“Your Ableism is Showing: How You’re Missing the Mark By Not Including Accessible Practices”: Erin Perkins, Accessibility Educator at Mabely Q (Video + Transcript)

March 8, 2022

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Next up, we have Erin Perkins. Erin is an accessibility educator and the CEO and founder of Mabely Q. She is a deafblind woman who will share her personal experiences and challenge us to think about how we can step outside our own comfort zone and make small, easy changes to improve our accessibility across the board. Welcome, Erin.

Erin Perkins: Hello! Could you last 24 hours without sound? No sound on your phone, not being able to have a simple conversation with your neighbor outside, complete silence. Could you do it for 48 hours? 72 hours? How many of you started to get uncomfortable with it?

Erin Perkins: We live in a world that is incredibly noisy. And having no access to sound, this is actually normal for 350 million people in the world. They have a disabling hearing loss.

Erin Perkins: Did you know that people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States, over any other minority group? This group crosses boundaries, such as age, ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.

Erin Perkins: So corporations actually need to start prioritizing accessibility from day one. Even if it’s too late to start from day one, you need to start right now. Here are three ways I’m going to talk about why it’s important to be accessible for people with disability.

Erin Perkins: We want to unlearn the assumption that disabled people should be responsible for all of their own accessibility needs, and start accepting responsibility. Why companies should prioritize accessibility and start putting it at the forefront. Why accessibility is better for everyone, not just for people with disability.

Erin Perkins: I’m Erin Perkins, I’m a deafblind woman who I had to face obstacles my entire life with the lack of accessibility everywhere I go, including at my job for 11 years with a boss that always told me she almost didn’t hire me.

Erin Perkins: While I was there, I would often question whether I really needed an interpreter during meetings, or why I couldn’t just answer the phone. I was also constantly told that I wasn’t good enough or experienced enough to be a manager.

Erin Perkins: Despite all of the comments and discouraging, I still wanted the opportunity to move up within the company that I was at, but I didn’t know how, or did I really have the supports?

Erin Perkins: During my time at this company, the American Disabilities Act always weighed on the back of my mind. I thought that the American Disabilities Act was designed to protect all people with disabilities’ rights. But this act, it’s only 31 years old. It’s actually younger than me. And yes, realizing so many companies fail miserably in creating access for people with disabilities.

Erin Perkins: Many businesses of all sizes have this tendency to shift responsibility back and expectation back onto people with disabilities, and that we should know everything about what should be provided to them, what the laws are. This often results in frustration and doubt. The reality is, companies should accept a responsibility on providing support.

Erin Perkins: When we ask for support, don’t question what we need. We know that we don’t like being questioned about our ability. Yes, I can speak. I can hear, but I can only hear with the help of my tool.

Erin Perkins: When I am questioned, that often leads me to doubt my own ability within my disability. I know my own limits. People with disability do not need someone else questioning our own abilities.

Erin Perkins: Now, we also don’t expect you to know everything there is, but also, come to the conclusion that we don’t know everything, especially when it comes to the company we’re working for.

Erin Perkins: We need this to be a collaboration, rather than it being me versus you.

Erin Perkins: It’s also really important to remember that there is no “one size fits all.” Even if you have created something that is supposed to be accessible to most, there just might be that one person it’s not accessible for.

Erin Perkins: Truth be told, I stayed at this company way longer than I ever should have, because I had this internal fear that I would never get hired anywhere else because of my disability. Unfortunately, after 11 years of dedication, I was laid off.

Erin Perkins: Once I got over the shock of being laid off, I knew I had two choices. I could apply to work at another company and go through the exact same thing all over again. Or, I could start my own business. So guess which one I chose?

Erin Perkins: I chose the hard one. I started my own business. As I started my business, I was going along swimmingly. [inaudible] I started in business ED. When I came across my first obstacle, I had purchased this online course, and realized after the purchase that none of the videos were captioned. I wasn’t even making any money.

Erin Perkins: I was bootstrapping. I invested a good amount in the course, and I struggled with the course. And I vowed to myself I would never buy another course again, unless I knew for sure all the videos were captioned.

Erin Perkins: Here’s how I started there. Big companies, such as the company I used to work for, they didn’t really do that great of a job of giving me access. So why should I ever expect a small business to provide me with access? So this resulted in my journey of accessibility education for companies of all sizes.

Erin Perkins: Did you know? People with disabilities are more likely to be self-employed than those with no disabilities.

Erin Perkins: One of the most common reason that people with disability are self-employed because they need that flexibility that cannot be found when working for someone else. Some of these issues can be related to transportation and flexible scheduling. These are usually the most primary region, among multitude of others.

Erin Perkins: I wanted to share the statement made by Ola Ojewumi, she is the founder of Project Ascend. She brings up an important point about disability. “Being disabled is the one group you don’t have to be born into. You can become disabled at any time. So my fight for equality and disability justice should be your fight because you may very well become a person with a disability one day.”

Erin Perkins: The reality is, the world was, and is still, designed for heteronormative white male. Do you realize that people with disability are likely to be the original hackers? We have to hack our daily lives, [inaudible] very little, and [inaudible].

Erin Perkins: For one of my favorite examples that I want to share is to take a look at the deaf community. Within our community, we were communicating via texting in early in 2000s, before anybody else was. Were you [inaudible]? Were you just psychic?

Erin Perkins: We used Blackberry. Now, it’s completely normal to be texting with one another. I mean, there might be some people who might pick up the phone, might question that logic a little bit.

Erin Perkins: I also wanted to share that I’ve been part of this online world, blogging and the Internet, it just became a world that had no barrier to me. Everything was written, everything was easy. I didn’t have to try so hard to understand people, as if I met them in person.

Erin Perkins: I actually continue to stick with blogging. Even as the platform shifted to platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, podcasts, Clubhouse, all these new platforms created to bring people together, and all the different things you can do with them.

rin Perkins: However, I will share, the last couple years have started leaving me with this feeling of being left behind again with the newest and the greatest thing coming to the forefront, accessibility priority are being shuffled to the bottom of the lift once again.

Erin Perkins: Audio focus platform become all the rage again. I mean, you do remember radio, talk radio. So, how do we ensure that accessibility is a priority for a company? We start looking at company corporation that prioritize accessibility.

Erin Perkins: By prioritizing accessibility, it will put them that ahead of other company that don’t prioritize accessibility. The reason being is the company that prioritized accessibility, they attract people with disability as customers, and their peers around them. The employee are more likely to be innovative. And because accessibility would build in from the start, there is less maintenance and upkeep to deal with.

Erin Perkins: I want to talk about a company that do hit the month onto driving to be accessible and possible for the employee, as well as the consumer. Your company that I’m going to highlight, Boeing. They have made disability a huge, enormous priority in their business.

Erin Perkins: One of the things they do is, they do a yearly disability employment tracker. This allows them to benchmark their disability inclusion practices. They also have a defined, a combination policy to ensure prompt responses to employee request. So they really focus on the disability inclusion inside the company, which is incredibly important.

Erin Perkins: We also have Booz Allen Hamilton. They’re dedicated to enabling the next generation of disabled professional. This company host an annual Disability Mentoring Day. This program will pay our employees directly with students who have disability.

Erin Perkins: And we also have Google. They have a central accessibility team. This group ensures that accessibility is incorporated into everything Google does by conducting user research training all teams on best accessibility cost and regularly testing for common online issue.

Erin Perkins: Now I get it. These businesses have deep pockets and all their resources at their fingertip. And other companies should look to them at example, and how they can be better at being accessible for people with disability. They started somewhere and continue to make accessibility a priority for the company and the people around them.

Erin Perkins: I want to encourage you to get out of your own way and stop creating based on the assumption that there’s only one way to do things. There’s so many things out there that are marketed as, “This is the only way. This is the best way to do things.” It’s so far from the truth.

Erin Perkins: We want to shift our focus of accessibility to be more of the inclusive design. I designed that consider the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age, other forms of human differently. So we can, and we should do better.

Erin Perkins: So let’s take a look at what some of thing we can do to improve going forward. We can announce that to work with people with the disability is a collaborative effort. Don’t put all the responsibility on them. Company have to stop chuckling prior accessibility priority to the bottom of the to-do list and start prioritizing.

Erin Perkins: Take a look at where you need to improve accessibility within your own company and starting with your own employee and customers. Understanding and knowing that being accessible benefits more people than it does now. Start shifting your focus. That includes the full range of human diversity.

Erin Perkins: So I just want to share a little quick tip when I was doing the drive one of this site platform to make sure everything ran smoothly. I actually had to do a quick educational session to ensure that this event would be accessible by making sure that the captain would be turned on for the entire event.

Erin Perkins: And this happens more often than you realize. To be honest, people with disabilities are not expecting them to be absolutely perfect. But we do want to have the same access as you, enable body person. And the way we can get there with a little help from you for making this shift to be a more accessible will for both you and me.

Erin Perkins: So I also wanted to share that any company that you guys are looking for and you really want to make sure that accessibility is brought to the forefront, I am happy to do workshops and lecture.

Erin Perkins: It would be a very collaborative thing to make sure that we addressing that within your company to make sure it has more focus. And so feel free to reach out to me at erin@mabelq.com.

Erin Perkins:And here’s the thing, remember, progress, not perfection. So you can connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Email, my website, right? Thank you.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Erin. That was just amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your story, making us all better at what we do in being able to be active participants and effective allies. For me, at least I didn’t realize this was the largest minority group. So thank you for educating all of us.

Erin Perkins: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s our pleasure. 

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Share this