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Thought Provoker: Accessibility Evangelism or Something Else?

July 6, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

A reader shared with me her thoughts on the term “accessibility evangelism” as a description of the work I do to promote equal opportunity for the blind through access to information and technology. I have honored her request to remain anonymous.

I don’t like the term evangelism because of the connotation. By definition, evangelism is associated with zealots and fanatics. In my mind, evangelism, zealotry and fanaticism are things you want to stay away from because the connotation is that you will do anything to achieve your goals. The impression the term gives is of a group of people that are willing to go to any lengths to promote accessibility and I think that is a little scary or fanatical. I definitely think that the phrase accessibility evangelism is off putting.   Instead of evangelism, I would suggest champion, proponent, advocate, or campaign.

Another reader, Amber, weighed in with her own thoughts:

Well, in general, evangelism makes me think of those preacher guys on TV, you know the ones who are very powerful preachers and generally I get turned off by that. But I think it’s the term evangelism that makes me think of that.

I guess the term to me would mean someone who works tirelessly to get equal access to services and goods. And that’s not a bad thing, just tireless and thankless.

For example, I wonder if we see the similar thing with African Americans. So many people fought tirelessly for civil rights, but do African Americans think of these things when they vote, sit anywhere in a bus, or run for political office or is it something they take for granted? I’m not saying people need to be overly thankful just remember. This goes for many groups.

Steve asked “are you going to sell me an accessible bible?”

Karen has expressed similar thoughts about associating the term”evangelism” with fallen televangelists like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

On the other hand, an evangelist can be a positive supporter of an operating system or particular technology in the computer industry. There are evangelists for the Apple Macintosh computer, the Linux operating system and the open source software movement. Oracle even has an “accessibility evangelist” on staff who works to ensure the company’s products meet established guidelines and rules like Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Now it’s your turn. What comes to mind when you hear the term “accessibility evangelist”? Do you find this term confusing? Why do you think this term should or should not be used to describe efforts to increase accessibility for the blind? I welcome your comments to this thought provoker.

4 opinions on “Thought Provoker: Accessibility Evangelism or Something Else?

  1. As you said, Oracle, Linux, Microsoft all have evangelists. I've come to think of those kinds first, when I hear the term. this connotation may not be well-known outside of a certain circle but within, I think people understand what is meant.

  2. ""Accessibility Evangelist" is a term which certainly grabs attention. I work in the I.T. business so have become familiar with the term Evangelist in this type of context. I don't think that it is a generally recognized term by the general public. It has the potential of the negative associations listed in your article. I think Champion may be a more positive term.

  3. I see no problem with the term Evangelist. Frankly, the fact that any person would take so much time to read so much into any one word in the English language shows that said person has way too much time on his/her hands. Over analyzing words is one of the reasons why our language is now filled with so much politically correct nonsense.

  4. I think the term "accessibility evangelist" is okay. Funny that I'm posting now, because last week I was with the founder of a project I've been working on, and she was engaged in a phone conversation with another person. The topic of accessibility came up, and I mentioned that I was an "accessibility evangelist in the working." They both laughed.

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