lot of this AI talk really smacks of blockchain from back in the day... The problem with AI, which is the problem with computers, is that it's only as good as what you put into it," he argued.

While AI can assist in gathering and curating information, MacDonald believes that accessibility, a human-centric problem, requires human solutions. "Accessibility is a human problem... It requires a nuance and doesn't have black and white solutions," he emphasized.

Video Game Accessibility

MacDonald is particularly passionate about the strides being made in video game accessibility. "Video game accessibility has been incredible. It is such a complex space... And to see that these companies are actually putting a concerted effort into really developing and designing these solutions... It's really awesome," he enthused. He pointed to companies like Santa Monica Studio and their work on games like "God of War" and "The Last of Us 2" as exemplary cases of tackling complex accessibility challenges.


Cameron MacDonald's insights highlight the evolving landscape of accessibility, underscoring the importance of user-centric design, the careful integration of AI, and the continuous efforts to improve accessibility across all digital domains. As accessibility continues to grow as a field, the lessons shared by MacDonald serve as a valuable guide for designers, developers, and organizations striving to create inclusive digital experiences.

The podcast is now available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Amazon Music, Pandora, and Stitcher.