Chronicle

Make sure accessibility is afloat

In my mother tongue, the word for “launch” has to do with boats. It is used for launching projects and ideas as well, but etymologically, it comes from something being seaborn. This time of the year, everyone who is joining the effort and party around launching veteran wooden boats, can think of little else. It is always a fantastic experience full of laughter and joy, but also concern. Will she float? Do the pumps work? Can I trust the level guard?

Susanna Laurin

Title: Chief Research and Innovation Officer

Like most wooden boat owners, we sleep in the boat during the first nights after launch. The reason is obvious: if the boat sinks, we'll be on board. Or, a little more prosaic; My husband is sleeping with his arm outside the berth. Should the water rise, he will get wet on his hand and wake up. At least in theory.

Certainly it takes craftmanship to take care of our floating cultural heritage, but there is no real rocket science. If you take good care of your boat, there will be no disaster, but if you are careless or sloppy, the launch can indeed turn into a night mare.

In many ways, wooden boat life resembles accessibility work. My simple recipe for success with wooden boats and accessibility alike comes here:

Susanna Laurin's simple recipe for success with wooden boats and accessibility alike

Activity Wooden boat Accessibility
Good planning What improvements do we need / can we make this year? Make sure there is time to test during the course of the project.
Start on time Start the winter preparations early, even though it is cold and dark. The earlier you get accessibility into the project, the more chance you will be successful.
Correct tools Essential. Don’t be stingy. It will be faster, nicer and much more fun with the right stuff! Set clear and detailed requirements so the supplier can understand what you want. Then you can also control that you received what you ordered.
Patience Find your own meditation technique to survive the drying time between layers of varnish and the eternal vacuum cleaning. Laws, rules and standards are boring and difficult. But raise your head and think about how good the end result will become!
Check while working Use your hand, rotate the lamp, change position, take a few steps back and make sure you've done everything right. Test everything. Feel free to use end users or experts. By all means test yourself too. Ongoing during the whole project.
Ask for help when needed I can assure you that someone has made that awkward repair before you. Ask for help! Wooden boat owners are generous. No one can know everything. When it comes to specific tests with assistive technology or the like – ask for help.

The alternative is a sinking ship

Along our coasts, you can sometimes see examples of miscarriage, forgotten old beauties and total wrecks. Boats that have taken a long time and much thought to construct and build, but who are now left to lapse into ignorance. Boats launched in poor condition who must hang with straps underneath, locked in the launcher, for several days before they can float on their own. It's sad to see.

That’s the kind of wreck I visualize when organizations seriously tell us they prefer to claim "undue burden" rather than even trying to make the interfaces work for everyone. They spend so much time on escaping the regulations that they could easily have solved the accessibility problems with the same resources. To me, it’s a tad provocative, because making digital solutions accessible is actually quite easy when compared to renovating a veteran boat. I can understand a person who gives up when everything is rotten and leaking, but I find it difficult to understand fellow humans who choose not to create accessible interfaces. I'd like to give them a piece of sandpaper as a gift.

To all of you - the vast majority - who do your best to create inclusion, I wish for a relaxing summer, with or without a boat.

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