As a technical writer for Google Cloud, I have had a significant impact on my personal and professional lives. It led me to a job I love ,, and it keeps my family and friends connected around the globe.
It also allows me to do everyday tasks in a way that many others might not be aware. I have aniridia, a rare eye condition where the eyes are underdeveloped. Among other things, I’m light sensitive, have about 20/200 vision that isn’t correctable with lenses or surgery, and my eyes move around involuntarily.
Most people don’t know the extent of my disability, as I am largely independent. My daily challenges are small things most people take as a given. For example, I rarely experience eye contact which makes it difficult for me to understand non-verbal cues. Crossing the street for me is like playing Frogger in real life. Reading menus and shopping can be difficult. It can be difficult to find my rideshare car or navigate airports.
But tech has allowed me to develop my own “life hacks.” During meetings, I adjust the magnification for a Google Doc. This doesn’t affect anyone else’s view. I zoom in on instructors during virtual dance classes. To be more productive, I use keyboard shortcuts and predefined text fragments. I plan ahead of trips and store key navigational information in Google Maps. I take photographs of labels and menus so that I can see them clearly on my phone.
Technologies that assist me in overcoming the challenges I face are not just for me; they also benefit all of us. These technologies, such as Dark mode, Assistant and Live Caption, are beneficial to everyone and enhance their experience with certain products. And they can also support people with permanent, situational, or temporary disabilities.
The curbcut effect . is the positive impact of disability-friendly design upon a larger population. A curb cut is an access ramp that is built into a sidewalk and slopes down to the street. Although their primary purpose is to allow wheelchair users access, curb cuts can also be used for other purposes, such as people who ride bikes, scooters, or skateboards, or people pushing strollers, or people pulling heavy luggage, or people with crutches or canes. They are not only designed to assist people with disabilities but also help many other people.
I think there’s a valuable lesson from the curb-cut phenomenon that I use when I create new technologies at Google. I challenge anyone involved in creating, selling, designing or supporting products or services to redefine accessibility as customization. Accessibility is often seen as an additional feature in a product designed for people with disabilities. Features like captions or Dark mode are a way to personalize your user experience. These customizations are great for everyone. Everybody finds themselves in situations where they need to adapt how they interact with their devices and those around them. Products and services that allow us to interact with the world and people in it are more useful for everyone.
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