It took me 22 months, 159 articles, and 195 comments on other people’s articles. But am I getting anything meaningful out of it?
Who Am I?
Sheri Byrne-Haber — mother of three wonderful daughters (one of whom has congenital progressive hearing loss), and I am a wheelchair user and a type 1 diabetic. I have been working exclusively in disabilities for 16 years, and in the field of digital accessibility for the past eight. My personal background in disability as both a person with a disability and the mother of a person with a different disability plus degrees in CS, Law, and Business gives me a very unique perspective on accessibility, which I try to share through my Medium disability/accessibility articles.
My first post on my first day in November 2018 got six reads. I am reasonably sure one of them was me, and two of them were my parents. No idea who the other three were. Since then, my highest number of views in a single day was 4,700, and I’ve had over 150,000 reads in under two years. Where did this growth come from?
- Cross-referencing articles — once you reach critical mass with the number of related articles you have published, linking the articles to each other makes it easier for your readers to find related articles you have written.
- Getting curated by Medium and Medium publications. More than half my articles are curated by Medium (I am considered a “top writer” in Diversity) or published with a Medium publication. That increases the article’s visibility to readers who might not otherwise get exposed to me. In two years, I have published with 17 different publications, including several articles published with publications with large readerships (UX Collective and The Startup).
- Expanding my LinkedIn presence. Since I am not a social media genius, I will admit that I did get help. When I started writing in November 2018, I had just under 500 LinkedIn connections. Now I have almost 12,000. Some have found me, others I have searched out and connected with. I also connect on LinkedIn with people who follow me on Medium (when I can identify them) and thank every LinkedIn connection who reshares one of my articles.
- Publishing outside of Medium. Not everyone can afford or wants a Medium subscription. Also, Medium is nominally accessible (for readers, not for publishers) but not easy to use with assistive technology. Therefore, I maintain a library of everything I’ve published on Medium at sheribyrnehaber.com, which is completely accessible WordPress. I post to my secondary site the first week of the following month after I publish on Medium. That scheduling is more for my convenience than anything else.
How much effort was getting 1000 followers?
On average, it takes me 90 minutes to write, edit, and post a blog to Medium, then also post on LinkedIn and transfer the blog to my personal website, and probably another 20 minutes to read other’s blogs and comment. Thus, the total time commitment to reach 1000 followers was (90 min x 159 articles) + (20 min X 195 comments) = 16210 minutes, or a little over 16 minutes per follower.
Would I have a 15-minute conversation with someone to try and convince them that I am an accessibility professional worth knowing? Absolutely. That’s effectively what my accessibility writing is; a whole lot of asynchronous conversations.
Am I now independently wealthy from writing Medium posts?
In a word, no. I am regularly listed in the top 10 % of monthly compensation for Medium authors. However, for the 270 hours of work identified above, I have been paid approximately $1120. So clearly I am not doing this for the money, since the $4.15 per hour roughly works out to be what I made in my first job as a community college bookstore cashier 40 years ago 🙂 But that is to be expected since I am writing niche articles on a relatively narrow, technical topic that are typically oriented around recommendations and calls to action, and not more general subjects like whether or not Keanu Reeves deserves to be revered.
So why do I do it then?
Honestly, it’s the private notes from the readers:
- The student who told me she aced her internship interview because she could coherently discuss accessibility after reading my articles;
- The person who built an accessibility test plan and was given a contract using the guidance I provided as a cookbook;
- The diversity and inclusion professionals who have told me that they look at disability different after following me;
- The people with disabilities who thank me for continuously advocating for them.
Even the “OMG, this happened to me too, I’m not alone” notes are meaningful to me.
Sometimes I feel like the Accessibility Lorax. Instead of “speaking for the trees,” though, I am trying to speak for people with disabilities who are getting excluded from educational and employment opportunities due to lack of accessibility. By doing so, I hope to reduce both the implicit bias and explicit discrimination that have followed me and others with visible disabilities for our entire lives.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from a past manager was not just to be the smartest person in the room, but make everyone around me 10 % more intelligent. I am hoping that my Medium articles have expanded the size of the room by not only my 1000 followers, but my readers who probably number 25X that number, and have made everyone in this massive room with me 10 % smarter about disability and accessibility.
Because unless a whole bunch of people like me cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.