If change was a one-word summary of the past year or past few years, it would be an understatement. It’s the word that popped into my mind when I read Eric Eggert’s year-in-review post about 2022. He talks about some practical changes around his home and his mode of transport, but the community changes he mentions hit home. He calls them losses, which is a more somber change. I consider these changes losses, too.
The accessibility community
I feel like I lost the accessibility community, too, but that really started a few years ago. I used to tweet a lot about accessibility, particularly in relation to technical communication, my professional field. I was even involved with the W3C’s working group for the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG). (Yikes! 19 years ago!) However, my day job has never been directly about accessibility. Accessibility has been a passionate interest of mine for all of my life, with activity varying over the years. My day job has nothing directly to do with accessibility so the interest is more like a hobby. Over time, my day job took more and more of my energy, so I had less and less time for this hobby in the form of tweets or blog posts. This is also why I could never get into HTML5 or ARIA discussions. Talking about it from a technical communications perspective was still valid, however. It was a relief to notice more and more technical writers/authors/communicator discussing accessibility over time, so I felt less guilty about going silent. I felt guilty anyway.
When the birdsite started going haywire in recent months, I worried about the accessibility community even though I had been quiet for a while. I have learned so so very much from so many wonderful people in that community. I am grateful that I have been able to meet some of them in person. I feel a wave of nostalgia coming over me thinking about it! I am slowly finding some of those people again on Mastodon, but I don’t have the energy to actively pursue them all. I have found a few, and the rest I will find over time, organically. It feels like I have to start all over again somehow. A lack of active participation for a few years makes it feel like I have to go back to Accessibility 101 before I can participate or speak up. However, I have noticed here and there that some people are still clueless about one of the lowest hanging accessibility fruits: alt text, also known as the descriptive text for images in social media and on websites. That means I can just post toots on Mastodon once a week just about alt text for the next ten years, and there would still be those struggling to understand the concept in 2033!
Communities at professional conferences
The idea of meeting all these wonderful people once again is a wonderful thought. This is where another of Eric’s losses resonated with me: the loss of his public speaking community. I stopped public speaking about a year before Covid-19 came along. Stopping meant imposter syndrome came sneaking back in. What can I say or what in the world can I contribute that hasn’t been said before at least 100 times? I poured my heart and soul into all my presentations. I lack the energy to do that now. The knowledge and the desire to share knowledge is still in there somewhere. I have had one-on-one conversations about technical writing and accessibility, and I find I could talk for hours on the subject. I get into “accessibility is a human right and a civil right” mode, and then I cannot find the brakes!
Even if I had the energy, I don’t want to go to these gatherings. I simply don’t trust the safety of these environments after Covid-19. I have family with pre-existing conditions, and I don’t want to bring back some weird bug as a souvenir of these gatherings. As Eric says, what about the safety for all the attendees? There are visible disabilities, but also invisible disabilities. Respiratory illnesses, smashed immune systems after heavy chemotherapy, and so on. I know many extroverted people truly suffered from the isolation of lockdown. Are we ready to make accommodations that are truly inclusive for everyone?
Finally, like Eric, I am wondering what happened to Twitter in my life. The place I had hung out for 14 years. When I got active in the accessibility community on Twitter, it was not just Twitter. It was a real community centered around accessibility. That is how it felt. There were “own voices” in this community, sharing incredible amounts of knowledge. I have read books on various accessibility topics, but when a person tells you “this is my reality on a daily basis”, that is a powerful way to learn. I was “fluent” in Twitter. I could go through quite a pile of tweets on a regular basis, which meant I was learning a lot every day.
I can say the same about the technical communication community on Twitter. That is another community I was active in and learned so much from. I have many friendships that started out on Twitter. Some remained online only due to geography, but others have spilled over into real life when the geographical stars were aligned. In Denmark where I live, I used to go to regular Twitter gatherings IRL where we met just because we could!
Eric’s post got me thinking about the changes and losses due to the pandemic and the “birdsite meltdown”.
Change is tough for human beings, as Daniel Kahneman explains to us in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. There are things I feel I have lost. However, I also found a bit of hope when reading Eric’s post and thend deciding to write a blog post as a response to his post. This blog post symbolises the hope I see.
Maybe more will return to blogging their thoughts and not just sending out soundbites that no longer seem to lead to fruitful and constructive dialog. Maybe the constructive dialogs will come from slowing down and writing more in-depth commentary.
This is my second blog post in 2023. It is much longer than I expected or planned, but I got through it–with editing–instead of abandoning it as a draft. A second post in the same month as my first post. Two more than I posted in all of 2022 (where the count was zero). This is a huge change! A change filled with hope.