Neurodiversity spans a variety of experiences, and there is no “one size fits all,” approach to accessibility. Whether one is autistic, has ADD/ADHD, sensory processing disorder, dyscalculia, Tourette’s, or dyspraxia, these are just a few examples of what it means to be neurodiverse.
At Mozilla Festival (MozFest) 2019, the 10th annual Mozilla conference held this year from Oct. 21-27, at MozFest House and Ravensbourne University in London, there is a track dedicated specifically to highlighting neurodiverse voices and our experiences. It is this track (which are called “Spaces” at MozFest) that I was encouraged to submit a talk proposal to by Slammer M., one of the Wranglers at MozFest, who are organizers and leads of particular Spaces at MozFest. The Spaces at this year’s MozFest include Web Literacy, Openness, Digital Inclusion, Decentralization, Privacy and Security, the Youth Zone, Queering, and of course, Neurodiversity.
Being neurodiverse can sometimes feel isolating. However, the open source community and the technology industry is becoming more aware of neurodiversity as a whole, leading to more opportunities for connection, networking, and employment for those that are neurodiverse. Some of the organizations committed to hiring neurodiverse talent include SAP, Mozilla, Hewlett Packard, Atlassian, and more. In London, where MozFest is being held, there is a large commitment to highlighting awareness of neurodiversity in the technology industry. This important work is also the primary focus of the BBCCAPE (Creating a Positive Environment) which is a BBC Neurodiversity initiative designed as a long-term project to help improve the hiring pipeline for neurodiverse individuals, as UK government statistics report that only 15% of neurodiverse adults are employed full-time, compared to 57% of their neurotypical peers.
Seeing these new initiatives focused on celebrating and welcoming those with neurodiversity into tech, and being a part of the first Neurodiverse Space at MozFest has been a welcoming experience. Neurodiversity is by no means rare, and our experiences and voices must continue to be heard and celebrated within the industry.
As someone that is autistic, has dyscalculia, ADD, and dyspraxia, I’ve faced many barriers to entry when learning to code, and when contributing to open source software. It was this experience that led me to outline my talk. How can we make open source software, its contribution process, and the community as a whole more accessible to those that are neurodiverse? Moreso, after the talk is complete — I found myself wondering how to best use that information to help others. As such, I decided that the best way to do that (for now) is to compile a guide written in Markdown that anyone can contribute to, but ideally those that are at my presentation and have never contributed to OSS can use the guide’s creation as a jumping-off point for their first PR and their first contribution to open source.
Once the guide is sufficiently filled with what we learn during our discussion at MozFest, I will then be compiling and sharing this knowledge, taking it back to my connections in the Kubernetes community — in particular, to the Contributor Experience SIG, in which I am an active participant — as well as with the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, and at the Linux Foundation. My aim and hope is that these findings will inspire these communities to consider how they might make their contribution process more welcoming to those that are neurodiverse. What that looks like is, of course, to be determined by the neurodiverse community coming together with the largely neurotypical individuals that oversee these projects, having an open dialogue, and working together to break down any remaining barriers or pain points to the contribution that neurodiverse people are experiencing.
Register for Mozilla Festival at https://www.mozillafestival.org/en/tickets/
My presentation, “Smashing the Barriers to OSS Contribution” will be presented on Sunday, Oct. 27 from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in room 706A on Level 7 of Ravensbourne University.
Cloud Native Computing Foundation and at the Linux Foundation are sponsors of The New Stack.