Accessibility 2.0: Nothing About Us, Without Us

Ather Sharif
8 min readSep 27, 2021
Image portraying various individuals with varying disabilities, including people using a walker, stroller, wheelchair, cane, and service dog. Folks without any equipment are also shown, implying invisible disabilities.

“Accessibility” is like Bianca Del Rio from RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s just so sexy that everyone wants to talk about it, showcase their interest, and (likely) make up stories of how much they know it — without actually knowing much about it.

From industry professionals to academic researchers to college students to diversity-for-the-sake-of-diversity enthusiasts, the word “accessibility” just somehow makes itself glow so hard that eyes widen, jobs are given, grants are awarded, and diversity ranks are ascended. I don’t question people’s intentions (at least not publicly), but as someone who represents the demographics that “accessibility” is supposed to benefit, all of you, please stop.

And restart.

But before we get to the hows, let’s talk about the whys. Why do we need to restart? What’s wrong with the current systems? “Accessibility 1.0” (it’s not an actual thing; it’s just the way yours truly describes what a fully accessible world currently looks like, with the acknowledgement that most individuals, organizations, and systems are still not at the “Accessibility 1.0” phase) made everyone realize we needed push buttons next to doors. And accessible seating in classrooms, theaters, restaurants. And accessible cabs, buses, trains, planes. And closed-captioning, subtitles, ASL interpreters, CART services. And alternative text descriptions for images. That all sounds pretty good, right? And it is, compared to “Accessibility 0.0” — a time when people with disabilities were considered an abomination to societies all around the world. But there’s still a huge void to fill.

All these “accommodations” are items on a checklist. Not an attempt to fix the underlying issues — the foundational inequities that continue to plague societies around the world.

It’s like the “they/them” pronouns. People (who wish to do things right) tend to use these for everyone now, especially non-binary folks. There’s nothing wrong with being politically correct, of course; if anything, that’s great. But that’s not the point. The point is to make an effort in knowing what people prefer for themselves. So, instead of asking people what they prefer and then using those to refer to them, we just bundle them all under the “they/them” umbrella, redeeming ourselves, almost as if…

Ather Sharif

PhD student @uwcse Accessibility, Visualization, Personalization | SWE Lead @comcast | Founder @evoxlabs | React developer | 🐱 dad | 🍩 eater | 🦅 🔔 #philly ❤