As we recognize Cyndi for her career and vast contributions to the web accessibility field, we invite friends and colleagues to join Cyndi for a virtual gathering to share their best wishes and memories. This Zoom meeting will be held June 22nd at 3pm US Eastern Time. If you’d like to join us, please register.
My parents always taught me that words matter. Growing up I did my best to identify and select the most compatible words to convey my meaning. As I compose this blog to announce my retirement and announce WebAIM’s new leadership I struggle to choose the word. “Transition”? Such a steely term.
Perhaps “change” would better describe what I mean? It will certainly be a change for me this July 1st, after 35 years working ridiculous hours in disability fields. Yet that word sticks a bit in my throat as I am drawn to acknowledge that “change” best describes the entire accessibility field since I began with WebAIM in 1999. As many of you know, WebAIM began from a grant I secured through the U.S. Department of Education – FIPSE. Professionals galore, armed with WebAIM training, changed what they did so they could render accessible outputs to benefit the broader community. Millions of users benefitted from WebAIM.org resources we created and changed their practice. Millions of pages were evaluated through WAVE, giving developers feedback on what needed to be changed. These changes have made some sectors of the digital environment more accessible, and brought digital dignity to so many.
Perhaps the word I am looking for is “passage”? This is clearly an event of passage. I will pass leadership of WebAIM on to an amazing and exceedingly competent new Director, Jared Smith, who has served as our Associate Director for 13 years. He will steer WebAIM’s course into the next 24 years, as I did the past 24. Yet my heart says “passage” is not the best word either. My mind goes to the many passages in the digital accessibility community, each providing a hallmark of its own. Examples include the letter that Senator Harkin sent to the Department of Justice in 1996 which clarified that the intent of the ADA would include the Internet. The promulgation of Section 508 technical specifications in 2001 and its refresh in 2018. The White House and DOJ letter sent to all College and University Presidents clarifying expectations of digital accessibility in 2010 (and again just recently in 2023). Numerous court decisions that shook us all and put smiles on our faces, and certainly WCAG guidelines (v1 – 1999; v2 -2008; v2.1- 2018; v2.2-soon). Now those events were “passages”.
For WebAIM more personally, passages included getting each and every federal grant that helped support us while we were on the bleeding edge of discovery, and helped us until we were fully sustainable. Being given stewardship of WAVE from the late Len Kasday at Temple University was another. Who would have thought that this would have led to the current WAVE, its enormous use, or our current WAVE partnership with Pope Tech. Building out a tremendous community online was another passage for us, as was being able to make sure our resources did not end up behind a paywall. Other passages for us included conducting seminal WebAIM research (e.g., the Screen Reader User Surveys, the WebAIM Million, and many more), building out our training and our evaluation services to near full capacity, and launching online courses in Document Accessibility, and soon for Zoom Accessibility.
Maybe the word I search for is “evolution”. Yes, that feels like a better fit for me. The four principles at work in evolution are variation, inheritance, selection, and time. WebAIM benefits from all of these and will be positioned to thrive for many decades to come because of them. Yes, evolution is the word I am looking for.
So, my life and WebAIM are evolving. This shift will ensure that this impressive group of diverse talent both survives and thrives in our soft-money environment at a University for a long time to come. The amazing team at WebAIM (Jared Smith, Jon Whiting, George Joeckel, John Northup, Rob Carr, Alaina Foust, Alyson Bell, Jalan Cunningham, and Sarah Baker) will continue to evolve to battle some of the large issues troubling accessibility in our time. I am blessed to have had them on my team for as long as I have.
Now that I have selected the word that best describes what I am feeling, let me put it all together announcing WebAIM’s evolution to a new era. Upon my retirement July 1, 2023, Jared Smith will take the reins as WebAIM’s new director. Please join me in welcoming him in this role, and in congratulating the entire WebAIM team on 24 years of excellence.
Speaking of evolution, it is my opinion that our field will need to dig in and evolve on some big issues. These are both micro and macro in nature. On the micro side, our field must help get accessibility knowledge, skills, and tools to everyone who touches digital content to make sure what they produce is accessible. We must acknowledge openly that accessibility is getting harder, more sophisticated for the dev team and because of this even seasoned people need supports. We must also do a better job supporting accessibility in mobile development.
On the macro side, we must get organizations to realize that a shift to accessibility needs to be at a system level. We can no longer afford to assign a few people to be the accessibility team, when distributed content and development is what is going on. This is especially true when a single inaccessible procurement can undo years of work. Also, on a macro level we must get students in relevant fields the accessibility knowledge and skills they need during their school programs (e.g., Vo-tech, college, or university). If we cannot, we need to come to peace with the fact that the next generation of accessibility personnel we are waiting for will never come. There are complex issues involving numerous competing priorities in our preservice programs of today. I will continue to cross my fingers for that issue to evolve, but I will not hold my breath.
What are other ways our field will evolve? Will AI come into play? Of course it will (and it is). Yet it is likely to add as many new irritants as solutions. Will we get better tools to help with accessible development? Yes. Will legal frameworks better support the work of accessibility? As a betting woman I say “yes”, but for the near term I would need to ask us all to hold our breath, and that is no way to enjoy life. Matt May said it best when he once famously said “What we have are a few people who know a lot about accessibility. What we need are a lot of people to know a little about it.” Getting accessibility knowledge to scale so we can better move the needle of change is, and will be, an evolutionary battle.
As I enter my last month of working at Utah State University, I want to thank each and every one of you in the accessibility and disability community for your steadfast work and determination to help make the world a more accessible place. May you reap nothing but blessings in life for the work you do.
For my near future, I will be obsessed with non-work travel and family and books, and gardens oh my. I will be volunteering, playing pickleball, finding new friends – as a recent widow this ain’t for the weak –and all of the stereotypic old-lady things you can think of. It will be amazing, and I’m looking forward to every minute of it.
On a personal note, every member of the WebAIM team has my contact info. If you should like to get in touch with me after June, contact any of them.