I am an accessibility badass

Woman in trench coat, dark clothing and sunglasses waiting for someone under a bridge
Woman in trench coat, dark clothing and sunglasses waiting for someone under a bridge

Please sign the letter with all those letters after your name. You know, BSc JD MBA CPACC BADASS

After I stopped laughing, I realized that the requester paid me the highest compliment possible given that Urban Dictionary defines a badass as “a person who is the best of the best at what they do professionally and/or personally.”

I don’t write accessibility articles on how to do basic things like good headers or alt-text. I write esoteric accessibility articles, geeking out on things that I’ve never heard anyone else discuss, like:

I am quite sure that in my 15 years working with people with disabilities that I have never heard anyone else refer to themselves as an accessibility badass before. We need more of them. This is who they are:

In Outliers, one of my favorite business books of all time, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to become a master at anything. While this rule is somewhat in dispute and probably context sensitive, I feel for technology it isn’t a bad measure. Really what Malcolm Gladwell is measuring in his “10,000 hour” rule is persistence and grit — the ability to stick to something long enough to accumulate 10,000 hours (or 5 working years) of experience and to get past road bumps along the way.

  • Gritty people pick something, and stick with it.
  • They are tenacious, persevering pitbulls who absolutely refuse to let go of a problem.
  • They always have one eye on the goal line and plow through anything that might get in their way.
  • They are the subject matter experts who are known across multiple industries to be the “go to” people for their knowledge and their willing to share it.

To be persistent at something business related, you have to be a creative problem solver. If you refuse to give up on something, you need to be able to solve the problem. Period. Sometimes solutions are straightforward, other times, not so much. Creativity can help get you past the “not so straightforward” problems.

This badass trait ties into creative problem solving. One thing that stuck with me in law school was when my adviser told a group of students “Any lawyer can say no. Good lawyers figure out how to say yes.”

Richard Branson is famous for saying

Even if I have no idea where I’m going or how to get there, I prefer to say yes, instead of no. Opportunity favours[sic] the bold.

That’s why I am teaching myself Python for Machine Learning at the moment. Because I said yes, and now I am figuring out how to deliver.

Hypocrites by definition cannot be badasses. You can’t talk about accessibility as a subject matter expert, and not do everything in your power to improve accessibility for your employer/clients and the world in general. That being said, not all those efforts are visible. I know I have helped move the needle forward towards the ultimate goal of a more accessible world (both physically and digitally) for multiple organizations, and that is good enough for me.

Being a badass means sometime being on the periphery of popular decision making, usually because you made a recommendation that wasn’t popular. This can be a lonely place to be, but accessibility badasses don’t mind hanging out by themselves until they persuade others that they are on the right side of the argument.

I read every single negative comment from my articles or posts on Medium, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I look at them from the best light I can possibly put the commenter in, and ask myself “is there a kernel of truth I can learn from this negative comment?” Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the commenter and I will never see eye-to-eye. And I’m OK with that. I either modify my stance, clarify my position, or let it go, move on, and don’t let the negative comments sour my message.

People are frequently worried that badasses are on a guaranteed path to burnout because of our continuous level of intensity. In reality, the most successful badasses have figured out how to recuperate and recharge.

I make sourdough. Religiously. It is a cathartic process for me which usually results in a yummy loaf of bread that my family and friends appreciate and would cost a small fortune otherwise. I do a lot of volunteer work, not all related to accessibility. I read a lot of SciFi and I am a rabid SF Giants fan in specific and baseball fan in general, though I reserve the right to dislike Sabremetrics, the new intentional walk, and the DH. All of these things help me bounce back from setbacks at work or discriminatory behavior that I occasionally have to deal with.

Behind every badass is their tribe, cheering them on. Hopefully the tribe consists of both:

  • people you work with whose values are aligned with your own, and;
  • friends and family who understand your mission and support you.

Your tribe will allow you to vent, but will call you out if they think you are in the wrong. Your tribe may give you a different perspective to a problem that you have gotten too close to. Your tribe may be the tie vote when you are having trouble making a decision. Your tribe is the BEST network you will ever have. Don’t try to be a badass without a tribe.

Written by

Blogger, disability advocate, nerd. Bringing the fire on ableism. A11y Architect @ VMware. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter. CS, Law, and Business background

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