Inclusive Workforce

Looking to the Future in Celebration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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When I began working in the accessibility field, I relied on interaction, empathy and observation to help identify the challenges of users with disabilities.

There were two things that really made the job fascinating: the constant opportunity for technical innovation, and the ongoing, invigorating phenomenon of witnessing users benefit directly from my interventions.Logo for International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Now, 18 years later, still working in this rewarding field, I realize I’ve also created an insurance policy for future job relevancy. As my own eyesight diminishes, as my brain stops working like it used to, and my repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) become constant companions, I’ve come to understand that I and all my contemporaries become the beneficiaries of this inclusive design and development philosophy.

I realize that my niece diagnosed with dyslexia, my sister who went partially deaf from an infection, and my octogenarian parents with macular degeneration and tremors, are using technologies and systems for which I helped pave the way.

In the past year, I’ve been heavily involved in work on an updated version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The new requirements are targeted at the needs of three user groups that are under-represented in the current 2.0 standard: users with cognitive and learning disabilities, users with low vision, and users impeded when trying to use touch and mobile devices to consume web content.

Such standards help raise the baseline of support for persons with disabilities when using current technologies, and future proof the next generation of devices, whatever they may be, for our aging population.

For any of us lucky enough to be “able bodied” at the moment, it pays to pause and remember that this is a temporary state of being. We are all aging into a state of disability. For millennials, that day may seem far in the future, but when you can’t type due to carpal tunnel syndrome, or operate your Echo due to laryngitis, it’s nice to know there are other ways of interacting with the devices on which we’ve come to depend.

So as I pause to recognize the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I challenge everyone to act in their own immediate or long-term self-interest. Take the time to make things more accessible.

Together, we can build a more inclusive world. And trust me, it’s going to benefit each one of us, sooner or later.