Blog: Inclusion

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

"Click here" is usually weak, but not always

It's generally held among professional writers (and presumably some others) that constructs of the form "for more information click here", with "here" being a hyperlink, is not good style. It's far better, in general, to incorporate some clue about the content into the link -- "See the formatting help for more information", with "formatting help" being a link to documentation, provides more information at a glance and just reads less clunkily.

When answering questions on sites like Stack Exchange and Codidact, one sometimes wants to refer to another answer (for example to elaborate on it or disagree with a point made in it). I posted such an answer recently and used link text of "another answer" instead of "Joe's answer". If I had said "Joe's answer", somebody who's just read that answer would have context without having to go look. Someone who knows my general writing style asked me why I used the vaguer formation.

This is my general style on sites like these now, and I do actually have a reason. Two, actually, the more significant of which is caring about people's feelings.

On Stack Exchange, Codidact, TopAnswers, and presumably others with which I'm less familiar, users can change their display names. Using a name as text rather than an '@'-reference in a link can thus decay. I've seen too many posts that mention "Joe's answer" but there's no Joe evident on the page now, years after that text was written. So that's confusing and I try to be careful; some people change names frequently, leaving trails of dead references in their wakes.

But it's not just about avoiding confusion. For me this name-avoidant practice crystalized some years ago when a prominent SE user transitioned gender. I realized that old posts of mine (from before I was careful about this) now dead-named this person. Ouch! Also maybe dead-pronouned, though if you write posts in a gender-neutral way like I try to in such contexts, you can minimize that damage.

We don't know who's going to be someone different later. My desire to attribute properly is at odds with my desire to account for future changes that affect writing I might not actively maintain. For in-page references the post is right there; omitting the name in favor of a generic reference is not harmful and is more future-proof. For regular citations, I attribute by name because giving credit is important, and just do my best.

I know that people who transition -- even just names, let alone gender -- just have to deal with the fact that they had lives before and those references don't vanish. My friend Owen understands that sometimes we need to talk about Zoe. But sometimes we can do a small thing to alleviate a little bit of unnecessary frustration and not make people's lives more difficult. It seems worth doing in these cases where the cost of being mindful of these possibilities is small.

I don't do this everywhere. My blog, being more personal in nature, is more likely to refer to people by name, use gendered pronouns, and otherwise bake in current context. My blog isn't a public knowledge repository like Codidact is. We write differently for Wikipedia, Codidact, blogs, and email, and that's ok.

Windows: accessibility obstacles

I got a new laptop at work last week, so naturally it came with Windows 10. Some of the software my group uses requires Windows; I'm currently still on Win 7 on my old machine. (And haven't gotten updates since last November. Eventually IT would have noticed. But even aside from that, the machine is five years old and starting to become unreliable.) The migration has been...challenging, with some accessibility regressions I don't know how to fix.

On Win 7 I defined a custom theme which had the following important properties:

  • Window background is not bright white but a light tan: bright white backgrounds hurt my eyes a lot, especially over a sustained period. This is set at the OS level, so all applications get it by default.

  • Font size for menus, window titles, and assorted other UI elements is increased so I can actually read them.

  • Colors for the title bars of active and inactive windows are very different so I can easily spot which window is currently active.

Read more…

Words that exclude

At work, one of my teams uses a web page, a "dashboard", to coordinate activities for each release. When we start to work on a new release, a (specific) member of the group creates a new dashboard for that release. This dashboard is mostly populated by tables of features, bugs, and other tasks. Each table has several relevant columns, like title, priority, who it's assigned to, and status.

We've been doing this for a while and the dashboards keep growing, so before doing the current one we had a conversation about what we do and don't want. We identified some sections we could get rid of, and I also brought up that the two-column format we were using does not play well with font zoom (which is also obvious in meetings) and could we make it one column? No one objected to that, and the dashboard person published the new one.

A week later he quietly switched it to two columns. Not only that, but the tables were wider and in both columns now so it even more did not fit for me. I said words to the effect of "hey, what happened to the single column we had?", and he said he didn't agree to that and he prefers two columns. When I reminded him that this is an accessibility issue and not a mere preference for me, he said something that's far too common: "oh, you can just..." -- in this case, "oh, you can just make your own copy with one column". He dismissed my need with a "solution" that let him keep his preference without having to make any changes himself.

Yeah. That is not a solution. Read more…

Ki Tisa: Moshe's lesson in inclusion

And it was that when Moshe came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the law in his hand, when he descended, Moshe did not know that the skin of his face sent forth rays of light when he talked with Him. When Aharon and all Israel saw that his face sent forth rays of light, they were afraid to come near. Moshe called to them, and Aharon and the chiefs of the people returned to him and he spoke to them, and after that, all Israel came and Moshe commanded to them all that God had spoken on Mount Sinai. And when Moshe was done speaking with them he put a veil over his face. (Exodus 34:29-33)

Moshe had a problem. Ok, he had several problems -- the people who had encountered God built themselves the golden calf only forty days later, lots of them died, God wanted to destroy the rest and start over, and Moshe persuaded Him to relent. But Moshe also had another problem, covered in just a few sentences at the end of the parsha.

Moshe was different, different in a way that bothered other people. He had come down from the mountain the second time literally aglow with God's splendor. The bright light shining from his face was painful to look at. His abnormal condition frightened the people and prevented them from working with him.

This condition -- this disability -- was not under his control and it wasn't his fault. It's just the way God made him.

So what did Moshe do? He could have said to the community "this is from God; suck it up" and expect them to deal with it. It wasn't his fault, after all; there was nothing wrong with him. He could have placed the burden and the guilt on them. If they were sensitive, caring, and inclusive people they would just ignore his disability no matter what effect it had on them, right?

But that's not what he did. Instead, Moshe put on a veil. He took on some extra work and inconvenience to mitigate what he could mitigate. This allowed him to meet the community part-way -- he adjusted what he could adjust and they adjusted what they could adjust.

Moshe and Yisrael are a model for how communities can function and be inclusive. Everybody does what he can and we all meet in the middle. Nobody places the burden entirely on the other.

I have some vision problems. To mitigate this, I have to sit in the front row if a presenter is using slides -- even though I would otherwise sit farther back, even though it can be ostracizing to sit alone up front. (C'mon, we all know nobody likes the front row.) I carry a magnifying glass to read smaller print. The community, in turn, provides large-print copies of the siddur and paper copies of the Visual T'filah slides, and is understanding if my torah reading is a little bumpy sometimes. And I, in turn, understand that if things get too bad, if my torah-reading moves from "occasional problem" to "near-certain failure", it's not fair for me to insist, to impose. Not all people can do all things, and that's ok. So we work together. It's not my burden alone and it's not the community's burden alone.

A friend tried for years to have a child and finally succeeded -- but her daughter has cerebral palsy. She has good days and bad days and sometimes has uncontrollable outbursts. My friend and her daughter go to Shabbat services -- and are ready to step out of the room if need be. This is a burden for my friend, but it's what decent people do. The community, in turn, understands that there will be some noise sometimes.

My friend doesn't demand that the community smile and nod and say nothing if her child has a prolonged crying burst; she takes her daughter out into the hall. I don't demand that presenters avoid using visual materials if I can get my own copy and follow along. Moshe didn't demand that the people just shut up and avert their eyes until sunglasses could be invented; he put on a veil. All of us also make some demands on the community, expecting the community to make accommodations, but we have to do our part first.

Inclusive communities do not place the whole burden of dealing with disabilities on the disabled. But well-functioning inclusive communities also don't place the whole burden on their other members. The whole point of being in a community is that we work together, each contributing what we can and striving to be flexible.

A veil is inconvenient and probably uncomfortable, but because Moshe wore it the people were able to stay together and ultimately enter the promised land. It is my hope and prayer that, when we're the ones who are unintentionally and unavoidably placing some challenge before others, we too can take the steps we're able to take instead of expecting others to take on the whole task.