Shifting the Talent Paradigm | Shift Communications: Breaking Barriers with Technology

 

September 26, 2019 – More than 200 diversity and inclusion leaders from companies around the country gathered at the National Organization on Disability’s (NOD) Annual Forum and Dinner, entitled Shifting the Talent Paradigm: Inclusive Culture for a Modern Workforce. Sponsored by Lead Partners PwC and Spectrum, the all-day forum explored the best change management tactics that corporate leaders can deploy to create a more diverse and inclusive culture. Senior managers heard from executives and experts on the most effect tools and tactics to create an inclusive culture, as well as the leadership skills and personal attributes needed to lead a culture change.

Featuring: Rhonda Nesmith Crichlow, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, Charter Communications; Mark Balsano, Vice President of Accessibility, Charter Communications; Amy Warner, Vice President and General Manager, IT Digital Business Solutions and Corporate Director of Accessibility, Intel; and Simon Dermer, CEO & Co-Founder, eSSENTIAL Accessibility

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How Google has stepped up its efforts to makes its own tech more accessible to the disabled

A group of Google employees, including Allen (center), prepare to give product demonstrations at an Assistive Technology Industry Association conference

Jillian D’Onfro | Published 11:00 AM ET Sat, 18 Aug 2018

Homework is a drag for any high schooler, but for the class of 2006’s Laura Palmaro Allen, even starting an assignment required a laborious, multistep process.

She and her family had to strip her textbooks from their bindings, run the pages through a high speed scanner, and digitize them — all before she could use text-to-speech software to actually ingest her history lesson or reading exercise. Allen has limited vision because of a rare eye condition called Choroidal Osteomas: At the time, her school didn’t offer any easier ways to accommodate her.

Fast-forward a decade and a half and Allen now regularly coaches visually impaired kids on far simpler ways to get their work done using near-ubiquitous smartphones or laptops. As a program manager for accessibility for Google‘s Chrome software, she not only gives demos, but spends her days making the company’s products work better for people with all different kinds of disabilities.

Over the past several years, the tech industry generally — and Google specifically — have been more deliberate about baking accessibility into products, and beefing up overall resources for the roughly one billion people worldwide with some form of disability.

While there’s still considerable work to do on existing products, Google sees its next big challenge as exploring how it can use its technology to help make the the wider world — not just the bits and bytes of digital screens — more accessible.

Here’s how the company’s trying to make that happen.

From grassroots advocacy to a cohesive system

Allen first joined Google in a sales role in 2010. She quickly noticed ways that products she used every day, like Docs and Gmail, could be improved for blind or low-vision users like herself.

Back then, there were some Google employees focused on accessibility, but the group was small and scattered. It spurred Allen to take on a “20 percent project,” consulting with different product teams across the company.

By 2013, Google realized that it needed to do better and do more. It launched a centralized Accessibility team to oversee all its products, as well as user research and employee education focused on disabilities.

The crux of that change was that while accessibility-related product decisions used to too-often rely on grassroots advocacy from people like Allen, there’s now a standardized process in place.

“Any new product or piece of a user interface needs to go through a set of accessibility checks and tests,” she said. “In the same way that privacy and security is checked for every product, accessibility is now checked as well.”

Allen now works full-time on making sure Google’s browser, operating system, and laptops work well for people with hearing, vision, dexterity, or cognition impairments. For example, the ChromeVox screen reader and adjustable magnification and contrast settings aid visually impaired users, and there’s a keyboard guide for people who can’t use a mouse.

Eve Andersson, who heads up Google’s centralized Accessibility team as the director of engineering, says the goal is to codify accessibility into every stage of a product’s life-cycle.

That kind of focus pays off widely, according to Dmitri Belser, executive director at the Center for Accessible Technology.

“Designing products with disabilities in mind creates products that are better for everybody,” he said. For example, captions aren’t just helpful for deaf people and even if you’re not visually impaired, high-contrast fonts are just easier to read, period. Plus, disability shouldn’t be a matter of us versus them.

“It’s is the one group we all join,” he added. “We all age, and so we’ll all get to be there at some point.”

Google’s next challenge

Google is quick to admit that it still has a ways to go to improve its existing products, but the company is eying another kind of tech potential, too.

“Disability is still so stigmatized that disabled people often face the ‘tyranny of low expectations,‘ where less is expected of them,” says Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability (NOD). “But you can’t just assume that people with disabilities are sitting at home in front of their computers — they’re out and about in the community.”

While most of Google’s accessibility efforts center on making all its digital products work better for people with disabilities, Andersson believes that the big opportunity lies in finding ways to use Google technology to make the physical world more accessible.

In March, Google Maps introduced “wheelchair accessible” routes in transit navigation. In May, it previewed a forthcoming app called Lookout that uses a smartphone camera, computer vision, and natural language processing to give users real-time descriptions of the world around them.

The latest safety report for Alphabet’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, includes a section about how it’s developing features like braille labels and audio cues (though it doesn’t mention accessibility for wheelchair users).

Andersson sees voice-controlled smart assistants as being one of the clearest ways to make many more products accessible. As connected-devices become more popular, blind or mobility-impaired people can suddenly control a much wider range of products simply by speaking.

For example, Google’s smart home division has approached senior living facilities to try to figure out how it could tweak its products to work better for older people, several people familiar with the discussions previously told CNBC.

“The possibilities are just wide open,” Andersson says. “With the advances that are happening now in AI and computer vision and internet of things, there is so much opportunity.”

Outside the Googleplex

While Google works to improve its own products and processes and launch into new domains, the Accessibility team has also ramped up its external focus.

Google reps sit on various web accessibility standards boards and committees, and the company publishes accessibility guides for third-party developers. It launched a free online accessibility development class, which includes training that all new Google employees complete during orientation, and Allen just helped put on an event with Teach Access, an organization that aims to make accessibility training mainstream in higher education.

Larry Goldberg, one of the founders of Teach Access and a director of accessible media at Oath, says that he’s seen an acceleration in interest, resources, and awareness from all major tech companies over the past half decade, in both product development and representation.

“The idea of ‘diversity in tech’ has traditionally looked at women, people of color, and LGBT representation— and now disability is becoming a bigger part of that conversation too,” Goldberg said. “The best way to make sure that products work for their stakeholders is to have people with disabilities on staff: It’s not just what we create, but the way we create it and who creates it.”

NOD’s Glazer says that the tech industry still ranks lower than others when it comes to disabled representation, according to its disability employment tracker.

Part of attracting disabled candidates is making sure the work environment accommodates them seamlessly. Andersson said that the Accessibility organization has steadily helped steer all Google’s campuses to being better equipped for people with disabilities. That includes small tweaks, like putting braille labels on the food in its micro-kitchens, or wider initiatives, like guiding managers on how to make every presentation accessible.

“We’re working really hard to make things better,” Allen stated. “I can’t say that everything is perfect or that our technology works for everyone, but we’re learning and changing so much all the time and that’s exciting.”

Read on CNBC

Charter Communications Innovates Cutting Edge Products—By and For People with Disabilities

Yesterday, NOD President Carol Glazer spent the morning with the Accessible Product Development team at Charter Communications, also known as Spectrum, the second largest US telecom company.

“It was a room filled with more than a dozen of the most talented, ingenious, dedicated young people I’ve ever met. They are innovating products most of us could never even dream of,” Glazer remarked.

Peter Brown, Vice President of Design, who leads the group, has quietly, but determinedly, assembled a team of skilled workers who truly reflect their customer base, including people with vision, mobility, and hearing disabilities, among others.

Rhonda Crichlow, Charter’s Chief Diversity Officer, was there to learn everything this group does in recruiting the best and brightest people with disabilities.

“To say it was inspirational is an understatement,” Glazer noted. “If you want to work for a company that is truly walking the talk of disability workforce inclusion, with the passion, dedication and resourcefulness required, look seriously at Charter. You will be as inspired as I am!”

Learn more about Charter Communications commitment to diversity and inclusion and their career opportunities.

 

Peter Brown, Charter Communications' Vice President of Design, speaking at NOD's Spring Networking Luncheon

Peter Brown, Charter Communications’ Vice President of Design, speaking at NOD Corporate Leadership Council Networking Luncheon in April, 2018

Rhonda Crichlow (right) speaking an a Women in Cable Telecommunications industry event

Rhonda Crichlow (right) speaking an a Women in Cable Telecommunications industry event

Inclusive Design Can Remove Barriers, Prevent Social Isolation

By Kathy Gurchiek September 18, 2017

It was going to be a momentous day. A day that Crystal Renée Emery had dreamed of since she was a girl.

The 2016 documentary that she wrote, directed and produced, “Black Women in Medicine,” had been nominated for an Oscar. The intense and expensive process to qualify for Oscar consideration included hosting a premiere in an Academy Award-approved theater in New York City.

Emery, who has a type of muscular dystrophy that leads to paralysis, uses a wheelchair. A member of her staff, checking the venue to make sure it was wheelchair-accessible, confirmed that there was a wheelchair lift mounted on the wall of the theater.

As the big day neared, Emery’s staff checked the venue once more. They discovered that the tiny, old lift was designed for a manually operated wheelchair. It could not handle a 350-lb. chair and the person using it. And the lift could only be accessed by climbing some steps.

The 54-year-old woman was unable to attend her own movie premiere, a moment she had dreamed of since she was a girl. Instead, Emery had to appear at the discussion panel that followed the screening via Skype.

The lift was an example of universal design—a modification made to increase accessibility, also called inclusive design—that failed miserably, she said, despite the theater owner’s genuine attempt to make the venue accessible.

Emery is the founder and executive director of URU, The Right to Be Inc., a nonprofit media production organization in New Haven, Conn., that promotes cultural competency and collaboration among diverse groups. She also is the author of Against All Odds: Celebrating Black Women in Medicine (URU, The Right to Be, Inc., 2015).

She shared her story at the recent Inclusion by Design disability employment forum in Arlington, Va. The National Organization on Disability (NOD)’s Corporate Leadership Council hosted the event, which attracted about 70 organizations.

Emery also recalled how an employer remedied a problem with her cubicle, which was too small to accommodate her scooter, when she worked at Showtime Networks in New York City. Her manager ordered a reconfiguration that enlarged her workspace and moved her closer to the bathroom.

“This was an example of a company’s willingness to [adapt] a physical space that was already considered handicapped-accessible,” Emery said. It also reflected corporate culture that is “sensitive to the needs of disabled people and a willingness to accommodate a special-needs person,” she added.

“Universal design should be design to meet the needs for all,” not just those with a disability, she said.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment notes that “the quality of buildings and spaces has a strong influence on the quality of people’s lives. Decisions about the design, planning and management of places can enhance or restrict a sense of belonging. They can increase or reduce feelings of security , stretch or limit boundaries, promote or reduce mobility, and improve or damage health.  They can remove real and imagined barriers between communities and foster understanding and generosity of spirit.”

“Inclusion drives innovation” is the theme of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, according to the U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy.

“Americans of all abilities must have access to good, safe jobs,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta in a news release announcing the theme. “Smart employers know that including different perspectives in problem-solving situations leads to better solutions. Hiring employees with diverse abilities strengthens their business, increases competition and drives innovation.”

Inclusive Design Benefits Customers, Employees

Maryellen Reardon, Ph.D., director of competitive analysis for Prudential Financial, has experienced severe hearing loss for the past 20 years.

Her employer gave her a laptop that had closed-captioning capability so that she could participate in meetings. However, technical problems in the meeting room meant that she couldn’t be present at the meeting; instead, she could participate only by using the laptop from her office.

“To have a solution that isolates a person is not true inclusion,” Reardon said. Her manager solved the problem by giving her an iPad with closed-captioning capability that could be used in the meeting room.

Inclusive design is “the reality of what you as companies do for your customers,” said Carol Glazer, NOD president, noting that such design benefits the company commercially. She pointed to New York City-based OXO, the maker of rubber-handled, ergonomically designed kitchen tools, as an example.

In 1989, businessman Sam Farber noticed how his wife, who had arthritis in her hands, struggled to use a vegetable peeler. After seven iterations, he created an easier-to-use tool, and the next year he developed OXO Good Grips Inc., introducing the concept of universal design to mass retail products.

People often use accommodations without realizing it, noted Claudia L. Gordon, Esq., senior manager, government and compliance, for Sprint in Washington, D.C., who served in President Barack Obama’s administration and was the first deaf black female attorney in the United States.

During a small-group discussion, Gordon—who communicates using American Sign Language (ASL)—described a recent conference where the microphone malfunctioned but an ASL interpreter was present. Those who were deaf were unaffected by the technical problem. Those who were not deaf and at the back of the room could not hear the speaker. Without a working microphone—an accommodation—their experience was hampered, Gordon pointed out.

“There are immediate fixes you can take action on and do every day to make universal design part of your culture,” Emery said, noting that it benefits everyone to do so. Steps organizations can take:

  • Listen carefully to what your employees say they need. “The solutions are right in front of you, but you have to be open to hear [what they are].”
  • Practice courageous conversations. “Be willing to have that conversation about the hard stuff, the awkward stuff, the stuff that is [too much information].”
  • Assess your workplace with clear eyes and make necessary adjustments. If entrance to your building requires climbing stairs, add a ramp that’s easy to find and use. Update any existing accommodations—such as an old wheelchair lift—and make sure they are easily accessible.
  • Model a corporate culture that is sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities and that shows a willingness to make accommodations.

“Universal design can be a reality,” Emery said, “but it’s up to you to make that happen.”

 

Read on the Society for Human Resources Management website.

Giant Eagle + NOD Case Study

Giant Eagle + NOD | ‘A customized workplace solution from the ground up’

OBJECTIVE

To architect a plan to implement universal design principles – a designed environment that can be utilized by all people, regardless of their age, size, disability – in Giant Eagle’s distribution facility to make every job position within the facility available to people with disabilities.

OUTCOME

When Giant Eagle made the decision to extend their diversity and inclusion goals beyond retail outlets to distribution centers, they brought in experts from the National Organization on Disability (NOD) to help. NOD conducted interviews with Giant Eagle team members and held a collaborative workshop to tailor a plan unique to Giant Eagle’s goals and worksite. NOD also analyzed jobs at Giant Eagle, including assessing how work gets done, and identified feasible changes to job structures, roles and shifts. Giant Eagle attributes much of the success of the six-month engagement to NOD’s inherent knowledge of and experience in the business world, as well as NOD’s ability to build trust across the company during a time of change.

TESTIMONIALS

“The NOD team was incredibly professional. They clearly are experts. They took time to figure out our culture. They took the time to meet the right people. They brought the right people to the table, from the HR staff to the operations staff to the union representatives. And really built trust across all of the teams. You know, when we’re talking about making changes, not everyone is always open to that. NOD was just so good at making sure that they were leveraging their expertise, all the while making the team feel like they were developing the strategy themselves. And I think that that’s so important for the long-term ownership of the plan. I absolutely would recommend NOD to any company that’s trying to improve their disability inclusion. I know they helped us and their professionalism and expertise is unrivalled.”

Jeremy Shapira | Special Projects, Inclusion and Diversity