Burnout in the digital accessibility field
What I do to avoid it!
There's often discussion about burn out for folks working in digital accessibility. It is indeed a thing. I've flirted with it, and managed to mostly avoid it.
Most of the folks I know working in digital accessibility are passionate about their work and accessibility. We view this topic not as a technical issue, but a human rights issue. We fight hard to improve the state of accessibility because we care.
Some organizations have also moved to a view of accessibility that really means everything they do is inclusive. But most companies and organizations aren't there yet.
This means accessibility folks are fighting an uphill battle all the time. We're hired to help websites or web app become accessible, but our clients or employers are not seeing what we're seeing. And our difficult jobs are made infinitely more difficult, and frustrating.
And because we care so much, we end up sinking a lot of our energies into this work. Mental as well as physical energy.
We come across (figurative) brick walls that we have to dismantle, one brick at a time. Or it doesn't even have to be major obstacles like a brick wall. Sometimes, encountering smaller setbacks over and over again will cause the same frustration as facing one big barrier.
My early days
I've been doing this work for a very long time. I used to have a full day's worth of work, and then spend time in my evenings and weekends working on Open Source projects, to make them accessible. I was giving myself no chance to stop draining my battery, much less recharge it. I was always thinking about accessibility. Always thinking about work
Like a rechargeable battery
In some ways, our bodies and brains are like rechargeable batteries. We need 2 things:
Stop the drain
Charge the battery
Stop the drain
Turn off the device, and stop requiring power from the battery. This is good. But it doesn't actually recharge the battery. You need to do that as a first step though.
What does this mean, concretely? Stick to a work-life balance. Don't work 60, or even 50 hours a week. At the end of your work day, shut down the laptop. Turn off notifications on your phone. Don't turn on the computer over the weekend.
Charge the battery
The most obvious way to do this is to sleep. Have enough sleep. Have good sleep hygiene. Go to bed at a regular time. For me, it's making sure I'm in bed before midnight, and getting at least 7 hours of sleep. 8 hours is ideal.
But it's more than that. You have to find activities that fill you with joy. Hobbies that force you to stop thinking about work.
My battery charging activities
Exercise is vital. And it doesn't necessarily mean going to the gym! Me, I walk to and from work every day.
Some of you know I work remotely - I work from home and have done so for over 15 years. So my telling you that I walk to and from work everyday might seem a bit odd.
The thing is - I take the dog for a good walk before I get to the computer in the morning. And I take the dog for another good walk after work. It marks a separation between “work time", and “not work time".
I think even without a dog, I'd continue this habit. It's good for me.
I've tried a lot of hobbies over the years. And I mean, a LOT! The hobbies that are really sticking with me are bird photography, quilting, and sketching.
I find these activities take me away from "screen time". Well, sure, I have to process my photos and that requires screen time. But that's so completely offset by the time I have to spend in nature, it makes it worth it.
I have to focus on what I'm doing. My brain has no choice but to not think about accessibility.
Spending time in nature, walking around, it's good for the soul. Doing bird photography forced me to pay a lot more attention to my surrounding. Sights and sounds are critical to identify a tiny bird in foliage. Learning the habits of birds helps catching the action at the right time.
Quilting is good - it's a creative activity that requires a lot of precision. I got started with it when I didn't even own a sewing machine. Infinitely portable.
I sketch mostly in “line and wash", and do some straight watercolors. I started three years ago and I could barely draw stick figures. I spend 10 or 15 minutes each and every day to sketch something. It can be a scene I've seen when out and about. It can be an object in front of me as I'm sketching. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. The goal is to just do it.
That is what recharges my batteries.
What about you?
What can you do to recharge your battery? What hobby do you think you ought to try? Or maybe it's not a hobby, maybe it's lifestyle changes - meditation, work schedule, exercise, etc.
Bottom line - our job is hard and can be frustrating. It doesn't have to get us to the edge of burnout!
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