December 3 marked the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). SA tester and team member, Rhea Guntalilib, considers what the day means to her.

As I reflect on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), I’m reminded that I’ve only been in this demographic for 10 years of my life so far. But what a decade it’s been!

I was perfectly sighted for the first 18 years of my life. When I was diagnosed with typhoid fever, however, it was clear my symptoms went beyond those that were typical of the illness. Within two years, I lost my sight completely.

I was devastated.

I can’t deny that it was horrible, truly. However, it wasn’t long before I realized that I had no choice but to pick myself up and move on. In doing so, I truly gained my life.

I may have had sight until I was 18, but I had no direction in my life. I had no clarity, no purpose. I believe fully that it was through the loss of sight that I finally found my vision.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is an observance begun by the UN in 1998. It’s an important day to me not only because I fall into this category by definition, but also because it was the journey to accepting my blindness that motivated me to advocate for others like me.

Here I am, 10 years after becoming blind, working with Simply Accessible and contributing every day to making the digital world more accessible for people with disabilities. I’m grateful to be a part of the team at Simply Accessible, and while I see the headway we’re making, I’m also aware that we’re still only part of the solution.

It’s time that the perception of people with disabilities as a liability to the community changes or disappears altogether.

It would be a dream come true for me to witness the whole world completely embracing our unique abilities. A world with equal job opportunities for all. A world where our capabilities are not measured by our physical limitations.

I’m passionate about helping web professionals understand how people with disabilities use technology. Many developers just don’t even realize it’s possible for a blind person to use a computer—which means they aren’t considering accessibility features when they’re developing. Accessible design helps me and millions of other people in all of our day-to-day activities, like online shopping, and banking. Not only that, accessible design helps me and others like me do our jobs and contribute to society through the work we do. Accessibility allows people with disabilities to contribute in all kinds of ways—it impacts our lives every single day.

For my part, I’m eager to continue making the web a more accessible place. It’s going to be a long road, but I believe that we’ll get there eventually. Technology like screen readers is now considered a necessity for all kinds of users, so being inclusive in design and development really does benefit everyone, not just persons with disabilities.

The theme for this year’s IDPD is “Achieving 17 goals for the future you want.” While I don’t have 17 goals of my own, my number one focus is helping others in the future by setting an example for people with disabilities. I’m a passionate advocate for digital accessibility, always striving to help people realize the power that we have in changing our lives through accessibility. It’s time to change the face of the digital world, and I believe the best way to do this will be for the digital sector to work hand in hand with persons with disabilities. Let’s make the online world better for everyone.

2 thoughts on “Shifting perceptions: reflections on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities”

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  1. Ivor Ambrose says:

    Thanks for sharing your story and your enthusiasm for making the web accessible for everyone. I just discovered Simply Accessible and really like the company’s approach. At ENAT – the European Network for Accessible Tourism, an NGO based in Belgium, we are promoting Tourism for All, by working with the UN World Tourism Organsition, national and regional tourist boards, municipalities, private tourism businesses, researchers, designers and consultants to improve access and inclusion in the tourism sector. There is still a long way to go. Accessing information is the first barrier that many people meet when planning a trip and we want to raise awareness of the importance of web accessibility among those who buy and make tourism and travel websites. Your article is a useful reminder of what needs to be done and we can use your example to build understanding, step by step. Good luck with all your ambitions, and happy accessible travels!

    1. Rhea Guntalilib says:

      Hi Ivor! Thanks for the comment and for the kind words. We in SA are glad to know that our work is appreciated. Most importantly, we’re happy to hear that you are advocating accessibility an inclusion in the tourism sector. Keep promoting accessibility and best of luck in all your endeavors.

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