“I want to spend time living life, instead of working on living”: Life as an Accessibility Tester

Friday, August 24, 2012, marked the closing of a chapter. It also opened the door to a new life that I never thought was ever in my reach. Courtesy of The Hatlen Center’s independent living program I was able to establish a foundation that allowed me to create the life I am living today as a tax paying adult. The last 10 years have not been entirely easy, and there were moments where I had to look doubt in the face and tell myself that I will not be deterred from my course, or at some junctures, going in a new direction. Folks may call that part of growing up. Yet sadly, growing up and thriving isn’t an option for everyone. Orientation and mobility specialist Daniel Kish has a saying, “Running into a pole is a drag, but never being allowed to run into a pole is a disaster.” I am thankful that I have the opportunities to run into poles, and I hope more people are allowed to do so because it is especially liberating to know that one has the skills to overcome obstacles that were traditionally viewed as insurmountable. Special thanks to Lazarus Letcher for capturing my thoughts.

What is it like being an accessibility tester?

I did private contracts with accessibility testing before, Bocoup is my first career foray into this field. I think the biggest adjustment for everyone is to consider accessibility first, making it a part of the entire process, rather than at the ending stage bolting it on. There’s no other part of the design process that is seen as such an afterthought, you wouldn’t go to your graphic designer at the very end of a project – they’re involved throughout. Having accessibility as part of the whole design process helps folks avoid accessibility barriers without having to recreate an entire project.

For me, it drives home that people care about access, and you’re not a burden for wanting things to be accessible. For instance, if you’re a student asking for accommodations sometimes it can feel like you’re burdening somebody – and creates this fear for you. When we include accessibility from the beginning of a project we can create something where hopefully folks don’t need to even ask for accommodations.

What do you wish more people knew about accessibility barriers in tech?

People use this stuff, and it has real world consequences. If you can’t use something at your job or at your school, the world doesn’t slow down for you. And that’s the world I hope to see in my lifetime, where I’m not wondering if I’m capable of getting a task done because I don’t want to, or because it’s truly inaccessible and not an option. I want to spend time living life, instead of working on living. You’re not doing any work if you’re trying to make something work for you. And that’s not even touching on the negative social impact of inaccessibility. If you’re not allowed to be a part of the process it will always be difficult for others to see your potential — especially if the optics of the situation frame you as “different.” Talk about ostracism by design!

The inequity gap within assistive technology can only be closed if people with disabilities who depend on this access are given a seat at the table.

Awareness doesn’t equal access. You’ve got to consider the people when you’re doing these awareness days or anniversaries. We’ve had screen readers for 20, 30 years, but we still have an inaccessible web – why? You mean in 2022 we don’t have safeguards in place for the consistent labeling of controls so a screen reader can read them?

Has assistive technology changed much in your lifetime?

Yes and no. In my lifetime I’ve seen a lot of technological innovations. Touchscreen phones, mobile systems becoming accessible, things like visual interpreting platforms where you can call someone and you can use the camera on the device and they’ll help you read a package or whatnot. So all of that gives me a lot of hope.

But the “no” part is, for people with disabilities there’s still a high rate of unemployment. Whether you think people with disabilities need to just use their brute force to get through life and an inaccessible world, or you believe workplaces and the public should be accommodating so that’s not the case – the reality can’t be denied. Global Accessibility Awareness Day and Accessibility Awareness Month are great – and I’m glad there’s more awareness now. But awareness doesn’t mean anything when a workplace is still inaccessible – either because the job application can’t interface with assistive technology or if people with disabilities have to weigh having a job with losing their benefits. One of the biggest deterrents for disabled people wanting to work is benefits, and how much you’re able to make. I’m not saying tech can solve everything, but people want to work, but you have to give them a path they can actually follow. I know people who are turning down jobs, even though they would make more money because SSI only allows us to have $2000 in the bank. People can only rise up when society wants them to.

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