Episode 10: ‘A More Accessible & Inclusive World Is a Better World’

The InclusionHub Podcast Art featuring the InclusionHub Logo and text that says InclusionHub Podcast on a navy background.

Image Description: The InclusionHub Podcast Art featuring the InclusionHub Logo and text that says InclusionHub Podcast on a navy background.

Episode 10: ‘A More Accessible & Inclusive World Is a Better World’

In this episode, Sam reflects on the series and his experience as host during an interview with Jeffrey Howard of Morey Creative Studios, who will be moderating upcoming segments highlighting InclusionHub’s Founding Partners.

Sam Proulx 00:01 | Hey, everyone, welcome to another episode of the InclusionHub Podcast. As usual, I'm your host, Sam Proulx. And this episode is a little bit different. This one is going to be a wrap-up of kind of all of the things that we've covered, as well as a wrap-up of kind of all the wonderful things, the ups and downs that we've had in accessibility over this year. And it's also going to be a little bit of a transition. The way we're going to handle this is I am in conversation with Jeffrey [Howard], who's here in the studio with me, and we're going to be chatting about the season, chatting about the year and accessibility, and then we're going to be handing things over. Because what we're doing after this episode is we've got a great series of interviews lined up for you with all of the InclusionHub partners who have been the founding partners of the InclusionHub[dot]com website, as well as the sponsors of this podcast. And we're going to be talking to folks at each of those organizations about the great things that they're doing in accessibility.

Sam Proulx 01:09 | Jeffrey, I think you've already had the opportunity to engage with some of those folks and do some of those interviews. I think that's a pretty good summary of what we've got coming up over the next few episodes.

Jeffrey Howard 01:19 | Yeah, that is a very good summary. Yes, I've spoken with each of our founding partners and got to hear a little bit more about their stories and their own perspectives about these issues that you've been covering with all the fantastic guests that you've had on the podcast so far.

Sam Proulx 01:36 | Yeah, there have been so many incredible guests that we've had this year. And folks that I've had the opportunity to work with outside of the podcast a little bit and that we've worked with here and partnered with Fable, you know, as part of our Fable Pathways that we run, which is a program that offers training and upskilling to people with disabilities.

Sam Proulx 01:55 | We had the opportunity to actually work with Judy Heumann who has appeared on this podcast. And she put together a course for us on really how to do self-advocacy as a person with a disability. And that can be, you know, more challenging than it appears, right? You really do need to advocate for yourself as someone with a disability. And that's something that, as we all know, Judy is such an expert on and has been doing for, you know, decades and decades, as we've heard here. So certainly, if you are someone who's interested in that, whether you're a person with a disability or not, and you'd like to hear more about advocacy and stuff, absolutely check that out over at FablePathways[dot]com. Sorry, I'm done, done plugging my own employer here. But I really wanted to bring that up because it was such a great experience to get to work with Judy outside of just the podcast.

Jeffrey Howard 02:48 | You mentioned Judy Heumann. And again, I just think of all the guests that have been on here, listening to who you've interviewed, Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins and Arlene Mayerson, Jutta Treviranus, and Laura Kalbag, just a lot of fantastic, I mean, really big, big figures in the spaces around accessibility. And I would love to hear, as well as I think many of the listeners would love to hear, a little bit more behind the scenes of what it's been like for you to talk with them and to hear their story as well as describe for us maybe some of the technology that you use to help record these podcasts and interview all these phenomenal people.

Sam Proulx 03:29 | Yeah, this podcast is a little bit different for me, because a lot of the podcasts that I do, are more the style of this episode that everyone's listening to today, it's a little bit more spontaneous, a little bit more off-the-cuff. And that's a great way to do storytelling. And it's a great way to be authentic. And it's a great way to draw people in. But it's not always the best way to tell stories that have a really powerful throughline and to do some of these stories around web accessibility and around the history of where we've been and where we've come. And so this podcast has been a different experience for me, in that I've been working with the great folks at Morey Creative, yourself, Chris and some of the other folks behind the scenes to put this together and to do all the editing. And what that has meant is that while I absolutely love and agree with all the things I'm saying in order to make the story as powerful as it needs to be, things have been a little bit more scripted than I've ever done before.

And so that was a whole learning process for me because as someone who's completely blind, I'm using a screen reader. And so when I'm looking at a script and thinking okay, I want to say this exact thing in this exact way—I experimented with using Braille, I have a Braille display here on my desk—but the thing about Braille displays is that they are only one, 40 character line of text at a time and I found that that was just too slow for mean to, you know, effectively read things back. And so what I've actually been doing is using the NVDA screen reader here on Windows and sort of listening to it read the script to me and reciting it back as I go. And so as you can imagine, right, hearing a voice in your head, and then saying the thing has been a learning experience. It's something that I think I've done pretty well. But it took some adjusting and some figuring out—like, how fast do I want the screen reader voice to read so that I can keep up with it and not go too fast. And how do I want to do line breaks? And how do I want to mark it up to make it easier for me to listen to and then and then recite back? And so in some of the episodes, you've sort of heard the clicking away of the mechanical keyboard, you know, as I'm consulting, I noticed that the producers and editors have done their best to edit some of that out. But it's definitely a thing that has been here, and that's been ongoing, and that's been with us.

Sam Proulx 05:56 | And, you know, one of the takeaways for me, as we talked to all these folks, is that, whether you're someone who is new to accessibility, or someone who like a lot of the folks that we've had the privilege of talking to, has been doing accessibility for 40 years, nobody's sitting on their laurels, right? Some of these folks could really, you know, get away with talking about past glory, right? All the incredible things that they did in the '70s, '80s, and '90s to bring us to where we are today. But nobody's doing that, everybody's still in it, and still pushing forward and still moving things forward. And I mean, it's just so so inspiring, right? When I think about someone like Judy, like, I hope I have as much energy and drive left in me when I'm in my 80s.

Jeffrey Howard 06:42 | Yeah, I share that same awe of just continuing to advocate and push forward. And as you're talking, and I'm wondering to myself, I would love to hear some of your own story with becoming more of an activist in this space, which this is something that hasn't really come out yet being as you've been interviewing other sort of titans in the disability community, but I would love to hear maybe a little bit more of what your path was, like, from living with disability to really stepping out, not just advocating for yourself, but for others in a really significant way as you do right now.

Sam Proulx 07:22 | I mean, it's been a long and winding road, to sort of, quote, the Paul McCartney song. I didn't start out in accessibility, or even assuming that I would necessarily be in accessibility. As all of you know, of course, I was incredibly privileged to grow up with a blind father and to have mentorship in that way. That was, you know, really important and influential. And my father worked as a programmer at IBM. And of course, he had to be an advocate for himself, as you know, sort of one of the first blind folks to do that. But he never worked directly in accessibility for a lot of his career. Because I mean, in the '70s and '80s accessibility wasn't a thing, right?

And I mean, every kid you grew up wanting to be your father. So my career plan for myself was always that I was going to, you know, go into computer science and be a computer programmer, and I got into high school and math, advanced mathematics just did not happen for me. Some of it is because I do not have that natural talent. And some of it is because it's taught very graphically, right? It's graphing calculators. And it's all this visual stuff, that the resources didn't exist in the school system at the time to adapt for me, neither didn't necessarily the knowledge and talent of how to best adapt this stuff to teach it to people who are blind. That has changed.

Sam Proulx 08:46 | There's a lot of great folks in the education sector doing amazing, incredible work on how to make this happen in a way that is easier and better. But that wasn't my experience. So I figured I would go to university and I would do my second love, which which was journalism, and I got into journalism and was doing the J-school thing, right around the time, maybe you remember in the early 2000s, when basically all of the papers lost all subscribers and the Internet was now a thing and there was this kind of massive recession in the media landscape. There just wasn't work there. And so I spent like a year pounding the pavement, giving out resumes, doing interviews, looking for work, and I found the job search and that interviewing, and putting yourself out there, and trying to get work—my personal experience of that was that it was so demeaning and so depressing, I said to myself, 'I'm never going to do this again.'

Because there's only so many times you can show up in a room or you can show up to an interview and you get this 'Oh, he's blind, why is he even here.' Like there's only so many times you can go through that experience and you can not only justify your ability to do the job but, like, justify your own existence and your ability to do anything before it really has a profound effect on your self-image, on your happiness, on your emotional and mental well being. And it was affecting me. And so I said, I'm not gonna do this. This was kind of in 2012 and I looked around, and there was this new thing, there was Bitcoin, there was cryptocurrency, it was becoming a thing. Around this time, my father had retired from IBM. So we thought, well, other people are making money doing this, we know how to run servers, we're techie, we can set up a little data center, buy some land, we can make money at this. So we did. And I did that from 2012 to 2019. We never became millionaires. But we kept money on the table and made a career of it and never lost money. So I was pretty proud of that.

Sam Proulx 08:55 | And it was around 2018 that I met, through my best friend, met Alwar and Abid, who were the founders of Fable, and this was like, you know, Fable was was just sort of a gleam in their eyes. And the vision that they had of how accessibility should be better, and how people with disabilities should be involved in digital accessibility. And the real vision they had for making this happen was so obvious to me, it was just like, 'Oh, why doesn't this exist?' And I immediately was like, 'Yeah, this is this is what I want to be involved in, to be bringing this to life.' And so like, before, there was a Fable, I was Fable's first screen reader tester, right? And then moved from that into community management here at Fable, which involved, you know, growing and building, and supporting and scaling the community of people with disabilities that we work with every day and that power everything that we do at Fable.

Sam Proulx 11:49 | And so I came into advocacy, not from, you know, 'I want to be out on the picket lines protesting,' or, you know, 'the world is terrible, I want to burn it down.' But I came to it, really from, you know, bringing my own experiences of things to a company and an organization that had an obvious vision, and that was a thing that I wanted to help bring into the world. The other place that I went, as the community manager at Fable, as working with our community of people with disabilities, and building it and growing it, I started attending accessibility conferences, and I started doing a little bit of speaking on behalf of Fable.

And I just felt very strongly that if you go to an accessibility conference today, you will find that a lot of the time, 95% of the speakers are people without disabilities, right? There are people, who are, you know, work in the space, who are great allies, and I don't want to minimize the importance of allyship, because everyone doing their part and bringing their expertise is crucial. But, like, at the same time, if you went to a women in tech conference, and 80% of the speakers were men, you'd be like, this is a bad conference. And so it really occurred to me that what we have to do is we need the voices of people with disabilities represented in this space. And so I moved over to being the Accessibility Evangelist, to doing this, to putting the voices of people with disabilities front and center in Fables marketing, and are speaking in our events, and really making sure that happens. And you know, we've seen a real change.

Sam Proulx 13:35 | There's still work to be done. But we're seeing more and more people with disabilities actually speaking in the accessibility conferences. And not only that, we're starting to see accessibility come into other spaces, right? I go to a lot of, oddly enough, design conferences and I talk to a lot of designers, I talk to a lot of user experience researchers, I talk to product managers, because accessibility is part and parcel of all of those things. And it's really important to me and exciting to me that we're no longer just accessibility professionals talking to other accessibility professionals and sort of preaching to the choir in that way. Fable has done a very good job of getting not only conversations about accessibility, but the voices of people with disabilities out into other spaces and other conversations that we need to be part of and where we need to be in, and that was a long answer.

Jeffrey Howard 14:32 | Sam, as you're talking about your experience and that journey, I can't help but reflect on the two-part episodes with your father and him talking about answering similarly how growing up and when he became an adult and professional, he was not particularly interested in advocacy outside of what was going to help improve his situation professionally. He wasn't interested in being enmeshed, perhaps, within the disability community. It didn't sound like he really wanted to be around other people who are blind, he really did not, he wanted to be sort of out there as he, I think he put it, with the rest of society. How much of his experience and the approach he took, how much of that does that resonate with you? And when you saw that growing up, how much do you think yourself, ‘Oh, you know what, I want to do this a little bit differently.’

Sam Proulx 15:26 | Some of it certainly did resonate. Things were obviously a little bit different in the 70s, and 80s, right, because the internet wasn't a thing. And so what tended to happen is you had the blind school for the blind people, and then you have like, you know, accessible housing where all the people with disabilities would live. And so it was kind of this tension of like, if you're doing this, you might find yourself almost ghettoized in a way that my father didn't want. But what happened for me is that because of the internet, I get to have the best of both worlds, right? I get to network with and hang out with and talk to luminaries who are people with disabilities in the space online, whether it's on Twitter or Discord, or, you know, wherever folks hang out.

Sam Proulx 16:16 | And then in the offline world, I get to have friendships with people who are not blind. And I get to be part of teams that are not just, you know, it's not just all people with disabilities all the time. And so I think today, we have a real opportunity in the way that we didn't have before, to build communities and to connect with one another as people with disabilities and to be proud of that part of our identities, without that meaning that we're living the disability lifestyle, like not no longer part of, kind of broader society. And it took me I think, a little while to sort of see that, and to realize that, and to get that as a teenager, but I think it's important. I think the main thing that I took from my father's approach is that protesting is great, and is wonderful, and I don't want to minimize any of the work that protesters have done, and that advocates have done, because it's incredibly important. But for me, I need to be advocating for things instead of advocating against things. And that's the approach here at Fable. And that's what works for me.

And so, you know, I don't find myself going around protesting about inaccessible things, right, I find myself advocating for how we can make things more accessible, and how we can build it better, and how we can solve the problems. And there are a lot of folks who are doing that. But I think there's this impression, right? That advocacy and that protesting is all about being against things and being angry, and it doesn't have to be that way. And I think in a lot of ways today, it isn't. And I think I'm incredibly lucky and privileged that it is that way, right? That I don't have to advocate just to get medical care or just to get access to the Capitol building, in ways that my predecessors in the disability space maybe did.

Jeffrey Howard 18:26 | To me, what you're talking about really echoes what I would say is like a very pluralist approach that sometimes we can get stuck in presuming that the approach we take is the one that everyone should take for advocating for a more accessible, inclusive world. And the reality is that we need people in a lot of different avenues, doing a lot of different things. Maybe that's protesting, maybe that's building new technologies, maybe that's storytelling, and maybe that's podcasting. Maybe that's a whole host of things that there's just so, so many ways in which each of us can find a way to make a better world. And it doesn't have to be the same story for everybody.

Sam Proulx 19:06 | Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we do need people who go out on the picket line and who link arms and who stand up and who say, 'No, the buck stops here, this won't happen.' That's just not me, you know, in a very, in very real way. And it takes an incredible amount of bravery and courage and heart and emotional fortitude to do that, and I admire the folks who do, but for me, I need to be solving problems and building forward and doing new solutions. So I support the folks who are out there, who are doing that, who are holding the line and who are saying you know this far and no further and protesting in accessibility and exclusion. But for me, I suppose I'm a speaker and a storyteller, and a builder. And that's the way that I find I personally can make the greatest impact.

Jeffrey Howard 20:00 | Perhaps not surprising to many people, I personally resonate with that, I resonate with the places I like to make changes, through communications, through journalism, through podcasts, and through interviews, you know, trying to lean on where I think I have developed strengths that can be of benefit to other people. And so I definitely resonate with your experience there.

Sam Proulx 20:22 | Yeah. But it is important that we have both and that we be trialing all of the different approaches. And, you know, I think there is sometimes a feeling that 'Oh, we tried this, and it didn't work as well as we want it to, or maybe it had some really bad unintended side effects.' But that doesn't necessarily mean it was a failure, right? We hear sometimes about the ways that legislation didn't work, and about the ways that WCAG or some of these other things that maybe let us down or have not done all we wanted them to do. But they made things better. And accessibility is iterative. And it's a journey, right? And so even when I'm doing things, I'm very conscious of the things I'm doing could probably be better, and are not perfect. But it's better to do something and to make some small improvement that everybody else can pick up and can iterate on than it is to sort of wait for the perfect solution.

Jeffrey Howard 21:26 | Sam, I'm going to try not heap too much praise on you. But that's just another thing in which I want to express my appreciation for what you and some of the other guests have presented on the show of—you talked about an iterative or experimental approach in trying to find out what works, what doesn't, as well as realizing and acknowledging ways in which maybe legislation has been imperfect, but still been progress, that there's not these ideal systems or ideal world that we occupy that we kind of make do with what we have and trying to improve upon it. And I think sometimes when we get a little bit too idealistic, we end up becoming just stuck, because we think, 'Well, if it's not this all perfect system, I'm not going to really work within it. And I appreciate what you've said, of really trying to make do with what we have and just improving from there.

Sam Proulx 22:19 | Although even idealists and the dreamers, right? There is a tendency—I think maybe especially as people with disabilities—to look at the world as it is, and to say, well, this is the best it's ever gonna get, right? Things can't be better, how could things possibly be improved? I just have to settle. And I think there is so much room and I admire so much the people who, say, 'No, we should be living in a world where everything is perfect, and 100% accessible.' Because, you know, I think sometimes for me, there's this, well, it takes me 20 minutes online to do what someone else could do in five minutes. But like, oh, well, I mean, I can do it. So it should just settle, right? There's that feeling sometimes, and it's so valuable to have that encouragement that like, no, we shouldn't, we shouldn't be settling, we should be thinking these things, and dreaming these dreams, and pushing for this ideal world, even though all of the ways that we push for it will be flawed and imperfect. There's still that kind of, you know, shining city on a hill, that it's okay to want and desire and to dream about.

Jeffrey Howard 23:30 | Yeah, there’s that view that sort of maybe we can call it like a status quo view, it's kind of an easy way out for us to just say, 'Oh, this is how things are, like it's been this way throughout most of history, like why would it be any different.' An easy way for us to either sit on our laurels or even just not do something because we presume that the world can't change, that society is, as you said, kind of the best as it can get.

Sam Proulx 24:00 | And it's also an easy way for us to surrender to a kind of fear that breeds divisiveness. Because when you get thinking in this way of like, well, you know, people with disabilities, like eventually we're gonna have to settle. I mean, first of all, it denies the innovation that comes from accessibility, right? It denies the ways in which accessibility is not just about us, it's about everyone. And it makes it better for everyone, whether you're a person with a disability or not. And secondly, it opens us up to a kind of divisiveness in that, if I'm thinking small in this way, it becomes very easy for me to think that 'Oh, well, there's only a certain amount of resources that companies are going to spend on people with disabilities.'

So if there are captions, maybe they won't have enough money to do audio description, right? And so we as people with disabilities, as part of settling, we start settling for, well, this works for me and so it's good enough. And we almost become afraid, in a way, to work with other members of the disability community and to say, 'Well, I mean, captions are great, but also there should be audio description, and there should be ASL interpretation, and there should be all of these things because they make it better for everyone. And because we're building a better world for all of society. And we need to stop thinking in this limited way.' You know what I mean, that encourages us to be divided up amongst ourselves. I mean, some of the most inspiring things about the ADA and some of these frameworks is that they included everyone, right? It wasn't just the d/Deaf folks going out and protesting to get captions. It wasn't just the blind folks going out and protesting to get audio description. It wasn't just people with physical disabilities going out and protesting to get ramps, all of our successes have come when we've worked together, and not let ourselves be divided up in that way. And sort of assumed that accessibility is a zero-sum game. And there's a limited amount of accessibility improvement that's ever going to be made. And so we better make sure we get sort of our piece of it and that it works for us.

Jeffrey Howard 26:15 | You raised this important point of, like, getting out there. I think of, as you said, we tend to, often, once things work well enough for us, we kind of tend to stop there, because we all have somewhat limited views. And I think of how powerfully my worldview has been expanded when I think of close family and friends who live with very different disabilities, who helped me to see ways in which a certain system or process was frustrating and not accessible for them. And it's this constant reminder of always learning and realizing, 'Oh, yeah, someone else experiences the world differently than I do, I need to listen and find the ways in which I can stretch myself to be a little bit more empathetic.'

Sam Proulx 27:03 | Yeah, and making sure that we are properly understanding that accessibility is always better for us, even if it's not solving—as a person with a disability accessibility features aren't just better for everyone when they solve my needs, right? I mean, just the other day, I was looking for something really interesting that I heard on a podcast, and I went and searched the transcript because, like, I didn't have time to listen to all seven episodes, and I couldn't remember which episode it was in, right? And so there's this tendency for me as someone who's, who's blind to be, 'Oh, podcasts are great for me, like, like, why should I be protesting and making sure the captions exist, like podcasts are totally accessible for me. So this isn't something I need to be involved in.' And it's that lack of understanding of the ways in which an inclusive world is a better world. And I think all of the luminaries and guests that we've had on this podcast, get that, and understand that, and that's why they've been able to have the impact that they had.

Jeffrey Howard 27:57 | This caused me to reflect a little bit on my childhood. Just some of the lessons I learned early on, that my father was born without a left arm, which was something I kind of just took for granted at times, but realize that there were certain things that he would try to do that when you live in society where it is presumed that everyone has two fully functioning arms, that there's a lot of designed products and situations that just did not work for him. And because he was my father, that opened me up to seeing a different world in which there was so much inaccessible to him that otherwise I would not have known of, and I would have remained probably furthering the problem. That was just something I noticed as a small child.

Sam Proulx 28:40 | Yeah, and I mean, things that can be done one-handed, are things that are easier and better to do, right? I just had the opportunity to speak a couple of days ago with a gentleman named Billy Price, who's one of the founders of BILLY Footwear, and they make shoes that have a wraparound zipper, so they can be unzipped from the back, because he personally had trouble, you know, stuffing his foot into the heel and one shoe that you could step into sort of, you know, heel first. And, I mean, they just crossed the milestone of selling their millionth pair of shoes, because it's a thing that made it possible for him to put on his shoes that is useful to people with arthritis, and to older folks, and to children who need to get their shoes on and off quickly, and to so many different folks that, you know, wouldn't identify as people with disabilities. It's just a more useful, sort of better way, to do shoes.

Jeffrey Howard 29:36 | I do have a question for you, Sam. As you look at this first season of episodes, obviously we've covered a lot of ground. What has been, maybe, the highlight for you? I imagine interviewing your father was a big highlight, but I would love to hear a couple of your favorite points in the season.

Sam Proulx 29:55 | Hmm. I mean, everything that Jutta Treviranus says is always gold. If you haven't heard the two episodes featuring her, absolutely go back and give those some real focus listening. In my experience she has been thinking and saying and researching the things that I think can say she's just been doing it for decades, from sort of the academic lens, right? I feel like about half of what I say is just things that she said first remixed through the lens of my lived experience as a person with a disability. So those are great. Second of all, I was not as familiar with the work of Laura Kalbag as I perhaps should have been. And so it's been really great to sort of familiarize myself with what she's doing, and the way that the things that she's doing resonate both within and without the accessibility space, right? And in the way that the small web and empowering people and making things, you know, less dependent on big corporate and big tech, is better for accessibility and is also better for everyone sort of resonates so well with everything that I say. So it was great to be, you know—obviously, I knew of her but it was great to become more familiar with her work and the great things that she's doing.

Sam Proulx 31:17 | And it's also been really enlightening to me in the way that we have been so easily able to draw that throughline between physical accessibility in the '70s and digital accessibility today, right? Because I think sometimes we as a community, not just people with disabilities, but all of us, in the accessibility industry, tend to think of this sort of firm line between like, oh, there's physical accessibility on one side, and there's digital accessibility on the other side, they have completely different requirements and completely different needs, and we work on them in completely different ways, and we think about them differently. And that's really not true, right?

Accessibility is holistic. I've been thinking about this a lot when it comes to the employment gap that people with disabilities experience, right? And how do we solve this problem? And it's become clear to me that like, well, we solve it, in the same ways that we solve digital accessibility, it's by getting everyone together, by doing a cross-team collaboration, by distributing responsibility, by changing culture, by building this into the way that people work. And yeah, I think the podcast has also done a great job of sort of showing that throughline that these problems, and their solutions, are maybe not as different as we sometimes tend to think they might be.

Jeffrey Howard 32:40 | I'm wondering, as you're talking about some of these highlights, what are some of the things that ended up getting cut, or topics that you would have loved to have dug in a little bit deeper in Season 1? What do you feel like needs a little bit more airtime?

Sam Proulx 32:55 | Hmm, super interesting question. One of the things that I think about a lot, and talk about a lot outside the podcast, is this kind of cycle of history. And the podcast, we've done a great job in Season 1 covering that first cycle, right, covering the ADA, covering early digital accessibility, covering the way that we got to where we are now and some of the problems with where we are now. But what is really interesting to me is that in gaming, in virtual reality, in augmented reality, in 3D interfaces, in AI, we're kind of seeing the cycle of history repeat again, just perhaps maybe a little bit more rapidly. And what I think is interesting, and what I hope that people reflect on, even though we didn't state it directly, is the ways in which we are repeating history and the ways in which that is good, and the ways in which perhaps we need to break out of that cycle.

Jeffrey Howard 34:03 | Related to this notion of like repeating history, you know, people have varied views on how history whether it can be cyclical if the progress is linear, if it's two steps forward, one step back, do you generally have a view of history, especially for accessibility of being mostly linear? How does this circular view kind of fit into those other questions?

Sam Proulx 34:28 | Hmm, I don't know that it necessarily matters, whether it's linear, or whether it's cyclical, or what it is, but what I think is happening is that we are losing some of the collective knowledge that has been developed and accessibility over the years because it hasn't been documented and studied and talked about in the same way that, I don't know, video game history is talked about, right? Or operating system history is talked about. I just saw a meme on Mastodon this morning that had said something along the lines of those who don't understand history are doomed to, I forget what but I'm sure it's unpleasant. And so I think whether it's linear, whether it's one step forward, whether it's two steps back, it's so important for us to really engage with and do what this podcast has done in understanding where we've come from, and how we got here and the successes that we have along the way and the mistakes that were made so that we can take that and apply it to these new frontiers.

Because the things that we've talked about, about sort of, you know, the end of average, and the way that we think about averages, or the things that we've talked about in representation, and all of these things are going to matter again, and if we're not raising up the next generation of people with disabilities, and of accessibility professionals, to understand these things, we're going to make the same mistakes again, and we don't have to, right? How many people working in web accessibility today, understand the decisions that IBM made with its screenreader and OS2, and which one of those were great decisions and which one of those were not great decisions? And why? And if we don't understand that, when we go to implement a screenreader for virtual reality, we're gonna, of necessity, have to make some of those mistakes again.

Jeffrey Howard 36:34 | As you talk about this notion of progress and whether it's linear, cyclical, or otherwise, I think of the nexus between technology, accessibility, and questions or issues related to environmental issues and climate change. And I bring this up because this is a question that's been on my mind a lot, I'd love to get a feel for your response to but because there's obviously, for the disability community, there's such a unique appreciation for technological advancements for making life much more accessible for people living with disabilities. And we've obviously got climate change and climate crisis going on and things getting worse in a lot of different ways. And you've got a lot of people developing technologies trying to become more renewable. And we have a society built around fossil fuels. And I even look at something such as moving to more battery-oriented technology, which seems like a step forward. But at the same time, there's definitely a certain degree of skepticism around the renewability of that, given how so much of what powers and makes batteries possible are these very rare minerals that are also dangerous and expensive to mine, and also have ecological challenges.

And just to name one, but like, there's a lot of hope, a lot of tech optimism in the disability community. But there's, I think, some good reasons to be skeptical that progress can remain linear. What worries or concerns you have that as you look at these potential catastrophes down the line, with progress not being guaranteed, how much do you worry that we won't continue to advance technologically? Or will it sort of hit a wall because we can't shift away from fossil fuels? Or maybe culturally, we sort of hit a wall and we no longer—people don't choose to continue to advocate and make it a more accessible society? How much are you worried about that?

Sam Proulx 36:43 | I think the two things are very intertwined. And my primary worry is that people won't understand that. Because if we aren't involving the voices and lived experiences of people with disabilities in the climate change, fight, we will not succeed. First of all, because there is this tendency to think that oh, the way we have to solve climate change is by making things worse for everyone. And the disability community has learned over the years that like, that kind of approach doesn't work. We need to change the way that we do things. And that doesn't necessarily involve making them worse. And it often involves making them better. If you look at, for example, how many renewable solutions turn out to be accessibility solutions—you find that to be the case. For example, smart thermostats, right? They do a lot of work making your heating more efficient and turning off your heating when you're away. And making sure that when your furnace is on right, you've got like three sensors on each floor so that the temperature is only you know, controlled for the floors that you're on.

And yet at the same time, smart thermostats are also the first time that I, as a person with a disability, have been able to set the temperature in my home or to know what temperature it was because more customizable, and more adaptable solutions are always better solutions. I have smart lights throughout my office where I'm recording here. And it's a massive savings in power and efficiency, right? Because they're LED bulbs, and they can be automated. It's also just better for me because it's so nice for me to glance at my phone and hear with VoiceOver 'Oh, my lights are on.' And it's also really great for me to be able to set an automation that turns off my lights because as someone who's blind and doesn't see them, you have no idea how many times I forgot the old fluorescent lights on, and we're just doing power for no reason, right? But having those lights that automatically turn off when you leave the room is also better for you and it's an efficiency solution. And it's this key to efficiency that we need to fight climate change in ways that make our lives better.

Sam Proulx 40:57 | If and when self-driving cars ever become a thing, how many of us are going to need a car because you can just order one to come for you whenever you want it, right? And so how much reduction in not only the environmental waste of every single person having a six-seater car, in the driveway that they have to drive to work every day, right? If we can stop that we can have huge proficiency games. But we can also make our lives better in that we don't have to pay to take the car into the mechanic once a month, and to pay for the car insurance, and to pay for the gas, and to pay for that—like owning a car is one of the most expensive things that you as a person who drives have to do, right? It's so expensive.

Sam Proulx 41:39 | And so if we can build a society that no longer requires every single person to own a six-seater car, we've made things a lot better for you, and we've also made things a lot better for me. And so we've got to get rid of this idea that like, well, in order to fight climate change, what we have to do is lower everyone's quality of life. No, we don't, we have to do things differently. Yeah, we can move to wind energy, and we can move to solar. And if we're really strategic about the ways that we do this, eventually we can get to a place where we've lowered everyone's power bills, right?

And in the same way that it's not useful in accessibility to talk about shame, and like, 'Oh, these poor people with disabilities, you should feel guilty, you should feel bad,' it's not useful to have that conversation about the environment, either, right? You personally should feel bad and guilty all the time—it's not helpful, and it's not useful. And we in the disability community have learned how to have this conversation about making the strategic changes to the way that we live, to build a better world that we also need to do in order to stop climate change. And we can do that if we just get over like beating each other up and making each other feel bad and move on to how can we do this better?

Jeffrey Howard 43:00 | Yeah, guilt and shame or specifically, shame, as you put it are not the most effective motivators, which reminds me of a question I was going to ask you earlier, which was both gonna be a praise to, I think, how you communicate, but also a question about rhetoric and helping to convince others to be more inclusive and accessible in their design. One, you talk a lot about—I think a powerful piece of rhetoric is reminding everybody that whether you live with a disability right now or not, you are likely to at least experience temporary disability and I think that's a powerful reminder to help bring other people into the conversation who otherwise might say, 'You know what? Doesn't affect me, I'm not really going to think about it.'

I think that's one powerful rhetoric piece that I really appreciate that helps bring more of us, I guess, into the fold, but I would love to hear other thoughts on what you think are sort of powerful rhetoric or communication pieces that you found to help persuade other people of the importance of focusing on accessibility and digital inclusion?

Sam Proulx 44:09 | Hmm. I mean, first of all, it's also getting people to understand how much of innovation is driven by accessibility, right? Whether it's voice dictation, whether it's text to speech, whether it's the electric toothbrush, or whether it's I mean, online shopping, premiered in the UK in the early '80s by Tesco as a way to help people who couldn't get out to the store to get their shopping, right? So much of accessibility is just innovation, is just finding newer, better ways to do things. And when companies really see how much inclusion is being directly driven by accessibility, and how many accessibility products have become mainstream bestsellers, right? And have become things like [inaudible] that we depend on every day. And I sometimes talk about the major players in the space, about the Microsoft and about the Apples. And it's very easy to demonstrate in a practical way, how the things that they've done for accessibility have led directly to them having market-leading positions in other things.

Jeffrey Howard 45:28 | Think that's a wonderful sentiment and vision to kind of end on. Sam, any other territory you want to cover? Can we sort of roll toward the outro?

Sam Proulx 45:40 | I think we're good. You know, I'm really excited to hear your interviews that you've done with all of our founding partners here at InclusionHub, because all of them are doing the work, right? We've talked a lot in this episode about the importance of building and constructing and driving forward and being for things. And over the coming weeks, we're all going to get to hear from companies that are at the forefront of that and that are doing that, you know, in the current times. So I absolutely encourage everyone to stay tuned, to keep listening. You know, maybe this feels like an end of season a. But it's really not. Because this content is really important to understand the current landscape and how people are thinking about accessibility. And what's going on right here and now.

Jeffrey Howard 46:35 | Well, there it is. Sam, thank you, so, so much for all of your time, your important voice, the heart you brought to Season 1, to this entire project. On behalf of all the listeners, everyone at Morey Creative, and our other founding partners, again, thank you so much. Salesforce, Morey Creative Studios, Fable, Be My Eyes. Can you take us out?

Sam Proulx 46:59 | Yeah, great to be here. And looking forward to the next episodes that I didn't have a hand in making and getting to listen to those just like everyone else. As I always say, a more accessible and inclusive world is a better world.

Leave a Comment

Get The Latest News, Tips And Insights About InclusionHub