Cynthia Waddell

Cynthia Waddell passed away Wednesday, April 3, 2013. She was a tireless advocate for persons with disabilities. Cynthia was the Executive Director of the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet. I heard her speak many times at the CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities. She participated in the formation of Section 508, and she went on to focus on Information and Communications Technology, speaking at the United Nations and all around the world.

Hall Meetings

To me the best part of a conference is talking with people. Meetings in ballrooms and hallways are often very productive. So it was no surprise when, in 2009, after Cynthia delivered another wonderful presentation at the CSUN conference, that I found myself at the front of the room talking with her. Glenda Sims @goodwitch soon joined us.

VPAT Means What?

One thing led to another and the topic of Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPAT) came up. A VPAT describes how a product or service addresses U.S. Section 508 guidelines. I noted that in my dealings with vendors who had VPATs I had come to see them as generally divergent from the testing that I was doing. Cynthia and Glenda agreed. Soon we were tossing around ideas for a more accurate backronym for VPAT. In short order we had a satisfactory work product. VPAT, we said, actually stands for Very Packaged Alternate Truth.

Visionary

Cynthia, for all of her many wonderful accomplishments, was still very approachable. She often took time to stop and talk about what she perceived as the pressing needs of the world for accessibility. She was truly a visionary, following her passion, doing her life’s work in a focused, purposeful fashion. I’ll always think of her when I waver on my path, and I’ll always remember that moment of fun Glenda and I shared with her.

Joe

Joe was my dad. He was born in 1917 and raised on the wild Atlantic coast in Ballyheigue, County Kerry, Ireland. When my dad’s family slaughtered an animal, other families would come and help, and take parts they could use. When another family did the same, his family would go help, and take parts they could use in their turn. The community shared.

Last spring I visited Ballyheige and stayed in the old schoolhouse my dad attended. The children were required to bring a piece of coal each day, to feed the communal fire. If a neighbor had a piece of wood, and you needed that piece of wood for your currach, you might offer to help two days tending lobster pots in exchange. That’s the way my dad lived all his life, even after he emigrated and came to New Jersey. He always sought ways to help people, to be of service to others.

We called my dad Joe, and me Joseph, to make a distinction between us. All my life I’ve maintained that distinction. I’ve felt that try as I might, I could never quite live up to his example. I felt that I couldn’t fill his shoes.

I recently changed my Twitter handle. It was @csunwebmaster. I wanted something personal, not tied to an institution or job title. I’ve been doing accessibility since 1999. Accessibility is my passion. So that’s part of my new handle: accessible. Jessi R @canadian_diva replied “@AccessibleJoe you changed your twitter handle! glad to know you’re accessible haha.” Well yes, I am accessible: easy to talk to or get along with.

Last night after Accessibility Camp Los Angeles I was talking with John Foliot @johnfoliot and Dennis Lembree @dennisl about Joseph and Joe. John said he always had a tendency to want to call me Joe and we talked about that. I told him about my dad, and how I had come to terms with being worthy of Joe. John said the handle is approachable. I like that.

It’s remarkable how many people can’t spell Joseph. They tend to spell it Joesph. A long time ago I determined that I would give restaurant staff the name Joe when making a reservation. Joe is easier to spell, and certainly much easier to hear in a crowd. So the second part of my handle is Joe because it is easily spelled and understood by more people. Isn’t this what the essence of accessibility is?

Here’s to you, dad, I hope I’m living up to your example.