Awareness

By May 9th, 2012

Disability and the concept of accessibility can be confusing. Awkward. Uncomfortable. The first step to true understanding is usually awareness. Awareness helps you get over those feelings: awareness that issues exist, awareness that there are solutions to those issues, and awareness that what we do as web professionals can have a profound impact on someone else's life.

He had a stroke in 1985. He couldn’t talk and couldn’t really move the left side of his body. His face didn’t fit his head as it wasn’t really held in place by all those facial muscles that we take for granted. He was still Grandpa, but he was different. Confused, it seemed. I was too, to be honest – I was a young teenager, so I was invincible. I didn’t understand the biology of how all of this worked, nor did I understand how this could happen to my Grandpa.

He was a great man (says he, with an air of confidence and respect that a grandson just has for his grandfather) and lived for another 25 years. He never regained all the movement in his left leg. He became “single-handed” — none of the nerves and muscle below his mid upper left arm ever came back. Effectively he had one hand. For 25 years, we all helped him. Helped him do all the day to day things that we all do as we go about our extraordinarily busy lives.

Not so easy.

We helped him navigate stairs. They were particularly tricky as he couldn’t really bend his left knee. Sitting down in the car to go anywhere was difficult — I can’t count the number of times he wasn’t quite aligned correctly and he’d hit his elbow on the car frame and instantly be bleeding and bruised. We helped him fold the newspaper to get to his crossword puzzle. That was tricky for him to do with one hand. And the number of times I programmed and reprogrammed his VCR was maddening. Oh, wait — that had absolutely nothing to do with his stroke!

I remember his leg brace, his cane, his special knife for cutting food with one hand — all of the tools that helped him do things that he just couldn’t do the same way he used to. I saw his postural changes as he adjusted to an ever stiffening left side of his body. Instead of being mostly rectangular-shaped, he became more like a parallelogram with the right side of his body elevated and the left side slouching. I remember the effect that his “angularity” had on something simple like his handwriting.

And I saw first hand just how many barriers there were to him being able to go places and see and do things. Curb cuts were great for him too — he was rarely in a wheelchair, but those curb cuts meant that he could step up on to the sidewalk from the parking lot without having to step up 8 inches at once. When that curb cut wasn’t there, he could make that step, but it was tough not being able to bend his knee. He fell quite a few times, catching his toe on the curb. Curb cuts were just safer for him.

I remember all of this.

Awareness

Now, I don’t know if my experiences with Grandpa are the reason that I’m in the accessibility field. There are other reasons too. But my experiences with him had a lasting effect on me. They made me notice things I hadn’t noticed before. Things that got in the way of my Grandpa being able to do the things that he wanted to do. Like be at our wedding. Our childrens’ baptism ceremonies. Celebrate family birthdays with us. Christmas. New Years. Even just simple meals out at a restaurant.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is all about helping as many people out there as possible become more aware of things that are happening around them every day that they don’t even notice. Awareness is as much about breaking down existing barriers as it is about avoiding putting up new ones. It’s about helping people do a better job providing services that meet everyone’s needs.

I know that being close to my grandfather helped me see things I would have never seen otherwise. He helped me become very aware of the issues that he faced as a person with a disability.

It starts with awareness

On May 9th, 2012—the first Global Accessibility Awareness Day—we’re opening up our accessibility expertise to help raise awareness of web accessibility.

There are lots of ways to get involved.

We have setup a free 90 minute teleconference that anyone can join. We’ll take questions for 90 minutes – you can pre-submit them, or you can submit or ask them live on the call. You can ask any question you want, and we’ll try to get to as many answered as we can in 90 minutes.

They can be questions at any level – from newbie to advanced. Bring a friend with you to the call. Setup a speaker phone and join from a board room in your office — don’t just come by yourself.

Bring people that aren’t already drinking the accessibility kool-aid. We want new people exposed to accessibility concepts. We know you’re interested. We want to get other people interested. Get web designers and developers on board. Ask your UX team or your Information Architects to come to the call. Your manager that doesn’t know much about accessibility. Get them all to come.

If you can’t make the call live from 1:30pm to 3pm (Eastern Time – GMT -5) on May 9th then don’t worry. If you register for the call, you’ll get a copy of an audio recording of the call, as well as the transcript of that recording. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, so even just listening the call and answers to other people’s questions will help you start to formulate your own.

There are two things left to do:

Register and help spread the word

  1. Register for the call
  2. Encourage other people to register too

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