Accessibility isn’t a one-person job

From the accessibility mailing list I subscribe to:

Since John Slatin died earlier this year, there has been some confusion at the University of Texas about what to do with John’s work and if/how to keep the Accessibility Institute open. Vicki Almstrum, John’s faculty colleague from the Computer Science Department, was asked to step in last month to do a review of the status and make recommendations about how to go forward.

Last week, Vicki was stunned to receive the email (included below) announcing the decision of the University to close the Institute, despite at least two offers to bring the work into other departments. If you think this is a bad decision, as I do, please write to the Vice-Provost, Dr. Steve Monti and let him know. monti@mail.utexas.edu

Some of the reasons that occur to me are:

  1. Need for research based findings to support accessible design practice
  2. Opportunity for a world class institution like UT to serve as an example to other institutions.
  3. Place where emerging practices can be tested and modeled
  4. Contributions to international body of knowledge on inclusion
  5. Maintain thought leadership in Texas, easily disseminated to state agencies that have accessibility mandates

…and I am sure there are many other reasons that you can think of as well.

If you are so moved, please write and let the UT administration know that this community cares deeply about John Slatin’s leadership role and that we urge UT to maintain and build upon John’s work.

As in any field, there are certainly people that become synonymous with a movement. With accessibility, I think often of the incredible folks I met at AccessU: Sharron Rush (who penned the above note) and Jim Thatcher among them. I never had the privilege of meeting John Slatin as he was already battling leukemia when I was at AccessU in 2006, but the folks called him from the conference after-party, and I knew how much he meant to everyone, what a difference he’d made in this field.

Perhaps no one can fill Dr. Slatin’s shoes, but that should not mean that the work that the Accessibility Institute does should cease. Following his death, the Access U conference was rechristened John Slatin Access U, and a John Slatin Accessibility Fund was established that allowed accessibility experts to provide services in exchange for a donation that went to the Slatin family to cover his medical expenses. His efforts made a tremendous difference, and it is in his honour that such work should continue.

Obviously, a strong and charismatic leader can really help to draw attention to a cause. But the strength of a movement can really be realized when that leader steps away, and things can continue to move forward without him.

I will be sending an email letting Dr. Monti know that I think the Institute that Dr. Slatin helped found should not be closed, and I hope urge anyone who feels strongly about accessibility to do the same.