Coming out of the CSUN Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, there’s generally a flurry of post-conference blog posts and inspired discussions. One that sticks out for me are John Foliot’s comments in his CSUN 2012 Recap. CSUN is, by far, the largest conference in the ICT Accessibility industry and its placement in the first quarter often serves to recharge the batteries and serves as inspiration for the months to come.
John’s discussion of “The Tribe” is something I think deserves to be highlighted. I encourage everyone interested in ICT accessibility to read it, because it clears up an important misconception about this “Tribe” idea. John says:
“…while at the conference I was told point-blank that a person felt that they were being excluded from “The Tribe”…”
To be honest, I felt the same way, myself. As my resume attests, I’ve been doing web accessibility for quite some time. But in many ways I’ve only become more well known relatively recently. I first began participating in the accessibility community in July of 2003 (my first posts to the WebAIM discussion list) but mostly limited my participation to such lists. Since 2003, I’ve posted occasional articles here and there and gave some limited presentations before HFES and STC, but it has only been over the last year or so that I’ve been very active in blogging and social media. As a consequence, I’ve also felt (and still feel) a bit like an outsider. The use of the term “tribe” does have a twinge of exclusivity behind it.
The term tribe is defined as “A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties” (emphasis mine). It isn’t difficult to see why people could feel that “The Tribe” is an exclusive, members-only group of the popular & elite persons in accessibility. It isn’t difficult to see why people would feel left-out of such a thing. In fact, even as I write this I feel a bit uncomfortable. Like maybe I don’t even have the right to say what I’m about to say because frankly I still don’t feel included sometimes in that group of elite accessibility folks even though logic says I am.
Here’s why I am wrong to feel that way: Never in my life have I felt so welcome in a group full of strangers. The accessibility community as a whole is filled with people who are passionate about what we do and welcoming of those who are also passionate about it. With very few exceptions, almost everyone I’ve ever met in accessibility has been friendly, kind, and willing to share their knowledge and experience. I think it is important that everyone curious about their place in the tribe read and focus on this passage from John’s post:
It simply symbolizes the passion we share, the common goals we aspire to, it serves as a reminder that we are a force that together want to make the world a better place for all. If you are reading this today, you are a member of the Tribe – as all it takes to be a member is to say “I am a member”, that you share those aspirations, those goals, this spirit. Heck, even if you haven’t read this, and never do – if you share these ideals you are a member. Every single person at CSUN 12 is a member of The Tribe. Every single person who read even one tweet with the #CSUN12 hashtag this past week is a member of The Tribe. And even if you have done none of the above, but work towards inclusion and a better world for everyone, including people with disabilities – you are part of this Tribe whether you like it or not.
I think it is important for those who have high visibility in accessibility to make sure we’re aware of the way this Tribe concept may appear to those who are not as extroverted. We should make it very obvious & very public that the Tribe is inclusive to all those who are fighting the good fight. The Tribe wants you.