Organizations Win When They Champion the Effort to Make Technology Accessible
by Eric Wright
I was honored to be selected as a recipient of CAREERS & THE disABLED magazine’s Employee of the Year award earlier this month, an award that recognizes “the professional and personal achievements of outstanding individuals with disabilities.”
Having spent my career working with Section 508, the federal law that requires government technology be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, I’ve learned a few things about accessibility.
First, accessibility is about community. It’s about people and organizations pulling together and deciding – this thing we’ve built, this culture we’ve cultivated, it’s good. It’s worth preserving. And it’s something that everyone should be able to participate in and benefit from, no matter their functional capabilities, their individual limitations, or how those might change.
I’m proud to work for Booz Allen, because Booz Allen gets it. It’s the first place I’ve been a part of where every question about, “how will I do this?” is answered with, “this way – we’ve got you covered.” And every request, “hey, I might need an accommodation to get this done” is greeted with an “of course” – not obligatory, not perfunctory, but with the casual acknowledgement of, “oh yeah, here’s someone who does things differently than I’m accustomed to, but that’s no big deal. We’ve thought about it and it we have a plan.”
I’m welcomed to and able to participate at Booz Allen – because I’m recognized not as a burden to carry but as a uniquely talented individual will skills and experience to draw from – and there’s no more empowering feeling the world. The least I can do is pay it forward.
Accessibility is about infrastructure – about ensuring that for every person and process that you influence, that there’s a way to accomplish a shared goal in a way that’s different – but just as quick, just as inviting, just as efficient, just as effective as the one you’re used to.
Accessibility is about innovation. It’s about challenging the assumption that, “Oh, I don’t need to make my website accessible; I don’t have any disabled customers” to champion the effort to make your technology accessible – not just so historically underserved people can become customers, but because you’ll find that the techniques that make it possible for people with disabilities to do things make it easier for everyone else. If you’ve ever listened to a GPS while your eyes are on the road, pinched to zoom on a phone to make the screen just a little easier to read, watched TV at a bar or an airport with the captions on, or sent an e-mail under the table with one hand (discreetly, of course) -- you’re benefiting from design and development that began as assistive technology.
The obstacles overcome by some of us have led to daily conveniences for all of us.