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Global Accessibility Awareness Day – A chance to broaden our perspectives

GAAD — Global Accessibility Awareness Day on 16 May — reminds us to analyze our assumptions, challenge them, and meet people with disabilities with an open mind.

Claire Labry is a Release Engineer at HashiCorp and is currently the co-chair of Inclusive Access Alliance, a disability-led ERG. When she is not busy helping teams release their products and promoting inclusivity and accessibility in the workplace, you can find her outside — deep in the garden tending to her self-proclaimed backyard farm, with her small herd of three dogs trailing behind.

The genesis of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) started with a blog post, a challenge to raise readers’ awareness of the lack of accessibility in the tech space.

In his 2011 post, Joe Devon mentions JAWS (job access with speech). As a disabled person myself, I didn’t know what JAWS was well into my master’s degree program at the University of Texas, confirming Devon’s statement that, “Relatively, there isn’t a lot of great information about accessibility out there. You really have to seek it out.”

It wasn’t until Dr. Gene I. Brooks, who is blind, walked into my Texas graduate school classroom that I realized how little I knew about the disability community other than the part of it that I inhabit. When Dr. Brooks mentioned JAWS, my mind immediately started playing the famous theme from the 1975 shark movie, only then learning that JAWS also refers to a computer screen reader program that lets blind folks read the screen via either text-to-speech output or a refreshable Braille display.

»Assumptions become reality

One of the most impactful things Dr. Brooks taught me is that if you never interact with people with disabilities, your assumptions become reality. Before meeting Dr. Brooks, I didn’t know how to interact with a blind person. For example, I wasn’t sure how to ask for his signature on some papers, but when I did so, he cheerily asked me to lay down a credit card on the signature line so that he could find the right place to sign.

My point is that if even as a disabled person I understood so little about the disability world, I’m likely not the only one. The disability community is not a monolith. Each type of disability creates its own challenges and special needs when it comes to accessing technology. That’s why Global Accessibility Awareness Day is so critical. Its goal is to help us all be more aware of the obstacles faced by members of the disabled community and to work together with them to develop and improve those technologies that could benefit their lives.

I am emphasizing the word with because we shouldn’t create things for a particular disabled community without their input. No matter how great the technology may be, that approach is inherently exclusionary. Only the disabled person lives their experience, so their insights are irreplaceable in developing those technologies.

»Nothing about us, without us

The motto “Nothing about us without us” originated with the South African disability rights movement in the 1990s. Since then, it has become a call to action for activists around the world organizing to empower persons with disabilities to take control of decisions affecting their lives. Stigma and stereotypes, including the belief that persons with disabilities are incapable of contributing to society, continue to present significant barriers to persons with disabilities exercising their rights and participating in the world around them. In addition to the development of assistive technologies, the slogan also applies to the ability to access technology.

GAAD reminds us to analyze our assumptions, challenge them, and meet people with disabilities with an open mind. By encouraging everyone to become aware of the challenges faced by disabled persons and to work with us to learn about and improve the technologies we rely on, and create opportunities for equitable access, we open an untapped pool of talented people with remarkable abilities who are willing and able to change the world.

»Accessibility at HashiCorp

HashiCorp is committed to digital accessibility for people with disabilities. We are continually improving our products’ user experience for everyone, and striving to apply relevant accessibility standards and regulations as appropriate. Here is the HashiCorp accessibility statement. In addition, HashiCorp has Helios, an open source, accessibility-focused design system that powers all of our products in a beautiful, thoughtful way. You can learn more about Helios at the project’s homepage and in this blog post: Introducing Helios, HashiCorp’s new design system.

Watch our GAAD video posted today on LinkedIn.

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