The Tribe Wants You

Crowd Surfer
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.

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  • Posted March 5, 2012 at 10:29 am   Permalink

    Thanks for your comments Karl. “The Tribe” as a meme emerged organically, as memes are wont to do. I was truly hurt to hear that it had taken on a bad taste for some, as it was never supposed to be about exclusion. It came from the celebration of CSUN 11, and now those who have attended CSUN 12 need to take the message back and spread the work, becuase you are right The Tribe *DOES* want You

  • Posted March 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm   Permalink

    I agree with you 100%. And I feel the very same way, most of the time. If it weren’t for some (very awesome) people who’ve apparently adopted me last year (you know who you guys are), I wouldn’t really feel part of that tribe either, based on cultural differences, among other things. This tribe is what we make of it and every single one of us shapes it into the warm, friendly, inclusive and wonderful microcosm it turned out to be. This is what Wendy meant when she did her “Ode to Twitter” and this is still what we demonstrate by being open to whoever has the courage to come out of their shell and come towards us.

    We are loving, caring and welcoming. We are open, kind and empathetic. Sometimes a little too much for our own good, but that’s usually when there’s alcohol involved.

    Come in, the door’s always open.

  • Posted March 6, 2012 at 2:15 am   Permalink

    Well I can testify that this is all perfectly true, comments included. As a European, non-native English speaker, I felt there were too high hurdles for me to even approach this remote world of accessibility awesomeness cristallized at CSUN. Last year I distantly followed the outcomes of CSUN11, somewhat feeling like the proverbial worm staring at an unreachable star.
    Events proved me wrong. It all started with a seemingly innocuous tweet from Jennison (who achieved such fame in the community that you can refer to him only by his first name now). He simply asked if I was planning to speak at CSUN12. Well, it hadn’t even occurred to me, given that I had no subject (I thought), no time (come on…) and no money for that purpose (always an issue, but think of it in terms of return on investment). Jennison swept away those reasons with another tweet, through which he made things look so simple that I had no excuse to not try. What did I have to lose anyway?
    A few months later I am back from San Diego, toasted but energized, with countless ideas running in my head, excellent feedbacks, contacts with people I have admired for long, and hopefully fruitful ones to top it off. I was a bit in a fan boy state of mind when I met you, Karl, and other people like Derek Featherstone or Mike Paciello for instance, and was struck by the friendliness and ease of access that everybody demonstrated. I wasn’t aware of it, but somehow I had already been a member of this tribe for a while. Social engagement through blogs comments, discussion lists, and moreover Twitter, indeed makes you get in touch with all those people, in a direct and unfiltered way. And those people aren’t out of anyone’s league, they aren’t self-infatuated superstars. They are just the girl-or-guy-next-cubicle (sort of), who share the same interests in a passionate way, which makes the accessibility community so exciting to be a part of. Perhaps younger generations, born with the social media, will not be as shy as we have been, and will create bonds more seamlessly. Let’s hope for it anyway!
    So I’d like to encourage my peers to try too, all those who kept away from the CSUN craze for false reasons like I had for myself. Being at CSUN is a turning point in anyone’s career, yet it’s simply a matter of having the guts to try (and well, some funds too, but that’s always manageable). I know several people here in France who could provide valuable inputs to the conference, and be rewarded with an international recognition. So start preparing CSUN13 right now, it’s never too early!

  • Posted March 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm   Permalink

    To everyone above, very well written! Thank you for taking the time to acknowledge and explain the term and its interpretation. PS: Maybe the term “The Open Tribe” is better?

  • canadian_diva
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 2:44 am   Permalink

    I’m so glad this has been put into words and is felt by more people than just me. This feeling of “tribe” is exactly why CSUN is a huge highlight of my year every time I get to go. Getting to see the latest gadgets and learning about the latest advances in accessibility is fun and is of course the purpose, but the tribe and the people I meet are what make it amazing. I feel inspired from the time I step through the doors of the hotel to long after I’ve sadly returned home. I love how I can walk through the hotel and conversations go on all around me about “how can we work to make this more accessible?” “how does this work?” so much knowledge to share. I love how I can participate in those discussions even though I’m not a developer or a designer and I don’t yet have a job in the field yet I still feel like my opinions matter. I love how I’m surrounded by people who are blind or deaf or in wheelchairs or have other disabilities and people who don’t have any disability at all and how disability is an issue, because the conference is about making technology more accessible, but at the same time it’s not an issue at all because everyone at CSUN gets the whole people first mentality. When I’m at CSUN I don’t feel like the “blind girl,” I feel like a confident woman who has opinions that are valued. This year, during a particularly emotionally charged session, I learned that people can disagree with me and still be my friend. I feel totally comfortable amongst my tribe and like I can 100 percent be myself and I don’t always feel that way in every day life. I’ll admit, sometimes I feel a bit on the outside because I don’t know as much as other tribe members, but then I remind myself that I’m here to learn from them and I’m sure I have things to teach them too. I always leave CSUN feeling like I grew as a person. It is honestly one of my favourite things in life and that’s largely thanks to the big huge amazing tribe. I’m already stoked about CSUn13!

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