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Dear Facebook

Dear Facebook:

As my vision continues to deteriorate, I rely more and more on mobile devices like my iPad, but the worse my vision gets, the harder it is to use your mobile app. At a time when other social media sites are improving accessibility, how is it that you can’t figure out how to make your app more useful?

Before I fired off a scathing message, I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt and consider that maybe I am just being too hard on you. I have tried to see things from your perspective. I spent many years in the corporate world and remembered the struggles inherent in working for a large corporate entity. Granted, I was in healthcare, but I suspect technology firms also face the same challenges I did: scarce resources; too many politics; and not being able to please everyone. When I think of it in that context, I can actually empathize with your plight (seems the name “Empathy Lab” was spot on).

I would like to think that in March when you told the Washington Post that accessibility was a top priority, you meant it. Each month when you post the accomplishments of the Empathy Lab, you probably do break out in a victory dance and remind everyone how important accessibility is. Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I have asked myself “who am I to judge?” I genuinely want to believe that you really are doing what you can to make progress. Maybe we loud mouths just need to cut you a break. After all, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, right?

I know I can be too cynical and have better things to do so this morning when I found your app useless, I tried not to let it irritate me. I really wanted to shut up and give you more time to make the improvements you promised but I cannot stop thinking two things:

1. I would really like to hear why you would expect a disabled student / charity worker to absorb the costs of coming to your London office to give you invaluable insight. Putting my corporate business hat back on, I reasoned that maybe you have a “no payment” policy in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Nah; that does not pass the smell test for me. Brainstorming accessibility is hardly a controversial topic. Obviously, you value the information Molly Watt was going to provide you; why else would you have asked for her input? At the very least, what harm would come from making a charitable donation in lieu of payment as Molly suggested? I would love to hear why you would expect Molly to cover the cost of helping you do business, but I am pretty sure I will never find out.

2. Why do you keep talking to the press and posting on your site how much you have accomplished on accessibility page when your mobile app does not work any better than it did when you started this whole accessibility campaign?

I know I am one of millions struggling to use your mobile app and there are much larger problems in the world. I also accept that I am in a demographic you really don’t have to care about and I’m realistic. After all, dumping resources into making a bunch of disabled people’s lives easier probably is not going to have much of an impact on your bottom line at the end of the day anyway. I am just sick of the hypocrisy. If you do not really care about accessibility and have no intentions of ever making your mobile app better, at least have the guts to OWN IT. Stop playing the role of the socially responsible corporation. Maybe if you stop talking about it, we will. Maybe.

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Ask Don’t Grab

I had a disturbing encounter today. My caregiver dropped me at the hospital curb for Physical therapy and as I was walking through an automatic door I’ve walked through a million times, I felt someone gently grabbing my arms from behind at the same time I heard a male voice saying “you’re okay….just go a little to the left”. It really startled me and I tried to see where the voice was coming from, but the man was totally out of my field of vision. I guess to him, it looked like I was going to walk into the wall, but I wasn’t. I was mostly just trying to get through the large automated sliding door without hitting anyone with my cane. The man continued to hold onto my arms and “helped” me until I got to the elevator. It was very odd as I know he meant well, but grabbing me from slightly behind me scared the beggeezes out of me as it made me realize how vulnerable I am. It also strikes me how little people understand about the degrees of visual impairment and how much work we must do in order to educate the general public on how to interact with people with visual impairments. But how do we communicate this?

I’m probably over analyzing the incident, but it got me thinking about what I would do if his intentions were not good. I’m pretty small and although I’ve gotten much stronger through PT, the fact is that I have had 4 spinal fusions and 3 shoulder replacements leaving me pretty weak compared to most people. Add that to the diminished eyesight and I’m trying not to be scared to walk in public places by myself. I am left now with trying to figure out what I will say to the next well-meaning stranger to let them know I am okay without being rude. I posed this question in a RP group I participate in and I am anxious to see what advice others in my position have.