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Courtney McCleve On Developing Empathy

Courtney McCleve chats with Kent about developing relationships with people with disabilities and gaining an understanding of the hardships they face.

The internet is one of those resources that we have available to us, and it's fantastic at what it does. However, there's a lot of content that isn't super curated and isn't in a format that makes it digestible. Courtney is interested in making the web accessible not only in the way we typically think of accessibility for people with disabilities who need screen readers and other assistive technologies but also for people with mental disabilities or difficulty learning.

We can help by improving the way we present the information, make it more accessible, and use words and phrases that are more inclusive. It enhances the experience for everybody, not just those who have learning disabilities.

Courtney is starting a Salt Lake City chapter for Devs with Disabilities. They are creating a support system for people with disabilities wanting to get into development and using the community around to assist those people.

Homework

  • Resources

    Courtney McCleve

    Courtney McCleve


    Transcript

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Hello, friends. This is your friend Kent C. Dodds, and I'm joined by my friend Courtney McCleve. Say hi, Courtney.

    Courtney McCleve:
    Hello.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    So Courtney and I, I actually don't remember when we first met, it was a while ago, but she's a local here in Utah with me. And, yeah. We actually were just at Utah JS in September and we were both speaking there. And actually that wasn't where I ... It was at React Rally where we ran into each other and I invited you to be on the show, and then we ran into each other again at Utah JS a little bit later. But, yeah. I'm excited to chat with you about some things that you feel really strongly about. I feel strongly about them as well. But before we jump into that, Courtney, could you introduce yourself to our friends here?

    Courtney McCleve:
    Sure. So my name is Courtney McCleve and I'm a co-organizer for Devs with Disabilities, the Salt Lake City chapter. We also have a chapter in San Francisco led by Johnny Bell. So I'm really passionate about making information more accessible to people and tailoring content to wide audiences.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Awesome.

    Courtney McCleve:
    I'm excited. Thanks for having me here.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah. Thank you for coming. So is there any particular reason that you're so passionate about that? Do you have a disability yourself? Is there a family member? What made you get so interested in and involved in Devs with Disabilities?

    Courtney McCleve:
    I wouldn't say that I have a disability, but I think that I've known people that have learning disabilities or just come from backgrounds that make it hard for them to learn. So I'm really advocating to making content more accessible for everybody. And I think the internet is just one of those resources that we have available to us and it's amazing at what it does. However, there's a lot of content that isn't super curated and isn't in a format that makes it digestible. So I'd like to make the web more organized and cleaner. I just have this, like it's an OCD thing, but I would love to make the web abide by standards so it's consumable for a lot of people. And also it cultivates a place that allow and seeds good information to people, if that makes sense.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah, yeah. That does make sense. So you're really interested in making not only the web accessible from the way we typically think of accessibility for people with disabilities, need screen readers, assisted technologies, but also for people with maybe mental disabilities or difficulty learning. And so making the content that's on the web more inviting and friendly to people who are maybe new to the space or even if they are experienced, maybe new to the particular concept or just struggle with learning in general. Does that sum that up?

    Courtney McCleve:
    Yeah. I think he did a really good job summing it up. I think my objectives are widespread and that I'd love to see information tailored. I'd love to see it organized and free flowing. But let the bad ideas sink to the bottom and the good ideas just keep flowing at the top. So, yeah.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    I don't think that you'd get any argument from anybody against that idea. I think it's a wonderful idea. So what in your mind would be the most effective way to accomplish that? I mean, one of the beauties of the web is that there's no regulatory body really on what goes on the web and what doesn't, at least in this regard. And so what do you see is a good way for that to happen?

    Courtney McCleve:
    That's a great question, Kent. So basically you're asking what's the first step to making information more friendly or more available for people with disabilities, like learning or anything underneath that umbrella? I think one way, and it's like a precursor, is to really start with empathizing with what it's like to have those types of handicaps. So that means learning about the people that don't pick things up super quickly or have a hard time using regular keyboards or mice and think about what it's like to be in their shoes and how can we help make the internet a friendlier place for people that need more content and less animations or flashiness or people that could have seizures due to those types of things.

    Courtney McCleve:
    And so I'd really like to impress upon people to learn about the problem before we just dive into a solution, just as a precursor. And that's something that I don't have the answers for myself, but it's something that I'm actively trying to learn and understand myself. As I said before, I don't believe I have any disabilities, but I would love to know about what it's like having disabilities and using today's modern age internet and what it's like for them, and if it's up to snuff.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah. You want to make sure that it's a positive experience for everyone. Because people who have disabilities didn't bring those disabilities upon themselves and and so it's the least that we can do to put some effort into making their experiences as positive as possible. So where does this empathy come from? I know that lots of people, I can think of a couple of people off the top of my head, who are very into accessibility and most of them have some sort of relationship to people who are using assistive technologies, like they have a friend who's blind or they have a friend who is missing a limb or various disabilities that people do have. Does it take somebody actually knowing someone or being personally impacted by a disability to start caring about this stuff, or is there some way that you can develop this empathy for yourself?

    Courtney McCleve:
    I believe, and this sounds crude, but I believe it does take knowing somebody that has been impacted at the least. And I think that's something that I'd really like to see change. And it's something that I'm not excluded from where I needed somebody with a disability to tell me this is a problem and we should consider trying to solving it. So I think it's true. It's important to know somebody with that. And so in order to make the web friendlier, because the internet is this powerful tool that has all this free flowing information, and there's ... Statistic for here locally in Utah that one in 10 Utahans have some type of affliction with a disability or maybe it's one in four. And I can post a stat on that. But it was on the utah.gov site where it's one in four people are affected and it's a dramatic number.

    Courtney McCleve:
    And so I'd like to see how can we make it better. We've got something good but it doesn't mean it can't be better. But we want to solve it the right way. So I encourage that type of empathy first, as I don't know the answers and it's something that I'm still trying to explore and it's uncharted territory. And I ask that people join me in this effort to foster a little corner of the internet to help blossom these ideas to see what we can do and help with assistive technologies. There are some assistive technologies that are expensive and require payment and it would be really cool to see some open source projects bloom from there.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I like the idea of getting to know people personally and understanding the struggles that they go through. One thing that I'm nervous about is that these people who are experiencing these disabilities, if we somehow expect them to teach us what their problems are like, that's emotional labor that they have to go through and they've probably been through a lot. They certainly have been through a lot already. And so it's not totally fair for us to expect them to just teach us what's so hard about your life right now and, I don't know, fill in the gaps that are in my brain. Are there resources that we can look to so that we can get lots of those basic and common questions answered and then just develop normal friendships with these people to develop that empathy and that inherent desire to make their lives better?

    Courtney McCleve:
    Oh, that's a loaded question. I think the most impactful way of understanding someone's life is to actually hear from their experiences if they're willing to share, and not force really tell them to share, but consensually come to a meetup and share their stories if they're willing so that way we may better understand them at a friendly, personal level. They're not presenting, it's like having a one off conversation and just practicing empathetic listening skills. I encourage that. I will impress that it's not easy and it's not not sensitive. It's very sensitive.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah. Perhaps if you build an actual friendship with these people, then there can be a little bit more of that, like you just naturally learn about their story. And I know that there have been lots of people who do have disabilities and have given talks at conferences, who talk about their story and I would encourage people to go Google around and find those kinds of talks to get an understanding of what it's like. And another thing that I've seen people do sometimes, and maybe you can speak to this a little bit, is try to use the assistive technologies that people use on your website. And so for example, try to just use the keyboard, don't use the mouse. Some people can't use a mouse. Or maybe do the opposite. Some people can only use one finger because they only have one finger or something, whatever it is. But try to limit yourself intentionally so you can start to realize, "Oh wow. This is a lot harder." Do you have any thoughts on that?

    Courtney McCleve:
    Yeah. I would also say play with ... There's extensions on every browser to help simulate colorblindness. So you may check out the contrast in your content for those who are sightseeing. So that's one thing. And practicing high contrast content for those people that are color blind. There's not just one single version of colorblindness. There's many different versions. And there's extensions that simulate all of them. So that's just an addition to what you said, just trying out keyboards with just a tab or maybe even using voice commands if something like that type of controlled behavior isn't available to you. I think it would be very frightening to see like how compatible applications are with that type of stuff.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah. So what would you say are some reasons why this matters so much? For example, there are companies that don't seem to care. Domino's is going through some big thing right now where they decided they just don't want their website to be accessible and they're getting sued and they're fighting back on that rather than just making their site accessible. I talked with somebody the other day who works at a company. And so I built this library called Testing Library. There's a React port for it and everything that allows you to build or write tests that rely on accessibility features. And this person wanted to use the library but he's just a QA automation engineer. He doesn't actually write the code and so he has to tell the people, "Hey, you need to make your stuff accessible so I can use this library." And they just didn't care. They were like, "No. We're not going to associate that label to that form element. Who cares?" He told them, "This makes it inaccessible for people. Some people can't use our app because some of these features aren't implemented." And they just don't care. Why do you think that it's so important for us to make things accessible for people when, frankly, it is more work?

    Courtney McCleve:
    Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's the question everyone will face one time or another in their development or engineering career is why put in more work to make it work for edge case people? And I think that is a part of the problem. That's a big problem. Because everyone's a person. The internet is a powerful tool. If we have good content that's worth spreading, good ideas, then everyone should be able to agree with that. We have this form of thinking where it is more work. Something like with Domino's, people will say just use the phone. You don't have to go through the app. There's all these other channels. And they'll say like, "Oh, well, people tend to order pizzas off the phone anyway. Let's just go back to that." I think we have great technologies and it is available to us. It does take more time, but I think it really shows compassion and love in the content we're delivering as a company and as a people. So I think it's a noble effort. Yeah. The internet is a powerful tool. So, yeah. I don't know if I answered that well enough.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    No. I think that was a great answer. And another thing that I would add to what you said is that the fact of the matter is that we've got people who actually need this additional assistance to be able to use these cool technologies or whatever. But, like you were talking about earlier about how information should also be accessible, and one thing that occurred to me as you were saying that is if we can improve the way we present the information, make it more accessible, use words and phrases that are more inclusive and that kind of thing, it actually improves the experience for everybody, not just those who have learning disabilities. And if Domino's fixed their website, it improves the experience for everybody, not just those who are using a screen reader or whatever. I'm a dad. I've got babies. And there've been times I had to hold the baby and use my phone and I'm limited, or my keyboard and I'm limited in that. Or like you break your arm and now you can only ... Or you break a finger or something.

    Courtney McCleve:
    Yeah. We use accessible technologies all the time. I know when I'm going into the grocery store and I have my hands full or I'm trying to leave, I click on the wheelchair button so that way the doors open because it's there for me. So we use those things all the time to help us when we ... We use it all the time. We're not just helping them, we're helping ourselves as well in that regard, I think is your point. It's enabling a lot more versatile use of things. Oh, and that's another point, is it teaches us that there's more than one way of doing things and that's perfectly acceptable. And I really like that and I really would like to hone in on that idea for a second because we start to label things as weird really easily or not normal if they don't do it this certain way or if it takes us longer to solve the math problem. We don't do it the exact way that the teacher tells us. It's accepting the belief that it's fine to have more than one way to solve a problem and you don't have to go down a standard channel.

    Courtney McCleve:
    So I think making information more accessible, making physical devices, mediums more accessible and flexible to use is pretty cool. It's thinking outside the box in a way.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah, absolutely. And you know what? Just because this person doesn't have a hand or just because they don't have two hands or something, it doesn't mean that they are any less capable of making the world a better place. And so by enabling that person to do their job better, we're enabling them to make the world a better place. You think of Beethoven who was blind and deaf and created some of the greatest music of all time. And I'm sure he had to do a lot of really crazy things so that he was able to do that. But there could be a Beethoven of programming who is unable to learn, I don't know, to learn JavaScript because the content online is not accessible to them or a Beethoven of baking and they aren't able to learn how to make a Domino's pizza because their website's broken or whatever. So our negligence is limiting the capabilities of people to make the world a better place, which is a real shame.

    Courtney McCleve:
    Yeah. That's a good way of putting it. Yeah.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah. We're kind of coming down on our time here, but we definitely have some time to talk about Devs with Disabilities. Can you tell me a little bit more about that effort and what your involvement is and why you're so into it?

    Courtney McCleve:
    So we're just starting off and it's a Salt Lake City chapter for Devs with Disabilities and we just saw that we needed more people involved in that type of community in terms of helping people who have disabilities get into development. It's already hard enough to get into development already just due to the information. So it's more or less creating a support system for people wanting to get into development with disabilities and using the community around to assist those people, kind of like a big brother, big sister kind of way, I suppose. It's just someone to offer mentorship. But it's really an initiative about the community first. So in order to solve a problem, we need to understand the problem. So it's empathizing with those people, spreading the word that it takes showing up to really understand the problem and not just hearing about it. Seeing all these people, one in four Utahans are affected. I think it's a little primitive, but it does take showing up and listening to these people and hearing them speak. So that's what this community is about, is offering that opportunity, fostering that community, the mentorship and then learning about cool tech while doing so.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Cool.

    Courtney McCleve:
    That's that. Yeah.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Cool. So is this something that was started by Johnny Bell and you met him at React Rally and decided to start something or how did that all come about?

    Courtney McCleve:
    Yeah. It actually did start at react rally, and it was a positive experience for me. We just hit it off. We talked about this thing called The Tap. It's a wearable keyboard. Ad so I was taking notes on it with just a single hand and typing on my phone. I'm just not a fan of texting or swiping. It's never right. It's never right. So I needed something that's more bulletproof that I could get. So I found The Tap and The Tap is pretty good. I'm still learning some of the accuracy, little tidbits, just learning the device, having it on your hand. But Johnny Bell is different because he's missing an arm. So I showed him this technology and he was really impressed with it. He's waiting for version two to come out. But it's something that I think could really change his life because it also has built in a mouse. And so he could actually do combinations with a single hand. And so I just think it's really cool.

    Courtney McCleve:
    Remember we were talking about before where we're like, "Assistive technology helps everyone." For me, it helps me text. I hate texting so I use that a lot. Yeah. So going back to the original question, we hit it off and he says that there's people in Salt Lake that's really wanting to get a community started for accessibility, assistive technologies. And so he needed somebody here. So I was happy to do so. He's a really great person and he's fun to work with and he's got some interesting ideas. So it's been a really good experience. I can't talk enough about it. It just makes me think because people are born with these types of afflictions doesn't mean that they should be punished for using the internet or being restricted from gaming. It's what can we do and can we create cool technologies that will actually help us be better performing individuals as well? Who knows?

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah. I think that's wonderful and I applaud you for working on that and raising our attention to it. So for people to increase their empathy for those with disabilities and make the web a more accessible place, whether that be helping with assistive technologies or helping people with learning disabilities or what have you, Courtney and I came up with this homework for you. So the homework is we'd like to invite you to attend an event like a meetup. If you are in the area near a Devs with Disabilities, that'd be a great meetup to attend or any other meetup where you're a little bit outside of your comfort zone, where you can empathize with or learn more about people that aren't like you, that are different from you are or if you just are going to your regular meetup, go to talk to people that you don't typically talk with and get to know their story a little bit.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    I can tell you that doing this will not only make you more empathetic and understanding of other people, but it'll also, I think, bring you more satisfaction in life because really a lot of happiness comes from the relationships that we have with other people. And if we are limiting ourselves to only those people who are like us, then we're limiting our worldview and it's not fair to us and it limits the amount of good that we can do in the world. So go ahead and attend an event and meet up with people that are not like you. And I think that you'll be better for it. Do you have anything to add on that, Courtney?

    Courtney McCleve:
    I think that's a good way of summing it up, so I like it. I agree.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Great. Awesome. Well, Courtney, what's the best way for people to get in touch with you if they'd like to after they listen to this?

    Courtney McCleve:
    We have a website. It's dwd.io, so Devs with Disabilities dot IO. Contacting, reaching out there will get you in touch with me and Johnny, so it's the best way.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Awesome. I just checked and it looks like it's dwd.dev.

    Courtney McCleve:
    Oh, yes. Dwd.dev. Thank you.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah, yeah. That's great. I'll have that in the show notes for people to go check out. It looks really cool and really awesome font. But, yeah. That's wonderful. Thank you for doing that work. I think that's just wonderful and I look forward to seeing where this goes. So, yeah. If anybody wants to get involved, then it looks like you've got a Twitter and you've got Slack and MeetUp and GitHub and all of that.

    Courtney McCleve:
    Yeah. That's right. Check your local meetup sites. See if there's a Devs with Disabilities near you.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Awesome. Very good. Well, is there anything else that you'd like to touch on before we wrap up?

    Courtney McCleve:
    I don't think so, Kent. I think I really liked what you said before, that it does bring satisfaction to you and your life with the relationships that you have with people. So I'm learning about people. If you're just within your own circle of friends and you're not reaching out, it's ... I don't know how you put it. You're not ... I don't know. I can't really put it as well as you did.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah. Nobody wants to limit themselves and sometimes we unconsciously limit ourselves, I think. So thank you so much for coming on and chatting with us about this. I hope that people take the opportunity to expand their social horizons and make the world a more inclusive and capable place.

    Courtney McCleve:
    Yeah. I agree. Thanks, Kent.

    Kent C. Dodds:
    Yeah. Thank you, Courtney. Bye everyone.

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