Performance & Talk at Facebook Accessibility Design Summit
Imagine being a blind person unable to read a social media post because you can’t see it. Or a deaf person trying to make sense of a video with no caption. And imagine never exposed to any computers or electronics your whole life and suddenly given a mobile phone, staring at the screen not knowing what to do with it. These are a few of the challenges Facebook is tackling so that their platform is welcoming to everyone, and they are not only making progress in accessibility, but are also bringing innovation to tech, communication, and culture. In case you didn’t know, Facebook’s logo is blue because Mark Zuckerberg is colorblind and he’s not able to distinguish between red and green.
I had the honor to perform and speak at Facebook HQ for their Accessibility Design Summit last Thursday May 16, 2019, which was also Global Accessibility Awareness Day - a community-driven effort to get everyone talking, thinking, and learning about what it means to be accessible and inclusive for people of all abilities in technology. The goal of the Summit was to get each Facebook team member to think on accessibility first, not last.
150 Facebook Designers & Engineers of all colors and walks of life attended the Summit, and the Summit was streamed live to Facebook offices worldwide. A dozen leaders presented on the progress, challenges, and significance of various accessibility features on Facebook and the Facebook family of apps: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus. It was thrilling to be amongst a group of people passionate about improving the Facebook platform and creating a digital space of belonging.
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work closely with Facebook through a feature story on Community Voices from Facebook, a nonprofit partner of Oculus VR for Good, and I’m currently a fellow with the Facebook Community Leadership Program. The Facebook Accessibility Design Summit was proof that at the core Facebook is off to do good in the world and is committed to their mission to bring people closer together and build community.
Presentation topics by leaders of various design teams included user interface design (fonts, color contrast, etc); how a blind person accesses social media through features such as screen readers and swiping; advancements and challenges of captioning; AI’s role in accessibility; consideration for low tech users (users who are new to technology), sound design, among others. Among its speakers included blind engineer Matt King and deaf engineer Brenden Gilbert.
I’ve learned much on accessibility for dance and live events through leading Infinite Flow - An Inclusive Dance Company. Tech accessibility was a newer area of study, but the central problem remained the same: Despite there being 1 in 5 Americans with a disability and 1 billion people globally with a disability, disability inclusion is oftentimes overlooked, and we still have a ways to create a truly equitable society.
What most people don’t know is that many amazing products and tools we use daily came as a result of designing for accessibility: the OXO peeler was invented as a result of a woman with arthritis struggling to use a knife while cooking; texting was a solution for the deaf and hard of hearing to talk to each other on a mobile phone; and the segway came as a result of a wheelchair user finding a better solution to get around various terrain. As VP of Design Julie Zhu mentioned in her keynote, “Designing for accessibility is simply good design”, and as Caterina Falleni, Lead Facebook Product Design for Accessibility and Summit organizer stressed, “Good design enables, and bad design disables”.
Accessibility is a human right. Improving on accessibility leads to innovation and helps humanity as a whole, which is the basis of universal design. Accessibility leads to creating spaces of belonging and it’s an ongoing conversation. Accessibility is multidimensional: visual, auditory, physical, cognitive, generational, lived experiences, etc.
So where did I come in to this whole conversation?
My 30 min presentation included a performance with me and world champion wheelchair ballroom dancer and civil engineer Piotr Iwanicki; followed by a sign language choreography dance jam with full audience participation; and a talk on the impact of the Facebook platform through my story and the story of members in our community.
Our brains process images 60 times faster than words, and when you see the beauty of inclusion, you believe in it’s potential and power. At the core of any Infinite Flow performance, my goal is to create an unforgettable experience of witnessing an infinity sign - two (different) people dancing in equality and eternity, and a symbol of inclusion.
Infinite Flow was birthed on Facebook. I reached out to paraplegic athlete Adelfo Cerame Jr. via Facebook Messenger, and this led me to create Infinite Flow and a global movement for inclusion. Infinite Flow is a representation of Facebook’s mission to bring people closer together and build community, and Facebook has been integral to our growth over the last 4 years. Some Facebook stories I shared included that time I posted a PSA to get a pap smear on my Timeline after getting diagnosed with pre-cervical cancer and the post went semi-viral, and when blind dancer Natalie reported to me that she found a summer job in a Facebook group.
“Never underestimate your impact. Through improving the accessibility of the Facebook platform, it leads to new connections, communities of change, lives saved, and infinite possibilities”.
But beyond the Summit, my favorite moment of the day came after the Summit wrapped. Two attendees Josephine Harmon and Thomas Frantz expressed to her fellow colleague Caterina how amazing the event was and congratulated her on the event. I was reminded that inclusion was not just about checking a box, but also about creating a culture of belonging. As a newer entrepreneur, I’ve learned through my own mistakes of how important it is to recruit the right team, but beyond that lifting each other up is definitely a way to go to create an awesome culture of belonging for any org.
Big shoutout to Jeff Wieland who started Accessibility at Facebook 9 years ago. High 10 to Caterina Falleni and Matt Bonceck for putting the Summit together. Thank you Piotr for always making me look good. And thank you Facebook for continuing to be a cheerleader of my work and welcoming me into your space.
During these next weeks and months, I’ll be sharing more on how you too could be a champion of inclusion. If you are interested in booking me for inclusion keynotes and performances, contact Marisa@InfiniteFlowDance.org and check out my Speaker Page.