Top 10 disability and accessibility TED talks and Videos

#9 isn’t about accessibility or disability at all, but still holds enormous value when thought about in an a11y/disability context

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Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

I get pinged a lot by people asking for accessibility resources. Some accessibility resources are easy to find because they contain the words “assistive technology” or “WCAG”. But some of the most important accessibility resources don’t contain the magic buzz phrases. They just contain amazing content that leave you with a dopamine brain rush at the end of the video thinking “aha, I finally get it !”

Whether you’ve been in accessibility for a decade, or just getting started, the videos I have listed below, I think, are are always good reminders of why you are there. There are way more than 10 good accessibility/disability videos out there, these are my favorites, feel free to add yours in the comments section.

  1. The late (but very great) Stella Young’s “I am not your inspiration, thank you very much” TED talk.

Stella was unapologetic, in your face, and everything that I wish I could have been when I was too shy (yes even while in law school) to say “this is who I am, effing deal with it” She had the audacity to say out loud what most people with major, visible disabilities only whispered to their friends and family — that it should not be the job of someone with a disability to make a non-disabled person feel better about themselves.

And I want the following quote in my obituary:

No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. Never.

Smiling at a television screen isn’t going to make closed captions appear for people who are deaf.

No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshop and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into braille. It’s just not going to happen.

2. The Apple/Sady video

I include this video in every . single . “introduction to accessibility” or unconscious bias class I ever teach. And I stop in the middle — where the person is programming their hearing aids to connect with their iPhone — and talk about my daughter, and how without Bluetooth and digital hearing aid technology, she wouldn’t be able to communicate by phone with anyone, understand classes in enormous lecture halls, or speak Chinese with her family or patients.

3. The Microsoft xBox ads “When Everyone Plays, We All Win” and Reindeer Games

If you didn’t know who Owen Sirmons was after the Christmas / Superbowl ad blitz of 2018–19, you must have been hiding under a rock (or don’t own a TV or play video games). Owen is the child with Escobar Syndrome who appeared in a series of Microsoft xBox videos showing how if companies do things right, having a disability just shouldn’t matter.

Microsoft really laid new accessibility ground for this one. They made accessibility about more than just software testing and fixing bugs. They made it about making a better world, and changing a whole bunch of kids’ lives.

4. Top 100 #Diversish companies, Valuable 500

‘Diversish’ is a satirical term for businesses that call themselves diverse, but overlook, ignore or postpone anything actually having to do with disabilities. Warning: Install your “British Humour” filter first.

I almost snorted coffee through my nose the first time I saw this video which someone posted on my LinkedIn feed during Davos 2019. Then I quickly wrote this article. Again, the power of a phrase (like “inspiration porn”) or a hashtag like #Diversish to scream THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT — I just didn’t know it had a name.

5. Jinsop Lee “Design for all five senses” Ted Talk

So this one isn’t really safe to play at work on open speakers. But it is funny, and does make an important point, which is if you design for ALL the senses you aren’t leaving people out because they lack full (or any) ability of the sense your design relies on.

6. Haben Girma “Why I work to remove access barriers for students with disabilities” TEDxBaltimore.

Haben Girma is the amazing deaf-blind Harvard Law grad who has recently left litigation to become a full time disability advocate. She is currently doing a book tour doing many interviews centering around how assistive technology is a core need for her to achieve equal access.

7. Chieko Asakawa: IBM Problem Solvers ad.

Dr. Asakawa and Haben Girma are the one-two punch of high achievers in the world of vision loss. Watching any one of their videos for a short period of time will make you quickly realize that people who are legally blind can do anything (if not more) than people without vision loss — provided that those of us without vision loss aren’t creating systematic barriers that impair them.

As someone with long-standing Type 1 Diabetes and glaucoma, vision loss has always been my biggest fear. Dr Asakawa and Haben Girma make that prospect seem like it isn’t that big of a deal. Unfortunately I was not able to find a version of this ad with described audio, and the captions are all pretty awful. None of them pick up the chatter from Dr. Asakawa’s phone giving her instructions.

8. Derek Featherstone “Accessibility and Empathy

This article features another personal hero of mine, Derek Featherstone, where he goes into some length about how to build empathy for accessibility and summarizes one of his many talks from An Event Apart. His primary focus looks at user context (such as time, location, state of mind, device, and proximity) which has a major impact on a user’s expectations and experience.

There is not a “direct on YouTube” link for this presentation, you need to go to the webpage and see Derek’s thoughts from his interview there.

9. Joe Gebbia TED talk “How AirB&B designs for trust

Say what? Why is this on a “best videos for accessibility / disability” article? Trust is at the core of many day-to-day activities that people with disabilities engage in, especially when we hit a barrier. The need that people with disabilities have for trust is probably the largest issue that is least understood by the able-bodied community.

  • Do I trust my employer enough to disclose an invisible disability?
  • Do I trust my co-workers enough to be truly authentic about the impact my disability has on my home and work life?
  • Do I trust the results of a ACR/VPAT I have been provided?
  • If I can’t complete a transaction on my own because of an accessibility barrier, do I trust the people I am forced to interact with not to take advantage of me? If you think this isn’t a problem, that is a sign of your able-bodied privilege showing and you probably haven’t heard about the Walmart suit over cashiers stealing from blind customers who are forced to use staffed registers because the kiosks are not accessible.

TL;DR: Go to the five minute mark of the video. The cell phone exercise that Joe takes people through sums it all up.

10. Elise Roy TED Talk “When we design for disability, we all benefit

Elise takes people through the world of “curb cuts” through her unique perspective as an individual with profound hearing loss. A curb cut is something that is designed to benefit a person with a disability but turns out to benefit everyone. Curb cuts were *intended* to help wheelchair users get from one block to the next. But people with strollers, skateboard users, delivery people with trolleys full of packages, and unfortunately, scooter-ride share users also benefit from them.

“Design thinkers are, by nature, problem solvers.” Elise states. And so are people with disabilities.

Written by

Accessibility Architect @ VMware. W3C Silver, ITI & IAAP GLC committees. Degrees in CS, law, business. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter.

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