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No, you are not entitled to pick my brain for free

I am under zero obligation to provide you a “teachable moment”

An acquaintance of mine posted on LinkedIn that her company had recently joined a leadership organization on disability. I was intrigued, so I clicked on the link to see what the organization was all about, wondering if it might be a good fit for me to get involved with as well.

I am a keyboard-only user with glaucoma. Those disabilities mean I can’t use a mouse, and I also frequently use magnification. For me to be able to interact with a website, I need:

  • the little box that shows up around a web page element (called a keyboard focus indicator) to highlight what will happen when I press the return key.
  • a “skip to content” link (known as a “bypass block”) to not have to press the tab key 57 times to get to the center of a page.

The site in question that I was looking at advertises itself as a professional hub for disability leaders — and it was TOTALLY INACCESSIBLE to the population it claims to be an expert in. There was no bypass block OR keyboard focus indicators, two of the most fundamental items listed in the WCAG international guidelines for accessibility (and yes, these guidelines are well-known in the country this organization is based in).

  • The lack of a bypass block is a Level A defect (most serious)
  • The lack of a keyboard focus indicator is currently a Level AA defect (less serious, but still a very basic violation). However, the keyboard focus indicator guideline is proposed to move to Level A in less than five months.

Level A defects are the WCAG dealbreakers. Bugs caused by not following WCAG 2.0 Level A guidelines completely block entire groups of people with disabilities from being able to use your software. And missing two of the most basic of the 50 guidelines (these two particular guidelines take all of five seconds to test) is living proof of complete and total lack of understanding of what it means to have a disability and how to include, not exclude that community.

Apparently this leadership group related to disabilities is a hub for disability leaders that don’t have disabilities? Think about that a little bit. The universe that this organization claims to represent doesn’t allow access to users the community that they are claiming specialized expertise in teaching OTHER organizations about. They say that their membership is open to disabled people everywhere. Well, that’s probably true, but only if your disabilities aren’t the kind that requires the use of assistive technology. This website/organization combination is probably one of the most arrogant and ableist things I’ve ever seen in a while. I wish I could say that I hadn’t seen it before, or wasn’t going to see it again, but that would make me a liar.

When I mentioned this to my friend, she tagged one of the organization’s leaders, who then replied in the most incredibly tone-deaf and non-caring manner:

“If there is something needs fixing let us know”

One thing that I keep hearing over and over from Black people as one small piece of fallout from the George Floyd incident is how effing sick and tired they are of white people coming to them and saying “teach me.” There are few Black employees and many white ones in an organization. The Black employees are overwhelmed, and they are starting to respond en masse — “There are plenty of books out there. Google is free. I’m tired. Go teach yourself.”

As a person with a disability, I feel a fair amount of commonality with people of color.

  • I didn’t choose to be disabled.
  • I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t disabled.
  • Being disabled is part of my identity.
  • I can’t wake up in the morning and decide I’m not going to be disabled.
  • I am continually surrounded by people unlike me who don’t understand my lived experience.
  • People continuously make assumptions about what I can do based entirely on stereotypes associated with being disabled.
  • The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is drastically higher than for people without disabilities because of those stereotypes.
  • Many “disability initiatives” make decisions about what is best for people with disabilities without actually INVOLVING people with disabilities.

If the woman from the organization had asked nicely or from a place of curiosity, I might have dug deep to find one more teachable moment. But there are plenty of books out there (including mine, coming next February). Google is free. I’m tired. Go teach yourself. Learn how to run a WCAG audit to benefit and include the people you claim to be helping. It took me 15 years to acquire the skill set I have (plus 11 years of college). Don’t ask me for $15,000 worth of free consulting, ESPECIALLY if you are a for-profit organization.

And really, this organization should stop advertising themselves as a leading organization related to disability until they actually understand how people with disabilities use software and what they need to do to include, not exclude them.

Published inDisabilitiesInclusion

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