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inclusion perspectives Uncategorized

Building an accessible world, one brick at a time

bricklayer adding a new brick to a wall

I’ve worked as an accessibility professional for over a decade. Teaching others how to both code for and care about accessibility requires a rare blend of technical and people skills.  Great accessibility experts are resilient and resourceful, they’re passionate and persistent. They teach and preach accessibility, recognising it’s both a team sport and a marathon.  Often though accessibility professionals struggle to sustain the skill and will over time to push for radical cultural change in an organisation and let’s face it – change is social. The harder we push for change, sometimes it feels like the harder the organisation pushes back. As we enter 2022, there’s a  growing awareness of and commitment towards social justice, equity and disability inclusion, often led by and demanded from younger generations of society.  I think we as accessibility professionals need to be more bold, more committed and more hopeful to  move faster towards an accessible world for all. But how?  

“Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself”

Rumi

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there were three bricklayers,  all doing the same task. When the first bricklayer was asked “what are you doing?”, he replied “I’m building a wall”. The second bricklayer was asked the same question and they replied “I’m building a house”. Finally, the third bricklayer was asked what they were doing and they replied “I’m building a cathedral”.  The three bricklayers were all doing the same task but what was different between them was their passion, pride, perspective and sense of purpose.  The first bricklayer viewed their task as a Job, the second bricklayer viewed the task as a career and the third bricklayer viewed the task as their calling. 

But what if this story involved three accessibility professionals? I imagine three accessibility experts, working side by side. If the first one was asked what they were doing, they’d say something like “I’m creating a compliant website to reduce the legal risk of my business being sued”. This is a good starting point but we can do better. The second accessibility expert when asked what they were doing would say “I’m building a better website – one that gives a great experience for a greater number of customers”. They’re enthusiastic and  understand the real business benefit of striving to go beyond minimum legal levels. But what about the third accessibility professional? I’d like to think that when asked about their work they’d say “I’m building an accessible world. One without limits or labels. Where we remove barriers, improve lives and unlock human potential so that everyone can fully participate and contribute to society,  enabling everyone to go as far as their talents take them”. The third accessibility professional is who we all aspire to be. Someone optimistic and articulate – who paints a picture of a fairer future as the world should be rather than one of what the world is. As a big picture dreamer, they convince themselves and those around them that this future accessible world is a world worth fighting for and a world worth building, brick by brick. 

The world is changing. Successful brands and businesses are those who are responsible and sustainable – solving society’s problems profitably rather than profiting from the problems of society. This new world needs more of the third kind of accessibility professional – who  truly understand and celebrate how their work enables and empowers disabled people to achieve more and ‘be’ more.  

Don’t forget – passion is about finding ourselves whereas purpose is about loosing ourselves in the pursuit of and service towards something ‘bigger’. When your personal passion and purpose collide you will find yourself doing what you love and loving what you do.

All views in this article are my own

By Paul Smyth

Accessibility leader and disability champion

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