“Life is a little bit like a treadmill; the only way to get anywhere is by putting one foot in front of the other.”
When I think of a treadmill, I do not picture Elizabeth Mohler. My mental image is of someone chugging away, but literally going nowhere. When I picture Elizabeth, I see speed, resolve and a person very determined to make progress. Elizabeth is a triathlete, blogger, disability expert, guest speaker, advocate, and career woman – she is going places. But I appreciate her understated approach to progress – she does put one foot in front of another each day, while she forges a path with a consistency and tenacity that is quite exceptional.
The treadmill concept when I picture the benefits of a steady and consistent approach to improving one’s skills and abilities – in Elizabeth’s case this applies across multiple facets of her life. She has an impressive track record of educational achievements, her professional experience, and of course, her fitness, while contributing to positive change in the communities she cares about.
Elizabeth describes herself as an educator, a researcher, and a social justice advocate. I would suggest she is a trailblazer. She currently works as a Project Coordinator at Magnet, the digital not-for-profit platform founded to advance careers, businesses and communities. In her role there, she pursues her interest in creating a culture of inclusion within the employment and diversity space. Elizabeth is intent on shifting the dialogue around disability, accessibility, and inclusion. She believes that disabled people have the right to participate in all aspects of society on an equal basis with their non-disabled peers.
A rights-based approach to disability
Born with a vision impairment, Elizabeth’s life has been influenced by disability and affected her choices and interests. But as she will tell you, that’s a fine line. She has no interest in being defined by her blindness, though she acknowledges it is an integral part of her identity. As a disabled person, she lives and works in a society that she refers to as ableist, where attitudinal and physical barriers make it more challenging for people with disability to fully participate.
I asked for some examples. She shared her experience of how it takes longer to complete tasks such as a school assignment or even job search, given the lack of accessible technology. Elizabeth uses a screen reader to translate on-screen information into speech or Braille. But this only works well on websites that are compatible. If a website’s digital infrastructure hasn’t been correctly labelled, a mechanical-sounding voice might spit out a barrage of gibberish-sounding filenames for missing alt text. Imagine hearing “Sp Sp S on on S so so S red red S S S” instead of a correctly-labeled “Sponsored.” Screen readers such as JAWS are used with word processors, to email, and with web browsers.
Access issues apply to content, as well as functions such as online banking or applying to a job. Where it might take a sighted person 10 minutes to access information, it can take up to 40 minutes for her to access the content and convert it into an accessible format. This has significant time implications that start in school – it doesn’t leave a lot of time to find your first job if you are still in the library trying to complete an assignment. “It’s not a lack of ability that holds back people with a disability”, she stresses, “It’s a lack of access. That might be access to assistive technologies, accessible communications or accessible spaces.” Once accessible options are available, it takes her the same amount of time as a sighted person.
There are barriers for disabled people in other areas of life. Elizabeth is a triathlete. When she returned to Toronto after graduating with her M. Sc., she had the goal of staying healthy so she joined the Trailblazers Tandem Cycling club. This led to her competing in triathlons, a multisport race with swimming, cycling and running. She averages 4 to 5 competitions a year but participating in the sport requires a volunteer guide who acts as the ‘eyes’ of the blind athlete, moving at their pace and responding to their needs. Along with competing, she now blogs and gives talks on how clubs can make physical fitness more accessible.
Elizabeth appears most passionate about writing and publishing about things that move the needle towards a more inclusive and diverse society. As a published author, with lived experience of disability, a Master of Science in Occupational Science from Western University and a Principles of Adult Education Certificate from George Brown College she is well equipped to share her expertise. In addition to being published in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Work, Elizabeth has been published in Journal of Work and is a prolific blogger, sharing her thoughts and “a little bit of blind girl humour” in her blog, The Writer’s Table.
She has extensive experience in delivering presentations about her lived and professional experience as a speaker at national conferences, and as a guest lecturer at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, Seneca College and the University of Toronto.
She is accustomed to using assistive technologies to enable participation of individuals with disabilities. As an Assistive Technology Instructor at BALANCE for Blind Adults for three years, she provided instruction to people with visual impairments on how to successfully use adaptive and mainstream technology, focusing on the iOS platform using Voiceover software.
She also is very active participant in the community, as a committee member on the Education Standards Committee to evaluate the Provincial Regulatory Accessibility Standards for the ADO and making space for unheard voices through media and journalism. She is a community reporter for Accessible Media’s monthly segment on the Live on Studio 5 Accessible Media podcast.
Elizabeth is one of the most efficient people I’ve ever met. She is constantly learning, pivoting, and tweaking – I think perhaps her disability has fostered her creativity and to problem-solving abilities. It is an asset. I think again of the treadmill analogy. Elizabeth’s persistence – one foot in front of the other – is paying off.