Diversity equity and inclusion in programming for persons with disability

April 21, 2022
min read
Diversity equity and inclusion in programming for persons with disability
Benedikt Bischof
Benedikt Bischof

Welcome to this issue of the WeAreDevelopers Dev Talk Recap series. This article recaps an interesting talk by Shalom Mathew who gave advice about diversity and inclusion. 

What you will learn:

  • Understanding important terms like diversity and inclusion.
  • How to give yourself and your team a modern approach in developing software for a broader audience

About the Speaker:

Shalom Mathew is founder of code inclusive and TechTourWithShalom . She also works as a JS developer and instructs learners in this subfield.But her real passion is making the tech-ecosystem inclusive and a safe diversity space.Recently she spoke about this topic at the JavaScript Congress of WeAreDevelopers.

Diversity involves the deliberate inclusion in a group or activity of people who are, for example, of different races, genders, and religions. 

Collins Dictionary


To better understand the importance of inclusion in the development industry, one must first understand what some of the words that are important to the term diversity mean.

So Shalom tries to define them, before talking about how to effectively bring them together with the tech ecosystem.

First, the Audience is asked what inclusion means to them. These are some of the answers:

“Everyone is welcome openly”
“Ensuring safe participation for everyone”
“Enabling and making adjustments for people's differences”

After that, Shalom displays the definition of inclusion from the dictionary, which reads as follows: “Inclusion is the policy or practice of making sure that everyone in the society has access to resources and opportunities.”

The second term in question is disability. Again some thoughts of the audience:

“Most think of physical disability to the body but can include hidden challenges too”
“To be restricted in some fields.”
“Visible, but also invisible disabilities”

Shalom goes on to explain the word by using a personal context of hers. She tells the audience about her learning process: When given the task to master a new technology she needs videos as sources, rather than books because otherwise, it would be nearly impossible for her to learn effectively. So that is a disability of her own and this comparison leads to the conclusion that we all have inabilities and are dependent on some sort of assistance.

The dictionary has the following definition for the word disability:

“A physical or mental condition or illness that restricts a person in his or her ability to move or use his or her senses.”

Why does the tech-ecosystem need inclusion and diversity?

Although there may be a lot of reasons, Shalom picks three of them which touch different areas of our lives. Also, when talking about teams the speaker doesn’t necessarily mean a big company. It could also just be a team of two or three persons, a small start-up or a student learning group. 

1. Diverse and inclusive teams bring innovation

Imagine you have a problem with the software you and your team are developing. If your group is diverse, includes people from different backgrounds, and is not scared to hear individual opinions, your solution to the problem will be adaptable to a much broader range of people all over the globe. This is because for a single person it’s always hard to empathize with unknown societies, but as a diversified group, you don’t even have this kind of problem.

2. Diverse teams are better at making decisions 

Let’s say you have to make a choice that has to do with the appearance of a product. If you have an inclusive team, you also have access to a wide range of perspectives regarding this matter. So it’s easier for you to make this decision and choose an appearance that will be pleasing for the majority of people while also adding a touch of uniqueness to it.

3. Understanding your audience

If you have people who are from or have inside knowledge of different cultures and societies, you are capable of always marketing your products to a precise target audience and never need to adapt your software concepts to only a small group of people.

Web Accessibility

According to Shalom, this is a major factor regarding development and will grow in the future.

To visualize the importance of it she asks the audience if they can use a website that isn’t mobile-friendly on the smartphone. While 40.6% said it would be OK, the other 56.4% saw a problem with that.

Shalom uses this scenario to show the audience that people with disabilities require websites that are tailored to their needs as we wish to have apps that are optimized for a certain device. 

The speaker also throws two misconceptions into the room to deal with them:

1. People with disabilities don’t use the web

That is nonsense of course as these people consume the same media as everybody does. So, if you (as a developer) have this mindset you need to look closer and adapt your coding to their needs.

2. Websites don’t have to change, because people with disabilities have their own technology to use the web

This is also not true. The devices and browsers used by disabled people are often the same as those utilized by everyone else. A lot of people also don’t even have the information that there are tools like the text to speech for example.

To adjust your coding to those who need these special tools, Shalom provides a link to a free course on Udacity.

She also suggests just google “web accessibility” to further elaborate on this topic.

How can I ensure that diversity and inclusion are made a primary goal in my environment?

When marking inclusiveness and diversity as a primary goal of your company or group and taking it personally, your employees and colleagues will automatically align themselves in your organizational culture and their mindsets will be shifted more towards these ideas. You can start with simple changes like placing a disclaimer on your website stating that inclusiveness and diversity are some of your company’s values.

After adapting to this mindset and embracing these values your environment will take notice and you will attract people (new employees?) with similar principles.

Also, this is the way to ensure that your web accessibility skills as a developer will always be contemporary so that whatever software you are creating for your clients is usable by each one.

Thank you for reading this article. If you are interested in listening to Shalom Mathew herself you can do so by following this link: Day 3 - Diversity Equity & Inclusion for persons with disability - YouTube

About the author:

Benedikt is a media-technology student, computer hardware enthusiast, and proud dog dad. His mind is always on the latest tech news and how to make use of them. Currently, he is doing an internship at WeAreDevelopers.

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