The Power of Advocacy: How one Email can Change an Entire Semester

As a college student, inaccessible websites, applications, and materials that put barriers in the way of my equal education have been a staple in my college years. The inaccessibility that I have experienced has ranged from useable with great difficulty to not useable at all. If I am lucky, the website has a few unlabeled elements that I can get through; however, there have been many occasions where I have had to ask for assistance in order to complete my school work.

This semester, I’m using an online discussion forum called PackBack. As I worked my way through the requirements of my course, I noticed that I had a problem. Each post a user publishes on PackBack is assigned a number of curiosity points, which are meant to help assess the creativity and originality of students’ posts. This assists the professor with grading participation, and helps to reduce the number of posts that are unrelated to the topic at hand.

When I published my first post, I encountered a significant problem. Although I tried several different combinations of screen readers and web browsers, I could not see how many curiosity points I had received. My professor requires that each student reach a minimum of 150 curiosity points for the week in order for their posts to count toward their grade. How on Earth was I going to fix this? I was missing out on a key part of the assignment, and the only answer I had was to ask someone with useable vision to look at my posts.  I did not feel that this was an acceptable method for me to complete my work.

I began to dig around the site, looking for accessibility statements or documentation, and did not find anything.

As I searched for the website’s contact form, I grumbled and groaned at not only writing yet another email concerning the lack of accessibility of a website that was imperative to the success of my education, but also whether or not my need for accessibility would have any validity in the eyes of the website administrators.  I calmly told them what was going on, and waited.

Imagine my surprise when I opened my inbox today. I had a very friendly and genuine email from the company’s CPO, who works directly with the accessibility team. She informed me that she appreciated my report, and she would be sending this information to engineering for a fix.  I was told that improvements should arrive within two weeks. Additionally, her response also included the curiosity points I had received on my first three contributions, and I was invited to ask if I needed them again. I was also asked how else Packback could be a better experience for those using screen readers.

I think there is a mark on my chin from hitting the apartment floor. Never before had I received such a swift response that seems to indicate that someone truly cares about accessibility. It just goes to show that, no matter how burned out we are from advocating, no matter how much we feel that our request will fall on deaf ears, we still must try.

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