The Accessible World Community
Ada Lovelace Day resulted from a petition to recognize women’s role in technology. The woman I am recognizing was not strictly a technologist but rather a businesswoman in the insurance industry. I did not know her but have often used a web-based community she founded for learning about technology, sharing ideas and books, and fostering nonprofit as well as commercial projects through an outlet for recorded chat sessions and tutorials. The arena of service is the broad range of visually impaired people, multi-generational but especially supportive of older folks. She herself was mostly blind, with some periods of vision where technology could help, also dealing with deafness and crippling deterioration.
As my own vision was leading me to adopt more audio support, I repeatedly found myself wandering around Accessible World.org. My beloved Levelstar Icon Mobility Manager was discussed in tutorials and online user group sessions. A steady stream of low vision products and tutorials were referred to in mailing lists leading me to drop into the archives. Friends of Bookshare.org knit together veteran volunteers and book lovers into book groups I occasionally visited to complement my own local clubs. I was inspired to hear the pleasure of communicating impressions about plots and characters, knowing that these book lovers were reading from Braille and audio devices as fluently as from print.
The Visionary behind Accessible World
This lady, Pat Price, of Indianapolis Indiana died Feb. 1, 2009, with Memorial from Friends of Pat Price, conducted using the Accessible World and Talking Communities web communication. One memorable testimony described her as “outrageously productive”, not only at age 80 but throughout her life, quietly organizing people from disparate realms of life to address problems of the visually impaired.
Lessons for technologists from Accessible World
What can technologists learn about the roles of women? First is that technology really, really matters to disabled people, allowing us to roam the world in contact with others, often nearly housebound after active professional lives. Second, the web is so stupendously cost-effective that a few individuals as webmaster, tech support, event coordinator, and publishers can form a tight-knit community where newcomers can learn about both culture and opportunities. Third, a woman could lead this contribution without being a technologist herself but rather providing the vision, energy, spirit, wisdom, and patience to lead others with the necessary technical skills. For me, Accessible World was a wonderful source of insight into a cross-section of the blindness world as technology progressed within and around it.
Conversely, there’s a sense of admonition and embarrassment I feel as a technologist myself. since web sites mean so very much to the visually impaired, it is supremely callous and unprofessional of those web sites that fail us. Indeed, it is even up to the level of cruelty when considering the extra pain , yes, pain, imposed upon tired hands forced around a keyboard until finding the search box or heading outline that provides equal access to the page’s purpose. It is dispiriting to fail when a web service like Blog Talk Radio builds around an inaccessible chat client rather than one such as Talking Communities used by Accessible World. And then I lose respect for podcasters who choose services without regard to accessibility. In the ideal world, there would not be a separate Accessible world ignored by those technologists not yet disabled or accepting of their roles as care-givers or respective of social justice. Sadly, that ideal world is easily within reach if only we began to hold our own professional organizations to higher standards of universal design as a goal and minimal usability as requirements for all software, gadgets, and web sites.