Category Archives: Against Disablism

Blogging Against Disablism Day – My Annual Rant #BADD2015

Is this disablism? I don’t know. In this article (rant?) I will discuss how I believe that society – at least, that part of it that is responsible for employing people – is engaging in disablism. OK, it is a rant; if you don’t want a rant, please go Google for “fluffy bunnies,” or something.

This rant is about employment, and my perceived failure of most organisations to employ purely on the basis of talent, and potential output, rather than the ability to turn up to a specified location, then go home a certain number of hours later (without specifying what needs to be achived within this time.)

Let’s try to summarise my personal position, from the point of view of a potential employer, at least, let’s look at the “obvious” negatives:

  • Can work only 12-16 hours per week. (More than that, my eyes get well, and truly buggered.)
  • Can’t drive distance – even the process of driving a relatively short distance to work would impact on my ability to do said work.
  • Frequently sick.
  • Can’t always tell one day to the next whether I will be able to work the next day.

Read these, think what they imply. And, when I say imply, I mean what would common prejudice imply? You may notice that one word I do not address above is “productivity.” Because I am anything but unproductive:

  • I have been told by many people that I work incredibly fast; I also don’t take chat/coffee/smoke/watching porn/more chat/more coffee/unspecified indolence breaks. [If I stop working, I stop the clock. Always.] Hours != work accomplished.
  • I work from home; this means that, when required, I can generally jump on top of urgent work at times when the office-bound couldn’t.
  • I only don’t work when I am so incapacitated that I can’t even crawl into a recliner and work (can’t remember the last time that happened,) and only veto work entirely, when I am so feverish, and/or brain-fogged that I would be likely to make so many mistakes that working would result in negative productivity. [Yes, I’ve been there, I know my limits, I know when to quit.]
  • I don’t have fixed working days – or hours. It all evens out. Unless I have promised to do something at a fixed time and can’t (very rare,) clients never know; well, actually they probably will – because I keep them informed even if there is no impact to what is being done.

I could summarise the above by saying that I can do my job proficiently, and deliver on promises as well as the next person – but how would this be read by the likes of recruiters, and HR people? Do they have the training (the quality of recruiters I’ve come across says “no way,” from that aspect) to see what a person can deliver, or do they just look at the traditional model of employment – that draws in any number of incompetents, and time wasters? Is a failure to assess what someone has to offer in terms of output, rather than anything else, and to accommodate those who may have specific needs to achieve that output (like working from home,) not discrimination, not disablism?

I have (so far,) managed to keep my head above water (just,) but I often feel trapped: if I don’t have enough business to pay the bills, I don’t have the energy, or other resources that the fully able-bodied do, to get a part-time job, run a marketing campaign, or whatever. But, above all, I can’t just go, and get a job. And I don’t ever want to be unproductive. (I also don’t see myself ever retiring; I can’t think of anything worse than not working, even if it’s on my own projects, of which I have many.)

Where is the discrimination? Totally engrained in society, as far as I’m concerned. But I think I’ve got it lucky; sure, I’ve got health issues that impact my employability, in a conventional arena, BUT, I’m a white, cis/hetero, English-speaking (and born) male. Now consider my situation in an intersectional context – what if I were coloured, female, LGBTQIA, on top of my issues? That I will leave you, good reader, to ponder.

End of rant. You may enjoy this article A History of Disability: from 1050 to the Present Day, if you want something less ranty. (Thanks to @starrysez for the link.)

More BADD goodness available at Diary of a Goldfish. (Kudos to her, and Mister Goldfish, for keeping this thing going.)

Gay Dogs Not Allowed

Blogging Against Disablism Day

I thought I had pretty well exhausted all material that I might use for my 2010 Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD) post until I turned up this rather odd news item, Gay dogs not welcome, on the Adelaide Now news site.

Read the article and judge for yourself, but I think that even if you believe the story that these people thought the man had a gay (not guide) dog, then they were guilty of sex discrimination if not blatant disablism.

So now we do not only have direct disablism, but we have disablism by proxy – making barriers for assistance dogs.

May I suggest that you now go to the BADD site and have a read through some of the fine contributions there – and maybe write a post of your own if you haven’t already done so.

Blue Hat for a Blue Day

Smiffy's Twitter avatar wearing a blue hat


Today is the 30th November. This year (2009,) the 30th November marks the third annual Blue Beanie Day, raising awareness of web standards and accessibility. (For those unsure as to what a beanie is – as was I – it's what in my family used to be called a wooly hat; toque in French.)

Firstly, let's get the "why a blue beanie (or wooly hat)" issue out of the way. The reason is simple: the online avatar of Jeffrey Zeldman, co-founder of the Web Standards Project, publisher of A List Apart, is seen wearing – you've guessed it – a blue beanie (or toque.) Someone decided this would be a good way to make the avatars of web standards-supporting folk stand out. The rest is history.

When I posted a note on Twitter advising why my avatar had suddenly gained some blue stuff up top, it was pointed out to me that the link to the Web Standards Project page was "…less than exciting to casual visitor." (Thanks to @DrJaneLS.) Which was perfectly true. The page in question means everything to those of us already involved in web standards/accessibility, but very little to anyone else. Since it is the "anyone else" we are trying to reach, some further explanation is required, otherwise we are just wasting our time, preaching to the choir, as it were.

Web Standards, Web Accessiblity in a Very Small Nutshell

At risk of upsetting my peers with an over-simplistic explanation, I will now endeavour to explain web standards/accessibility and why they are important to everyone.

Web Standards

The heart of the modern web page is HTML – HyperText Markup Language. It's the language that defines the content and semantics of a web page. The presentation of modern web pages – what they look like – is determined by CSS – Cascading Style Sheets – another language.

When writing in any human language, we need to observe rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation, semantic structure, etcetera – or we end up with an incomprehensible mess. Web standards is all about doing this with the languages used to create web pages.

If we don't stick to the rules when writing for the web, we may end up with a page that looks OK in one web browser (user agent, to use the technical term,) but not in another. But the implications go further than this, which leads me to web accessibility.

Web Accessibility

Whilst web standards may be regarded by some as technical niceties, web accessibility has a far more human face. It is, at the end of the day, all about people.

How do people use the web? If we assume that everyone has a desktop computer with a big colour monitor, keyboard, mouse, fast Internet connection, and design our content around this, we run the risk of excluding people who:

  • Are blind or have low vision
  • Cannot /do not use a keyboard
  • Cannot /do not use a mouse (possibly in combination with not being able to use a keyboard)
  • Have a slow Internet connection (includes so-called "mobile broadband")
  • Are using a tiny screen, such as on a smart-phone

This list is by far from being exhaustive. For further reading, I would suggest Introduction to Web Accessibility from the Web Access Initiative, the official body that creates the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (and other related guidelines.)

People who fall into the first three categories on my list have technology solutions available to them, but these technologies rely on a certain quality of content to be able to do their job. [Note: I have written software that attempts to make sense of web content. Trying to get it to work with non-standards compliant content is highly frustrating to say the least.] Following web standards will not necessarily make content accessible – more work is required on the part of the content creator – but it's a very good start.


If we ignore web standards and accessibility, we run the risk excluding people from being able to make use of our content. Not only is this immoral (discriminatory,) but it makes poor business sense (excluding potential customers) and – in many jurisdictions – is illegal.

Support web standards and accessibility. If you don't create content yourself, you may have influence/responsibility over it. Make that content standards-compliant and accessible and you will be able to go home feeling that you have been socially inclusive, gained customers, and won't be seeing the wrong end of a discrimination suit.

What You Can Do

  • If you are a content creator, learn to write valid, semantic, markup. Learn about web accessibility techniques and apply them.
  • If you are having web content created, specify that it must be standards-compliant and that accessibility should be a primary design consideration, not an add-on. (If your contractor says "it doesn't matter," find someone else.)
  • Everybody: find out how people with disabilities use the web [try searching for screen reader video.] It can be quite a thought-provoking experience.
  • Spread the word!

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What, no Nick Heyward? No. I don't even like the song – I was just looking for a snappy tagline.

BADD Headline: Dress as a Disabled Person

Blogging Against Disablism Day

Students asked to dress as a disabled person for fundraiser (  I find it fitting that this rather awful headline should appear on Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD.)  My BADD posts for previous years have all been rather general, with no focus on the “now.” Here is something topical, fresh, in the news and getting some people very agitated on Twitter.

Whilst the idea was born out of noble intentions (I hope,) what exactly is it telling the children?  It is telling them that people with disabilities look different. That’s right, teach ’em young that it’s OK to stigmatise people with disabilities, especially the visual ones.

If they really want to teach children about disabilities, what’s wrong with having slightly older children with disabilities come and describe how their lives may be different but at the same time how they are the same as other children and maybe engage in a little role-play if that’s what it takes to develop empathy and understand how others experience the world.

Dress up as a “disabled person” (note: not even using “person first” terminology) – I am honestly flabaghasted.


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A further news report advises that the school in question has abandoned this plan.

Book Review: The Short Bus

Blogging Against Disablism Day


I was contacted by Jonathan Mooney a little while ago and asked if I would be interested in writing a review of his book ‘The Short Bus’, subtitled ‘A Journey Beyond Normal’. It seemed to me that it would be very fitting if I were to write this review and publish it as part of the proceedings of Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008.

Jonathan is one of those people who was badly let down by the education system – badly dyslexic, a ne’er-do-well who would quite obviously never get anywhere in life. So thought the education system. Although Jonathan almost lost hope himself, he proved the doubters wrong (don’t you just love it when that happens?), graduating from Brown University – with honours. Jonathan is now an author, speaker, and consultant, helping students, parents and educators; for details of what he gets up to nowadays (and how he may be able to help you), have a look at Jonathan’s web site.

The Short Bus

What is a short bus? Before I first picked up the book, I had no idea what a short bus was, so an explanation for those who share my ingnorance is probably in order. A short bus is just that – a shorter version of the American school bus that we see on the movies (and Americans doubtless see on the streets), generally used to transport students with various disabilities to educational facilities where their needs might best be met. I say this with a certain amount of sarcasm as Jonathan’s book suggests to me that both the assessment and meeting of needs falls short of what might be desirable.

Jonathan’s plan, as an adult, was to acquire a short bus, the symbol of his experiences with Special Education, convert it into an RV (Recreational Vehicle) and tour the USA for a couple of months, meeting people like himself who were considered ‘not normal’ by the educational establishment and had been let down by that same establishment but had then gone on to succeed in their own way – for their own given value of ‘normal’.

An Eye-Opener

With my mother having worked as a dyslexia consultant for some time, I was well aware of how students could be let down by the system. Reading Jonathan’s accounts is a real eye-opener, if not shocking in what it reveals. The inhumanity of the system and the educational ‘experts’ is brought into sharp relief by the humanity of Jonathan’s writing.

The book is also an eye-opener in a more positive way and allows me to trot out my much-use phrase, “for a given value of normal” when we see how supposedly not-normal people can succeed and prosper, despite the best efforts of the education system to break their spirits.

I could waffle on for ages and give you a potted summary of the book, but what would be the point? To really do this book justice I have just to present this advice: go out and buy/read it. Jonathan’s style is very engaging, very humane and – above all – very readable. Not bad for someone who was supposed not to be able to read and write.

The Short Bus by Jonathan Mooney is published by Henry Holt and is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other good booksellers.

This book contains occasional coarse language.

Beyond ALT Text – The Nielsen Norman report for free

Get your copy of the Nielsen Norman Group Report Beyond ALT Text: Making the Web Easy to Use for Users With Disabilities – for free. (At least it is free as I write this – normal price 124 USD.)

I have yet to read the report myself, but have been advised by reliable sources that it is an excellent piece of work.

Get them while they’re ‘ot, they’re luvverly!

Going to Work – Time for a Rethink?


This is my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism Day 2007. I had planned to write at least two, pithy, and thought-provoking posts, but am just too tired and uninspired. Maybe something else will emerge tomorrow now that the rules have been relaxed (posts do not have to be made on the day).

Do we need to go to work?

For the last 4 years, I have been fully self-employed. Unfortunately, this employment has not been particularly fruitful as for those same 4 years, my health has declined and I have been in varying states of incapacity as a result of severe fatigue issues caused by sleep apnoea and an endocrine system that is fit for the scrap heap (oh, that we could pick up human replacement parts at the local Organs-R-Us). However, even when the number of hours that I have been able to work per week has reduced to single figures, the way in which I work allows me to carry on nevertheless.

As a freelance software developer and IT consultant, my home provides me with an almost perfect working environment where I can work when I want – going into the office because you’ve woken up a 3am with a good idea is not always practical – and with few distractions. (Latterly, this has been a case of me working when I can.) As one who finds social interaction during work a distraction if not an annoyance, I am quite comfortable with this fairly solitary way of life, especially when I can communicate electronically with my peers across the globe when I need or want to.

There are many jobs where working from home is simply not an option and there are many people who are themselves unsuited to this type of environment. For those where this “teleworking” would be practical, I would like to see more employers giving offering this opportunity.

If I were back working for someone else, my health situation – let’s call it disability because, for all intents and purposes, it is – would have seen me unable to go to work on a regular or predictable basis. (I never know day to day what I will be capable of doing tomorrow). This would render me totally ineffective as far as the employer were concerned, see me being paid sick leave and then finally ousted, should the employment laws support this. If however that employer were canny, I could work from home on a part-time or casual basis, still be productive for my employer and – at the of the day – still be employed.

So far, I have looked at this from the perspective of someone who has become disabled whilst already in employment. Consider now people who have issues similar to mine or have some other impairment that prevents them going to work. They may even have a disability that warrants a full-time carer; this does not, however, mean that they need to (or want to) be unproductive.

We could say that the employer who does not offer a teleworking opportunity to an appropriately qualified person is no less discriminating than if they refused employment because it would mean installing a wheelchair ramp.

Please, employers, give this your consideration; you may be missing out on some valuable talent

Update – 13 May 2007

Since writing this article, has published an article, Getting Clueful: Seven Things the CIO Should Know About Telecommuting, which is well worth a read.

What About Food?

When looking at the effects of disability, often in the context of Web Accessibilty, I have a tendency to focus on some of the less obvious issues and have been known to write the odd article and presentation about these issues. In this, my second post for BADD, I will continue in this vein and talk about something very close to my heart: food.

What I am going to talk about is a rather mild disablism, but it is worthy of a mention if for no other reason than to draw attention to a couple of issues that many people may not have considered; these are diabetes and coeliac (celiac for our friends in the USA) disease.


I don’t know how many people would agree that diabetes constitutes a disability, but from personal experience, I have found that it means that I cannot do some things that “normal” people can. At one stage, this meant that I could not go for more than 2 hours without eating. Working from home, this was not a problem, but attending a conference was.

The disablism: workplaces, conferences and anywhere where people are gathered artificially should recognise that lengthy sessions may cause problems to some people. They should also recognise that a catered tea-break should not just consist of sticky cakes and other starch and sugar related rubbish.

My doctor lent me a DVD of a conference that she attended and I had to chuckle when the speaker glanced at his watch and commented that hypoglycaemia would now be setting in and therefore it was time for a break. Maybe non-doctors will be saying the same thing if the message ever gets across.

Coeliac Disease/Gluten Intolerance

Whilst diabetes is relatively well-recognised and is generally (but not always) manageable, Coeliac disease and the horrendous effects of gluten (not exaggerating, ask someone with the disease) are not. Only this year did the British Parliament debate the coeliac issue. I don’t know how many working days are lost per year as a result of this, but it can be a truly disabling condition.

If restaurants are required to provide equal access, should this not extend to the food? I would not be at all surprised to find that a non-coeliac client in a wheelchair would get an easier ride in many restaurants than a walking coeliac with an “invisible” issue.

The disabilism: lack of adequate food labelling (gluten sneaks in to the most unlikely of foods), lack of choices in food outlets, inadequate training of staff causing cross-contamination. This isn’t like slipping a bit of chicken stock to a vegetarian in an otherwise innocent risotto – we are not talking food choices here, we are talking about people being made ill, unable to work and with reduced life expectancy (dramatically increased risk of bowel cancer).


I am not coeliac (my wife is, hence my Life Without Gluten section in this blog) and I am managing my diabetes. Eating out is a major frustration – especially taking my fatigue into account which eliminates any evening excursions – so happens very rarely. Lucky that I like cooking.

There are people out there with far worse cases of diabetes and far worse cases of coeliac disease. These people may think that they are being inconvenienced when working/eating out, but they are really suffering from discrimination. This, I think, is where you – the reader – should have a think about the Social model of Disability and then think about what I have written. Which is getting incoherent due to fatigue, but there you have it. Happy BADD, folks and don’t forget to check out all the other BADD posts.

Comments – for and against – this article are very welcome.

Good English, Poor Accessibility?

Accessibility by Numbers

Whilst those of us who care about Web Accessibility tend to take care to make our own content as accessible as possible, there are times when we discover that we may not have been doing things as well as we could.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been thinking about how we represent numbers in text. I was taught in school that any cardinal number (the ones we count with) less than 100 should be written out in full, for instance, one, two, three, forty-two. I can’t remember what we were supposed to do with ordinal numbers and fractions. I probably wasn’t listening at the time. ("Smith Minor does not pay attention in class.")

If we look at Checkpoint 14.1 of the WCAG10, we are told that we should "Use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for a site’s content". If our audience is not very good at reading English, the clearest and simplest way to represent a number must be in numeric form – 42 rather than forty-two or, even worse, two score and two. This could be even worse in French, where the humble 99 becomes quatre-vingt-dix-neuf.

I would say, therefore, that we should probably be writing our numbers as numbers, not words. For me, this is merely a case of breaking a quarter-century habit, and then getting detention for it.

Formatting Numbers

Consider the number 123,456 – what number is it? There are two correct answers that I know of, depending on one’s cultural background. Most of the English speaking world would say 123456 (one hundred and twenty three thousand four hundred and fifty six). In continental Europe, however, this number would signify 123 and 456 thousandths (one hundred and twenty three decimal four five six). Diversity may be all very well, but does the world really need two reversed sets of thousands and decimal separators?

Here lies another accessibility issue, both for humans and software agents that are trying to make sense of numbers. Every good document on the Web declares its language, but can that language be implied to be a locale as well? In software terms, it is locale, not language, that tends to define how we treat punctuation when parsing a number.

I really cannot see an answer to this, so I present a couple of my own tongue-in-cheek possibilities and one a little more practical, though imperfect. These suggestions will probably come back to me with a lot of red ink on them and a stern injunction to "See Me"

Smiffy Solves the Numbers Problem

  • All data must be typed, as it is in the better classes of programming languages with the exception of Perl (Perl is just too cool to warrant cluttering beautiful code with type definitions.) For example, the phrase "I sat there for 3 hours" should be expressed as "I sat there for <integer>3</integer> hours." – any separators found must be thousands separators and may be ignored as formatting, as an integer does not need a decimal separator. When declaring a float value, at least one decimal place must be specified: <float>234,567.0</float>. The decimal separator may then be deduced from the right-most piece of punctuation; anything else is just formatting.
  • Return to our numeric roots. If we are using Arabic numerals, surely we should be using Arabic numeric punctuation. The Arabic decimal separator looks suspiciously like a comma. Uh-oh, does that mean that the Europeans have got it right? Not entirely, as the Arabic thousands separator looks like a single right quote that has slipped down the page – not a full stop (period). So, all we need to do is to mark up our numbers with &#x066b and &#x066c, and we’re laughing. And we are all using Unicode now, aren’t we children?
  • Use full language plus dialect (like en-GB) to imply locale, and work from that. This all falls apart for those of us with our own custom locales: en-US keyboard, en-GB spellcheck, en-AU currency and ISO8601 times and dates. Can three, sorry, 3 uses of ‘en’ be guaranteed to imply a specific set of numeric separators? Not with 100% confidence.

If anyone has a real solution to the way that we present and interpret numbers, please do tell.