An Homage to Accessibility

I just happened to look at this blog of mine and was most surprised to discover I haven’t said a word about Web accessibility. I’d thought this was where I was storing such snippets. But it must have been on other blogs. No matter — this is where my accessibility output will be going forward.

Jennifer Sutton and Andrew Arch
Jennifer and Andrew of EOWG

So…. life unfolds in astonishing ways. This fall I had an amazing opportunity fall into my lap. It was to expand my professional development — and I cannot thank my employer enough.

Unlike my pervious career (librarianship), in Web development there is an astonishingly rich smorgasbord of professional possibilities. For about a minute I was overwhelmed. But then, bubbling up from deep inside, I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that I wanted to pursue accessibility.

Why? I explained it (mostly) some years ago in another blog: My Father’s Daughter Blogging Against Disablism.

The big question was how? The only person I knew to reach out to was Shawn Lawton Henry of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). I’d seen her keynote nine years before at HighEdWebDev. I don’t usually remember speakers nine weeks, let alone nine years. But there was this moment. She was pulling up a news site, probably to demonstrate its accessibility or lack thereof, and there front-and-center was the news that Christopher Reeve had just died.

Shawn was so stunned she put her head down on the podium. It took me a second to realize why, but then the light dawned. In front of a hundred or more people, she had just lost one of her heroes – a champion of the disabled. That probably would have been enough, but she cinched it a few weeks later. During her talk she mentioned that if we emailed her she would send us business-card-sized summaries on Web accessibility. The cards even had Braille. I took her up on this offer, fully expecting to never hear back. But a lovely packet arrived exactly as promised. How could I ever forget such a speaker?

Fast forward to autumn 2012 — and yet another surprise. Shawn was still at the W3C. I asked her how I might do professional development in Web accessibility. And here’s the biggest surprise of all…. I was invited to join Shawn’s group – the WAI’s Education & Outreach Working Group (EOWG).

This then led to my attending an EOWG face-to-face and the 2013 CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. And now (two weeks later) I’m starting to truly absorb this new adventure and put the pieces together. The three that emerge the most clearly at this juncture are:

1. A resolve to share my passion for accessibility as broadly as I am able.

Since I first learned of Web accessibility (1997, perhaps?), I have been doing this work when I know how and have the opportunity. Usually it’s been those moments when I’m coding a core theme and make a decision about something most people have no inkling is on my plate. For example, do I code the logo in <h1> tags? And how do I make that logo’s text not show visually yet be available to screen readers?

I’ve been very quiet about this work and what I know. But no longer. I must speak up. I must learn how to convey what I see — that making Web technologies accessible is a win for everyone. Obviously it’s a win for the disabled. Actually it’s much more than that for them. It’s justice and respect. But it’s also an enormous win for management and authors. The business case is not rocket science. Roughly one in five people in the U.S. is disabled. That’s 20% of their potential customers. And it’s a big win for developers. Accessibility principles future-proof our work and foster innovation.

2. Understanding the importance of that other web — the interdependent one.

It’s people from my past who made my decision last fall so obvious. And they continue to inspire me. Among the most important are:

  • My father, whom I miss more than I can say. He would have been so proud to know I’m part of the WAI.
  • My dear friend Patty Jenkins, who keeps pestering me to tell her about CSUN. Patty — I will this weekend. I promise.
  • My dear friend Marguerite Mills, who called me (appropriately) a knuckle-head when, for weeks, I forgot to tell her about the WAI.
  • My main report Scott Sobecki, who really needs another photo — and lunch.

3. Hats off to EOWG members for their passion and hospitality.

They too inspire me. Here are the ones I’ve met thus far.

  • Shawn Lawton Henry. Of course. Our fearless leader.
  • Andrew Arch. He flew in from Australia, and tackled this work with no signs of jet lag. Not to mention he’s spearheaded the great work on WAI Training.
  • Helle Bjarnø. A fellow librarian who has embraced the Web.
  • Jennifer Sutton. She took me under her wing, taught me how to guide a blind person (which I learned is a joy), and inspired me to tackle Twitter — yet again.
  • Shadi Abou-Zahra. He’s clearly a brainiac developer, and non-stop good-humored. Wow.
  • Sharron Rush. Someone (Dennis Lembree?) dubbed Sharron “Accessibility’s Mom.” Yes. From her very first email to me, she has been a bedrock of support and encouragement.
  • Wayne Dick. A soul brother. And what an inspiring advocate for the low vision community.

Next up…. I plan to actually look at my notes from CSUN. And call Patty.