Farewell to Web Accessibility – Part 1

12 Jul

That job is basically done. After about 17-18 years of (sometimes very deep, sometimes little) involvement in web accessibility, I've decided to finally let it go and spend that effort on some of my other projects.

Wait a minute, the job is done?

Yup. It's all over. Like a good strategy, the key pieces are all in place and it's all playing out fairly predictably, almost inevitably. Yes, forecasting is risky and the wild cards that futurists refer to can still emerge. And I realize that there are still lots and lots of websites that aren't usable by many people. That's not good. But from a big picture perspective the laws are all in place. The culture is in place. The right entities are now being sued [National Association of the Deaf v. Netflix] and are losing [Canada (Attorney General) v. Jodhan]. The techies are involved. The arguments are less and less about whether websites should be accessible (despite how it sometimes feels), and more and more about how they should be accessible, and thanks to the great consistency and clarity of the shared mental model brought about by version 2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG2), even those arguments and discussions are taking place in narrower and narrower specialties.

Sisyphus Pushing the Rock Uphill - Endlessly

Sisyphus Pushing the Rock Uphill - Endlessly

After years and years of the same handful of pioneering and struggling (Sisyphus-like) people showing up at tiny web accessibility gatherings, many now are stunned – and gratified – at what are now large, overflowing events.. and not just with specialists either. Web accessibility has gone mainstream. It's finally… easy! Yes, there are still rear-guard battles that flame up here and there. But the war – at least for web accessibility – has been won.

It's time to move on.

You see, I was greatly influenced in my youth by my hero and favourite futurist, Buckminster Fuller, who has written on his tombstone: “Call Me Trim Tab”

Call Me Trim Tab

Call Me TrimTab

“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trimtab.

It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trimtab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

So I said, call me Trimtab.” – Buckminster Fuller

Here's a short video explaning the concept:

So, in trying to be a trim tab in web accessibility and other disability issues, I have endeavoured to focus on identifying and pushing very specific (often hidden) pressure points, like leveraging a kind of butterfly effect. Some of the things I'd focus on seemed non-obvious at the time (as an enterprise architect with the government's CIO, for example), whereas others were clearly obvious, as when my company E-Ramp, Inc. engaged as the only Canadian business on W3C's core WCAG2 development team over the course of 8 years to ensure, among other things, that the voices of people with disabilities were included among the corporate interests at the table, that a Canadian 'flavour' was added, that we would be of (social) service and, to be honest, to help the best employee I've ever had to discover his own path.

One would think that as a 'businessman' there aren't many marketing things more advantageous than actually having your company name written right into your industry's standard, along with the likes of Google, Microsoft, IBM, Adobe, the U.S. government's Access Board, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and a few others – not to mention the incredible contacts made. It also seems a very unwise business investment to have spent all that time and resources over the course of 8 years and NOT be running around gathering up all the plentiful and ripe 'low-hanging fruit' that web accessibility now offers to (mostly new) entrepreneurs in the field, let alone consciously walking away from it.

Dumb, in fact.

I would agree… if my goal had been to set up and run a business. It wasn't. In fact businesses, as with working in non-profits and government departments (all multiple times) have only been nothing more than the means required – the tools and clothes that I needed to wear at the time – to follow my 'real' job/career/'mission'/passion… My resume may appear chaotic, all over the map, almost random looking from the outside (government policy analyst, Microsoft Certified Trainer helping people get their MCSE certifications, assistive technology consultant, service provider, job coach, marketing manager, LAN & intranet administrator, home automation designer,…) but there has been a consistency, a path, an almost laser-like focus to my personal trajectory through the various barriers and opportunities that I happened to be focusing on at the time. These various environments and activities were only parts in a larger personal, (almost 30 year) strategy. Web accessibility as far as I'm concerned, is simply a subset of technology accessibility (9-1-b, 9-2-g), itself a part of accessibility in general, which itself is simply one of eight general principles and one article (section 9) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities… although a really important subset. In fact from the 'Queen Mary' perspective of the job of empowering individuals with disabilities, web accessibility was a “Trim Tab”.. but it was/is still just a subset all the same.

And right now I want to focus on another important trim tab.

You see I was also heavily influenced in another of Mr. Fuller's many pearls of wisdom, in this case a little career advice. Seemingly counter-intuitive to many in guidance and career counselling fields at the time where preparing yourself for a job or profession had been the norm, the essence of Buckminster's approach was this: look around you for big global or social problems that you care about, then do whatever it takes to solve, or help solve one. That might mean figuring out how to do something, developing a particular set of skills, positioning yourself into a particular environment, partnering with people, acquiring resources and other capabilities and capacities… The closest label that I might use regarding any mainstream business activities that I involve myself in at different times, would probably be “Social Entrepreneur”. At the time, of course, it might have been clearer and easier to communicate what I was doing had that label been around back then.

As to describing the nature of my current personal focus – my latest trim tab – I will save that for the possible topic of a future post. For me though, and in this context, web accessibility is done – in fact, has been done for quite some time now. It's time for others to gently guide that (very!) hard-won momentum on to its targeted outcome.

Wait a minute, 17-18 years? How is that possible? W3C's original Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) isn't that old yet!

That, dear reader, is the topic of Farewell to Web Accessibility – Part 2: Roots


1 Comment

Posted by on July 12, 2012 in Disabilities


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One response to “Farewell to Web Accessibility – Part 1

  1. dboudreau

    July 15, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Hey Bill, kinda sad to hear you’re moving along, but at the same time, if you feel you have contributed what you had to contribute to web accessibility, all we can say is thank you for all the hard work you’ve done for “the cause”.

    It’s thanks to people like you, that people like me enjoy a very fulfilling career today. While I disagree that the job is basically done, I reckon that the foundations are now all there… and that really is something incredible.

    So thank you again for everything you’ve done for web accessibility and for social inclusion on the web and you can count on us to keep fighting the good fight. 🙂

    Until next time.


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