Do It Myself Blog – Glenda Watson Hyatt

Motivational Speaker

Does Accessibility Need an Al Gore?

Filed under: Accessibility 100,Living with a disability — by at 12:00 am on Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Over the past couple of months, several people have thanked me for making them aware of the need for accessibility, both on the web and in daily life. I smile. While I appreciate having the tools and voice to make this need known, accessibility is not a new need.

Wheelchair washroom stall without a door Do you know how long I and millions of other people with disabilities have been dealing with less than accessible washrooms, curb cuts and such? Accessibility isn’t a new concept, yet many, many people still don’t get it until they are personally touched by the need.

Over the weekend, I was thinking about the environmental movement. Despite the decades of tireless work by environmentalist David Suzuki, oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, Greenpeace and countless other individuals and organizations, it wasn’t until 2006 when former US Vice President Al Gore released his Hollywood-ized documentary An Inconvenient Truth did the masses finally “get it”. Overnight, reducing, recycling and repurposing became the latest trend. Parking the car and walking to work was a new concept. “Green” products began popping up everywhere.

In 2007, Al Gore and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”.

From my perspective, it took a former American politician and a documentary with a $1million budget, according to Wikipedia, to get people’s attention and to start them taking action to protect the earth. Whatever it takes!

Turning back to accessibility, what needs to happens for the similar response to occur? What would get people’s attention and get them taking action? Do we need a big name like Al Gore in our corner?

Seriously, I am asking. I welcome a respectful dialogue in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this post, consider buying me a chai tea latte. Thanks kindly.

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Comment by rebeccahappy

June 16, 2009 @ 4:45 am

Excellent series on bathrooms and accessibility. i am not in a chair but have had to help many people get into these so called accessible toilets. I can’t imagine having to do it by myself. Some people need one or tow others to get them out of the chair onto the seat. When you know that for the most part there is not even room for the chair and the person no longer in it let alone 3 people and one chair you are looking for disaster.
Keep it up Glenda. People have no idea.
I remember going through a huge line-up at the Edmonton Mall. We could hardly get through with the chair. People made nasty comments about going in with the chair as if we had no right to go. Lots of education still needed.
I have no idea who would be able to stand up to make a movement. Disability does not impact everyone the way that environment does.

Comment by Maggie

June 16, 2009 @ 4:45 am

I gave up TV news years ago (too toxic) … but I still read print press as well as blogs. I’ve lately been noticing that the print press speaks about disability in a very different voice from that used by folks blogging about it.

Is that maybe because more of the bloggers are speaking from the “inside” and more of the print-journalists are speaking from the “outside”?

The last several articles I read in the print press about “accessibility” (some of which were “good”, as far as they went) were written by apparently able-bodied reporters from the viewpoint of “this person’s disability is unusual and the accessibility issue they’re facing is one none of our readers have ever seen before” — which would be way different from the perspective I read here or in Gary Presley’s blog or Wheelchair Kamikaze.

Maybe what Accessibility needs is to get some print published written from the “inside”?

Hmm. I notice how much I enjoy and learn from following your blog. I wonder if, for example, Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times’ “Well” blog would consider adding you to her roster of guest-posting bloggers?

Would it be intrusive (to you, I mean) if this temporarily-able-bodied Times subscriber were to write to Tara to suggest that she contact you?

Comment by Douglas T

June 16, 2009 @ 6:16 am

I would suggest that the accessibility community does in fact need a good spokesperson, but one without the political baggage that your example has. The community needs a spokesperson who truly understands it. I’d support Glenda’s nomination to the post.

Comment by Ricky Buchanan

June 16, 2009 @ 6:59 am

I think one thing significant about Al Gore was that people felt they ‘knew’ him because of his political past. I think that’s why your blogging series is going so fantastically Glenda – people who read this blog and Tweet with you feel like we ‘know’ you even though we’ve never met and never really corresponded personally.

I think you make a fantastic spokesperson for accessibility because you make it a personal issue! You don’t just talk about measurements and dimensions, you talk about how it feels when you get your scooter stuck in the loo and think about yelling for help. That gets people’s emotional attention more than any ADA checklist ever will!

And with you speaking at conferences now, your message is starting to move from the blogosphere to RL as well. I think you could well be accessibility’s Al Gore! I don’t think it has to take a billion dollars or a staff of gazillions to make a big difference.


Comment by Luis

June 16, 2009 @ 8:07 am

I wish we would see someone with a disability speak at the TED conference. This would be a great way to target an audience that includes key decision makers from the fields of Technology, Entertainment and Design. Al Gore has spoken there several times and I’m sure his appearances there have helped spread his message about the environment. I agree that putting a human face on disabilities is what moves people to act. I can speak until I’m blue in the face about the need for greater accessibility in websites and blogs, but it’s only when I show someone how difficult it is to use the web for me that they realize what they need to do. I’m glad I found your blog and will keep coming back for updates.

Comment by Douglas T

June 16, 2009 @ 9:07 am

I think it gives you more credibility that you don’t have a huge budget. One of the downsides of a celebrity spokesperson is that there is often a disconnect between them and a percentage of the audience. That portion of the audience that says “I could do that too if I had that kind of time and money, but I don’t.”

They speak because they can afford to, you speak because it needs to be said. Big difference.

Comment by Bob Easton

June 16, 2009 @ 10:54 am

NO and YES!

NO, because I strongly disagree with Gore and the very sloppy science behind his highly politicized claims. I’ll leave it at that and try not to agitate further on that point.

More to your intent:
YES, because few people understand accessibility challenges until those challenges can actually be demonstrated. Time and time again, I heard web designers and developers claim that they knew all they needed to know about accessibility, and had made their sites accessible. That was until we had them turn off their displays and try to navigate their sites with a screen reader, or until we gave them a head stick and had them try to navigate using only the stick and a keyboard or had the put on boxing gloves and had them try to type. … or used several other simulations.

Demonstration is incredibly powerful, Demonstration by a person with an actual disability is most effective. Demonstration with simulated disabilities (as above) is also very powerful.

Unfortunately, it is not until actual demonstration that most designers will “get it.” As the old saying goes, “Walk a mile in my shoes.”

You, Glenda, can be very powerful in making those kinds of demonstrations. Where I come up empty handed is in knowing how to scale the effort to the extent Al Gore has.

Comment by Robert Hruzek

June 16, 2009 @ 11:43 am

I personally shudder to think you’d connect what you’re doing with Al Gore! But… I grudgingly have to admit some good things have come about because of his involvement. But I think the political baggage he carries around with him hinder his message’s universal acceptance.

He’s mainly loved when he “preaches to the choir”, so to speak. Everyone else tunes him out. You don’t want that happening to YOUR message!

However, I do agree with the other commenters up there that YOU are indeed on your way to becoming that kind of spokesperson, Glenda! As Ricky pointed out, you speak about, not just what being disabled is like, but how it feels to be you.

That connection on an emotional level is what connects with “normal” (me, normal? that’s a laugh!) folks like me and give you the “voice” you need. It’ll take time, of course, but all you need are perseverance and the right opportunities.

What about TED? Why can’t YOU make a presentation on TED? That one you did for SOBCon09 was a knockout, if you ask me! Look for ways to make it happen!

Comment by rebeccahappy

June 16, 2009 @ 11:52 am

The TED conference is an excellent idea!!!You could do this.

Comment by Glenda

June 16, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

Wow, what a great dialogue happening here! Thanks everyone.

Rebecca, more education is definitely needed! Any thoughts on what form of the education needs to take?

Maggie, I’d welcome an introduction to Tara. Thank you!

Douglas, I accept your nomination. Thanks. Now to find some financial backing! 😉 But until that happens, I’m wondering what I can do on a budget of $0, besides continuing sharing my stories on my blog. Do I mount my Flip camera on my scooter to capture some of these less than accessible bathrooms and hope they go viral on YouTube?

Ricky, I agree with you. Once people see accessibility from the personal, emotional side, they are more likely to get it. I’m seeing that over and over again. The ADA and similar laws have their place, but once the conversation turns legal, people tune out. Imagine a book on accessibility that doesn’t even mention the ADA! Is that even possible?

Luis, excellent idea! I’m willing to speak at the TED Conference. How do we make that happen?

Bob and Robert, I hear ya on Al Gore! I amazed by the response he garnered after the decades of work countless others have put into the issue only to fall on deaf ears. Enough said? 😉

But, yes, people don’t pay attention until “it” affects them directly. And that connection needs to occur at an emotional level.

This is an interesting and insightful exchange. Please continue…

Comment by rebeccahappy

June 16, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

Pictures and viral videos…that is certainly a great place to start. We could make it a team effort when you submit them and do a Digg, twitter FB campaign. a great site for making excellent slide show videos.
TED has to be a possibility. Start looking into what needs to be done to get there. Why not?

Comment by Glenda

June 16, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

Thanks Rebecca, this is definitely a plan! I’ve been reluctant to take my camera into public washrooms for obvious reasons…but maybe there’s a way to do it tastefully.

I had a quick look at the TED 2010 Conference schedule. Intimidating! But why not? I’ve tweeted about possible contacts, which Robert and others have kindly retweeted. See what happens!

You guys and gals are the greatest! Thanks so much for your support.

Comment by Ruth Ellison

June 16, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

I love the TED Conference suggestion. For those that can’t attend the conference, the videos are viewed by such a diverse range of people. This will be a fantastic way to get the accessibility message across to the broader public, especially once people are able to connect the sometimes abstract concept with a real person.

Comment by David Miller

June 16, 2009 @ 5:09 pm


While I second your reservation about filming restrooms, I think you might be on target about using video to show some of the problems just getting around. While not in a chair myself, I am on a walker (back injury due to car wreck) so I do see some of the same problems you talk about.

Keep up the good work. Let’s leave Al Gore out of it, though, unless he wants to donate a few million $$$ for accessibility infrastructure improvements!!

Comment by Ricky Buchanan

June 16, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

David, I just wanted to say don’t let your walker use stop you from being an accessibility spokesman as well! There are ALL kinds of accessibility needs, people who use walkers like you and people who use scooters like Glenda and people who are bedridden like me. Our needs are all different but all valid!

The fact that you and Glenda can go to the bank to open a bank account doesn’t make it not an important issue that I can’t open a bank account because they demand that you go there. And likewise the fact that having ramps and automatic doors isn’t helpful to me doesn’t mean that they aren’t important! Everybody’s needs are different and all are valid and important.

Comment by Jo Holzer

June 18, 2009 @ 1:18 pm

In my experience as an advocate (and parent of wheelchair user), simulations are effective! More so, if people with disabilities are included in the presentation. Bob’s evaluations are spot on. Humans are extremely narrow-minded — even unable to understand — when it comes to anything “foreign” to their own personal experience.
Enough said!

Comment by Mary Anne

July 14, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

We need a BIG NAME advocate because our culture only pays attention to celebrities. Look at the news papers over the last 3 weeks.

Comment by rebeccahappy

July 14, 2009 @ 4:27 pm

Glenda can do it!!!
She has a voice.
MJs funeral has nothing to do with accessibility and he was NEVER at TED

Comment by Glenda

July 14, 2009 @ 4:39 pm

Rebecca, thanks for your vote of confidence! 😉

Comment by Camera Flip Bracket

March 2, 2010 @ 2:13 am

You are lucky you don’t live in asia. Out here it has a long way to go with disability access.

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