#17: November 2021

Words and how we use them matter

This is going to be a long newsletter issue but stick with me. I think it’s worth it.

Have you ever read The Giver by Lois Lowry? I feel like it was required reading for many kids in primary school. The book was admittedly never a favorite of mine mostly because the utopian world sounded immensely boring (and more than a little sinister) to my young brain. However, there are parts that still stand out in my mind as an adult, like when the main character, Jonas, began to understand the concept of colors as well as the casual euthanasia program being run by the utopian society.

Yeah, dark book for children to read, I know.

There’s one passage from the book in particular that has always stuck with me, and it has to do with language:

[Jonas] had been trained since earliest childhood, since his earliest learning of language, never to lie. It was an integral part of the learning of precise speech. Once, when he had been a Four, he had said, just prior to the midday meal at school, “I’m starving.” Immediately he had been taken aside for a brief private lesson in language precision. He was not starving, it was pointed out. He was hungry. No one in the community was starving, had ever been starving, would ever be starving. To say “starving” was to speak a lie. An unintentional lie, of course. But the reason for precision of language was to ensure that unintentional lies were never uttered. Did he understand that? they asked him. And he had.

Now, of course, we logically know that Jonas wasn’t really lying, but merely exaggerating his hunger or speaking in hyperbole, as children are prone to do. But the correction by his elders still draws attention to an important lesson: words and how we use them matter.

Jonas wasn’t starving and meant no harm by his exaggeration, but those words said in the presence of someone who has faced food insecurity or serious hunger could be triggering or offensive. This concept is applicable to so many different scenarios concerning language. Just yesterday I tweeted about how much the phrase “did I stutter” bothers me.

Language is an integral part of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work, especially when it comes to disability. There are so many common words and phrases that people casually use every day, but have much darker origin stories or have been misappropriated, like “idiot,” “dumb,” “crazy,” and “tone-deaf”.

Respecting someone’s autonomy and prioritizing their dignity through people-first language is also important. Of course, you should always respect how an individual chooses to identify. Everyone is different, and their choices should be honored, especially when it comes to their own identity.

Most of us have a long way to go when it comes to ableist language and the words we choose. Keep in mind that almost no one is going to be perfect in this area. I’m certainly not. But I’m trying. I’m listening and learning and growing, and I urge everyone to put forth the same effort. Words have power.

- Alexa

PS: if you want to learn more about etymology—the origin and evolution of words—I highly recommend following my friend Jess Zafarris on Twitter and checking out her blog, Useless Etymology. She’s responsible for a lot of my brain wrinkles.

News and Updates

CVS arguing against Section 504

Please read this thread and share it. More people should be aware that CVS is basically attempting to dismantle non-discrimination protections under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Twitter continues to prioritize alt text

I’ve often wondered why most platforms don’t make alt text on images more visible to everyone. Granted, it’s not meant for sighted people, but bringing more awareness to alt text would go a long way to making users more informed about its importance. Looking forward to this feature becoming a reality for everyone.

AMC bringing open captions to a theaters

About time! Captions are beneficial to so many people and not just those who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing. I personally watch about 95% of video content with captions because it’s easier for me to absorb visual information. Captions can also provide a better viewing experience for anyone with an attention deficit, a learning disorder, or autism. They’re also useful if you don’t understand the language being spoken in the media, you’re in a loud environment, there’s poor audio, or if a speaker is talking too fast or has an accent.

Mastercard makes masterful design update

As a sighted person, I take a lot of things for granted. When I read this news about Mastercard making updates to their cards, it made me realize how inaccessible so many everyday items are and how simple it would be to fix them.

I also hope these cards are available to everyone and other companies begin to do the same thing with their own products because I cannot begin to tell you how many times I jam the wrong end of my credit card into a machine because I’m not paying attention. At least a dozen times a week if I had to guess.

YouTube makes auto livestream captions available to everyone

I didn’t know that YouTube even offered captions for livestreams since I almost never watch any, at least not on that particular platform. Nice to see they’re opening up the feature to everyone instead of attaching a subscriber count requirement to it.

Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) debuts first Deaf superhero

Not only is Eternals heroine Makkari Deaf, but she is also portrayed by Lauren Ridloff, a Deaf actress. And Makkari’s Deafness is one of her superpowers to top it off. Representation matters and I hope that we see more diversity like this from Hollywood. I’m also just super geeked to see this movie.

Please note that Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari is the first Deaf superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and not the entirety of Marvel as a brand. I am well aware that Hawkeye is deaf in the comics as of the early ‘80s. The famed archer is rumored to lose his hearing in the upcoming Hawkeye show, which will debut a few weeks after Eternals. It’s also worth noting that Jeremy Renner, who has portrayed Hawkeye on-screen since 2011, is not a Deaf actor.

Learning Moments

Prezzo does not impress

There’s so much wrong with this tweet. First of all, the incident it addresses should have never happened. Then there’s the poorly worded “apology” that was clearly written in a word document and then screenshot. Finally, there’s the issue that the tweet itself is not accessible. There’s no alt text on that image. Just…woof. This is why I always encourage organizations to release statements like this on their website or blog in a readable and accessible format.

Have you recently spotted a major digital accessibility win or learning moment on social media? Send it to me! I might just feature it in my next newsletter. Feel free to email me at hello@therealalexa.com or you can DM me on Twitter. My inbox is always open!

Alt Text Practice

I previously ran a weekly exercise on Twitter called #AltTextTuesday. Due to my increasing workload, I decided to move the exercise here, to my newsletter. Each month I’ll choose a different image from Pexels, and I encourage you to practice writing your best alt text for it. If you have questions or want feedback on your image description, feel free to email me!

Photo by Huy Phan

Excellent Resources

I find some of the best tips, resources, and insights on Twitter from other creators and advocates, and I want to share them with you, too!

Are you looking for an online community where you can learn more about accessible social media practices? Join the Facebook group I created! Accessible Social is a group dedicated to helping anyone working in social media, marketing, public relations, communications, or advertising learn more about accessibility best practices for digital content. All are welcome!

Join the Group

Required Reading

Longer pieces that are definitely worth reading through and learning from.

It’s ableist to cut pay of work-from-home employees

Rachel Charlton-Dailey | VeryWell

“As long as the pandemic is still not under control, it’s vital that disabled people are able to safely work, and for many people, that means working from home. Cutting the pay of these workers forces them to choose between going to work in a potentially unsafe environment and not being able to afford to live.”

Superhero stories have a disability problem

Keah Brown | Inverse

“This fear of disability and disabled people is by design. In our visual and written narratives, disability is viewed as a punishment, something to loathe and fear because we often fear what we do not understand.”

Making data visualizations more accessible

Adam Zewe | MIT News

“These researchers conducted a study with blind and sighted readers to determine which text is useful to include in a chart description, which text is not, and why. Ultimately, they found that captions for blind readers should focus on the overall trends and statistics in the chart, not its design elements or higher-level insights.”

Why Sex Education’s caravan canoodle is a romantic scene like no other

The Triple Cripples | gal-dem

“Growing up as a disabled person and almost always seeing everyone but you being fancied or romantically pursued in films and TV shows lead to the idea that if it were ever to happen, it could only occur within the fantasy or science fiction genres.”

Let’s talk about social media and accessibility

Rachel Karten | Link in Bio

“When we bake accessibility into all of our processes, we're designing for our future selves. We're all going to become disabled or impaired. It's a matter of when. When you get sick, you become temporarily impaired. It can cause cognitive impairment and affect how you comprehend content.”

Scroll Stoppers

Bits of wisdom, thoughtful moments, and maybe a few pointed remarks that made me immediately stop scrolling. Hopefully, they get you thinking as well!

One Last Chuckle

I love that Nate tagged me in this. He knows all about my deep hatred for ASCII art in social media content, so I got a laugh out of this street sign!