By Josh Christianson, Project Director, Partnership for Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT)
Ideas and insights flowed rapidly throughout this year’s M-Enabling Summit, the global industry conference that promotes accessible technologies and environments for older adults and persons with disabilities. The Partnership for Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) team enjoyed taking part again as both speakers and attendees. Right out of the gate, the event had us thinking about our mission in a brand-new way, with an emphasis on one surprising word: octopus.
That’s right. Octopus. During the event’s kickoff keynote, Yuval Wagner, President and Founder of Access Israel, encouraged us to think about change management from the standpoint of that tentacled sea creature. Around us, he explained, is an ocean of awareness, and each leg of the octopus is an agent of change. By approaching behavioral change through that eight-pronged lens, he said, “we have the possibility and the power to create an accessible world from day one.”
And indeed, over the course of the M-Enabling Summit, we had the opportunity to make waves in the ocean of awareness and learn from diverse experts and advocates in the accessible technology field.
When PEAT team members moderate panels at M-Enabling, we always end up doing far more learning than speaking. Here’s a snapshot of the sessions we led:
PEAT Project Director Josh Christianson moderated a power-packed panel exploring how universally-designed technology can create a productive and diverse talent pool. Speakers included:
- Deborah Kaplan, Section 508 Policy Lead in the Office of the CIO at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
- Sharron Rush, Executive Director of Knowbility;
- Mike May, President and CEO of The Lighthouse for the Blind Inc.;
- Nishith Pathak, Vice President, R & D Lead for Accessibility at Accenture; and
- John Sullivan, Director of the Information Resources Management Division at the S. General Services Administration.
The panel offered insights into what’s needed to bring about true workforce inclusion. As Deborah remarked, “If you focus on just compliance, you lose track of what you are trying to do: make tech usable for everyone. We should make products that delight people.” And to delight and empower all tech users, companies should seek out employees with disabilities in technology-related fields. As Sharron asserted: they can contribute “creativity and innovation that [they] use in daily life.” Panelists and audience members engaged in a discussion about securing buy-in for these ideas, including at the senior level, in talent management, and with all employee orientations.
During a second PEAT-led panel, Communications Consultant Emily Ladau moderated a lively discussion on how people with disabilities, businesses, and social media companies can work collaboratively to foster accessible online spaces. In turn, this effort installs a powerful channel for eRecruiting and lets jobseekers with disabilities know that a company’s virtual doors are open to them. Speakers included:
- Ty D’Amore, Marketing Director at AudioEye;
- Gian Wild, CEO of Accessibility Oz; and
- Debra Ruh, CEO and Founder of Ruh Global Communications.
The session included a practical discussion of tips for using social media in accessible ways, which PEAT has also explored in this tipsheet.
Designing for Everyone and Making the Business Case
From artificial intelligence to tech developer solutions to automated vehicles, M-Enabling 2017 featured more compelling discussions than we can recount. Here are two sessions that stood out to us this year.
In the first, Expedia shared their case study demonstrating that making accessibility a design priority from the outset is key to building an accessible future. After acquiring Travelocity in 2014, a company that had a settlement agreement with the National Federation of the Blind, Expedia embarked on a journey to make its website fully accessible. Through this process, the company came to the realization that the most productive way to think about accessibility is to incorporate it into the folds of their culture and embrace universal design. In the end, it saves both money and time.
Another highlight was a panel moderated by Frances West, Founding Principal of Frances West Co. The panel focused on the business case for accessibility, which is not only about conserving resources, but also tapping the immense value that people with disabilities bring to the table. As panelist Pat Romzek of Cisco Systems emphasized, “life experience is not a disability, it’s an advantage.”
Tentacles of Change
Each panel at this year’s event brimmed with passion and new perspectives on creating a culture of accessibility. The PEAT team left inspired to be a tentacle of change in pursuit of more accessible workplaces. As Microsoft Chief Accessibility Officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie reminded attendees during a plenary session, building our future is what this is all about.
So, we’ll be “thinking like an octopus” as we continue to empower people with disabilities to let their workplace talents shine in the coming year—and we look forward to collaborating with other like-minded agents of change in the world of accessibility.
About the Author
Josh Christianson is PEAT’s Project Director, overseeing its day-to-day activities and strategic initiatives. Prior to his role with PEAT, Josh worked at Deloitte Consulting, leading change management, technology and human capital initiatives at the Department of Health & Human Services as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Editor’s Note: This blog was cross-posted from the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Training.