What is AXSChat?

Blind, deaf, learning disabled, and different disability groups continue coming together every week thanks to AXSChat. The online community strives to improve accessibility worldwide. How do they do it? It begins with starting a dialogue. The desire to reach a global audience remains reflective within the community’s leadership.

Co-host and co-founder Debra Ruh resides in the United States while her fellow co-hosts/co-founders Neil Milliken and Antonio Santos call the United Kingdom home. Meanwhile, the weekly guests expand across the globe. Mondays Ruh, Milliken, and Santos interview the week’s guest via video. Then based on the discussion they prepare questions for Tuesday’s Twitter chat. Recently on Think Inclusive’s behalf, I received the opportunity to interview the three AXSChat founders and learn more about the community.

Representative Leadership

Like the international theme, the diversity in disability subgroups involved with AXSChat proves representative by the community leaders. Milliken deals with dyslexia. Santos’ wife, on the other hand, lives with an invisible disability, fibromyalgia. Contrastingly Ruh stands the proud mother to Sara, who lives with Down’s syndrome.

Ruh’s passion for advocating for accessibility emerged early in her daughter’s life. She can recall the exact moment. “When the ‘experts’ told me that my daughter, Sara, who was born with Down’s syndrome would be lucky to push shopping carts at the local grocery store.” A prognosis Ruh met defiantly.

“I refused to accept this. I have an unshakable faith in the power of human potential, and so I created TecAccess and Ruh Global Communications. This was my call to action to prove the ‘experts’ wrong for underestimating so many people with disabilities.”

Through TecAccess and Ruh Global Communication Ruh works with various customers and companies towards finding accessibility solutions. This work led Ruh to host a Twitter chat for a client. Foreshadowing to what would become #AXSChat.

Coming Together

Coincidently at the same time, an interest in accessibility and digital inclusion brought Santos to the chat. He described what happened next. “I came across some conversations that Debra was initiating and saw a potential of putting some structure around them.”

Santos continued “I have mentioned that to Neil and a few hours later, three people who at the time have never met in person, we’re talking on Skype planning a Twitter chat.” Planning turned to action, and in November 2014 the three held the first #AXSChat. Over the following two-plus years the community thrived, slowly breaking down barriers to access. Success Milliken credits to a couple of reasons. First, the dedication the AXSChat team demonstrates.

“It’s a huge amount of effort, and without the support of the team members for each other, it would not be possible” stated Milliken. Santos agreed, adding “A small but committed team can do great things.”

Another pillar Milliken credited AXSChat’s accomplishments to entails the long haul.  “I think that consistency is key to the success of the chat. We’ve not missed a chat since we started in November 2014.” Descriptors Milliken used to describe the community included “enthusiastic,” “energetic,” and “motivated to make a difference.”

Digital Medium, Real Access

Such characteristics help AXSChat transcend cyberspace, leading to better accessibility in real life. Milliken noted the collaborations made possible via AXSChat, observing “AXSChat has been a great catalyst and connector and we’ve seen a number people come together and form partnerships and start projects.”

Ruh in her comments emphasized exactly how wide a network they created. “The numbers have been more powerful than we expected. We have had over a billion tweets on this topic since the start of AXSChat.”

She quickly added “Those are the numbers we can count and collect. Many corporations, NGOs, universities, and individuals have also told me they watch AXSChat each week but do not participate for a variety of reasons.”

Plus you can factor in the video interview views. As Santos explained, “Some people might watch the video and won’t participate in the chat. Others might look at the video a few days or months later.” Ruh thinks the video element adds value, saying “We believe the video interview allows us to have a more robust conversation.”

Whether the video or Twitter chat platform Milliken shared, “I learn something new every week as a result of AXSChat.” Looking at accessibility issues, overall Ruh admitted: “We still have a lot of work to do, but we have made a dent.”

Glimpse into the Crystal Ball

With much work still to go AXSChat seeks to not only maintain their current course but grow too! Asked about the future both Ruh and Santos expressed interest in compiling wisdom from AXSChat into a book.  Additionally, Ruh talked parlaying the engagement online to in-person conferences. Specifically, she stated.

“We want to continue to build upon the conversations… Plus build upon our online engagement by creating opportunities to meet in person during conferences but not only disability or accessibility conferences but mainstream conferences that could learn a lot from our community.”

Milliken teased “We have plans to expand our work onto other social media platforms and hope to be able to announce some partnerships very soon. Watch this space.”

You can keep up with the latest from the community at http://axschat.com.  Consider participating by joining the Twitter chat, using the hashtag “#AXSChat” Tuesdays at 8 pm UTC/3 pm EST. Finally, you can check out the video interview archives at the AXSChat Youtube channel. Take a gander.

Photo Credit: Andreas Eldh/Flickr