Becky (Welz) Griffith (1971 – 2015)

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This is a post about Becky Welz Griffith, a California blind activist who died in September 2015.  Becky was involved in making Safeway’s website accessible to disabled people.  She was a claimant in Structured Negotiations with Safeway.  As a result of those negotiations, Safeway took down a separate website they had made for blind shoppers.  The separate site did not have all the information that the main company site had.  Now Safeway has one website designed to work for everyone.  Becky was a great cook, which is one reason she cared about the Safeway website.  She loved to figure out how to do things in the kitchen even though she couldn’t see.  Becky was married to Gabe Griffith, who is also an advocate for full equality for blind people.  The volunteered their time together with the California Council of the Blind.  I’m going to miss Becky.

becky griffith

Digital accessibility is often thought about in terms of standards, testing and regulations. Structured Negotiations, an alternative dispute resolution process that has been used for over fifteen years to make websites more accessible, is a legal strategy and involves lawyers. But these descriptions leave out perhaps the most important component of both accessibility and Structured Negotiations: people. People with disabilities who use websites, rely on mobile applications and are willing to advocate to protect their civil right to access digital content. Becky Griffith, who died earlier this month at the too-young age of 44, was one of those people.

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Strong Advocate for Web Accessibility

Becky was a claimant in successful Structured Negotiations with Safeway grocery chain. (A Structured Negotiations claimant is the equivalent of a plaintiff in a lawsuit. We use different terminology to emphasize that Structured Negotiations is a collaborative, not an adversarial process.) The Safeway effort convinced the company to upgrade its online grocery shopping site to satisfy the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA so blind people (and everyone else) can use it. Later, we also worked with the company to ensure that all its mobile applications are accessible. Before Structured Negotiations Safeway had a separate-and-unequal text only site that it called the “Access Site.” In the agreement that resolved the case, Safeway agreed to take down the separate website (which didn’t have all the features — including coupons and sales — of the main site. Read the post about Safeway taking down the separate site.

Becky was quoted in the 2013 press release announcing the Safeway web initiative: “I have been a Safeway customer for years,” she said, “and with this initiative Safeway has assumed a leadership role in its industry. I love the convenience of Safeway’s online grocery shopping, and have already seen significant improvements as a result of the commitment announced today.”

But Becky knew that announcing a settlement agreement is not the end of advocacy. She steadfastly kept me updated about changes to the site, including inadvertent slips when new content wasn’t usable. Less than a month before she died of complications from diabetes she and I were emailing about an accessibility bug in the company’s coupon offerings. Becky patiently worked with Safeway staff until they recognized the problem and committed to fix it. Her last email to me reflected the kindness from Becky I felt in all my interactions with her — she was gracious despite Safeway’s mistakes, and appreciative of the work Linda Dardarian and I did to improve Safeway’s website.

And my last email to Becky, sent a little over one month ago on August 12 reflected my feelings about Becky’s work:

Thanks Becky – your kind of advocacy is what truly gets companies to change. Very important!My final email to Becky Griffith

Home Cook and Careful Shopper

Griffith was an accomplished home cook who had been blind since her late twenties. While sighted people are sometimes surprised to hear that blind people cook, Griffith didn’t think her kitchen skills were any different because she happened to be blind. “I guess you’d call me a foodie,” she told me when I interviewed her for my book-in-progress about Structured Negotiations.

“I spend a lot of time in the kitchen experimenting with recipes and figuring out how to do things without sight,” she said. Griffith preferred to go to the market herself, but still relied heavily, week in and week out, on the Safeway website. Before leaving the house, she went online to study nutritional information, serving sizes, product choices and cost. Mindful of her weekly budget, Griffith wanted to know the exact item, size and price that met her family’s needs. She would print out her shopping list to show store staff exactly what she wanted.

Why didn’t she just rely on the in-store help Safeway makes available to blind shoppers? “Usually the assistants are young men,” Griffith told me. “They really know about ramen and processed foods, but not much else. It saves a lot of time if I can go in with a very specific list.”

Griffith was one of six blind Safeway shoppers who served as claimants in the Structured Negotiations that changed the policies and practices of one of the largest grocery chains in the country.

What makes a great advocate?

Becky lived with her husband and fellow accessibility advocate Gabe Griffith, who is also blind. The couple met in 2002 while attending California State University, Sacramento. Together they were active in the California Council of the Blind and could be counted on to do the ground work that makes Structured Negotiations an effective advocacy method. An avid baseball fan, Gabe was always available to give feedback to Major League Baseball as it worked through accessibility issues early in our Structured Negotiations over the website and mobile applications of MLB and its thirty teams. And when we needed someone to give usability feedback on a retailer’s new point of sale devices, Becky and Gabe volunteered their time, went to corporate headquarters, and provided invaluable comments.

In doing this work Becky (and Gabe too) exhibited the qualities that make a great advocate. Becky was patient and understood that lasting change takes time. She was not afraid to speak up when something was not working as it should.

Becky shared information with candor and kindness, did not need to raise her voice to make herself heard. She knew that praising companies for what they do right does not detract from strong advocacy to change what needs improvement. And Becky was concerned with the big picture, caring not just about herself, but about how all blind people would use the Safeway website.

Becky Griffith was a valuable member of the blind community and a valued Structured Negotiations participant. I will miss her.