Creating VR Workplace Training Programs for People with Disabilities

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Two men sitting at conference table, one man in a wheelchair

The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT)’s latest Future of Work podcast episode features Assistive Technology Specialists Chris Baumgart and Meagan Little of Imagine!Colorado as they discuss how they have worked with employers to create successful virtual reality (VR) workplace training programs for people with disabilities.

The Future of Work podcast is developed in partnership with Workology.com as part of the PEAT’s Future of Work series, which works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities.​

During the interview, Workology’s Jessica Miller-Merrell notes that 2020 is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and she asks both Chris and Meagan what emerging workplace trends or technologies they think will have the biggest impact on people with disabilities in the next 30 years. Here is what Chris said:

“One thing that I will say that I think that we’re seeing is already becoming a trend with a lot of potential is machine learning and augmented reality or smart glasses. But what we’re seeing now is with machine learning, we can actually, essentially use the tools around us to teach in real time. So in a virtual reality headset, you’ve got this immersive experience, and that’s great. One of the things that is still challenging is seeing how much of that still translates into the real world. If I’m in an environment where I have these virtual bottles that I have to package into a virtual mix pack and put on a virtual conveyor belt, and that doesn’t translate a hundred percent into the real world where I’ve got real bottles to package into actual mixed packs and put onto an actual conveyor belt. With machine learning and smart glasses, what we’re looking hopefully to see is that the glasses could then indicate and essentially do the same kind of highlighting as an augment to the reality that the virtual reality headset would provide in the virtual space. So you’re wearing glasses in the real world and it’s actually highlighting an actual object in front of you. And that’s kind of what we’re seeing that’s going to trend. At least I hope so. I think it’s going to be a really valuable trend if it does.”

Listen to the complete interview with Chris and Meagan on the PEAT website.

New normal of masks is an ‘added barrier’ for deaf and hard-of-hearing community

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face masks deaf community

No outfit is complete without a mask these days. Recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and sometimes required by businesses, face coverings have become a new social standard in many parts of America. But while masks serve as barriers to the spread of COVID-19, they’ve also become an additional barrier in communicating for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

“The best word to describe it would be a challenge,” Brenda Schertz, a senior lecturer of American Sign Language at Cornell University, said in an ASL-interpreted phone call with NBC News. With 48 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing, according to a 2011 Johns Hopkins University study, the problem affects a significant part of the population on a daily level.

“Going into the grocery story or the bank or really any other public place, we are heavily dependent on facial expression and visual cues on peoples’ faces, and some of us can lip-read … and no longer do we have access to that, because everyone has masks on.”

Schertz described how, recently, she had a new washing machine delivered to her home and had intended for the delivery men to take her old washing machine with them. But there was a “communication breakdown,” she said, and because everyone was wearing masks, she couldn’t understand what they were trying to say. The old washing machine stayed put, and she had to call Lowe’s back to understand what happened.

“It was just something that was no big deal, but I had a huge communication breakdown,” Schertz said.

Similarly, Schertz described how a friend struggled to communicate at a drugstore. Because the clerk was wearing a mask, the friend didn’t understand the simple question of whether she was paying in cash or by credit.

“Just simple little things that, without a mask, we would have figured out very quickly what was needed from us. But with this mask on, we’re guessing or we have to write it down,” Schertz said. “We have no other way if we can’t hear and we can’t see the words being formed on the mouth. It’s a huge challenge … an added barrier, for sure.”

The barriers in everyday communication are often intensified when deaf people seek medical care – a longtime issue that has led to significant health impacts in the community and has become even more complicated in a pandemic.

The disparities in health education and access to care have historically led to “inadequate assessment, limited access to treatment, insufficient follow-up and poorer outcomes,” according to a 2013 article in the American Psychological Association’s Spotlight on Disability Newsletter by Lawrence Pick, a professor at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

Battling all these long-existing barriers is what led Anne McIntosh to create the Safe’N’Clear Communicator mask, the first medical mask approved by the Food and Drug Administration with a clear window over the mouth to facilitate better communication — something she said would improve patient care for everyone, not just those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Continue on to NBC News to read the complete article.

“STRONGER THAN YOU THINK” PROGRAM FOR TEENS TO LIVE STREAM MAY 27-29

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Picture of poster that says May is Mental Health Awareness Month

The Stronger Than You Think three-day livestream will combine candid conversations with celebrities, musical performances, and advice from mental health professionals to broaden the conversation and erase the stigma of mental health issues for teens and young adults.The program brings a great conclusion to Mental Health Awareness Month.

The livestream takes place Wednesday, May 27 through Friday, May 29, from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm PDT each day. It will be distributed across multiple digital platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, and TikTok.

The ever-growing list of celebrities involved includes hosts Laurie Hernandez, Kelly Osbourne, Jordin Sparks and Jeannie Mai, with guests Adam Lambert, Alesso and Liam Payne, Becky G, Carli Lloyd, Carly Pearce, Charli D’Amelio, CNCO, Dove Cameron, Elohim, Emily Kinney, Emma Chamberlain, G. Herbo, Grace VanderWaal, Haley Kiyoko, Howie Mandel, Hunter Hayes, Jack Gilinsky, Jameela Jamil, K Camp, Karina Smirnoff, Kate Nash, Kesha, Lauren Jauregui, Lauv, Lil Yachty, Lindsay Ell, Lydia Knight, Madison Bailey, Madison Beer, Margaret Cho, Maurice Benard, Noah Cyrus, Quinn XCII, Ross Szabo, Sharon Osbourne, Tammin Sursok, Taraji P. Henson, Tyler Glenn, Yara Shahidi and Zhavia as well as Brandon Coleman, Chris Hubbard, Dominique Easley, Oday Aboushi and Zach Moore of the NFL.

The show will provide encouragement and resources for a wide range of mental health struggles experienced by teens including anxiety, depression and stress – compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a 40% increase in requests for support and assistance weekly since the quarantine began.

There will be an opportunity for students and/or their parents to pose questions to the talent and the experts. They can send their questions in advance to info@styt.org.

Head to http://styt.org/ and follow us on Instagram at instagram.com/STYTorg, Twitter at twitter.com/stytorg, Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/stytorg/, TikTok at tiktok.com/@stytorg, Twitch at twitch.com/stytorg, and use the official hashtag #STYT to follow along, submit questions, and for the latest news.

The Stronger Than You Think initiative was developed by the creators of the Teen Choice Awards, along with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s leading grassroots organization providing mental health support, advocacy, and education for youth and everyone.

Stronger Than You Think is produced in association with mental health nonprofit One Mind, which focuses on research and the science of mental and brain health.

Additional partners and sponsors include the Crisis Text Line, Matthew Silverman Memorial Foundation, Paradigm Treatment, Resolutions Teen Center and Resolutions Therapeutic Services, and BNI Treatment Centers. From a digital perspective, Rooster Teeth will lend their roster of digital talent, social media, and live stream channels to amplify this campaign to their millions of dedicated community members. Rooster Teeth fans can tune into RTTV during the campaign for more live streams supporting Stronger Than You Think’s important message about mental health including chill gameplay.

“With the increase in mental health issues facing young people today, there is a tremendous need for a program such as Stronger Than You Think. NAMI is excited to provide the much-needed information teens and parents desire, and through Stronger Than You Think, we know we can make a difference,” said NAMI Director of Partnerships Katrina Gay.

“One Mind is proud to be able to help bring Stronger Than You Think to audiences worldwide and shed light on the important issues of brain health. We need community now more than ever and we are so grateful for the voices sharing their stories and being able to drive the conversation forward,” said One Mind President Brandon Staglin, who will share his personal experience of being diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager during the livestream.

This is the farthest-reaching national media program to address the mental health challenges facing our teens. Stronger Than You Think will now reach teens where they live – online. The producers are working with school systems across the U.S. to create awareness of this livestream to their students since the necessity is widely recognized.

One in six young people experience a mental health condition each year — nearly 60 million Americans. Once the coronavirus crisis is over and it is safe to interact, Stronger Than You Think will continue to utilize celebrities and experts to talk with students about mental health.

Monies raised during the livestream will benefit the ongoing work of NAMI. All donations from Stronger Than You Think will be made using technology provided by Tiltify, the most popular charity fundraising platform for content creators and livestreams. Tiltify enables streamers to get involved and donate on whichever platform they use most frequently to connect with their audiences.

About NAMI: The National Alliance on Mental Illness is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. nami.org | facebook.com/nami | instagram.com/namicommunicate | twitter.com/namicommunicate #NotAlone

NAMI HelpLine:For support, information and referral, contact the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-6264 or visit NAMI.org.  If you are in a crisis, contact the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘N-A-M-I” to 7417414.

About ONE MIND
One Mind is a leading international mental health non-profit that accelerates collaborative research and advocacy to enable all individuals with brain health conditions to build healthy, productive lives. By working from science to patients to society, One Mind advances a three-pronged strategy of accelerating discoveries, improving services and transforming societal culture.

onemind.org | facebook.com/OneMindOrg | Instagram.com/OneMindOrg | Twitter.com/OneMindOrg

Autism Awareness Advocate Areva Martin On Her Work-Life Balance Journey

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Areva Martin

Driven career professionals often struggle to figure out a work life balance that doesn’t leave them riddled with guilt. Unfortunately, for parents of kids with disabilities the increased demands can make them feel like caring for their special needs child(ren) means they must automatically reduce or even eliminate their career goals. Indeed, they often feel the pressure to automatically blunt the trajectory of their career in an attempt to demonstrate full commitment to their household’s unique needs and challenges. For those who view attentive parenting of a special needs child and aggressive pursuit of a fulfilling and ambitious career as a binary choice, they need look no further than the compelling example of disability rights advocate and award winning attorney/legal commentator Areva Martin to shatter that myth.

When her son Marty was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Areva found herself struggling to navigate the complex labyrinth of relevant services which eventually led her to develop the Special Needs Network, Inc. to not just serve her needs, but primarily to provide a network of support for families affected by developmental disabilities.

As a disability rights advocate, she has mentored and befriended many parents of special needs children and can actively relate to the unique work life balance challenges that the experience brings, and her message is both clear and determined – “Parenting a special needs child doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your career.” Indeed, she doesn’t just say it, she’s done it. Graciously, Areva spoke with me recently to share a few nuggets of advice for other parents struggling to manage the sometimes overwhelming demands of both work and home.

Know the Law

Parents of children with special needs are often left to maneuver a laundry list of requirements in order to sufficiently support their children. From navigating school admissions and identifying appropriate therapies to securing necessary testing and establishing an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the demands on a parent’s time and financial resources can be significant to say the least. Identifying sources of support is a critical step in relieving the very real drain on financial and other limited resources. Areva advises parents to learn their rights early so they avoid wasting precious time and money on services that may be available to them at little or no cost. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that applies to public schools in every state throughout the country. The law makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities including autism and a range of developmental, emotional and learning disabilities, and it ensures special education and related services to those children from age 2 to 21. Beyond federal laws, Areva recommends that parents make time to talk to other parents, administrators and officials to familiarize themselves early on with any applicable state, local, even district level regulations or policies that might provide support or create barriers for their particular situation. Indeed, knowledge is power and taking the time to equip yourself with the knowledge early on is key.

While it may be tempting for parents of special needs children to “suffer in silence” rather than share concerns, issues or problems, Areva warns against that urge and instead encourages parents to be open with friends and colleagues.

Continue on to Forbes to read the complete article.

Creating a Culture of Belonging

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A woman in a wheelchair leading a business meeting

By Jennifer Brown

Each time I sit down with an executive who has decided to lead their company through the process of being more inclusive, I hear that executive articulate the same problem: They don’t know where to begin.

This feeling is common in positions of leadership. While diversity used to be seen as a “problem to solve” that lived in HR, it is now broadly understood as a core component of business practice that creates quantifiable value firm-wide. Creating cultures of belonging where everyone can succeed seems like something we all want to believe we’re doing already, which makes the leadership aspect all the more critical here: As leaders, we have to do a lot of individual work ourselves to become more inclusive thinkers before we can become more inclusive leaders.

As the responsibility for making progress in this arena has shifted from HR departments to core business operations, so too has the conversation shifted from one about diversity—which is about representation—to one about inclusion—which is about ensuring people are welcomed, valued, respected and heard. As we do a better job of being inclusive in our own actions and words, we have a better shot at creating more inclusive workplaces where people can bring their whole selves to work, be more creative problem solvers, and contribute to a generally healthier workplace culture.

I often remind folks that everyone has a diversity story; not all forms of diversity are visible. This is also true when it comes to disability— a facet of the diversity conversation that we don’t talk about enough. A common misconception when it comes to this topic is that making space for employees with disabilities in the workplace is not just costly, but disproportionately so, relative to making space for other kinds of diversity in the workplace. Yet recent research by Accenture exists to the contrary: 59 percent of the accommodations needed by employees with disabilities cost a company $0, while other non-zero accommodations cost, on average, $500 per employee.

Not monthly—in total. The pay-off is huge: people with disabilities have to be creative to find solutions that allow them to accomplish the same tasks as their able-bodied peers, which leads to greater innate problem-solving.

Combine that with giving those employees the sense that they are valued enough to have their needs met, and you’ll have one powerhouse employee on your hands. As with other forms of diversity, creating workplaces where all employees on the broad spectrum of diverse ability can succeed is deeply intertwined with fostering a workplace culture where people feel like they can bring their whole selves to work. According to a 2019 report from Deloitte, 61 percent of the workforce “covers” or makes a distinct effort to disguise a part of themselves they feel would be stigmatized hinder their professional development.

Those who engage in this behavior do not see themselves reflected in the organization around them and feel that their belonging is tenuous or contingent—a pernicious problem that extends beyond the individual to have a negative impact on workplace culture overall. By creating workplaces where people feel they don’t have to cover, we help them feel like they can contribute the full breadth of their energy and creativity.

This doesn’t just impact our internal culture and organizational health—it also impacts our bottom lines. Even simple vocabulary shifts may be of use: In my line of work, we’re speaking not in terms of accommodating a broad range of diverse abilities—both visible, and invisible—but rather in terms of enabling and empowering them.

Jennifer Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, diversity and inclusion consultant, and author. Her work in talent management, human capital, and intersectional theory has redefined the boundaries of talent potential and company culture. Her latest book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, is a simple, accessible and intuitive guide to becoming a more inclusive leader and provides a step-by step guide for anyone ready to do their part at work.

CEOs That You Never Knew Had a Disability

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Steve Jobs standing on stage talking into a microphone at a conference

By Monica Luhar and Sara Salam

CEOs with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, ADHD, or dyslexia have an impact on society through their innovative, creative, and out-of-the-box thinking. They have also led the way for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, while not letting their disabilities be the sole trait that defines their ability to lead.

Several well-known CEOs have also turned or viewed their disabilities as strengths or opportunities that help challenge society’s attitudes and misconceptions of the disability community.

Below is a list we compiled of CEOs that have shared some of their struggles, achievements, and advice throughout their leadership career:

Sir Richard Branson – Founder of Virgin Group

Sir Richard Branson is the founder of Virgin Group, a family owned growth capital investor. The corporation now controls more than 400 companies globally. Boasting more than 53 million companies worldwide, Virgin Group earns over £16.6B in annual revenue, according to its website. The company employs 69,000 people in 25 countries.

Branson established the Virgin Group in 1970 by launching a mail-order record business that developed into Virgin Records. Virgin Records was the first Virgin company to reach a billion-dollar valuation in 1992.

Branson attributes much of his success to his dyslexia and learning disabilities. According to an interview with the Washington Post, delegation played a large role in his approach to running his business. His motivations are rooted in wanting to do good in the world.

“Since starting youth culture magazine Student at age 16, I have tried to find entrepreneurial ways to drive positive change in the world,” Branson shared on his LinkedIn profile. “In 2004, we established Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, which unites people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world.”

Source: virgin.com

J.K. Rowling – Best-Selling & Award-Winning Author

Best known for her Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling (born Joanne Rowling) always knew she wanted to be an author. At age eleven, she wrote her first novel—about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them. Rowling came up with the idea for Harry Potter in 1990 while sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London King’s Cross. Over the next five years, she began to construct a framework for each of the seven books of the series. She moved to northern Portugal to teach English as a foreign language, married, and had a child. When the marriage ended in 1993, she returned to the UK to live in Edinburgh, with her daughter and the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. After several rejection by literary agents, she received one yes. The book was first published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in June 1997.

Rowling has shared the role depression played in her success; at one point she contemplated suicide and suffered chronic depression. In a Harvard University commencement speech, she stated, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Source: jkrowling.com

Paul Orfalea – Founder of Kinko’s aka FedEx Office

Businessman Paul Orfalea founded what is now known as FedEx Office (originally called Kinko’s). He built Kinko’s from a single shop in Santa Barbara to a national chain with more than 1,000 locations and 25,000 employees. FedEx bought Kinko’s in 2004. It has been reported that Orfalea never carried a pen, often allowing others to handle correspondence for him because he didn’t like to read or write. He has dyslexia and ADHD, which he credits as the blessings that allowed him to see the world differently from his peers. “Lacking the ability to learn by reading, I embraced every chance to participate in life. I started businesses, like my vegetable stand. I skipped school to watch my father’s stockbroker at work. I learned early that I would only get through school with a lot of help from a lot of people. I learned to appreciate people’s strengths and forgive their weaknesses, as I hoped they would forgive mine.”

Sources: https://cagspeakers.com/paul-orfalea/

https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2008/06/post-2.html

Tommy Hilfiger – Fashion Designer, CEO/Entrepreneur, Tommy Hilfiger Corporation

American fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger built an extraordinary and widely distributed fashion line from the ground up. The company made strides in the disability community by recently unveiling a clothing line geared toward people with disabilities. From a very young age, Hilfiger was equipped with an entrepreneurial spirit and an iconic eye for fashion. He wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until much later on in life, although he shared that he often felt embarrassed to reach out to people for help.

He quit school at age 18 and went on to work in the retail industry in New York City, where he began altering clothes for resale. He and his friends from high school started selling jeans and opened a store called the People’s Place, which became an instant hit. Eventually, the People’s Place went bankrupt when Hilfiger was 25. But, he picked himself back up and continued to focus on his designs before launching what would be known as the iconic Tommy Hilfiger.

Hilfiger recently partnered with the Child Mind Institute in a PSA titled, “What I Would Tell #MyYounger Self.” In the campaign video, he said, “As a child, I was dyslexic. I didn’t realize it until later on in life. I faced many challenges along the way. If you are facing challenges, the best thing you could possibly do is reach out to an adult because adults can help you somehow. I didn’t realize it at the time; I was embarrassed to talk to my teachers and family about it. But if something is bothering you, if you think you have a challenge, reach out to an adult and allow them to help you.”

Although Hilfiger struggled to read and write, he tapped into his creative strengths in other ways and diverted his attention to the world of fashion with a highly successful brand with estimated sales of $6.7 billion.

Barbara Corcoran – Founder of the Corcoran Group and Shark on ABC’s “Shark Tank”

As a child, Barbara Corcoran often felt isolated and lonely due to her dyslexia. She struggled to read in the third grade and often found herself daydreaming about creative business ideas that were not related to the school curriculum. She struggled in high school and college, received straight Ds, and also experienced a ton of setbacks. She job hopped a total of 20 jobs, but never gave up on her quest to find her true passion and a career that she was passionate about.

One of the most life-changing moments of her career was when she decided to borrow $1,000 from her boyfriend, quit her job, and follow her dream of starting up The Corcoran Group, a small real estate company in New York City. Today, it’s known as the largest in the brokerage business.

Over the years, Corcoran—an American business woman, investor, author, and TV personality—has invested in over 80 businesses and is a highly recognized motivational and inspirational speaker. She is also the author of the bestselling book, Shark Tales: How I turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business.

Today, Corcoran does not view her dyslexia as an impediment. She has learned to use her dyslexia as an opportunity to push her creative entrepreneurial spirit even further, and to help others on that journey as well.

Steve Jobs – Co-Founder & Former CEO of Apple

You can thank Apple founder Steve Jobs for some of the world’s most innovative tech products that make today’s communication and connectivity a breeze.

Although Jobs grew up with dyslexia, he never claimed or publicly shared his disability. He struggled in school and dropped out after one semester at Reed College. But instead of giving up, he decided to think outside of the box in 1976 by conceptualizing the iconic Apple Computer in what was his parents’ garage.

According to Business Insider, 10-15 percent of the U.S. population are dyslexic, but only a few individuals acknowledge and receive treatment for it. Jobs’ disability served as a creative gift that allowed him to take risks and chances with his concepts for Apple.

In his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, Jobs discussed the power of trusting in your abilities and believing that the hard work, setbacks, and struggles that you experience today will eventually connect the dots and help you reach your full potential down the road:

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards,” Jobs said. “So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Monica Luhar is a creative copywriter, content writer, and former journalist. Her bylines have appeared in NBC News, KCET, KPCC, VICE, India-West, HelloGiggles, Yahoo!, and other hyperlocal, weekly, and national news outlets. She has covered topics ranging from diverse representation in the media, entrepreneurship, disability rights, mental health, and has reported extensively on the Asian American and Pacific Islander, LGBTQ and Latino communities. You can follow her on Twitter at @monicaluhar or view her writing at monicaluhar.com.

Steve Jobs Photo: Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs delivers the keynote speech to kick off the 2008 Macworld at the Moscone Center January 15, 2008 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

7 Steps to Make Your Virtual Presentations Accessible

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blind person working on computer

The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) has created the following resource to help you make sure your virtual presentations are accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.

With the rapid rise of telework, the PEAT team recognizes it’s more important than ever to make sure virtual presentations are accessible. These efforts allow all participants, particularly people with disabilities, to effectively engage with presented content. Below, you’ll find seven essential steps and related resources to help you create accessible presentations.

Before and During Your Presentation

Step 1: Research

Before hosting a virtual presentation, identify all accessibility features of the online platform you intend to use. The following websites discuss accessibility features for several commonly used platforms for webinars, virtual conferences, and other collaborative activities:

Step 2: Need Sensing

When sending invitations to join your virtual presentation, encourage participants to share their requirements and accommodation needs to engage effectively in your event. For example, you could craft a request like this:

“We strive to host an inclusive and accessible presentation. Accessible materials will be distributed to participants in advance, and live captioning will be provided during the event. If you have questions about the accessibility of our presentation, or want to request accommodations, please reach out to [add name] at [add email].”

Continue on to the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology to read tips for putting systems in place, creating accessible materials, preparing your speakers, sharing your materials, and asking for feedback.

Can You Hire a Deaf Employee When the Job Requires Phone Work?

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Two deaf individuals talking through sign language

By AnnMarie Killian

Imagine this: You are hiring for a job that requires phone work…but the person sitting in front of you is deaf/hard of hearing.

You may be wonder, can a person who is deaf/hard of hearing use the phone successfully?

The answer is yes.

And consider this: Companies and corporations are actively seeking out people with differences. Diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords—they’re real-life practices that today’s companies are required to implement. Diverse teams and inclusive environments produce an organizational culture that is beneficial to the bottom line.

Yet, at first glance, managers and human resources personnel may be reluctant to consider a deaf/hard of hearing person for a job because of presumed limitations.

They may be wondering:

  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how can they manage parts of the job that require audio communication?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how will they communicate?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, can they really do the job?

And…

  • If the job requires phone work, can a deaf/hard of hearing person really handle that aspect of the job?

The reluctance from employers to consider deaf/hard of hearing for jobs that involve phone work often comes from fear of the unknown. If you’ve never met a deaf/hard of hearing person doing the work that you’re hiring for, you might hesitate or even refuse to consider hiring that person.

Technological advances have leveled the playing field in many professions. In many cases, deaf and hard of hearing people bring a different perspective to a job that a person with hearing in the normal range may not have.

You’ll find deaf and hard of hearing people in all kinds of jobs, even those that are considered “impossible” for a deaf/hard of hearing person to be employed in. Surgeons. Lawyers. Auto shop managers. Airplane mechanics. Pharmacists. Audiologists. Bartenders. Musicians. Restaurant servers. Firefighters. NASA launch team specialists.

Even at call centers—which require being on the phone all hours of the job!

For example, Dale McCord works as a Purchase Card Specialist and his job requires frequent phone contact with vendors. “In the past, I occasionally came across managers who were reluctant to hire me for jobs because of perceived ‘limitations,’” Dale explains. “I’m a loyal and hard-working person and today’s technology allows me to do my job very well.”

Dale also has some advice for those who hire: “When you hire a person with a disability, don’t doubt their ability to do the job—because they will often do the job twice as well.”

Today’s technology has made telephone communication accessible in a variety of ways, including captioned phones and videophones. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals can make and receive calls via Video Relay Services such as ZVRS and Purple Video Relay Services.

By utilizing a videophone, a deaf/hard of hearing person is capable of working via phone. The person on the other end of the line does not necessarily know the conversation is woven with two languages, facilitated by a qualified, highly-skilled interpreter.

Here are some frequently asked questions about using Video Relay Services:

How does a deaf/hard of hearing person use a phone with a Video Relay System?

Both ZVRS and Purple provide equipment and software that routes a phone call through a video relay system.  The deaf/hard of hearing individual accesses a phone conversation by watching a sign language interpreter on a video screen. The deaf/hard of hearing individual can respond via sign language (the interpreter will voice a translation) or by using their own voice. The conversation flows back and forth between a deaf/hard of hearing individual and a hearing person with an interpreter translating the conversation seamlessly.

Can a deaf/hard of hearing person answer an inbound call?

Yes, calls can be routed through a phone number assigned to a videophone.  A visual alert system will notify the deaf/hard of hearing person that a call is coming through. With the press of a button, the call can be answered.

Our network is extremely secure–will a videophone work with our network?

ZVRS and Purple can provide equipment that is encrypted and works with firewalls. The systems are ADA compliant and integrated within your network. Our teams work directly with network system managers to ensure secure connections.

Where can I find more information about phone solutions for potential deaf/hard of hearing employees?

Purple Business Solutions and Enterprise Solutions/ZVRS

A passionate and people-centric leader, AnnMarie is vice president of diversity and inclusion for Purple Communications. She brings over 25 plus years of diverse experience in telecommunications, retail and fitness. As a Deaf individual, she is intimately familiar with the challenges of engagement and inclusion, which has influenced her professional aspirations. Recently, AnnMarie served as the vice president of operations responsible for leading key deliverables for increasing profitability, growing revenue and maximizing operational efficiencies.

Hiring Diverse Candidates Is Only the Begining

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A group of diverse applicants waiting to be interviewed for a job position
By Josef Scarantino

Assembling a truly comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategy requires us to take a more holistic view of our approach as employers. Instead of only considering diversity in our hiring pipeline, we shouldn’t forget employee retention and career advancement.

Effective diversity and inclusion strategies take the full lifecycle of the employee into consideration. Neglecting the full lifecycle of the employee misses real opportunities for engagement, organizational impact, and culture shifts.

Many companies go to great lengths to ensure a diverse hiring pipeline, yet they often stop short of getting the maximum impact for their diversity and inclusion efforts. From diversity job fairs to targeted advertising campaigns, the toolbox for diversity hiring is full of different methods. The reality is that diversity and inclusion doesn’t stop with hiring diverse candidates, but actually begins. It is at the moment of hiring a diverse employee where the engagement begins and the clock starts.
Here are some practical considerations for your diversity and inclusion strategy:
Engagement is essential.
You might have heard that diversity is like being invited to the party, while inclusion is being given a seat at the table. But the fact is that many people at the table still don’t have a voice. Remember the groundbreaking book, Lean In by Sheryl Sanberg, that became a bestseller? It highlighted a challenge that many people, not only women, face in the workplace despite having a seat at the table. Sanberg changed the conversation around women’s role in the workplace and at home to achieve both personal fulfillment and professional advancement. As an employer, we have a responsibility. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting engagement in your diversity and inclusion strategy. Ensure that diverse employees have a seat at the table and are given a voice with authority to enact real change within the company.
“What gets measured gets done.”
That simple quote was made famous by W. Edwards Deming, a renowned statistician and engineer who was sent to war-torn Japan after World War II to help rebuild the country’s manufacturing sector. One of the most important takeaways from Deming’s work nearly every company still uses today is the concept of Key Performance Indicators, or KPI’s. Companies that are serious about diversity and inclusion set goals and measure their progress towards them. Your diversity and inclusion goals have to be included alongside sales and revenue in your company KPI’s that are regularly measured and reported. Don’t bury your diversity goals as if they are an impact metric, but give them equal prominence with your other KPI’s.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
Every company has a unique culture that is defined by the shared values and practices of its employees. At the extreme, company cultures can be toxic, or they can be youthful and everything in between. As much as we try to define culture by certain bulleted values on our website or carefully worded mission statements, culture is ultimately created by our daily practices. An important, and often missed, component of our diversity and inclusion strategy is considering the health of our company culture. Do we offer a flexible work schedule for people to take time out for doctor appointments? Do we make office accommodations for people with disabilities? Do we value mental health in the workplace or expect employees to check email on Sunday nights? The way we empower employees to define a company culture that accommodates their ideal work environment is critical to a diversity and inclusion strategy where everyone feels welcome.
In conclusion, as you consider the health of your diversity and inclusion strategy, don’t forget the importance of engagement in employee retention. Diversity isn’t a vanity metric for companies to showcase to their boards, but should highlight tangible career advancement for employees. When we set out to commit to diversity and inclusion, identify realistic goals that can be measured and take ownership when those goals aren’t met. And finally, accept that culture is always going to take precedence over strategy. Be a leader in your market where diversity is a cornerstone led by a healthy employee-led culture. We can do an incredible job at hiring diverse candidates, but if we don’t create conditions for people to truly make the company their own, they simply won’t stay.
The clock starts now.

What Does it Take to Succeed? Just 3 Things.

LinkedIn
Brittany Merrill-Yeng, owner of Skrewball Whiskey, looking at the camera and smiling

By Brittany Merrill-Yeng

Being a business owner is a constant balance—and not just of your time and resources. It is a balance of being so confident in your idea and your ability bring it to fruition while recognizing how little you know.

It is staying true to your course while remaining flexible as new obstacles that appear. To successfully balance all of this, the three most important things you need to achieve success are as follows:

Persistence

Persistence is essential to being a business owner. From the outset you will be faced with a chorus of “no’s” at every turn. “You cannot do this. This is not practical. It cannot be done.” Your new job is to make it work in the face of all of this resistance because, as the owner, it always falls back on you to make sure everything gets done.

Learn to ask questions that push people to find a solution. Or, better yet, get creative and find an alternate path. Start feeling comfortable being the person with the least experience in the room. You can still be the one to make a breakthrough in the industry.

I cannot begin to describe how many times we’ve been told something is not possible. Many times, accepting “no” as an answer would mean essentially giving up on my dream and letting all the people working for us down. Given these stakes, I would work until we found a solution. While I was new to the liquor industry, I am very fortunate that my experience as a patent litigator taught me how to craft the questions to get the answers I needed and be able to quickly learn from the experts.

Faith in Yourself

Perhaps, more importantly, you need to keep faith in yourself and what you’re doing. When we started our business, the “experts” said the concept would not work, our branding did not make sense and our price was way too high. Now, those are the key things that the “experts” are pointing to as the reasons we have been successful. We all hear about the importance of confidence and staying true to what you believe, but it takes a lot of restraint to hold your ground when everyone is telling you it’s the wrong course. For me, it is more than confidence; it’s faith in yourself.

In the end, it’s these things that you did differently that will make you successful. If you want to achieve something no one else has done before, you have got to do things no one else has done before. There is nothing more gratifying than achieving success in the face of all this doubt. It gets easier when your team starts to have faith in you too. Now, when we get to these junctures, I ask those around me to have patience and trust me. I’d bet on us any day.

Humility

While you cannot compromise on the core tenants of your business, you have to be willing to accept help and be flexible on the smaller things. And, even when you achieve the impossible, you cannot rely on your past success. You have to keep moving forward and improving to get your business to the next level. This takes a bit of humility.

There are many times you have to make a less than perfect fix work. You need to face the harsh reality that you will not be prepared to handle every challenge in front of you—but you will rise to it any way. You will learn and you will be better next time. Rather than staying down, walking away or hiding these moments, we celebrate them. These are our “Skrewball” moments. As we continue to push to new limits, I look forward to many more, knowing that we’ll look back, laugh, and wonder how we “winged it.”

Brittany Merrill-Yeng is a chemist turned attorney, turned spirits brand owner as the co-founder and managing partner of Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey. Merrill-Yeng was one to watch in 2019 as she took her small family owned company and grew it into a Hollywood favorite and national sensation in just one short year. The award-winning 70-proof original peanut butter whiskey has been awarded several honors, including the Double Gold Medal for Best Flavored Whiskey in the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition in 2018 and 2019, and just recently secured both Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE) and Women Business Enterprise (WBE) certifications.

For more information about the Skrewball brand, visit skrewballwhiskey.com.

New Braille Keyboard Opens Many Doors

LinkedIn
Two hands reading a book in braille

With the popularity of the smartphone, many people within the visually impaired community have used the voice dictation feature to write a text message. However, within the last few weeks, Google’s Android makes talk to text the second way that people with visual impairments can communicate.

In the last few weeks, Google released a new braille keyboard on its Android 5.0 products—Talkback.

The keyboard will be available in braille grades 1 and 2 in English and will utilize a six-key system, each key representing one of the six braille dots. Each key will be numbered one through six and be combined into different number combinations to form words and sentences, allowing for words to be written on the smartphone entirely in braille. Deletion of words and spaces will also be possible in a simple two-finger swipe to either the left or the right.
As smartphones became more popular, many worried that using braille would soon become obsolete to the next generation with visual impairments. In some instances, braille keyboards could be attached to devices to write messages, but that would require carrying around a keyboard in addition to your cellular device. Talkback will not only make messaging easier and more compact for those with visual impairments but will also help advocate the importance of learning braille.

Talkback is only one of the many tools available to those with visual impairments for navigating smart technology through Android’s Accessibility Suite. To learn more about the product, click here or to learn how to set the system up on your device, click here