Talking with TIME 100 and Walking with Autonomous Robots

TIME Magazine celebrated my disability justice work by including me in TIME 100 Talks, a video series spotlighting influential people. I was surprised and honored. My excitement turned to disappointment when I checked the video — no captions, no audio descriptions, and no transcript. The TIME 100 video featuring me was not accessible to me.

The experience brought back memories of TED posting my talk on accessibility without captions. The irony! I asked multiple people at TED to add captions to my TEDx talk. Several exhausting weeks later, they finally did. Since then I’ve learned speakers continue to struggle to get their TEDx talks captioned.

As a Deafblind person I access videos through transcripts. Hearing blind individuals benefit from audio descriptions, spoken narration of key visual details such as actions, scene changes, and text on screen. Deaf individuals who can see benefit from captions, onscreen text of speech and other key sounds. Adding captions, audio description, and transcripts to videos boosts their search engine optimization, helping videos reach a larger audience.

Disabled people are underrepresented in honors and awards because of barriers in the application and presentation process, as well as the discrimination during school and work preventing talented people from reaching their full potential. The fear of not knowing how to make a program accessible causes some judges to skip over disabled candidates. It’s okay if you don’t have the answers as long as you seek solutions. A leader is someone who gracefully acknowledges mistakes and learns from them.

TIME quickly responded by adding visual captions to my video. I’m hopeful that audio descriptions and a transcript will follow soon, as well as accessibility for the other TIME 100 Talks. Both disabled and nondisabled people should be able to access these videos and learn from influential speakers.

My guide dog Mylo and I were walking through downtown Mountain View, CA when we encountered autonomous robots blocking the sidewalk. Mylo tapped into his athletic abilities, I harnessed my years of dance skills, and together we moved past it. Many folks with mobility disabilities would not be able to do that, though. The robots deliver food and groceries, and the app doesn’t work with VoiceOver, a screenreader I and many other blind people use. During a pandemic disproportionately extinguishing disabled lives, the last thing we need is cities adopting tech that excludes blind people and endangers pedestrians with mobility disabilities.

My TechCrunch article: The Robots Occupying Our Sidewalks.