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13 Questions: Cynthia Waddell

by Ouch Team

24th September 2009

A disability rights lawyer and the hearing impaired wife of a Presbyterian minister, Cynthia Waddell works for a non-profit organisation called ICDRI, the International Centre for Disability Resources on theInternet. She has dedicated her working life to being a bridge between technologists and policy makers in the area of accessibility and is even credited with writing the very first accessibility web standards. "Technology changes, but human rights do not", is her mantra. Cynthia is also an expert in the accessibility of the built environment and is currently working with the UN in this capacity, to advise various countries and help them to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

When Ouch! met this busy lady at the recent Techshare conference, we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask her 13 Questions.
Cynthia Waddell

Uppermost in my mind today is ...

That it is very important for persons with disabilities to continue to be engaged in the effort to make things accessible as technology changes, because if we don't, all that we've gained so far will be lost and business and government won't be informed of what our needs are. So if you are asked to test something, or to give feedback, please do.

People think I am ...

Cynthia Says. This is an automated software tool that I helped to develop for the corporate sector, which takes a first look at a website in terms of accessibility, identifying errors. As well as bearing my name, the avatar for the tool was based on my photo. I often get recognised because of that.

I want to ban ...

The accreditation of universities who don't include universal design and accessibility in their classes. There are some courses now, but the change needs to be systemic so that I don't have to keep doing what I'm doing.

Not a lot of people know that I ...

Do not have a travel budget. I only get the opportunity to speak to people at a very high level because I am funded by the entities bringing me there. Recently, I self-funded a trip to speak with the houses of parliament. It was such an honour and a privilege to come to the home of our common law to talk about the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The best piece of advice I would pass on is ...

Pursue your passion, even if you don't know what the job title would be. I am so pleased to be still in the area of accessibility, because when I was in university, there was no such thing as disability rights at the level I work at now.
A hand using a keyboard

I struggle with ...

Not having the capacity to respond to everyone's request for help. When the Katrina hurricane hit, the government became overloaded and started referring all people with disabilities to ICDRI, our non-profit disability rights organisation, for help. We had no funding, but all of the staff volunteered time, working around the clock to respond. I generally try to reply to things most likely to have the best systemic impact, like students doing theses on the issue of accessibility.

My ideal dinner guest would be ...

Certain leaders of countries, so that they could come together to talk about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities face to human face. I could explain to them Why it is needed, the challenges it raises and how they can address them.

I couldn't live without ...

The internet. And real time captioning, which I use every day of my life for TV and teleconferences.

If I didn't live in the UK, I'd live in ...

Switzerland, because it is so beautiful, but I love being in Scotland and I could live in Ireland. And then there's Brussels with chocolate on every corner. We have a beautiful world.

Where do you spend most of your time?

Outside the United States. I have done keynotes on every continent other than Antarctica. I've travelled to over 25 countries and every time, I try to do something fun. While in England I went on the London Eye.
Example of live captioning

What hasn't been invented but should be?

I am a Star Trek fan, so I really think we need to have 'beam me up' things. They have figured out a way to make the net and electricity wireless, so surely we can find a way to rearrange our solar structure so that we can time travel? Someone at NASA told me that they are working on getting internet connectivity in space, so anything is possible.

I would like to be remembered as ...

Someone who is passionate about systemic change and improving the quality of life of people with disabilities.

The future for me is ...

Always responding to what the needs are, at the moment, this appears to mean helping people integrate the convention. maybe some day I might have some type of appointment in government to continue my work but there are some things you can only do when not in government and some you can only do when you are.

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