November 7th, 2019

(no subject)

I've been thinking about beta-reading as disability accommodation lately. Don't let the jargony words scare you off, please, because I think this should be important to all kinds of folks who craft fandom spaces. Plus it's interesting.

As a kid I was diagnosed with a variety of written-expression disorders, and as a teen with ADHD. Add to that a few psychological issues stemming from some prolonged and complicated grief that built up some truly unhelpful coping mechanisms over the last decade, not least of all most of the symptoms of clinical depression (can't be diagnosed as such, apparently, because it's based in experiences to which those symptoms are rational responses, but as my therapist points out, if it quacks like a duck....), and a self-esteem so microscopic they're still working on the instruments sensitive enough to detect it.

There's that dark sense of humor that's not all that helpful. ;-)

And really, I'm not aiming at sympathy here. I'm not 100% convinced those diagnoses are all on the money, though there's something mighty familiar in a lot of them. I also don't think I'm necessarily unique. In parts, but not at all; lots of people probably struggle with crippling lack of self-worth, sadness that makes it a bit hard to get up and go, or any one of a number of neuro/learning issues that makes it a mighty struggle to make the words go.

My point is, it's hard. Not impossibly hard, but hard in the way it might be for someone with fibromyalgia to walk across a parking lot. They can do it, maybe, once in a while, but boy will it take it out of them. Best to give them that handicap parking spot by the door. Or to take another example: how a shoe-horn might really make dressing yourself easier for people who struggle to bend over, not that they absolutely can't on their own but it just makes life a little less onerous and autonomy a little more practical. It's actually hard to the point that there's a higher "entry cost" to start writing (even when inspired and willing, it just seems to take such effort), and I'm both less able to detect certain writing errors than most people are (I'm infamous for using similar-sounding words and not being able to see the difference). That's the cognitive side. The psychological side makes it harder to bear up under the embarrassment or sense of failure of publicly posting a story full of that.

I'm sure this all takes a different form for different people, and is probably more or less imposing for some than others. But I think most people experience this to a degree, and for a lot of people (not all!) it's actually prohibitive. Or at least limiting. There's probably a spectrum of increasing difficulty and less likelihood they'll actually participate as a writer. And there's also probably unnecessary negative experiences that make it harder to want to create a second time, too. Again, at the risk of getting too personal, I'm dealing with a smidge of that at the moment; I've dealt with worse and the past and I know other people have dealt with worse still. And so even if you push through and write the once, doing that without the helpful support makes it hard to write again, too.

Which is a shame. Because, again speaking for myself, I'm good at writing! I love having-written, and I think other people like when I've written, too. And even if people can't make that statement about themselves for whatever reason, I think they're still missing out on positive things. The ability to get better, or to have their ideas and imaginings read, or the community or the ability to play with fiction and pop culture in the unique writerly way. There's reasons this is all so good.

I think in fandom we talk about betas as a gift to the reader, a way to make sure the stories are suitably polished and easy to read. But I think also they can be such a huge help for the writer, giving her the tools and confidence and cheerleading and whatever else she needs to actually do the thing. I wonder if it would be helpful to think of beta-reading and helping betas find authors (and vice versa) the same way we do as coding sites so they work well with screen readers for the visually impaired, or avoiding flashing graphics and certain color schemes out of deference to epileptics and folks with certain kinds of color blindness.

All of which makes me think this is a problem community-builders and site-designers should tackle systemically. Not that we need to guarantee a beta for everyone, but building the spaces to help people find each other effectively is on the same level as those other disability-friendly design elements.

Durned if I know how to do that in practice, though. Devil's in the details, as always.