#006 - Laura Kalbag

With Oskar

Profile image of Laura Kalbag

Laura is a British designer and published author living in Ireland, and is ½ of Ind.ie. She’s an incredibly well respected advocate for accessibility and human rights on the web.

Andy: Let’s do the important intro first. What pet have you brought along with you today?

Laura: 👋 This is my shadow, Oskar Kalbag. He’s a six year-old Husky-Malamute crossbreed dog. Also known as @gigapup on social media.

A dog and his owner pose for a picture together in a park setting
A lovely shot of Laura and Oskar together

Andy: I asked the question only as a formality because I am possibly one of Oskar’s biggest fans. He’s a majestic creature.

An observation I’ve made about Oskar on social media is that he looks like a very inquisitive dog and you describing him as you shadow certainly confirms that. Has he always been like that?

Laura: He’s a poser. Perhaps you can refer to him as inquisitive, but the only question he’s asking is “when’s dinner?” Some dogs love sticks, some love balls, Osky is all about food. Even as I write this response, he’s whining by my feet because he wants what I had for lunch.

Andy: Same. I can totally empathise with him. I literally spend all day thinking about it.

I love how Oskar has his own social media presence. Does he enjoy the fame it brings him?

Laura: He just loves the attention. Whenever someone stops us in the street to tell Oskar how beautiful he is, all I say is “he knows it.”

Though, honestly, his social media “presence” wasn’t a planned thing. I made the @gigapup Twitter account because some boring people were complaining I tweeted too many dog photos. (We all know there is no such thing as too many dog photos.)

A very handsome dog surrounded by bluebells
Just look at how magnificent he is

Andy: Oh my, I’ll never understand why people complain that web folks tweet too much of their personal interests. How dare they be human, right?

Speaking of human rights (hell yeh that was a segue and a half), you do some pretty darn important stuff for people on the web don’t you? Can you let us know what you get up to on the web and what makes you tick?

Laura: Our humanity is what makes us interesting. It’s a strange expectation on social media that if you use your account in a professional capacity, you have to be some kind of apolitical encyclopedia bot, more brand than person, existing only to further other people’s careers. So tough luck, I want to post photos of my dog, bad knitting, and cooking experiments.

There’s also more serious stuff I want to share on social media. I have opinions on social and political issues that are pertinent (read: very important) to our profession. Take accessibility and inclusion, where we decide on a daily basis whether we want our work to discriminate against people with disabilities. (I vote Let’s Not, which is why I wrote Accessibility For Everyone.)

Social and political issues such as these run through every aspect of our profession, starting with how our work is funded. Now the web has become an essential part of our social/economical/political infrastructure, we have to question why the majority of that infrastructure runs on platforms owned and controlled by (usually US-based) corporations who truly do not have civil society or our best interests at heart. Those corporations know what we search for, where we are, and the contents of our private messages. And they sustain themselves financially through monetising that personal information.

Unfortunately many folks in the industry choose to pretend this isn’t a problem, at worst because they benefit financially, and at best because they can be comfortably ignorant because they are not vulnerable. Specifically, people from marginalised groups are most vulnerable. Our personal information could be (and has been) used to deport us, make our insurance costs skyrocket, and even influence the outcomes of elections through targeted propaganda.

Our work at Ind.ie is to raise awareness about these issues, and to design ethical alternatives to mainstream technology. We also make a mac and iOS app called Better Blocker that blocks trackers while you’re browsing the web.

So work can be a bit frustrating. And sometimes I just need to bury my face in Oskar fluff while he looks on unimpressed. Osky is a big dog, so we walk a lot, and that really helps my mental health too.

A dog and his owner look at each other, lovingly
Another lovely shot of Laura and Oskar

Andy: I have neck ache from all of the nodding that I’m doing. The work you do on the web for both accessibility and helping to protect us from those types of corporations is definitely appreciated—especially by me.

I’m glad you mentioned Accessibility For Everyone because it’s a fantastic book. I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to get more informed about accessibility. I also use Better Blocker every day, so thanks for making it!

Let’s talk about the indie web and the Fediverse for a bit. It’s something that’s certainly gaining momentum. Do you see this momentum continuing?

Laura: Thanks! It’s really nice to hear when somebody finds our work valuable.

I hope there is more momentum around federated and decentralised systems. We really need more people caring about, and working on, ethical alternatives to mainstream technology. And we need ways to fund these efforts. Otherwise the only people who can afford to work on the alternatives will be the same privileged, rich, straight, cis white guys who built the technology that is fucking us over today.

Andy: I couldn’t agree more on all of that. Laura, thank you so much for coming along and talking about Oskar and yourself.

Laura: Thank you for inviting me!