ChaniBlog











I’ve noticed a pattern at conferences and meetups lately. Some guy comes up to me, and the first words out of his mouth are something like “it’s so nice to see girls in programming” or “so how can we get more women in tech?” or something. It seems quite well-intentioned – I imagine he thinks it’s an easy way to break the ice, or wants to communicate that he’s not sexist, or at worst is trying to score brownie points – but it’s making me uncomfortable. It took me a while to figure out what I was feeling – the last couple of times I just sorta awkwardly ran away – so now that I’ve figured it out, I’m blogging it.

I do not like being reminded of my gender at tech events. Especially with the recent drama I’ve been seeing on twitter. I’d much rather forget that I’m different, and talk to you about how awesome node is, or bitch about android and ios, or hear about some cool project you’re working on. Please, just use the same damn ice-breakers you’d use if I was a guy.

Besides, I do not get magical feminist superpowers from my ovaries: I’m just as lost as most guys when it comes to all the women-in-tech issues (except t-shirts. I can go on about that one for ages). That’s part of the reason I don’t want to be asked about it, I suppose; thinking about it makes me feel lost and helpless and confused. And remembering that I’m a girl makes me feel a bit more self-conscious and awkward.

I might wander into conversations about it from time to time – more likely after several drinks – but please, don’t make it the first thing you say to me.

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{November 20, 2013}   Accessibility surprises

So CascadiaJS was last week, and it was awesome. I did have one issue at the start, though, which surprised me enough to blog about.

First off, the issue was resolved quite well. I’m not writing this post to complain, but to educate. I might have been too shy to bring it up, but at the start of the conference they told us who to talk to if we had any problems, even ones that seem silly. :) I’m really glad of that.

So, the issue: for the first time, I had need of the accessible bathroom. But it was locked. When I first discovered this, the staff member with the keys happened to be nearby. After explaining why I needed it, he unlocked it, but insisted on locking it again afterwards so that nobody made it messy.

Two issues here: first, having to ask made me feel really bad. I look young and healthy, but I’m not. So I end up explaining my personal health situation to a stranger to beg permission to empty my bladder. It reminded me of being in grade school, having to put my hand up and ask instead of just quietly slipping out. I wasn’t looking forward to having to ask him again – even skipping the explanation, it still meant finding him, and interrupting whatever he was doing. And doing so again every time I needed to pee (which was about once an hour). And since I feel bad about imposing on him (and humiliated too), I felt pressured to keep my bathroom visits to the minimum too.

I now have a lot more understanding of how disabled people can seem like cranky assholes sometimes. If I stopped caring about the feelings of the guy with the keys, life would be much simpler.

And then I started worrying, what if I couldn’t find him when I did need the bathroom? Which brings us to issue two: the very next time I needed it, he wasn’t there. Some nice lady helped me down to the regular bathroom then – I’d delayed so long I couldn’t wait much longer. But after lunch, he was still gone. So that’s when I went to the awesome Angelina and got the problem fixed. Bathroom unlocked for the rest of the conference, apart from a few times when the damn door re-locked itself. :)

Oh, and nobody made a mess of the bathroom anyways. Yay for responsible adults!

What I learned from this is, accessibility isn’t necessarily intuitive. I could have just as easily been the one with the keys in this situation. He made a fairly reasonable assumption (that a guaranteed-clean bathroom was better than an unlocked bathroom) that just happened to be wrong. Now I’m wondering: what wrong assumptions about accessibility do we have in our code? (Assuming there is any accessibility in the first place :P ) Or in our other attempts to be helpful in general?

It can be hard to explain when something intended to be helpful is actually hurtful, or even to understand what happened. I just hope that if I end up on the other end, the person has the nerve to speak up and I have the patience to listen.



et cetera