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Ah, my old standby phrase. It starts with an immediate apology, “I’m sorry,” followed by the uncomfortable overshare that is, “I can’t see that.” All together the phrase, “I’m sorry, I can’t see that,” is one I hate because it’s basically me apologizing for something I can’t control. Now if you knew me, you’d know that I over apologize in general. Being a serial apologizer aside, I know I’m not the only person with a disability who feels the need to apologize for it.

The situation gets more awkward when the person I’m talking to tries to make a change of some sort so that I can see what they’re talking about. Immediately, we’re locked in a struggle where they try to assess what I can’t see and why I can’t see it, and I’m trying to figure out if I do one of the following:

  1. Pretend I can see the thing
  2. Explain that I’m visually impaired and seeing might not be a thing I can do right now
  3. Struggle to squint and focus and hope they don’t notice.

Whichever I choose, it’s probably going to get weird. Let me give you a scenario that happened to me a while ago, involving fish. One day I was working in my office building, and there was a lovely view of the water from the main window. My boss (who did not know I was visually impaired) called me over, “Look at the fish jumping!” he exclaimed. My brain panicked. There was absolutely no way I was going to see the tiny gray fish splashing far out in the similarly gray-colored water. What to do?

What did I do? The next time he declared a fish had jumped I reacted like I had seen it too.

Living with a Disability is Tough

What was the point of me sharing that awkward fish-tale? Well, it’s mostly to demonstrate that discussing disability is a personal choice and the desire to talk about it will change from day-to-day. Just because you ask for an accommodation or assistance doesn’t mean you need to share every detail of your disability with people.

This is why universal accessibility is so important. If you don’t need to ask for an accommodation then you won’t be stuck in the trap of deciding what to tell people, when to tell them, and how to express it. Anna Scutt wrote an awesome blog post called, Not a superhuman? Never feel guilty for not doing ‘enough’ that underscores how important it is for you to live your disability your way.

There are rules out there with WCAG 2.0, there are websites to help site’s check if they’re compliant, and there are plugins like the UserWay widget that can all help increase the accessibility of a website. People shouldn’t need to beg for inclusive designs and accessible technology, and they shouldn’t have to bring up the occasionally painful details about their disability if they don’t want to do that. Instead, the internet should be a place where people feel comfortable and respected at all times, and creating accessible websites is a big way to support this environment of inclusion. After all, universal design isn’t an idealistic viewpoint, it’s just a basic necessity.