As someone driven by gaining consciousness, my work in accessibility contributes to my personal mission single day. I delight in understanding how others besides myself see the world, even if that comes with discomfort as I venture beyond what's familiar to me.
Working in accessibility when you don't have a disability
I have the privilege of working in accessibility marketing - partnering closely with engineers to understand what product features exist to empower those with disabilities and then communicating said features in a people friendly way. As someone who doesn’t have a disability and works on accessibility though, you could definitely say I had no idea what I was doing in my first three months on the role (and arguably, 8 months in, I still often have plenty of moments like that).
My message for anyone wanting to better understand accessibility or more meaningfully connect with people with disabilities is simple: you’ve got to start by having conversations with people with disabilities who navigate inaccessible experiences daily.
For example – perusing the internet and checking social media. I love/hate scrolling through my feed. Doing this feels like going on autopilot: just constantly swiping my thumb upwards to dive into the abyss of the internet. However, for someone who has fine motor issues in their hands and can’t scroll as easily, is this experience accessible to them? Or how about someone who’s blind? Are they able to understand the layout and how to get around the site, and will their screen readers work with the platform? More importantly, are they able to connect with friends and family and feel included in social media?
Another example is dining out. Someone who’s blind or uses a wheelchair may face difficulty in securing independent transportation getting to a restaurant, and then once they’re there, they can’t read the menu or find where the bathroom is. If they have a friend with them, that friend may be able to help, but I’m someone who loves doing things on my own without having to rely on a friend. Shouldn’t people with disabilities be able to also dine and shop at their favorite businesses independently?
15% of the population has a disability; 100% of us have a role to play
You don’t know what you don’t know until you have candid conversations with someone who navigates these barriers every day. And now that I’m aware of them, accessibility is something I catch myself thinking about even after I've gone home for the day.
Indeed, you can’t solve a problem you’re not aware of. So I put together this Accessibility Awareness Bingo board, meant to be conversation starters for why we need accessibility in physical and digital spaces. If you get a bingo (five in a row either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally), contact me with your responses and I’ll send you either a physical/digital postcard (let me know your preference and provide your address/email address accordingly – I promise I won’t sell your data to Cambridge Analytica).
All in all, I believe in our society’s ability to progress, become more enlightened, and embrace people who look different than them. People may not initially do well with different, but the more you expose yourself to people who don’t look like you, the more those differences soften and become perceivably smaller. I hope you engage in meaningful conversations today, and continue to think about accessibility and inclusion beyond Global Accessibility Awareness Day.