Charleston, South Carolina

In my previous life, as I like to call my olden days these days, I was really into photography. But I have since moved on to other interests. However, when I recently visited Charleston in the southern state of the US in South Carolina. The beauty of its historic architecture reignited my latent photography skills, leading me to capture the moments in my phone.

Famous for the 100s of years old beautifully paved cobblestone streets, pastel-colored houses, well-preserved 18th and 19th century architecture and equally dark history. Charleston is very well known for its southern hospitality, food, and cultural attractions. Walking down the cobblestone streets transport you to another era, also reminding you of the sites where domestic slave trade flourished. As beautiful as Charleston is; you can’t escape its dark history of slavery. It’s one of the very first ports in America where slaves were brought in from Africa when British still ruled the land. Throughout the downtown area, that history is very well documented.

There are over 2,500 historical buildings in Charleston. Architectural style ranging from colonial, victorian, georgian to many other kinds. Charleston has an old world southern charm that transports you to those days. Especially in today’s age where we are so accustomed to utilitarian aesthetic, visiting Charleston was like stepping back in time.

Below I have shared some of those beautiful architechture that I encountered while walking on the King street. This edition is called the Doors.

The Doors of Charleston

The King street in downtown is without a doubt, a must do in Charleston. If you have an appreciation for architecture with exceptional craftsmanship, love scurmptious southern food, seafood, have a good apetite for shopping. Then, King street is all you need. And not to forget, the Rainbow row, Battery park (pineapple fountain) – they are all within a walking distance of one another.

Below are the overall attractions that we visited:

  • Downtown> King street
  • Downtown> Battery park
  • Downtown> Rainbow Row
  • Downtown> Old Slave Mart museum
  • Museums exhibiting the history of American civil war – there are plenty to see. You pick and choose
  • Any plantation – we visited Magnolia plantation (West Ashley). Recommended if you have kids, as they have a small petting zoo
  • Other attraction: Folly beach (30 minutes from Downtown)

Charleston is clearly a city with rich history, charming architecture, palm trees, great food, vibrant art scene. All these reasons make it a popular tourist destination. Also, due to my own experience of how this city reinvigorated my interest to capture the moments in camera, I can say for sure that Charleston is a city that is sure to delight and inspire!

Bon Voyage!

Why Do Introverts Make Great Leaders?

I recently joined a local Toastmasters club. It is one of the best decisions I’ve made. When you realize you need to work on something. There is no other way to tackle it, than, to act on it. For the longest time, I have realized the need to improve my communication skills. The need to put myself in an uncomfortable situation, to help me grow. Toastmasters club is the perfect platform to do just that! So far, I have given four prepared speeches at my club, this is the forth one – that was a part of the Visionary Communication pathway>Level 2. [Read my 2nd speech on data privacy]

Conventional wisdom has us believe that extroverts make the best leaders. These leaders need to be authoritative, loud, abrasive, stern. Naturally, being an introvert, I never thought I could be a leader.

Then one day a study led by the famous organizational psychologist Adam Grant concluded that: in certain situations introverts make even better leaders than extroverts.

Now, being an introvert I had to find out why that is so. Why in certain situations, introverts make better leaders? 

Here’s what the study had to say: In a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders. Especially in cases, when workers are proactive, offering ideas to improve processes. Such behaviour can make extroverted leaders feel threatened. As opposed to introverted leaders; who tend to listen more carefully and are receptive to new ideas and suggestions.

Therefore, according to the study, if you have a team that’s supposed to do the same job over and over with no change whatsoever, in those cases, extroverts make the best leaders. If you have a growing team, trying to adapt to new changes, trying to improve processes then, introverts make the best leaders.

To test this idea, the researchers conducted a field study in 130 franchises of a U.S. pizza delivery company. And collected data on each store’s profitability. The results showed that in stores where employees weren’t very proactive, extroverted leadership was associated with 16% higher profits than average—but in franchises where workers offered ideas, extroverted leadership was associated with 14% lower profits.

So, now that we have this data, it’s worth reexamining our prejudices. We all know there is a cultural bias against introverts. In one of the surveys, senior corporate executives viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership. And it’s no surprise that those who are dominant and outgoing are favored more in hiring and promotion decisions.

Now with that let me pivot to the original structure of this speech itself. 

When I was looking at the details of this level 2 speech, I was utterly confused. It talked about different kinds of leadership I had to give a speech on. There are all kinds of leadership styles that toastmasters has laid out: authoritative, democratic, innovative, pacesetting….and few more. I didn’t think I fit into any one of these boxes. 

Maybe each framework helps us figure out what our own style is. But before we can even get into different styles, before we can decide what path to choose as a leader, there’s something else we need to understand…..and that is ourselves. Then, It all comes down to understanding our own ego.

Now coming back to the same famous psychologist Adam Grant, who started this research on why introverts make better leaders, he also has the following rules on leadership in general and would like to end this speech with these rules.

The 1st rule of leadership is; as a leader you always put mission above your ego.

The 2nd rule of leadership is, if you don’t care about your people, they won’t care about your mission.

3rd rule of leadership : if someone has to tell you the 1st two rules then, you’re not ready to lead.

Data Privacy

I recently joined a local Toastmasters club. It is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. When you realize you need to work on something. There is no other way to tackle it, than, to act on it. For the longest time, I have realized the need to improve my communication skills. The need to put myself in an uncomfortable situation, to help me grow. Toastmasters club is the perfect platform to do just that! So far, I have given two prepared speeches at my club, this is the second one – that was a part of the Visionary Communication pathway.

What does data privacy entail?

To simply put, data privacy revolves around how companies legally collect, store, and possibly distribute data to third parties.

In today’s world, we heavily rely on electronic gazettes such as cellphones, tablets, computers. To fully utilize these devices, in some instances, we must allow these tools to collect our data. For instance, let’s say you’re trying to drive to Durham from Charlotte. In order to get the correct direction, you must enable your current location to be detected. So, your device can give you real-time direction (if you were using your cell phone app). You don’t have to do that, you can also print the direction ahead of time, but what if you end up taking the wrong exit? Then, again, you have to re-enter the information. If you allow the device to detect your location, it will automatically recalculate and re-calibrate the right direction for you.

Similarly, if you are trying to book an air flight, you may have to enter some personal information, in order to validate that you are indeed you. Therefore, in many cases, we willingly share our personal information for the purpose of identity verification or for convenience.

Hence, in today’s age, data is one of the most important assets to any organization. Companies such as, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and others continuously collect your data to primarily improve their designs, user interface, and user experience. But the bigger question however is; what else are they doing with your data? Especially, if they are selling your data to 3rd parties – there clearly needs to be more transparency around that transaction.

As more companies use or share your data, more questions are going to arise. Are you comfortable with tech giants using your data? Are you comfortable with these companies selling your data and making a profit off of your data?

Hence there are various arguments around this idea of data privacy. Some people are completely okay with it, some are not. Some are even saying, if companies are making money selling my data, maybe I deserve a certain percentage of that profit too. That sounds like a completely valid argument.

As of now, there is no comprehensive federal law that protects all Americans from data privacy. There are state laws, but not stringent enough to hold all companies accountable. However, there are legislative proposals being forwarded with stricter parameters to protect consumer information. But nothing has been finalized yet. Still having said that, there are two states in America that are already ahead of the game: California and Virginia.
In Virginia’s case, their Consumer Data Protection Act (CDPA) will go into effect in January of 2023. There are many requirements around which companies must comply with this law and how it will directly affect the consumers. But to give you a gist, what it means is: if you are a resident of one of these two states: you can ask the companies what kind of personal information they have of you, you can even ask them to delete your personal information off of their database or even ask them to not sell your personal information.

As more and more companies use or misuse your data or more users become aware of data privacy – it’s also opening a door to new kinds of technologies. We all use the Google search engine tool on a day-to-day basis – it’s the most widely used search engine in the world. But if you’re tired of Google constantly stalking you, you can use alternative search engines that are gradually growing in popularity such as duckduckgo.
If you are tired of your email services, constantly sending you ads – now you can sign up for paid email services such as – they don’t just boast in not-stalking-you, also blocks email from reaching you that has spy pixels.

So that’s where America stands today in terms of data privacy. Five or ten years down the line. I definitely see America adopting more stringent rules in place to protect consumers and their private information, possibly following the footsteps of European nations. Allowing users/consumers more control over their data.

The coronavirus

While some states of America are finally laying the groundwork to combat the coronavirus. Nepal has already deployed its frontline workers to the rural districts to test, trace, and isolate the COVID-19 positives. Many Nepalis from rural areas migrate to India for work. As they return home, there is a higher risk of infection. Nepal lacks resources, but it must rely on the frontline workers, who are determined to contain the virus.

The capital city, Kathmandu is a densely populated area. If the situation gets out of hand, even Kathmandu’s fate could be similar to New york city’s. So, it’s a good thing that Nepal locked down at the right time. Nepal is one of the worst managed countries in the world, hence, it cannot afford to turn into new york city. But this doesn’t mean Nepal is out of the woods yet. Nepal’s economy depends heavily on remittance. With the whole world under lockdown, it will severely affect its economy. As the lockdown continues, there is now a greater need to support the poor and how it will continue to do so, is still unknown.

While Nepal is getting praised for supposedly acting on time, it is also getting criticized for sealing its borders. There are thousands of Nepalis stranded in the Nepal-India border and in gulf countries. Nepal still has no plan to bring them home.

Natural disaster, although some may say, is a great equalizer. Unfortunately, it is not. The rich can afford to escape to a better place, but the poor cannot. In a country like Nepal, eventually, poor people will be left to fend for themselves. Just five years ago, Nepal was hit by a devastating earthquake, as it gradually tries to recover; now, it will have to deal with the aftermath of coronavirus.

There have been many conspiracy theories circulating that the virus was created in a lab by China. Looking at what has transpired, this cannot be true. The nature of this virus is such that it is very hard to contain. Even if Obama was in the white house, it would have been a tough task for him to fight this virus. However, with the right kind of leadership, one thing we know for sure is, America could have had lessened the number of deaths dramatically. Had Trump acted quickly, these many people wouldn’t have died. The way America handled COVID-19 will be a great case study on what not to do as a leader. It will be a case study on the failure of the leadership.

Widely spread news coverage also discusses how Americans are tired of staying home and they want to ‘open’ America. While that may be true in a few pockets around America, an overwhelming number of Americans support social distancing. Most Americans are smart enough to know what needs to be done. The reason social distancing needs to continue in America is that states have been left largely to fend for themselves. From buying Personal Protective equipment to planning their own test, trace, and isolate strategies. States have had to compete against one other to buy life-saving equipment. Often, costing a lot more money for something that could have been bought in a lesser amount, subsequently, wasting taxpayers’ money. The federal government has really let down the states. Although, Trump claims otherwise, the reality on the ground is as clear as water. Hence, with absolutely no strategy on scaling testing; some states are putting people’s lives in danger by ‘reopening’ their economy. But even the people of these states know that it’s a bad idea.

Even in such a powerful nation, the working class now has to bear the brunt. The unemployment rate has skyrocketed, millions have applied for the unemployment benefit. I can’t imagine how it will pan out in Nepal. But perhaps for the first time, it’s looking like Nepal is doing a better job than America in terms of responding to reduce the impact of the virus. But across the board, it’s the poor that are suffering the most, be it in one of the richest countries or the poorest one for that matter.

For the Love of Reading

I have a deep appreciation for American culture that nurtures a love of reading. We’ve been reading books to our daughter since she was only a few months old. She reads every day and expects us to read her bedtime stories every single night. It is very endearing to witness her love of reading.

I come from the land of myths and folklore. We grew up on stories of Mahabharata, Ramayana. Being born in a Buddhist family we also invited monks in our home for ‘Paritran’ to share stories of Buddha’s teachings. Storytelling is embedded in our culture. But most of our stories were so soaked in religion, I feel like I never really inculcated the habit of reading, solely because I wanted to stay away from the influence of any religion. Some of my very good friends however, grew up reading and they still are such voracious readers. I remember being curious, but not enough to feed my curious mind. Maybe the kinds of books I wanted to read were not available. Perhaps my options were limited. Perhaps they were too expensive. The reasons are plenty!

I think about how I would possibly tell a tale of Mahabharata to my daughter, a kid’s version would probably do the trick! I doubt it if kids versions of these mythological stories are even available in the market.

But fast forward today, Nepal’s own reading culture is growing immensely. With Nepali authors like Narayan Wagle, Manjushree Thapa, and Buddhisagar stepping into the international market, it is exposing Nepali stories to an ever-growing audience. So the trend in Nepal is very promising. Even the Nepali movies today celebrate authentic Nepali narrative. With globalization, it seems the need to tell our own story is gaining bigger momentum. And I’m all for that!

Oh, the places you'll go
Oh, the places you’ll go

Coming back to America, one of the reasons why the reading habit is an intrinsic part of its cultural fabric, is the way the system works. There are great networks in place to support this reading culture in America. One good example is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Available countrywide (even worldwide to an extent) and bolstered in the community level. They send in free children’s book every month until the child is five. Since we’ve signed up, our daughter has been getting brand new books every month. Some of her most favorite books are from Imagination Library. I hope someday in Nepal, we can have a similar mechanism in place to support young kid’s love of reading.

Check to see if your region qualifies for free books:

Also, you can buy second-hand books for so cheap in thrift stores across America. There is that system of sharing and recycling, which I don’t think is prevalent in Nepal. Our per capita income is so low that our first worry is how to put the food on the table versus what story to read.

Koili ko Katha
Koili ko Katha

But having said all of that, today’s Nepal is so much well-read than the Nepal I grew up in. Some of my daughter’s favorite books are also in Nepali (some of which I have shared on this post). There is now growing support for the illustrators, the writers in Nepal, and I hope this trend only continues to get bigger and better!

Time for a hug
Time for a hug

Here’s to our love of reading!

Pictures shared on this post:

  • Sanu and Andhiberi – written and illustrated by Bandana Tulachan. Translated by Samip Dhungel
  • Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
  • Koili ko Katha – written by Jayashree Deshpandey and illustrated by Kedilaya. Translated by Deependra Bhatta
  • Time for a Hug – written by Phillis Gershator and Mim Green. Illustrated by David Walker

Nepal Tourism – Kantipur Conclave

Kantipur Conclave and its various sponsors deserve a pat on the back for shedding light on some of the most pertinent issues of Nepal and having this public discourse with the experts on the panel. They have some great sessions on Nepal’s present and future, technology, economy and much more. I haven’t watched all of them, but looks like all sessions are quite susbtantial.

With this one particularly, felt like I had to write about it because tourism is one of the major drivers of economic growth in Nepal. Despite having so much potential, it seems that Nepal has not been able to fully tap into its resources. As I kept listening and watching, it felt like this session was very critical of the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and was too fixated on the number of two million visitors.

You have to give NTB the benefit of the doubt. Yes, we all know it is all about the infrastructure. Can the Nepali infrastructure support the onslaught of two million visitors? Yes, it is all about focusing on quality, not quantity. We all know that. But are we really drawing unexpected expectations?

Since this session focused so much on the two million number, let me address the number bit. Two million is really not that big of a number. Now numbers are all very relative. Are we really thinking that Nepal will get two million visitors in one day? I hope not. Cause if that’s the case, yes, Nepal cannot handle that many visitors. There are many similar countries like Nepal or geographically way smaller countries like Croatia that hosted over 18 million visitors in the year 2018. Now, I know what you are thinking: they have a great infrastructure, they have a great government, the placement of the country in the world map is bound to attract so many tourists, their population is so well controlled…on…and on… Yes, I agree, but can we begin somewhere? And why that cannot be two million?

Really, look at all the work that’s being done. New Lumbini airport? I didn’t know that was happening anytime soon. Clearly, the government is making a big push – so at least can we collectively appreciate the government ‘s effort?

Let’s face it, to get somewhere we have to begin somewhere. Numbers alone do not tell the complete story but at least it helps us to an extent understand a situation. I am not concerned whether we would be able to hit the two million mark. I am curious what will happen post-2020 Visit Nepal. I am curious about what kind of benchmark it will set. If not anything, I think this Visit Nepal 2020 would be a great case study. I am curious how tourists will respond from all strata. I am curious where it will lead Nepal, I am curious about the innumerous possibilities.

In a country where it is so hard for even a small change to take place; the fact that government is simultaneously getting its hands on the airport development, transportation development, road expansion in the context of visit Nepal – is a positive welcome. I think it will set a great precedent for future endeavors.

For way too long, the emphasis has been the number. The conversation should have shifted towards what is the government doing to support that number of visitors. Our Everest route is probably the biggest money maker. There are a huge need and scope to streamline the Everest industry alone. I would have liked to hear more about that. How are they handling the cleanups, the insurance scams? Perhaps better equipping Lukla airport with medical teams so people didn’t have to lose lives just cause they weren’t able to be flown to Kathmandu or Pokhara on time. Giving quality service and having a proper game plan. But regardless, this was an overall interesting discourse. As a citizen of Nepal, I appreciate the effort that the government is making to elevate Nepal on the global map. Hope it all works out and good luck!


An inside look at the specifics of how we addressed and are working towards resolving web accessibility issues on our web portals.

Microsoft has committed to making all its products, applications, sites accessible to all users including people with disabilities. In recent times the company has made significant progress in accessibility; from building Windows 10 with improved assistive technologies to adding new accessibility features to Microsoft Edge. You might have had also heard about Xbox’s adaptive controller features, designed to primarily meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility. In this context, I was involved in driving the accessibility aspect of our web portals. Below I am sharing my experience of designing the process to address accessibility issues throughout our sites across all product lines we own.

More than 1 billion people live with some sort of disability worldwide, that pertains to more than 14% of the world population. By 2020, 22% of the world’s population will be over 60 years and each one of us may encounter situational disabilities at some point throughout our everyday lives. Accessibility, in a nutshell, is about making the world accessible to as many people as possible; ensuring that there are no barriers for people to perceive, operate, understand or consume the information. Be it the services or products, or everyday appliances, applications, websites and so forth. It is part of the law in some countries to address accessibility issues. Also, it is believed that the estimated annual buying power for people with disabilities is 3 trillion dollars. So addressing accessibility doesn’t just makes sense from the humanitarian level but it also adds to your bottom line.

As per the w3c site: web accessibility simply means designing and developing websites, tools, and technologies in such a way that people with disabilities can use them. So, people can: perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web and also contribute to the web.

Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the web, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, visual.

One important thing to note here is; accessibility overlaps with other best practices as well such as mobile web design, device independence, multi-modal interaction, usability, design for older users, and search engine optimization (SEO). Accessible websites can have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, increased audience reach.


In order to evaluate the site, we needed to understand the evaluation process first, below I have tried my best to summarize the web accessibility guidelines, its various conformance levels, and normative or non-normative conformances that are parts of the overall evaluation process.

Given below is a brief explanation of all those aspects:

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has four principles. For my own understanding, the acronym of these four principles is POUR. When we started the work, we were following WCAG 2.0; that was published in 2008  (superseded WCAG 1.0). As per WCAG 2.0 website needs to follow the below four principles:

  1. P stands for Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
    This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can’t be invisible to all of their senses).
  2. O stands for Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
    This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform)
  3. U stands for Understandable – Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
    This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding).
  4. R stands for Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
    This means that users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible).

WCAG 2.0 lists 12 guidelines altogether. Given below are each guideline per principle:

Guideline 1.1: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
For instance: add alt text for images, add discernible link description or purpose.
Guideline 1.2: Time-based Media: Provide alternatives for time-based media.
Guideline 1.3: Adaptable: Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
Guideline 1.4: Distinguishable: Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground-background.

Guideline 2.1 Keyboard Accessible: Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
Guideline 2.2: Enough Time: Provide users enough time to read and use the content.
Guideline 2.3: Seizures: Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
Guideline 2.4: Navigable: Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.

Guideline 3.1: Readable: Make text content readable and understandable.
Guideline 3.2: Predictable: Make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
Guideline 3.3: Input Assistance: Help users avoid and correct mistakes.

Guideline 4.1: Compatible: Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

Understanding Levels of Conformance

What is conformance?
Conformance means meeting the accessibility requirement as per a given success criterion. WCAG 2.0 guidelines have three levels of conformance:

  • Level A:  This is the most minimum level of conformance. The easiest and the most basic requirement
  • Level AA: Mid-level. For a web page to be level AA compliant, a web page has to be meet both levels A and AA requirements
  • Level AAA: This is the most difficult level. In order for a site to be triple-A compliant, a site has to meet all compliance levels

In Microsoft’s case; at the beginning, they introduced their own accessibility standards as per WCAG 2.0 Level AA. At the most minimum level, all products, applications, websites must meet both Level A and Level AA of WCAG 2.0 that folks at Microsoft collectively called Microsoft Accessibility Standards (MAS) to help Microsoft teams to adapt and implement accessibility into their ecosystem. Over the course of time, MAS has been updated to include WCAG 2.1 guidelines as well.

What is normative or non-normative?
Normative:  Any guideline that must be met in order for a site to be compliant. Required for conformance.
Non-normative or informative: Any guideline that doesn’t need to be met. Not required for conformance.

There are several automated tools publicly available to check accessibility issues on your site. However, they are not 100%. Human testers are required to ensure that a site is fully accessible. Having said that, to kick things off we utilized quite a number of automated tools to give us a foundation to start with. They are given below:

  • Keros for web/Keros for Chrome: This is Microsoft’s internal tool. Only available to internal Microsoft employees. This was a great tool to kick things off with. We had two accessibility projects running simultaneously. One dealt with the overall site experience, another was page specific. Not only did Keros help us to give a peek at some of the common issues around accessibility on our site but it was also able to scan each page and keep a digital record of all the issues that needed to be fixed.  Each scan could be a scenario based scan with the ability to add comments. Not all features were used heavily, nonetheless was still useful when needed. The very first prototype of Keros was developed for Chrome, Microsoft recently released a version that can be run on Edge as well.
  • Webaim: Webaim was more expansive compared to Keros. Webaim shows a wide variety of issues such as heading error, aria-label, roles errors, that Keros may not capture. But having said that, most of the automated tools capture only 20-30% of the overall issue. For the most comprehensive testing, human involvement is a must.
  • Webaim Color Contrast Checker: This is Webaim’s extension for color. We used this extensively to check color combinations across the site.

The best way to build a site is to embrace accessibility right from the beginning. As mentioned above, accessibility overlaps with other best practices such as usability. In our case, however, we didn’t have the luxury to rebuild the site due to the limitation of the budget. We had to take it one step at a time and address as many issues as possible for compliance. As a site owner and maintainer, it was our responsibility to keep the site running and also continue working on fixing the accessibility issues. Our responsibilities lied in understanding the issues, knowing the areas that needed to be worked on, the rules that needed to be applied,  different pieces of information that came in through and how those related together.

The analysis took a huge chunk of time. Post-analysis; we drew business requirements that paved the way for technical requirements. In terms of design, we based it around our original design sketch, improving the existing design. After the requirements were submitted to the IT department, developers started the process. We took each step with one sprint at a time. Each sprint lasted for 3-4 weeks. Any requirements that the dev team weren’t able to address would be part of the backlog.  Prior to the end of the sprint, user acceptance testing was another responsibility we had to fulfill. Each non-technical testers tested the user journey based on various test scenarios. Post-deployment, there would be proper testing by the official accessibility testers who once again go through various scenarios to determine if our web portals were good enough to achieve the initial MAS standard.

We followed the agile method where all team members worked concurrently and deployed at the end of each sprint. Anything that couldn’t be fixed would be part of the backlog. The very first release dealt with fixing the color contrast issue. We decided to go with color changes first and foremost because it was the easiest changes of all. It was a matter of making CSS updates, where we didn’t have to engage with interactive elements. By simply updating the foreground color against the background color – we were making our sites accessible to all users with the color vision issue.

In three different sprints, we made the following changes in terms of the overall site experience:

  • Fixed the color contrast issues (when the foreground text color and background color doesn’t have enough contrast to make the text distinguishable enough) of all the affected areas by providing enough contrast between content and background for both normal and large texts.
  • Made all clickable elements visually distinguishable on mouse hover and keyboard focus by customizing the visual focus indicator for various elements across all web portals, with an intention to make the site navigable via the keyboard as well as mouse.
  • Ensured that keyboard navigation was logical in order. There was no hidden cursor.
  • Ensured the site content is visible in high contrast mode.

One of the biggest learnings for all of us in the team has been looking at every web page from the standpoint of accessibility. Whenever we are creating or updating a web page, it has made us aware of the responsibilities we have towards all users. Whether a user is abled or disabled, it is our duty to make web content accessible to everyone. When we post content, we don’t just post anymore, we actively maintain the quality of the HTML code, we ensure that links have a descriptive purpose, the images have correct alternative text. These may seem like simple things, but have a huge effect on how users perceive, understand, and interact with our content.

During this process, we realized there were a considerable number of mistakes we were making across our web portals such as, not following the heading rules to structure lengthy pages, incorrectly coding the tables. Some of the most commons errors we were making are given below: 

In terms of the page or homepage level, one of the biggest errors we were making was breaking the heading rule. Text that does not act as a heading visually or structurally should not be marked as a heading. Screen readers ignore font size or font weight of the text, hence, a user with visual impairments cannot tell if a heading is a heading unless there is a proper heading element association.

Recommended: H1 for the page title, H2 for major headings and H3 for major subheadings.
The most important heading has the rank 1 (<h1>), least important heading rank 6 (<h6>).
Skipping heading ranks can be confusing and should be avoided where possible. For instance, from <h2> you cannot jump to <h4>. It has to be in proper order.

Incorrect way:

<h1>Introduction to Web Accessibility</h1>
    <h4>Add text here…</h4>
    <h4>Add text here…</h4>
    <h4>Add text here…</h4>

Correct way:

<h1>Introduction to Web Accessibility</h1>
    <p>Add text here….</p>

    <p>Add text here…</p>

    <p>Add text here.</p>

With every link, it is pertinent that we describe the purpose of the link. We had a lot of pages that said ‘Click here to learn more’ and the ‘here’ was hyperlinked. This is a no-no from an accessibility standpoint. Instead, you can hyperlink the entire context such as: Learn more about web accessibility. You can also add an additional description to your link through Title attribute.

Invalid Empty Tags
Turns out empty tags can confuse screen readers. When we cleaned the overall markup errors of a page, we also ensured to get rid of empty tags.

Empty tags: <p></p>
Non-empty tags: <p>Hello there!</p>

My intention with this blog post is to give you a glimpse of the overall process. This has all been a great learning experience for the whole team, full of trial and error. Although I have tried to outline as many details as possible in terms of the actual steps we took. Most of it is still presented in a very generic format. I’m sure there are things that I have missed out. I’m sure there were gaps in the process. Nonetheless,  just a few months ago, we were at a zero position and fast forward today we have made significant progress on our site.

Accessibility related technology is improving every day. Even WCAG guidelines are updated to reflect better methods. At some point, this post may become obsolete but will do all I can to continue to update. If you have any questions about the process or about web accessibility please don’t hesitate to drop a comment. I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

Climbing our own Mt Everest

This past weekend, I came across a really awesome podcast on Tenzing Norgay. It prompted me to write this blog post. In April of 2014, I was in Kathmandu. An avalanche had hit Mt Everest, killing 12 Sherpa guides. This time the story was different. On my Instagram feeds I was seeing foreign journalists/photographers who had made it to the Himalayan region and worked with the Sherpas – were putting their work for auction to raise funds for the families of the deceased Sherpas. But nobody really seemed to care much in Kathmandu, as is usually the case with Kathmandu. Kathmandu lives in its own bubble. Kathmandu has all the rights to live in its own bubble. What I have an issue with is, its people taking to the streets to claim that Mt Everest is in Nepal. But when Mt Everest needs attention of these very loyal fanatics, nobody seems to care. I remember, Sherpas had protested vehemently at that point, to not to go on any expeditions. As I found out more about the situation, learned that it was even more appalling. Nepali government makes shit tons of money off of Mt Everest, but the people who makes it possible to conquer the mountain, the Sherpas, don’t even get a mere 1% of the profit. So, where do all these funds go?

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay
Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay | Picture courtesy: Wikipedia

It’s not cheap to scale Mt Everest. It cost thousands of dollars to a foreigner and just because they are ‘foreigners’ doesn’t mean, thousands of dollars mean nothing to them. It’s their hard earned money too. In the peak season, considering so many of these expeditioners pay such a hefty amount to climb the mountain. A question does beg to be asked; where does all the money go. I hope Nepali government will be transparent enough to share the information and pay the fair amount to those who deserve the most.

Meanwhile, here’s the podcast on Tenzing Norgay. What a shame, it took me all these years to learn about our own Nepali, who had conquered the tallest one in the world. Perhaps the least we could do is listen to his story – not as a favor but because he lived one heck of an adventurous life. May be we could gain a thing or two from Tenzing Norgay’s mountaineering story and learn to conquer our own Mt Everest.


Listen to the Story of Tenzing Norgay, Who Stood on Top of the World @atlasobscura

P.S: A huge shout-out to Atlas Obscura for producing such a top notch podcast!

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park, California

The idea of protecting lands by the government for the preservation of wildlife, educational opportunities and enjoyment of general public and future generation is probably the best idea ever hatched in the history of human kind. Although the very first national park of the US was established back in the late 1800s. The National Park Service wasn’t set up until early 1900s, that serves all national parks, national monuments, public parks and national memorials of the US.

This year the National Park Service of America celebrated its 100th year. One very effective way of understaning this vast country is through its national parks. There’s definitely more to America than the most popular rhetoric that tends to revolve around its politics. But real America is rarely portrayed in media. So, I hope you ignore the bullshit that spreads the inaccurate depiction of this nation and instead focus on a myriad of treasures that this country has to offer, national parks being one of them.

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

My father paid us a visit close to Thanksgiving this year, he had never been to the west coast of USA. So, we thought it would be a good idea to show him the great state of California. I have been to all major cities of this amazing state, and thought I knew enough. Turns out that wasn’t the case, this road trip from southern to northern California opened my eyes to the California, I had never known before.

Ladies and gentlemen, below I give you a few glimpses of one of the most amazing national parks of the United States of America:

Yosemite National Park
Camping area, Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

My Dear Fellow Nepalis

My Dear Fellow Nepalis,
Let me first begin by saying how much I respect you. With all the crisis going on in Nepal, I understand it is not easy to work and live in Nepal. Even if you have work, you may not be happy with your pay scale, you are probably treated badly, people perhaps pay no respect to you. I understand, it’s tough. When I say, I feel your pain, trust me I do. I have worked in Nepal for many years. Just recently too I worked from Nepal. I set up my own company, I thought the IT policy behind setting up a company was very impressive. I was pleasantly surprised by how you kept up with the technological changes. Brownie points for that!

But of course, the whole process of setting up to begin with, wasn’t easy. Dealing with bureaucrats wasn’t easy. I have taken many days off just so I could wait for the ‘right’ person to arrive to get the job done. I have wasted numerous days waiting to get a government approval. While I witnessed a bunch of people at government office, just laughing away while the lines kept growing outside the office. Still nobody had a sense to listen to the grievances of ordinary Nepalis, who just wanted to get the job done.

Seriously, you get paid for your job. It may not be enough to make a foreign trip but at least it puts food on your table. The money makes it possible to send your kids to school. It is enough to make an honest living. As a government worker, you get additional benefits as compared to those who work in private companies. At least have some respect for tax payers who work hard to make sure you get paid. Be thankful that you have a job that you can serve so many people. Imagine all the goodwill you would gain. But you still take time to do simple things. I was willing to take it all while I was in Nepal. It was hard enough back then. But now that I am 1000 miles away, working with you has been a complete nightmare.

My grievances is not just limited to Nepali government workers. Even the young generation folks I have dealt with have given me a very unpleasant experience. I guess, Nepal doesn’t prioritize on communication. Please understand communication is extremely important. I am living far away from home. I have made investments in Nepal. Any delayed information becomes extremely critical. I don’t have money to waste. Your slow and inept communication affects my investment and I am not willing to accept the loss incurred by your inefficiency.

Please understand I am a Nepali too and so are you. I am not expecting you to move mountains. I am just asking you to get the job done that I have paid for you to do. That is not too much ask. I am not even expecting a free service from you. In fact, as an investor I have paid all the required taxes, aside from giving you employment and paying the deserved amount. I would be forever grateful to you if you could just do what you have to do, so I can complete my task and move on with my life and not waste any more resources on you.

Shailiza Manandhar