Motivating developers to care about the edges is exhausting work.

I got feedback this week that we should have written the GitHub issues differently. I was told we should have explained more why they are an issue, so that the developers are more motivated to solve them.

Source: I have resigned as the WordPress accessibility team lead. Here is why. – Rian Rietveld

Motivating developers to care about the edges is exhausting work.

A Tale Told in Plain Text: Accessibility, Written Communication, and the Unix Philosophy

Around 1971, Ray Tomlinson developed the idea of networked electronic mail, which was hugely attractive to me because it replaced uncertain voice calls with the clarity of text. The development of the Internet was undertaken in the context of heavy use of email.

The rise of video conferencing has actually been a huge challenge for me as it reintroduces some of the uncertainty of voice calling and I look forward to real-time, automatic captioning to overcome the limitations that medium poses for me.

What message do you have for people creating technology today and how they should think about accessibility?

It must be thought through during the design phase of any product. Accessibility and ease of use go hand in hand. Many people experience temporary disability (broken arm, leg, finger, blocked ears…) and appreciate the value of accessibility features from that experience. There is no excuse for making products that are not accessible.

Source: Vint Cerf on accessibility, the cello and noisy hearing aids

Video conferencing has been a challenge for me too. I’ve been collaborating via text for decades. Written communication is the great social equalizer. I wouldn’t have been able to contribute without it.

This kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who’d rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it.

Backchannels especially support autistic people. “Online communication for autistics has been compared to sign language for the deaf. Online, we are able to participate as equals. Our disability is often invisible and we are treated like humans. It provides much needed human contact otherwise denied us.” “Online communication is a valid accommodation for the social disability that comes with being Autistic. We need online interaction.” “Thin slice studies showed that people prejudge us harshly in just micro-seconds of seeing or hearing us (though we fare better than neurotypical subjects when people only see our written words).

Source: Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer.

Appreciation for plain text and written communication is part of the Unix philosophy on which the Internet was built. Unix is “the geek Gilgamesh epic; it’s a tale told in plain text.”

Authors and writers of all stripes can learn a lot about creating and managing words from computer programmers, beginning with an appreciation for the simple, durable efficiencies of plain text. Anybody running Unix, Linux, or BSD already knows all about text, because it’s the third prong of the Unix Tools Philosophy:

  1. Write programs that do one thing and do it well;
  2. Write programs that work together;
  3. Write programs to handle text streams, because that is a universal interface.

The geeks who made Unix nearly 40 years ago made plain text the universal interface because they believed in economy, simplicity, and reliability.

If Unix is the geek Gilgamesh epic, it’s a tale told in plain text.

Source: Plain Text For Authors & Writers – Richard Dooling

The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.

We have created a system that has you submit yourself, or your child, to patient hood to access the right to learn differently. The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.

Source: The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed

My family lives this system, which is why I really appreciate Albemarle County Public Schools’ Seven Pathways, which states:

No child within the Albemarle County Public Schools should need a label or prescription in order to access the tools of learning or environments they need. Within the constraints of other laws (in particular, copyright) we will offer alternative representations of information, multiple tools, and a variety of instructional strategies to provide access for all learners to acquire lifelong learning competencies and the knowledge and skills specified in curricular standards. We will create classroom cultures that fully embrace differentiation of instruction, student work, and assessment based upon individual learners’ needs and capabilities. We will apply contemporary learning science to create accessible entry points for all students in our learning environments; and which support students in learning how to make technology choices to overcome disabilities and inabilities, and to leverage preferences and capabilities.

Source: Seven Pathways

Yes to all of that.

I like Albemarle’s approach to education technology. I write about them in “Classroom UX: Designing for Pluralism” and “Communication is oxygen. Collaborative indie ed-tech.

They recognize the structural, institutional, and framing problems Jonathan Mooney describes in this great talk on reframing LD and ADHD (which is the source of the title and opening quote in this blog post you’re reading).

I transcribed my favorite moments from the talk in “The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed”. I’ll conclude with selections making the case for two of my rules of thumb for inclusion.

  • agent > patient
  • identity > diagnosis

The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.

An essential component of my journey was an identity transformation from being a patient to being an agent.

Disability industrial complex is all about what people can’t do. We spend most of our time trying to fix what they can’t do. When all we do is fix people the message we give to them is that they are broken.

We’ve built an entire edifice of intervention that’s about fixing people.

We’ve built this whole infrastructure about fixing folks, about turning people into passive recipients of treatment and service, of turning people into patients. But being a patient is the most disempowered place a human being can be.

You gotta fight against this, you gotta be an advocate, you gotta have a voice in your education.

We need to cultivate a sense of agency in people which is the opposite of patient hood.

The most meaningful interventions, the most meaningful people in my life were people who cultivated a sense of agency.

We have a medical community that’s found a sickness for every single human difference. DSM keeps growing every single year with new ways to be defective, with new ways to be lessened.

When all we do is fix people, the message we give to them is that they are broken. Nobody lives a meaningful life feeling broken.

It’s that narrow definition of intelligence, behavior, and motivation that is really my disability. Not dyslexia, not ADHD.

In many learning environments we think good kids sit still. The good kid is the compliant kid.

Young folks like me are given the identity of being bad.

“What is your problem?” If I had a nickel for every time I heard that word in my life.

I was given this identity that I was a problem because of a norm in the environment that good kids sit still.

We’ve built learning environments based on the myth that appropriate and valuable human behavior is about compliance.

I had overcome not ADHD, but I had overcome the feeling of being the defective person morally because I didn’t comply to the myth that good kids are compliant.

That’s agency. That’s somebody who refuses to negate somebody’s humanity because of a label.

Source: The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed