Day in the Life

On rising early and finding time to hear the train go by: A day in the life of Deque Systems’ Patrick Sturdivant

  • Patrick Sturdivant is the vp and chief strategy consultant at Deque Systems, which helps FIs build accessible products.
  • Along with ensuring more companies prioritize accessibility standards during his workday, Patrick is building a house that will sound and feel pretty while also being ADA compliant.
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On rising early and finding time to hear the train go by: A day in the life of Deque Systems’ Patrick Sturdivant

Deque Systems is a digital accessibility company that has worked with a diverse set of firms, including the Economist as well as the fintech Credible, to help introduce more accessible products into the enterprise bubble.

Deque’s customers include eight of the ten largest banks in the US. Their work with US Bank allows the FI to ensure that every new product is compliant and they don’t have to spend extra time and money at the end of the development cycle to fix issues. Similarly, PNC Bank worked with Deque Systems to introduce accessibility requirements into their agile development cycles.

The firm’s vp and chief strategy consultant, Patrick Sturdivant previously worked as a software systems engineer at USAA for over 30 years. He is visually impaired, and has spent the last ten years working on accessibility-testing – now serving as an expert and consultant in the field.

Rising with the sun and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee

Patrick is a morning person, which means he wakes up at 4 am on good days and 4:30 am on bad ones. The very first thing he does is make himself a stiff cup of coffee. “Don’t get in between me and my coffee,” he said, only half-joking.

After that, it’s time to plan his day, which means figuring out whether he would have time to squeeze in a workout, or if it must be strictly business from here on out. Deque Systems operates remotely, which means that Patrick’s workday is a mixture of Slack messages, emails, and many Zoom meetings.

Mid-morning swims and snacks help boost concentration

As if taking directions from the sun, in the summertime, “when the weather is nice”, Patrick likes to sneak off for a mid-morning swim. The sun does not bother Patrick, but sometimes people do. “When you are blind, you are living in a sighted person’s world – which means I have to take care of sighted people,” he said. Hence, he doesn’t go swimming when there are other people in the pool. If he does, doing his usual ten laps is less about relaxing in the water or getting cardio. Instead, he explains, “I have to listen for them. I have to know where they’re at and make sure I don’t bump into them or swim into them or get in their way.”

After this, his post-swim hunger is satiated with a hard-boiled egg or a protein bar, which helps sustain his concentration for the rest of the day. At the moment, he is also busy building a house, which means he has a load of calls and documents to take care of during the day on top of his work at Deque. Given the firm’s line of work and their practice of employing multiple people with disabilities, the team at Deque is more than prepared to work in a fashion that prioritizes equal participation by all. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the people working on Patrick’s house.

A common adversary in this area are inaccessible PDFs. Yes, the same tool that sighted people assume has revolutionized digital documentation can be totally inaccessible to people with disabilities if not tagged or prepared correctly. The devil, as usual, is in the details.

“When I went and sold my house last year, I probably signed 20 or 30 electronic PDFs using DocuSign, and it all went flawlessly. But unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Building a house means a lot of contracts and a lot of signing things. So, I have had my fill of inaccessible PDFs and their workarounds. When I do encounter a PDF that’s correctly tagged and structured, I can zip through it and understand it very quickly, and I can sign it very efficiently,” added Patrick.

Asking questions and being descriptive

Unlike his struggles with contractors and builders, things go more smoothly with his co-workers, who are aware of the need to ‘talk a presentation slide’ and add alt-text. “It’s very comfortable, at least in Deque, for me to raise my hand and ask, ‘Tell me more about your slide’, or say, ‘I don’t understand what you’re talking about’, and they will go into more detail. So, I’m very comfortable asking questions to get the meaning. But when you put a PowerPoint deck together, if you’ve got those pretty slides…unless that will convey meaning to me, I’m probably going to let those slide. The pretty colors are nice, but you know, I want data – give me data and I’m happy.”

This doesn’t mean that Patrick doesn’t care about aesthetics at all. In fact, he prioritizes Deque’s visuals and spends months choosing the art he will put up on his walls. “Remember, I could see when I was born, I could see until I was 14. And I loved art when I could see, and that has not stopped just because I don’t see anymore,” said Patrick. 

Rather than relying on visual cues that draw you to a painting, Patrick picks his art based on what he would like to have on his walls. This entails a months-long process involving research and sitting down with close friends and family members to hear them describe pieces. Usually, this process starts with Patrick’s own research into art styles and painters, which he then brings to other people. His engagement with art is less bound to visuals and more closely bonded with sounds and words.

On winding things down early

Around 7 or 7:30 pm, Patrick must call it a day, or his morning at 4 am the next day is in peril. He struggles a bit with putting away his phone and ignoring last-minute emails. And like most people, small pleasures throughout his day keep him buzzing for the next. For example, every couple of days, a train lumbers by Patrick’s apartment, at which point he treats himself to the slow rumble and steps out on his balcony to listen. Among other pretty sounds is the sound of the mockingbird.

“He can sound all kinds of different ways. When you’re blind, you really gravitate towards sounds and textures, and things that you can feel and understand through touch or hearing. That is not to say that I do not enjoy things that you can see. If you were to come to my house, when it’s all done, there will be artwork on the walls, and I do collect art. But it’s more so to convey my personality to the people who visit my home. I am inclusive, and I know if I had friends over for a dinner party and all the walls in my house were bare and there was not a stitch of art on them, they would probably not feel comfortable,” he said.

However, speaking of comfort, Patrick’s new house is ADA compliant and will probably have the best paint job in the neighborhood. This is because Patrick’s idea of beauty goes beyond visual cohesion and towards a perfection communicated through textures. 

Efficiency, like beauty, is also a tactile and auditory affair. Patrick has set up an array of devices that can actually speak to him, from his computer to his refrigerator. However, when a device malfunctions or is otherwise unable to ‘talk’, Patrick has to get creative. This can mean anything from having a good plug-and-play camera handy for troubleshooting, to a helpful cleaning lady that can direct you to your favorite tennis shoes.

“I’m always looking for appliances and equipment that integrate with my iPhone, or with my Amazon Echo. When I was in my old house, I was so excited because I had my Nest thermostats integrated with my Amazon. So, I could just talk to the thermostat. I could talk to my refrigerator and ask, like, what’s the temperature in the refrigerator? Because it was all integrated. I’m looking forward to getting back to that.”

Using technology in creative ways allows Patrick to live and work independently. “There is no one else here, so when I get stuck with a problem, I wonder, how am I going to solve this problem? Can I get my seeing AI app out from Microsoft, and use that to read this? Or should I get on FaceTime with a friend and use the camera on my phone?”

Similarly, Patrick can leverage apps like Lyft to combat mobility issues. As C-suites around the globe push for workers to come back to the office, Patrick’s comments on post-COVID work-from-home requirements shine a light on what this demand really means:

“When COVID hit, everything changed. I felt like I could work comfortably from home for the rest of my career. Now I can go and live where Patrick wants to live, out in the country. Be just close enough to the city to get to the airport and go to the doctor and do those kinds of things. But unlike 30 years ago, I am not dictated on where I live by the realities of where I work.”

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