‘Hacking’ doesn’t always have the best connotation. With a pronunciation comprised of heavy consonants, hacking is defined as gaining unauthorized access into another’s computer, or to thresh something to bits. But to a growing population, hacking is a good thing. It’s breaking an inflexible system to make life easier and better. A hack is a tip or trick to work around a difficult situation and achieve a positive outcome that might never have been fathomed before.
At the end of March, Accessibility Partners participated in an unprecedented event: an Accessibility Hackathon. The day was sponsored by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, 18F, the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, and DC Legal Hackers. The event began with lightning talks by some amazing developers and thinkers. We heard from people who were 3D printing new mobility devices, working on policies and legislation, and teaching us how to code for accessibility in our websites.
One universal theme was the necessity of accessibility intertwined with technology knowledge. Essentially, as students learn how to code (which is happening at an earlier and earlier age), accessibility needs to happen in tandem. Perhaps this means they learn the different heading level styles, or alt text. Yet, in our opinion, it means that understanding of the importance of accessibility happens at an early age. It could be a lesson in empathy, or more of an importance of people with disabilities and their access to technology.
The hackathon taught us, or rather confirmed, that there needs to be an open dialogue with developers and users with disabilities. Even if this starts at a young age, students can learn from their peers with disabilities. As technology usage grows, it is imperative that there is a knowledge transfer between the users and the developers. The concept of knowledge transfer, which ensures new knowledge and products gained through research and development, can be used to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities. It’s an educational issue, and one that can coexist with the push of STEM education.
By promoting a healthy dialogue with knowledgeable end-users, everyone can benefit. As the audience championed, we never know when a disability could hit us. I’ve been told that the demographic of people with disabilities is the only minority group that you could join at any time in your life. Plus, as the baby boomers age, that number, especially those in the workforce, will skyrocket. It befits us now to consider the contributions of people with disabilities in the tech sphere before they are shut out of access.
Start educating and hacking now. The more things we break, they more they can be built up for accessibility.