Empathy is “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” Yet many designers and developers who I have worked with do not have enough information to have empathy for the various ways that living with a disability influences feelings, thoughts and attitudes. Or it’s more accurate to say that the information they do have clouds their ability to experience empathy for someone living with a disability. There is too much stigma and too many fears.
Aimee Mullins’ 2009 TEDMed Talk digs into the definition of the word disability in a beautiful (and painful) summary of issues that have been prevalent themes since the beginning of the Disability Rights Movement. She reads a definition from a dictionary then says, “I was born into a world that perceived someone like me to have NOTHING positive whatsoever going for them.”
Even when we use the Trace Usability Screening Kit with designers and developers, the experience that I’ve seen people consistently grok are the various low vision and color perception goggles. My sense is that there is a shared experience with color blindness tests that most U.S. kids receive in elementary school. People can also grok captions because there is enough use of them in noisy bars and pubs that people have some unconscious awareness of them.
But living with blindness, physical disabilities, hearing disabilities, cognitive disabilities and speech disabilities are beyond most people’s common experience. I have often been part of someone’s first conversations about making a web site or an app accessible. I have lost track of the number of times I have heard a person ask, “but…how does someone who is blind use a computer?” or “Why would someone who is blind want to use this application?” Watching someone like Steve Gleason interact with a computer via eye tracking software blows their minds. The feeling that I pick up is bewilderment and pity, not empathy.
Another common theme in DRM is that people with disabilities are either viewed as superheroes or children, not everyday, empowered people. We need more exposure of Murderball, Push Girls, and Tommy Edison–to name just a few examples of people being open and “out” about being people–who want to work, learn, play, date, compete.
That’s the lack of awareness bit. If someone becomes more aware and begins to move towards empathy, the next barrier is fear. People who have not interacted with a person with a disability are often afraid of saying the wrong thing, of being offensive. I love the Lean Startup/Lean UX movement because it gets people out of the building and into the field. Yet, how many people with disabilities are they meeting in the field? Not many. Some folks don’t know where to go, others are afraid of saying the wrong thing.
So, UX folks, just as you are encouraged to fail in prototyping, I encourage you to fail in interacting with people with disabilities because you will learn a bunch. You will learn what not to say and what people care about. You’ll learn about where the obstacles are–both the designed, physical barriers and the constructed emotional ones that exist within yourself. Start with this article, “Interacting with People with Disabilities: The Basics” and this list of accommodations for faculty, to learn about any accommodations you might need to have in place to invite someone with a disability into a lab.
If you don’t know where to go, look to the variety of organizations that support people with disabilities in your area. In Seattle alone, here’s a sample of some of the organizations you could contact. One of the best ways I’ve found is to write an email of what you are building and that you are looking for people to test your product. Provide contact information and let the organization send it to their subscriber list. Or ask if there is an upcoming event where you could set up a booth.
- Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities
- DO-IT at University of Washington
- Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind
- Washington Council of the Blind
- Washington Talking Book and Braille Library
- Hearing, Speech and Deafness Center
- Accessibility Camp Seattle, part of the Accessibility Camp movement
- Disability Rights Washington
- Each school district, college or university has (or should have) a disability services office, such as Seattle Central’s
- Aging and Disability Services for King County
- Northwest Universal Design Council
- Hammer and Hand, Universal Design and Aging in Place, Barrier-free homes in Portland and Seattle
- STAR of Seattle, Special Technology Access Resource, Public Computer Center
- Washington Assistive Technology Act Program
- Skills, Inc
- Alliance of People with disAbilities
So, UX folks, get out there and fail, because “if you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough.”
For the last week, I’ve been assimilating the ideas that I gleaned from the mind melds at CSUN. I asked as many people as I could, “How do you do your work?”
I am often in a state of panic with my work, that I’m not working fast enough. Intellectually, I know that to move from point A to point B, I need to walk all of the steps in between. Yet, emotionally, I keep trying to figure out how to fly or jump or transport myself to point B. As someone said last week, this is an “all or nothing” approach that more often than not results in “nothing.”
Many people echoed the same idea in different ways: “small ball,” “baby steps,” “take the long view.” Yet having this patience, walking the steps–not running–feels like giving in to the forces preventing change. However, it is a brilliant strategy that has captioned Hollywood movies, installed captioning systems in movie theaters, and deployed accessible ATMs.
There are many Point Bs ahead and one–employment for people with disabilities–feels dauntingly far off: 79% of people with disabilities in the United States who were older that 16 in 2009 were “not in the labor force.” (AFB, January 2014)
I’m going to keep reminding myself that the only way to get there is to keep walking and rolling, one brick at a time, until we get to Oz.
Thank you Larry, Lainey, Gail, Dylan, Shawn, Glenda, Elle, Denis, Todd, Billy, Sina, Sarah, Katie, Jim, Karl, Doug and others.
I’ve been attending CSUN this week, the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. It’s the 17th or so time that I’ve attended the conference. It’s Friday and I’ve been here since Tuesday. I may finally understand how to do a conference in a way that works for me–as an introvert and as a woman with PTSD.
I have routines and I have mastered the art of recharging in my hotel room (almost) guilt-free. People have asked if I’m hiding. I say, “yes.” I am “hiding” not because I am afraid of anything or anyone, I am recharging. I have worked hard–through meditation–to listen to the signals my body gives me that I’m tired or triggered or anxious. I now realize how quickly my reserves are drained. This conference is particularly draining because every 50 feet there is someone else I can’t wait to hug and catch up with. This is my family. I am home.
Previous years, I would have pushed myself to go to sessions, I would have berated myself for not having the stamina of my colleagues, I would imagine people being angry with me for missing their sessions. I would spend the following week in bed, completely spent. As a busy professional and a single mom, I can’t afford to do that anymore. I need to pace myself this week so that when I return home, I will be present for my son, for my job, for myself.
So, this year I’m doing things differently. If I am feeling tired, I return to my hotel room and lie down. I do feel sad that I am missing some of the great sessions and discussions, yet twitter helps me have a sense of what is happening and who I can check in with later. I have learned the art of one-on-one discussions. If I were a Vulcan, a conference would be a series of mind melds.
This conference has been a smorgasbord of possibilities for conversations and breaks–like I’m running my own unconference in the midst of this larger conference. Lots of breaks…to recharge, to integrate new knowledge, to think, to write, to meditate…and then it’s back to mind melds and hugs.
This week I’m meditating on the phrase, “I am.” Each time I feel a tinge of insecurity or guilt, “I am” with a big breath.
I am, Wendy. I have PTSD. I am enjoying myself at my pace in an ocean of amazing people. I am here, being myself, healthy, lucky.
Please forgive me if I’ve missed your session or a great discussion. Find some time with me in a quiet corner so we can mind meld. I’m here. I’m listening. I’m participating. I’m just going at a slower, less crowded, quieter pace.
In a world of 30-second super bowl ads and 140-character tweets, how do you catch someone’s attention? When you get it, how do you communicate about something as complex as web accessibility? In this session we’ll talk about the issues we face helping large corporations make their web properties accessible. We’ll talk about tactics that have worked well and strategies that haven’t. This will be an insider’s perspective into corporate culture from two newbies to that culture.
This will not be a discussion of the color black (since we wouldn’t want to convey information in color alone!). This is about messaging web accessibility within a large organization, catching someone’s attention and maintaining it in order to create organizational change.
The title of the session refers to a phrase in the fashion world, “x is the new black,” which Wikipedia describes as “an expression used to indicate the sudden popularity or versatility of an idea at the expense of the popularity of a second idea.” We used this phrase because we wanted to talk about how we can make accessibility more accessible, just as companies like Ikea have made design more affordable. Accessibility clearly changes the world: smart phones exist because of universal design, yet most people don’t realize smart phones are built on assistive technologies like onscreen keyboards and screen magnification. Our job is to help our organizations embrace innovation and accessibility; to embrace not just a “fad” but a better way to design and build that we believe is timeless…kind of like the color black. We’ll talk about how we’re trying to do it.
On 12 April 2010 I had the pleasure of presenting the afternoon keynote at MinneWebCon. I was impressed with the community–so vibrant and aware of standards! It was a fun day full of wonderful presentations and conversations. It’s a very special conference, well-organized with high caliber presentations. I highly recommend attending next year!
Here are the artifacts:
- The tagged PDF version of the slides,
- The powerpoint version of the slides on slideshare,
- The captioned video of the presentation.
Enjoy! I’ve provided the slides in several formats hoping that everyone will be able to use at least one of these. If you run into any issues please let me know.
FYI: the Slides via Easy Slideshare only pull the text from the slides and not all of the alt-text associated with each image.
(I performed this 24 March 2010 at the CSUN tweetup. Captioned video should be available in the future.)
An Ode to Twitter
A non-structured, non-lyrical ode to twitter…
1,000s of people (or more?) talking about #accessibility.
# a 1 1 y
Do you say, “ally?”
We’re talking about access.
We’re building inclusion.
To express our views.
To change the world.
To connect with others who are
To connect with others who are
To connect with us who are
To be here tonight who are
To hear, see, feel…
PERCEIVE a world where we are all
What of those who are not on twitter?
Don’t have internet access?
Don’t have access to a computer?
Some are given a voice on twitter, e.g. @invisiblepeople
…but many are not.
So many voices…
How do we harness the power of these 1,000s (more?) of voices into one large trumpet call for change?
Where’s our Ashton Kutcher with millions of followers?
What’s the loudest way for us to challenge assumptions?
The most effective?
Should we stage twitter protests?
How do we become cohesive?
Can we reclaim or repurpose “disability” into an empowering word?
Can we think of twitter like a parade of thoughts that we inject with inclusion?
I want to recruit you.
What if we were “out” about our abilities?
Would it convince designers that people are more able, more varied than they assume?
Would they realize that they have more connections to a variety of abilities?
Our tribe created the innovations that iPhones and Androids rely on:
What our tribe does today will make tomorrow’s tools more flexible.
Make tomorrow’s tools…possible?
Are we moving towards inclusion, one tweet at a time??
Will tweeting make more restaurants accessible to people who use wheelchairs?
Will tweeting encourage more people to add alt-text to images?
Will tweeting cause future technologies to include accessibility features in the alpha release?
Does tweeting raise awareness of accessibility issues with non-aware twitterers?
If not, why not?
This is my ode to twitter.
My ode to the tribe.
My ode to our connections and our innovations.
The video from my IgniteSeattle presentation is live. Unfortunately, it is not yet captioned or transcribed. I’ll make sure both of these are available soon. Thanks to Randy for the quick turn-around on the captions and to castingwords.com for the transcript!
I was so moved by The Girl Effect (video). I wish everyone would watch it. Here’s a transcript for those unable to view it. Note there is no speech during the video only music. The following words display briefly on the screen one or a few at a time. Where the words interact to create an effect, I’ve attempted to describe the animation to convey the message. Enjoy.
The world is a mess. Poverty. AIDS. Hunger. War.
So what else is new?
What if there were an unexpected solution that could turn this sinking ship around?
Would you even know it if you saw it?
It’s not the internet. It’s not science. It’s not the government. It’s not money.
It’s (dramatic pause) a girl.
Imagine a girl living in poverty. No. Go ahead. Really. Imagine her.
Description: The word “girl” in large orange letters with the small, black words “flies” flying around like flies. “Baby” small and in front of her. The word “husband,” much larger than “girl” falls into the scene and looks to weigh heavily on her. “Hunger” pops up from below, pushing up “husband,” “girl” and “baby.” “HIV” pushes up from below.
[Back to words displaying on the screen one or a few at a time]
Pretend that you can fix this picture.
Description: The stack of husband, girl, baby, hunger, hiv appears. All of the words fall away except “girl.”
Ok. Now she has a chance.
Let’s put her in a school uniform and see her get a loan to buy a cow and use her profits from the milk to help her family.
Pretty soon, her cow becomes a heard. And she becomes the business owner who brings clean water to the village, which makes the men respect her good sense and invite her to the village council where she convinces everyone that all girls are valuable.
Soon, more girls have a chance and the village is thriving.
Description: A stack forms with the following words: Village, Food, Peace, Lower HIV, Healthier babies, Education, Commerce, Sanitation, Stability. The stack becomes so large that the top words have been pushed off of the screen. Stability flashes again briefly.
Which means the economy of the entire country improves and the whole world is better off.
Are you following what’s happening here?
Girl -> School -> Cows -> $ -> Business -> Clean H20 -> Social change -> Stronger economy -> Better world
It’s called the girl effect.
Multiply that by 600 million girls in the developing world and you’ve just changed the course of history.
61 years ago today the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (link to full text). The Human Rights Action Center produced the following beautiful video to summarize the rights. Since the video does not have an audio component, the content is not accessible to some people with low vision or blindness. Linking to the full text of the declaration isn’t a good alternative because the video summarizes the declaration making it easier to understand. The text in the video also has a stronger emotional impact by phrasing the rights in terms of “*you* have the right…” So, here’s the video followed by a transcript.
Every man, woman, and child on earth is born free and equal in dignity and rights.
We are brothers and sisters of this world.
We have reason and conscience and should be friendly towards one another.
Everyone is entitled to the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights regardless of age, sex, race, religion, politics, color, nationality, wealth, language, beliefs, birthplace, traditions, economics, weight, skin, style, thoughts, feelings, hairstyle, differences, size, lifestyle, height, preference, orientation.
You have the right to live in freedom and safety.
Nobody has the right to treat you as their slave or torture you.
The law is the same for everyone.
You have the right to legal protection.
You have the right to a fair and public trial.
No one shall be arrested, put in jail, or exiled without good reason.
You are innocent until proven guilty.
You have the right:
- to privacy,
- to move throughout the world,
- to enjoy freedom from persecution in other countries,
- to a nationality.
You have the right to marry and have a family.
Your government should protect your family.
You should have the right to own property and possessions.
You have the right to think what you want and say what you like, to practice your religion freely, and organize peacefully.
You have the right to take part in your country’s political affairs.
Governments should be voted for regularly and all votes are equal.
The society in which you live should help you to develop.
You have the right to work and to a fair salary.
Each work day should not be too long.
You have the right to expect a decent standard of living.
You have the right to go to school.
Education should strive to promote peace and understanding among all people.
You have the right to share in your community’s arts and sciences.
You must respect the social order that is necessary for these rights to be available.
You must respect the rights of others, the community, and public property.
Nobody shall attempt in any way to destroy the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On 23 September, I spoke with John Moe and Darren Burton about technology and disability on Minnesota Public Radio (transcript not yet available). I really enjoyed our discussion and was happy that we talked about challenging people’s assumptions. If you can, give it a listen. Otherwise, watch my blog for a transcript or link to one.