For a long time, hearing the word "work" would cause me to panic. How would be my routine? Would my employer be capable of understand and provide the accommodations I need to execute my duties? Would I be capable of working or having attractive qualifications to be hired?
My experiences with (in)accessibility in my student life filled me with fear of the labor market. I only had access to assistive technologies in the beginning of my adulthood, in higher education, although my visual impairements are congenital. How much precious time have I lost trying to have access to the minimum while people without any disabilities had access to the maximum? If educators could not understand the necessity of adaptations, how would employers?
"According to the survey, 62% of workers with disabilities said they have encountered problems. Of this percentage, the majority complained about the lack of opportunities (66%). Following are: low wages (40%), absence of a career plan (38%) and lack of accessibility (16%)." — G1: "Professional with disabilities faces difficulties in employment, says survey". August 18, 2016.
I am aware I have multiple privileges: I am a white, cis, lower middle class person. I had the opportunity of studying in good schools and I probably have more access to information than the majority of the world population. The fact that I can choose when to start working is already an advantage. The problem is, all of that cannot subvert the ableist logic under which the world was built.
The model of disability that is widely accepted and used by society is the medical one. In it, there are three fundamental concepts: impairment, disability and handicap.
Impairment is the result of loss or anormality of physical structures, fisiological, anatomic and/or psychological functions. It can be permanent or temporary.
Disability is the restricted perfomance or non-performance of certain activity as expected for "normal human beings", and it's a consequence of being impaired.
Handicap is the social consequence of impairment and disability: limitation or impediment of performing as expected socially and culturally like people without disabilities.
There are various problems with this approach: What should I do while my vision is a "normality deviation"? How will I live? Should I lock myself home until a cure or other medical intervention is discovered? And what happens if this never happens while I am alive?
"The Basic Education Census of 2016 shows that the participation of students with disabilities falls at each stage. In the initial years of primary education (1st to 5th year), 3% have some disability - physical and/or intellectual. At the end of the school year, this rate drops to 0.9% (...) The difficulties at all stages are mainly due to the lack of staff training and infrastructure." — Estadão: Despite inclusion efforts, students with disabilities progress less. April 17, 2017.
The Social Model of Disability emerged as a way of opposing medical ideas. Its premise: disability is a situation, not a condition. It is experienced in circumstances where accessibility - a form of inclusion completely based on the independence of the disabled - does not exist. Therefore, the origin of problems is not attributed to the individual that is a "normality deviation", but to the way society was shaped.
Although the social model is accepted by most organizations and today is the basis of some legislation, the path and fight for its widespread adoption is still long. Because of that, it didn't take long until my euphoria for the internship was replaced by fear. How many people with disabilities have gone through Outreachy? Will I perform well working remotely?
As soon as I received an e-mail from Outreachy organization with the first intructions I contacted my mentors to decide how we would communicate with each other. We decided to have a videoconference per week on Mondays for discussions about lastest findings and next steps and written communication through a chat for quick questions as they receive a large stream of emails.
One week before the official start of the internship we had our first meeting. I was extremely nervous since I am used with only writing in English, but this soon turned out to be an unfounded concern: both Johan and Benoît are not Americans and English natives, which makes our conversations easier to understand since we all talk a little slower. We discussed expectations, what I want to learn from the internship and the problems I noticed during my two months of experience as a translator on Wikimedia Foundation projects.
In these conversations, I realized the importance of being a new contributor to Wikimedia projects. My two mentors have more than a decade of experience and contributions, so the organization's operation and the structure of its projects are extremely familiar. While this is a key factor in their role as community liaisons, such baggage may become a disadvantage when it comes to identifying problems that makes the inflow of new contributors difficult. In my attempts to understand the emergence, growth and establishment of voluntary contributions and movements, in addition to the functioning of the contribution process, I end up exposing previously imperceptible points. It is not uncommon for me to hear the phrases "I had never thought of this approach before" or "I had never noticed this problem."
Since my work mainly involves research and analysis, making progress less noticeable than in an internship where you produce lines of code, I have decided to document thoughts, ideas, and discoveries on a dedicated subpage of my user page. Besides being a useful tool to keep me aware of the work I've done and to point out new directions to explore, it makes the progress of my internship accessible not only to my mentors but also to anyone who is interested. Another very useful instrument is a document shared between myself, Johan and Benoît to facilitate the construction of guide for videoconferences and access to requests or questions that can not be addressed instantly.
That way, we have developed a process of constant feedback and improvement. This gives both parties the security of a job well done.
If I was afraid of the work routine before, today I am afraid of not finding a job as enriching as this internship. My daily routine is guided by my curiosity and willingness to learn, and my mentors are constantly looking for new opportunities for me to grow. There is an immense respect for my independence and space for me to take whatever actions I deem necessary and pertinent. It's also not uncommon to hear "I do not want to influence you," "you're free to put my suggestions into practice or not" or even "if you find there are too many problems to recruit new volunteers, no problem, we understand".
The focus is not the possible end result - the presence of new volunteers to translate documentation - but the intense search for translation strategies, and this involves many processes and aspects beyond user contributions.
As a disabled person, this has been a unique experience. Remote work, done in a virtual environment, and flexible hours allow me to adopt the pace that I feel is appropriate and make the desired adjustments without the intervention of third parties. The sense of autonomy and equality are completely liberating.
The phase of discussions and strategy building is approaching its end. In the coming weeks, I am expected to answer the following questions:
I'll write about this in the next post.