Accessibility in social justice spaces

This article is going to be boring, for which I apologise in advance; not everything I write can be interesting and engaging. Indeed, nothing I've written so far actually is. However, as my mother drilled into my head from a very young age and continues to drill into my head today, not everything important is going to grab your attention.

So, you're into social justice. You're radical and progressive and all about breaking down systems of oppression. You see the injustice in everything and rail against it with all the righteous fury you can muster. So far, so good, right? I'm not going to pretend that changing the world is simple or easy or produces instant results. I guess a good analogy is water running over a rock: you might think that the rock's just going to stay there, immutable and unmoveable, whether you pour the water over it for one month or one year or even ten years. But perhaps in eleven years' time you can start to see the rock wearing down, and in twelve years' time a tiny crack in the rock forms, and by the time that it hits fifty years since the water first started pouring over the rock the crack's got so big that the rock just shatters.

Anyway, digression over. Can anyone actually get to see what you're doing and what you're discussing? In other words, is your work accessible to others?

Accessibility is one of those things that doesn't get thought about as much as it should do (and I include myself in the group of people who don't think about accessibility enough), because it's one of those truly invisible things: for example, most sighted people don't use screen readers. So we're used to being able to read text on images like infographics and memes. However, a screen reader cannot "read" an image - it can only read the alt text or an image description. And if you happen to be using a screen reader and someone hasn't put any descriptions...well, that's a bit shit.

"But why do I need to bother making my stuff accessible?" you might ask. "That's just derailing! I mean, I can understand my point well enough!"

Look, with regards to accessibility a lot of people fuck up. I know I have. Multiple times. And I'm guessing other people have too, because it's invisible. When you can access something, you tend to take it for granted and so thinking about not being able to access that something, and how you would work around that, is easily forgotten. But that doesn't make it right.

Particularly in academic spheres, the kinds of people who tend to be having these discussions are relatively privileged: wealthy, well-educated, and probably white, cis and straight and with no disabilities or conditions. The kinds of people who need accessibility are usually much less privileged - maybe they're poorer or didn't have access to as much education for whatever reason, or they're disabled, or don't speak the language you communicate in as a first language. So claiming to have a discussion about how to be socially just and then excluding more marginalised people isn't the greatest idea in the world. Outside of academia it happens less often, but there's still quite a lot of inaccessibility going on.

I have many privileges. I am sighted and in most cases I can process sound and text very well. I have no learning difficulties. I am reasonably wealthy and overly educated. I have decent access to education. I am able-bodied. So I am probably the worst person in the world to be talking about accessibility - or perhaps just one of the worst people, after the dreaded white cishet male who oppresses everyone within a 1,000-mile radius. And so I ask politely for people to leave their own suggestions for accessibility in the comments. Till then, here are a couple of things I can think of:
  • Educate yourself! I find that a good resource is Although the last update was 2 years ago, the archives are very useful.
  • Recognise that the social justice sphere uses a lot of highly specific terminology that newcomers may be unfamiliar with and that may present a barrier to communication. Define unfamiliar words in an easily accessible glossary.
  • Recognise that social justice mindsets themselves require some getting used to for a lot of people, so don't yell and snap at a newcomer for not knowing everything immediately. Point them in the direction of a link or two.
  • No autoplay. Please, no autoplay. It's fine to have a music player, but it shouldn't be turned on by default; some people get triggered by sudden noises. Even for perfectly abled people it's more a matter of courtesy than anything else - sorry, but if I want to hear your music I'll turn it on myself.