TFS Scholarships Launches Online Toolkit to Provide College Funding Resources

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SALT LAKE CITY— TFS Scholarships (TFS), the most comprehensive online resource for higher education funding, has launched a free online toolkit to provide counselors, families and students with resources to help improve the college scholarship search process. The toolkit, available at tuitionfundingsources.com/resource-toolkit, provides downloadable resources and practical tips on how to find and apply for scholarships.

The launch comes in celebration with Financial Aid Awareness Month when many families are beginning the FAFSA process and researching financial aid options.

“We hope these resources help raise awareness around TFS and the 7 million college scholarships available to undergraduate, graduate and professional students,” said Richard Sorensen, president of TFS Scholarships. “Our goal is to help families discover alternative ways to offset the rising costs of higher education.”

The resource toolkit includes flyers, email templates, newsletter content, digital banners and table toppers which are designed to be shareable content that counselors, students and organizations can use to spread the word about how to find free money for college.

The newly revamped TFS website curates over 7 million scholarship opportunities from across the country – with the majority coming directly from colleges and universities—and matches them to students based on their personal profile, where they want to study, and stage of academic study. By tailoring the search criteria, TFS identifies scholarships that students are uniquely qualified for, thus lowering the application pool and increasing the chances of winning. By creating an online profile, students can find scholarships representing more than $41 billion in aid. About 5,000 new scholarships are added to the database every month and appear in real time.

Thanks to exclusive financial support from Wells Fargo, the TFS website is completely ad-free, and no selling of data, making it a safe and trusted place to search.

For more information about Tuition Funding Sources visit tuitionfundingsources.com.

 

About TFS Scholarships

TFS Scholarships (TFS) is an independent service that provides free access to scholarship opportunities for aspiring and current undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Founded in 1987, TFS began as a passion project to help students and has grown into the most comprehensive online resource for higher education funding. Today, TFS is a trusted place where students and families enjoy free access to more than 7 million scholarships representing more than $41 billion in college funding. In addition to its vast database that’s refreshed with 5,000 new scholarships every month, TFS also offers information about career planning, financial aid, and federal and private student loan programs as part of its commitment to helping students fund their future. Learn more at tuitionfundingsources.com.

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‘This Close’ Is by and About Deaf People, but That’s Only the Beginning

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The need for more diversity in Hollywood is a popular topic of conversation these days. But at least one group tends to get left out of the discussion.

“There have been some deaf characters on television, but they are usually there so the hearing characters can learn something from them,” Josh Feldman said. “And then they send the deaf characters back into the shadows.”

He said it with his hands. Sitting in a mellow cafe on a dilapidated strip of Melrose Avenue, he and his writing partner, Shoshannah Stern, carved shapes in the air to tell animated stories, volleys of sign language zinging across the table between them and their two interpreters.

It was at this cafe that the pair first conceived a comic web series about two deaf best friends like themselves living in Los Angeles. On a warm winter morning three years later, they returned to discuss the television show that resulted from it: “This Close,” debuting Wednesday, Feb. 14, on SundanceTV’s streaming platform, Sundance Now.

Created, written by and starring Ms. Stern and Mr. Feldman, the show follows the adventures of two deaf pals in Los Angeles. But the characters’ deafness figures as just one sliver of an effervescent dramedy about friendship, romance, sex and ambition, its sweet but gritty tone inspired by series like “Looking,” “Girls” and “Transparent.”

Kate (Ms. Stern) is an exuberant entertainment publicist determined to make her way in the world without any special accommodations; neither her boss (Cheryl Hines) nor her fiancé (Zach Gilford) make much effort to use sign language, expecting Kate to keep up with their conversation. Michael (Mr. Feldman) is a melancholy gay graphic novelist tortured by writer’s block and trying to blot out the pain of a broken relationship with liquor and sex.

The six-episode show is adapted from “Fridays,” Ms. Stern’s and Mr. Feldman’s rom-comish web series that so impressed Sundance the channel decided to make “This Close” the debut offering for its new digital streaming service.

“I thought to myself, have I ever seen a show where the characters are deaf but it doesn’t define them?” said Jan Diedrichsen, Sundance Now’s general manager. “This felt like a fully realized vision of a life where deafness was just one part of it.”

Ms. Stern grew up in the Bay Area dreaming of becoming an actor, even though there were few deaf role models on screen. For her seventh birthday she asked her mother for an agent. (The answer was no.) Later, during her senior year at Gallaudet University, a liberal arts college for the deaf in Washington D.C., she flew to Los Angeles for an audition and decided to stay.

“I thought, I will just convince people that it would be interesting to see me on screen and that it won’t matter that I’m deaf,” she recalled, signing emphatically.

Ms. Stern’s first major role came as an antiterrorism expert in the short-lived 2003 ABC series “Threat Matrix,” and she has since become one of the most visible deaf actresses in Hollywood, appearing in series like “Weeds, “Lie to Me” and “Supernatural.” “I was always the sole deaf person on set,” she said.

She met Mr. Feldman, an aspiring novelist and screenwriter, through mutual friends, and tried to help him get a foothold in Hollywood as a writer’s assistant. But people were generally unwilling to meet with him.

“They would ask, ‘How would we communicate with him?’ and ‘How can he write dialogue if he doesn’t speak?,’” Ms. Stern said. She decided that one way to change ideas about deafness, on screen and off, was for the duo to collaborate on a script.

Mr. Feldman had never tried to write a deaf character, he said, because “I thought no one would want to pay for anything that had deaf people in it.” But Ms. Stern inspired him to try, and the result was “Fridays.” After shooting a pilot for $250 with themselves in the lead roles, the duo put it on Kickstarter, hoping to raise enough cash to produce four episodes for YouTube.

Pledges quickly shot past their $6,000 goal, much of the money donated by people who weren’t deaf, Ms. Stern said. Also intrigued was Super Deluxe, an entertainment company owned by Turner. Super Deluxe produced five polished web episodes and screened them at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, where Mr. Diedrichsen saw in the show’s “singular vision” an ideal original series for Sundance Now.

Ms. Stern and Mr. Feldman revamped the concept to delve into pricklier emotional territory, with the help of the director Andrew Ahn (“Spa Night”).

Much of the material in “This Close” feels universal: Love affairs blossom and shatter, family members create emotional turmoil. But some of the stories naturally hinge on deaf-specific experiences, like a harrowing scene — based on something that actually happened to Ms. Stern’s brother — in which a drunk Michael is yanked off an airplane, utterly confused and unable to communicate with airport police.

At the center of the show is Kate and Michael’s codependent friendship, which sometimes leaves hearing characters feeling left out. “We did a lot of two shots so that you could see both Josh and Shoshannah signing together,” Mr. Ahn said. “It makes it feel like they are in a bubble of their own.”

Making television from the perspective of deaf characters forced everyone involved to rethink the usual ways of doing things. “So much of narrative filmmaking convention is based in a hearing world, but if you have a super tight close-up, you won’t see the hands,” Mr. Ahn said.

Read the complete article on the New York Times.

Have a lower leg injury? Don’t just sit there and suffer, get moving!

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iwalkfree

LOS ANGELES, Calif.– Each year, there are millions of people who end up with lower leg injuries. Those who have experienced it know all too well the way it can make something like mobility a new challenge to conquer.

Yet the majority of people need to still be able to get around to go to school, work, run errands, and just continue to participate in life. Time and duties don’t come to a halt with a lower leg injury, so knowing how to get around easier can make a world of difference.

“The last thing people want when they have a lower leg injury is to be holed up in the house and stuck on the couch waiting it out,” explains Brad Hunter, the innovator of iWALK2.0 and the chief executive officer of the company, iWALKFree, Inc.  “There are things people can do to help make it easier during this challenging period. Taking steps to make it easier will help keep people more mobile and less frustrated.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are 6.5 million people in the country who need to use some type of device to assist with their mobility. Here are some tips for helping make mobility easier while having a lower leg injury:

1. Consider using the iWalk2.0. Those who use crutches often find that they make mobility more challenging. They keep both hands busy, making it difficult to carry things or even open doors. The iWALK2.0 has been designed to help people easily get around with their lower leg injury and at the same time do so hands-free.

2. Plan ahead. Taking the time to plan out errands and tasks will give people an opportunity to determine which will be the easiest routes and schedules to take. Planning ahead will help people stay organized, determine the routes that are the best for increasing mobility, and will reduce the stress of backtracking.

3. Ask for help. Many people shy away from asking others for help. They don’t want to burden them or feel like they are being a pest. The truth is that most people won’t mind one bit helping out. Don’t shy away from asking for help when it is needed.

4. Look for obstacles. When you arrive at your destination, take a moment to scan the area for what could be potential obstacles. If you know stairs will be difficult, for example, or if you see the sidewalk is blocked off for repair, determine the best way to navigate around it before approaching the area.

5. Getting around. If your lower leg injury is preventing you from being able to drive, determine your other options. Ask friends and family members for rides, and if that is not an option check with your local bus company to see what they can provide. Many public transportation systems offer a home pickup and drop-off option for those in need.

“The important thing to remember is that this is a temporary challenge and you can take measures that will help to make mobility easier during it,” adds Hunter. “We routinely hear from people who love how the iWALK2.0 has made their mobility easier. Our system has helped countless people to navigate the challenge of a lower leg injury with more ease and confidence.”

The IWALK2.0 was developed as a way to help make healing from a lower leg injury more comfortable and to increase the ease of mobility. The original prototype was created by a farmer in Canada.  The concept continued to develop, and the iWALK2.0 was launched in late 2013. Sales really took off when Harrison Ford was photographed wearing it.

The iWALK2.0 is hands-free, easy to learn to use, it’s intuitive, and safe. From the knee up, the leg is doing the same walking motion that comes naturally to it. The device is essentially a temporary lower leg, which gives people their independence and mobility back as they recover from an injury. The device is pain-free, and makes it possible for people to engage in many of their normal routine activities, such as walking the dog, grocery shopping, and walking up or down stairs.

Clinical research, the results of which are on the company website, shows that patients using the iWALK2.0 heal faster, and have a higher sense of satisfaction and a higher rate of compliance. The iWALK2.0 sells for $149 and is available online and through select retailers. Some insurance companies may cover the cost of the device. The device can be used with a cast or boot, and comes with a limited warranty. For more information on the iWALK2.0, visit the site at: http://iwalk-free.com. To see a video of the iWALK2.0 in action, visit: iWalkFree

About iWALKFree
The iWALK2.0 is a hands-free knee crutch, made by iWALKFree, Inc.  It’s a mobility device used instead of traditional crutches and knee scooters. It offers more comfort and independence, with the hands and arms remaining free. The device offers people a functional and independent lifestyle as they are recovering from many common lower leg injuries. For more information on the iWALK2.0, visit the site at: http://iwalk-free.com

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Source:

National Institute of Health: How many people use assistive devices? https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/rehabtech/conditioninfo/people

SignAll is slowly but surely building a sign language translation platform

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sign language computer

Translating is difficult work, the more so the further two languages are from one another. French to Spanish? Not a problem. Ancient Greek to Esperanto? Considerably harder. But sign language is a unique case, and translating it uniquely difficult, because it is fundamentally different from spoken and written languages. All the same, SignAll has been working hard for years to make accurate, real-time machine translation of ASL a reality.

One would think that with all the advances in AI and computer vision happening right now, a problem as interesting and beneficial to solve as this would be under siege by the best of the best. Even thinking about it from a cynical market-expansion point of view, an Echo or TV that understands sign language could attract millions of new (and very thankful) customers.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case — which leaves it to small companies like Budapest-based SignAll to do the hard work that benefits this underserved group. And it turns out that translating sign language in real time is even more complicated than it sounds.

CEO Zsolt Robotka and chief R&D officer Márton Kajtár were exhibiting this year at CES, where I talked with them about the company, the challenges they were taking on and how they expect the field to evolve. (I’m glad to see the company was also at Disrupt SF in 2016, though I missed them then.)

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me about the whole business is how interesting and complex the problem is that they are attempting to solve.

“It’s multi-channel communication; it’s really not just about shapes or hand movements,” explained Robotka. “If you really want to translate sign language, you need to track the entire upper body and facial expressions — that makes the computer vision part very challenging.”

Right off the bat that’s a difficult ask, since that’s a huge volume in which to track subtle movement. The setup right now uses a Kinect 2 more or less at center and three RGB cameras positioned a foot or two out. The system must reconfigure itself for each new user, since just as everyone speaks a bit differently, all ASL users sign differently.

“We need this complex configuration because then we can work around the lack of resolution, both time and spatial (i.e. refresh rate and number of pixels), by having different points of view,” said Kajtár. “You can have quite complex finger configurations, and the traditional methods of skeletonizing the hand don’t work because they occlude each other. So we’re using the side cameras to resolve occlusion.”

As if that wasn’t enough, facial expressions and slight variations in gestures also inform what is being said, for example adding emotion or indicating a direction. And then there’s the fact that sign language is fundamentally different from English or any other common spoken language. This isn’t transcription — it’s full-on translation.

“The nature of the language is continuous signing. That makes it hard to tell when one sign ends and another begins,” Robotka said. “But it’s also a very different language; you can’t translate word by word, recognizing them from a vocabulary.”

SignAll’s system works with complete sentences, not just individual words presented sequentially. A system that just takes down and translates one sign after another (limited versions of which exist) would be liable to creating misinterpretations or overly simplistic representations of what was said. While that might be fine for simple things like asking directions, real meaningful communication has layers of complexity that must be detected and accurately reproduced.

Somewhere between those two options is what SignAll is targeting for its first public pilot of the system, at Gallaudet University. This Washington, D.C. school for the deaf is renovating its welcome center, and SignAll will be installing a translation booth there so that hearing people can interact with deaf staff there.

Continue onto TechCrunch to read the complete article.

Target’s Universal Thread Line Will Include Sensory-Friendly and Adaptive Apparel

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Target’s latest women’s fashion line was designed with all bodies in mind, including those with disabilities and sensory-sensitivities. On Monday, Target announced its clothing line, Universal Thread, will feature sensory-friendly and adaptive clothing items.

Universal Thread will be available starting February 4, in stores and online, with prices ranging from $5 to $39.99. The design team worked with almost 1,000 women to figure out the biggest qualms when shopping for jeans.

The fashion line is centered around denim since it is a staple in many women’s wardrobes, but denim can be uncomfortable for many people with disabilities or sensory issues. The line will include denim that has flattened seams to reduce pressure points and jeans with wider legs to help with dressing. The back of the jeans will be pocket-less and will have a higher rise. Sensory-friendly shirts will have flat seams, softer material and no tags. Adaptive jeans will cost $29.99. Sensory-friendly shirts and tanks will cost between $6 and $8.

“Universal Thread is all about making great style available to everyone, while offering unprecedented value and never compromising on quality,” Mark Tritton, Target’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, said in a statement.

Last October, Target expanded its children’s clothing line, Cat & Jack, to include adaptive and sensory-friendly apparel. This is the first time the big-box retailer has included adaptive-apparel options for adults.

Continue onto The Mighty to read the complete article.

Good Jobs for People with Learning Disabilities

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Film editor

By Luke Redd

This category of disability sometimes gets overlooked, maybe because the different types of learning disabilities are so diverse. After all, one person might have imperfect reading, writing, or spelling abilities, whereas another person may have difficulty with using numbers, speaking, thinking, or listening. Even problems with memory, time management, and organization are sometimes considered learning disabilities.

Well-known conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD are only two of the many possible learning disabilities that can make it challenging to build a successful career. But you don’t have to be held back by your challenges. Some of humanity’s greatest contributors—such as Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein—may have had learning disabilities.

Although you might have challenges in one area, you may have real strengths and talents in another. For example, many people with at least one learning disability have valuable traits such as resilience, empathy, or creativity. Others seem to have a natural ability to speak in public or see the bigger picture. That’s why a lot of the careers that have already been mentioned (such as design and teaching) are often good jobs for people with learning disabilities. Here are a few other possibilities to consider:

Filmmaker

A lot of people with dyslexia or other learning disabilities have a heightened ability to distinguish different faces and objects from one another while also visualizing how various elements can come together into a single image. Frequently, they are also good at quickly processing a whole series of images. As a result, filmmaking is often a worthwhile path to explore.

Average yearly wages:

  • Film and video editors—$80,300
  • Directors of motion pictures—$105,550

Entrepreneur

Big-picture thinking is a trait that many professionals with learning disabilities use to their advantage. In fact, some of the world’s most successful business people have said that they achieved prosperity because of dyslexia or other learning difficulties. They’ve been able to find connections between ideas that other people can’t see. And they’ve had the courage to persist in the face of all kinds of challenges.

Average yearly wages: varies widely, from less than $50,000 to more than $200,000

Counselor

Since growing up with a learning disability can be very challenging, those who do often develop a lot of empathy for anyone else who is struggling. That’s why some people who have learning disabilities find that the field of counseling provides a good place for their talents. They can help comfort and advise other people with genuine understanding.

Average yearly wages:

  • Rehabilitation counselors—$38,040
  • Addictions counselors—$42,920
  • Mental health counselors—$45,080
  • School counselors—$56,490

Broadcast News Anchor or Correspondent

Special talents like public speaking come naturally to some people with learning disabilities. So it might be worth investigating careers that involve being in front of a camera or audience. Broadcast news is a fascinating option since you may be able to do a lot of public good by reporting on what’s happening in your community or around the nation.

Average yearly wages: $51,430

Nursing Assistant

This occupation is another option that can allow you to take advantage of your empathetic nature. Plus, providing basic care to medical patients or residents of nursing facilities can be a great way to experience a sense of pride and meaning. And you don’t have to learn much since the job typically involves relatively simple tasks like feeding, dressing, bathing, moving, and grooming patients.

Average yearly wages: $26,820

Source: Trade-Schools.net

Women With Disabilities Face High Barriers To Entrepreneurship. How To Change That

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The University of Illinois — Chicago is home to a unique education program for entrepreneurs with disabilities run by associate professor Dr. Katherine Caldwell. It’s called Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Education for People with Disabilities.

“We wanted to really bring disability studies and entrepreneurship to the same table to look at, ‘Okay, well where are we now?’” Caldwell said. “What does it look like, what are the main barriers that they’re running into, and what sort of facilitators would help them out?”

Caldwell found that Chicago-area entrepreneurs with disabilities had trouble finding resources to grow their businesses, had high barriers to entry and faced structural challenges from the disability benefits system.

Caldwell also notes that most of the entrepreneurs she works with are women of color. Women and minorities with disabilities face extra challenges. “There’s that whole discussion of the pay gap that we’ve been having in women’s rights circles,” Caldwell said. “But it hasn’t included women with disabilities.”

Accessible opportunities

Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Education for People with Disabilities aims to help participants understand the benefit system and other typical barriers to entrepreneurship so that they can find a way to be most successful in building a business.

Like in any demographic group, there’s plenty of desire to build businesses in the disability community. Perhaps, it’s even stronger, Caldwell said, because traditional employment opportunities for people with disabilities are often less than ideal.

“They want to take control,” she said. “ They want to start a business so they can, not just create a job for themselves, but also create jobs for other people with disabilities.”

Many people with disabilities are employed through something called sheltered workshops. Which, Caldwell said, “Is basically work in a segregated work setting where they’re paid less than minimum wage.”

Sheltered employment was originally intended to give people with disabilities a chance to get work experience and skills that they could use to get other jobs. But, “Only five percent of workers actually go on to competitive employment from sheltered workshops,” Caldwell said. “So it’s not effective at achieving what it was supposed to back in the ’30s and yet for some reason we’re still doing it.”

In fact, she argues many companies are exploiting workers with disabilities through sheltered employment because it’s a way for companies to employ people who they can pay significantly less than minimum wage.

In addition to entrepreneurship as an escape from sheltered work, people with disabilities can use entrepreneurship to tackle challenges they face every day navigating a mostly inaccessible world.

“They can tap into that innovative potential of having experienced the problems that their business serves first hand,” Caldwell said.

Representation matters

Caldwell believes there needs to be an increase in representation of entrepreneurs with disabilities on a wider scale.

“One thing that they really need, and one thing that they currently lack are mentors, are examples of success,” she said. “Which is why having more visibility of entrepreneurs with disabilities especially women entrepreneurs with disabilities in the media would be super helpful.”

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article

Dollar General Announces Call for New Vendors

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Suppliers, companies and manufacturers with exciting new products who want to reach millions of consumers and partner with one of America’s fastest-growing retailers that is currently listed #128 on the Fortune 500 list and posted $22 billion in FY 2016 sales, listen up!

Dollar General (NYSE: DG) is encouraging new suppliers and those who have not sold products to the Company within the past 18 months to apply to attend its inaugural Innovation and Supplier Diversity Summit in April 2018. The event aims to pair potential new vendors with respective Dollar General buyers and category managers. Suppliers must sell items in at least one of the following categories to be eligible to attend:

  • Beauty, Personal Care and Over-the-Counter/Wellness
  • General Merchandise/All Non-Food
  • Grocery.

“As part of Dollar General’s continual commitment to provide quality products at everyday low prices to our diverse consumer base, we are thrilled to announce our first Innovation and Supplier Diversity Summit scheduled for this spring,” said Jason Reiser, Dollar General’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer. “Having the right products to best meet our customers’ needs is a foundational cornerstone at Dollar General. As such, we look forward to meeting with potential new vendors, learning about relevant products for our customers and expanding the number of unique and specialized offerings available in our stores.”

To apply, interested suppliers, companies and manufacturers may submit their product information at www.rangeme.com/dollargeneralfrom Tuesday, January 30 through end of day on Tuesday, February 20, 2018. Selected companies will be subject to a $500 participation fee and notified via email by Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing (ECRM) of the time, date and location of their meeting with a member of the Dollar General merchandising team.

Continue onto Business Wire to read the complete article.

How I Got Into…With Richard Browne

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Richard Browne

In an edition of ‘How I got into…’ we find out how U.S. world champion and world record holder Richard Browne started out in Para athletics.

Growing up, sport for Richard Browne meant only one thing—American football.

College football beckoned—the springboard to the professional league—but all that changed during Browne’s junior high school year in 2007 when he suffered a traumatic accident, slipping in the rain and crashing through a glass window in Jackson, Mississippi.Several surgeries later, his right leg was amputated below the knee.

“I always tell people that I wish I would’ve got my leg cut off immediately because I would’ve gone to the 2008 Games, but I had 13 surgeries and went three years before getting my leg cut off,” explained Browne.

Not that track and field was immediately on his mind—after his football career ended, Browne kept playing basketball, using his walking leg. “It was a fluke—it was absolute luck. My prosthetist saw me playing basketball on my walking leg and a company donated me a running leg just off the back of that,” said Browne.

“The first thing I did was get on YouTube and watch the 2008 (Paralympic Games) 100m.” The race was won by South African Oscar Pistorius, with US sprinter Jerome Singleton clinching silver; two-time US Paralympic champion Marlon Shirley fell. “I remember Marlon going down. He was my everything—he was fast, he was the world record holder, he had gold medals, he was unapologetic for being a disabled athlete and I loved that.” In fact, Shirley was a great inspiration to the young American—when the pair met, he encouraged Browne even more.

“He told me ‘You know what, you’re going to be good at this’ and ever since then I was like, this is for me,” said Browne. But despite being a keen sportsman all his life, athletics did not come easily.

“I’d never tried track until after I lost my leg, so it was really weird transitioning from being an American footballer to being an amputee T44 sprinter. It was very different, and it was hard for me. “I remember quitting first, I had a conversation with my girlfriend at the time—I remember crying because I quit, but it was so hard just to get out there and run, especially being on that blade—it was different. “My hamstrings were weak and my hips were weak because I hadn’t used any of these muscles that you need to run in three and a half years.”

But Browne persevered—a mindset he puts down to his upbringing.

“It was that mentality that my mum taught us growing up—if you’re going to do something, be the best at it,” explained the 25-year-old, who won World Championship gold in October 2015 in a world record time of 10.61 seconds.

As for persevering, it’s because Browne just wants to be the best. He recalls his first race against British sprinter Jonnie Peacock, who went on to win Paralympic gold in 2012. It was in 2011 at Crystal Palace in London: “I raced Jonnie and I remember that race vividly because I freaked out—Jonnie was telling me his personal best and mine was nowhere close to what those guys were running. My PB at the time was like 11.8 and those guys were running 11.4 or 11.5. I hadn’t made the national team, I was pretty much a nobody and I remember when I told Jonnie my time he laughed! “I went out there and lost to him by 0.05 seconds. I ran 11.56 and the next year, boom, it all began. Losing races, those things didn’t sit with me well.”

Browne clinched silver behind Peacock at London 2012, a result that was repeated at the 2013 World Championships in Lyon, France 10 months later. “People don’t understand how that 2013 race affected me mentally—I did not want to lose another race,” said Browne, who had broken the world record in his World Championship semi-final.

“Never again would I feel like that. I felt like I had lost my leg all over again, it was the worse feeling in the world and I was like ‘Never again will I feel like this. I want to be the best.’”

Source: International Paralympic Committee
Photo Credit: Cory Ryan

Accessibility TechTalk: The Future Of Accessible IT

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Why does universal design matter, and how does it drive citizen engagement? How is the private sector approaching accessibility? What are some of the leading best practices that the government can learn from their partners in industry? What does the future hold for accessible IT? On December 13, the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), supported by the General Services Administration (GSA), hosted a facilitated “Accessibility TechTalk” at Microsoft’s Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, DC to explore these issues. During the event, federal and industry executives from across the technology sector joined forces to share experiences, learn from each other, and discuss the future of accessible IT.

Setting Best Practices

The session kicked off with a lively discussion about the importance of universal design in developing accessible technology. With modernization challenges such as mobile security and generational shifts, developers have an imperative to design products that have a broad sense of functions. If solutions are designed with all users in mind, and encompass the needs of people with disabilities, more users benefit overall.

Universal design is the mode to help companies develop accessible solutions.

Improving citizen engagement is a goal for both the government and the tech industry. Involving the user (i.e. citizen) in the design process generally results in better products. Attendees agreed that universal design is the mode to help companies develop accessible solutions. Companies must adopt a user-centric design approach throughout development, rather than reactively respond to user needs once a product has been launched. While agile development methods can create challenges from an accessibility standpoint, teams can use these techniques to highlight accessibility issues and apply user-centered design techniques from the beginning.

Offering some industry perspective, one Fortune 500 company challenged others to gauge how accessible they really are and to set measurable goals for improvement. With the Revised 508 Standards coming into effect on January 18, 2018, and the common appearance of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 in procurement and solicitation documents, compliance remains an important factor for accessible IT. Yet, both federal and industry representatives emphasized that the Section 508 standards should be seen as the starting line, not the finish line.

Section 508 standards should be seen as the starting line, not the finish line.

Another recommendation was for the government to involve senior management, executives, and policymakers in setting accessibility strategy. Without executive buy-in, an agency will struggle to embed an inclusive mindset into its culture. Without communication from senior executives echoing the need for accessible IT, agencies will ultimately fail to make accessibility a priority.

Challenges

The event also highlighted challenges and areas for improvement by both industry and government. While companies are developing innovative accessibility solutions using artificial intelligence and virtual reality, participants recognize that the journey to accessibility has only just begun. Though Section 508 defines compliance standards, there isn’t enough enforcement of 508 across the field. Standards should not be seen in isolation, but as part of the larger conversation around IT modernization.

Participants further pointed out the misguided assumption that technology alone solves accessibility challenges. Overreliance on technology means that individual user needs and access requirements aren’t considered in the design process. If accessibility was emphasized in higher education curricula, future developers and engineers would be better qualified to design solutions with accessibility in mind. The majority of TechTalk attendees agreed that greater training and awareness for technical and non-technical teams would help to push accessibility forward.

Accessibility is about improving access to systems, not limiting it.

Participants also discussed how Federal IT strategy is focused on modernization, upgrading legacy systems, moving to the cloud, and investing in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity, while a necessity, aims to limit access and protect information. However, the idea of building technology that is accessible for all relies on everyone being able to access tools and information. Several TechTalk participants emphasized that if the government invested a fraction of what it does on cybersecurity into improving access to systems, agencies would be better equipped to succeed with accessibility.

Key Takeaways

The event wrapped up with participants reflecting on key takeaways. It was clear that government and industry face similar issues when it comes to tackling accessibility. Moving forward, recommendations from the session include:

  • To shift how people approach accessibility, more public forums need to be created to incite citizen engagement.
  • Whether part of the design or testing phase, companies need to put the user at the center of the discussion.
  • Testing for accessibility provides a baseline standard and helps to better integrate users into the process.

Most importantly, participants highlighted that accessibility is a necessity, not a burden. To keep momentum, we need to broaden the mandate to provide universal access, and spread the word that accessible technology, designed for all, is the future.

For more information on accessible technology in the workplace, visit PEATworks.org.