Posted by Prairie on May 24, 2023

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I went to a panel discussion about accessible design.  

The most eye-opening question for me was how the panelists got into accessibility design. Not one of them identified their own disabilities as a reason. My personal favorite answer was when one panelist said that Section 508 (a US law that requires federal agencies to ensure that their information is accessible to certain standards) gave them their start.  While each person espoused the need for input from the populations they were trying to serve, none seemed to have folks with disabilities on their team.

When I commented on this to my fiancée, she simply stated, “I mean, of course. That’s just the state of the tech world. We have to try to make our products accessible, but the workplace to create them definitely isn’t.” And that really stuck with me.

I’ve recently started negotiating my own relationship with calling myself disabled. This is my first time writing about it explicitly and publically or really expressing this outside of a close group of trusted friends. I’m still not sure where I am on my journey, but every day I identify more and more with the word.

If you’ve read all of our posts, you can see that this is a major theme of my writing for the last year+, even though I didn’t realize it. (On learning how to accept my capacity, When You’re Not Proud of Your Work, IM SICK ICK BOO BLECH). I’ve always had ADHD. I’ve burnt out at many jobs and struggled to be able to function until I found situations that didn’t require a “normal” 9-5 (though for real, who actually works well at a 9-5?). I didn’t really start feeling like I had earned using words like disabled until it really genuinely interfered with my ability to have a fulfilling life and (more importantly of course /s) my ability to Capitalism™.

I’ve more recently developed chronic pain that ebbs and wanes. At its worst, it means that I can’t walk more than a half block without being in enough pain to need to stop. I’ve become fatigued in ways I have never felt before and need much more sleep. Gone are the days of “It's no problem, I can do everything because I only need to sleep for 6 hours”.  I have to meticulously plan every outing to avoid extreme anxiety (what if I am suddenly overwhelmed by excruciating pain and don’t know where the nearest bench is?!). This is the context for where my mind is at when I think back to experiences like that panel and also when I get to work with people who understand true accessibility.

Soft Chaos is currently working with an educational organization to develop and deliver a curriculum for autistic youth with folks who truly understand what accessible design is. I could talk at length about how they are designing the courses in amazingly accessible ways for the students, but the thing that I really want to celebrate is how they (and we) are designing a space that is accessible for *us* as researchers, designers, and educators.

The work environment where this class is being created is accessible. The people creating the curriculum are accommodated in the same ways as those receiving the curriculum, which ultimately is going to lead to a much more inclusive and diverse end result. We get to model neurodiverse reactions, strategies, and self-care. We get to teach about boundaries and burnout. We get to let students see that we have disabilities and demonstrate how we have learned to manage them in a society that often asks that you appear perfectly able-bodied and neurotypical (however that best presents to the Capitalism Gods), whether you are or not. This experience has been a lot of things: it has been hard work, tiring, and challenging. But it has also been freeing in a way I wish everyone could experience.

What would game dev look like if every time we added an accessibility feature to a game, we also had to look at our own teams and see if they are accessible in the same way we want our games to be? It would be hard work, tiring, and challenging, just like what we're doing now. But it would also be so much better for so many people. Having your needs met as a matter of standard practice instead of needing to constantly fight to find ways around the inaccessible can be life-changing. I want that not just for myself, but for everyone.  

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