I promised Asheesh I'd write this post, though it's coming a day late because I crashed through the 2nd day of CLS 2010.

What's the balance between inclusiveness/accessibility and being able to use the best tools/formats available (in other words, not having to worry about whether everyone else is keeping up)? For instance, during the first day of CLS, I found myself zoning out a lot; as someone who can't hear, it is extraordinarily hard for me to lipread multiple people in a conversation with background noise - should I have interrupted them and said "excuse me, I'm deaf... would you mind signaling when you're about to start speaking so I know to lipread you?"

The issue is not that I should scratch my own itch, nor that it would not be an entirely unwelcome or unwarranted interruption and imposition on my part. I've been speaking up and making (and asking for) my own accommodations since I was a child. I fully admit that I'm frustrated and to some extent just venting/whining here, but my frustration is that there is that extra expectation that I must - and will - expend energy on rectifying this every time I'm at an event, and the incremental cost of doing so slowly chips away at my willingness to participate at all (because it "costs" me more than hearing participants to have the same level of participation). There is nothing I can do that will fix it permanently (if there were, I'd be more than willing to work my ass off for an extended period of time to make that happen) - things will always be this way, no matter what I do. And I am tired.

It's like being told you need to pay a dollar every time you want to participate in a conversation. It makes you pause slightly about participating in that conversation at all, and even if the conversation isn't that great, you're more likely to reluctantly stick with it, because... well, you paid a dollar. Others will look at you and go "why don't you just pay the dollar?" or "it's only a dollar," or "well, if you can't even pay a dollar (you lazy bum) you shouldn't be here" - and not recognize that it adds up. Say you have a dozen conversations each day, which is on the low side - you probably walk by many more in the space of an hour without realizing it (the questions on the bus? the chatter by the water cooler? the informal banter about the soccer game at lunch?)  - that's $4380 a year.

And you have to publicly put in your dollar. I have to stand up and tell people I can't hear, and would they - graciously, please - accommodate me? Most folks are goodhearted and will gladly do so, but sometimes I don't want to stand out. I don't want to be labeled as deaf, because there are some associations that come with it that I find even more tiring. And offering to pay the dollar for me doesn't really help, because you have to stand up and publicly say "hey everyone, I'm putting in a dollar for Mel!" which doesn't help with the standing-out problem. So I just choose to opt out, and quietly slip out the back door and go away. Sometimes I come back. Sometimes I don't.

I want to make this clear: I have no problem with paying the extra bill. I do so often. I stand up and ask often. I take a lot of extra, invisible effort to set up things (sitting in front so I can lipread, etc) so I don't have to inconvenience others by asking whenever possible. But sometimes, when I'm tired, I wish there wasn't that expectation. I wish I didn't have to ask. I wish I could just be tired and not have to ask and have the world still work and have me be able to participate in it. I've expressed this kind of thing before. Multiple times.

Asheesh did a great thing yesterday: after we talked about this, we went to the next talk together and he started transcribing it in etherpad, in backchannel, in notes that everyone could see - including me. IRC transcriptions at the last FUDCon were a huge boon. One reason I'm so fluent in text-based communication channels is that it's a part of the world where I never have to ask - I'm on equal footing by default. And I wish this could extend more to other parts of the world, even (especially) in tiny increments - my suitemates leaving captions and subtitles on in our lounge by default (I never asked for it, they never mentioned it) I am incredibly grateful for to this day. Small things like that - people understanding without you asking them to, and being able to participate in the tiny moments of life folks that people usually think "oh, this doesn't matter" because they take it for granted.

I feel like I'm whining here, because I can't propose a good solution - I'm just venting a frustration, and the frustration I'm venting is that I can't think of a solution. But I promised Asheesh I'd give this voice, so here it is.


I'm tired.