Disability Driving Innovation: A Dispatch from USBLN 2017

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Last month, our team from Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) had the pleasure of attending a conference that was right up our alley.

It featured accessible technology experts from leading IT companies, compelling talks on the intersection of employment and accessibility, and an overarching theme that centered on the concept of innovation. If we didn’t know better, we might have thought we were back at the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference or the M-Enabling Summit. But we were at the 20th annual conference of the U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN).

If you aren’t familiar with USBLN, it’s a national non-profit that helps employers capitalize on disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain, and marketplace. And this year, its conference drew over 1,200 attendees from businesses and disability advocates of all sizes. We’ve watched the event get better and better over the years,

JAN and USBLN
Josh Christianson of PEAT Brett Sheats of EARN Anne Hirsch of JAN and Lou Orslene of Jan

The conference theme itself—“Disability: A Catalyst for Innovation”—showcased accessible technology’s role in fostering business success. And while the event featured a new Technology track this year, we were happy to find the topic interwoven throughout the conference, from breakout sessions on digital accessibility to a plenary on the technology marketplace.

Here’s a taste of what we learned:

  • Accessibility is a journey, not a destination—Jeff Wieland, Facebook’s Head of Accessibility Engineering & Operations, reminded us that by continually tweaking design processes and end products for accessibility, companies will be able to remain ahead of the innovation curve.
  • Secure buy-in from the top down and the bottom up—Clint Covington, a Principal Program Manager at Microsoft, called upon everyone to take a vested interest in accessibility. Even though every one of USBLN’s attendees are at different career levels and points on the accessibility journey, they can all play a role in making the workforce a welcoming place for people with disabilities.
  • Focus on business value and usability—Several speakers, including Mike Paciello, a Founding Partner of the Paciello Group, and Dan Sullivan, AudioEye’s Vice President of Sales, shared tips for communicating the need for accessibility to company leadership. Key insights emphasize the business value of accessibility (versus compliance with the law) and position accessibility as something that will ensure your products can be used by the largest possible group of customers.
  • Accessibility education is key—Shawn Lauriat, a Senior Software Engineer at Google, believes it’s imperative for companies to set standards for accessibility education across the board so that accessibility is non-negotiable throughout an organization. One initiative for accessibility education, highlighted during the conference by Jennison Asuncion, Engineering Manager of Accessibility at LinkedIn, is Teach Access. Teach Access prepares students in technology fields to design with accessibility in mind.
  • Culture is king—Beyond teaching accessibility, it’s also crucial to bring people with disabilities to the table, both in technology-focused academic settings and in the workplace. This is especially important when it comes to recruiting talent from the highly plugged-in millennial generation. During another fascinating panel, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Jennifer Sheehy emphasized the importance of instilling inclusion and accessibility at every level of technology education and every level of employment. Only then will workplaces be better able to attract and retain a strong talent pool that includes people with disabilities.
Apoorva Gandhi Vice President Multicultural Affairs at Marriott International and USBLN Board Member moderates the Plenary Session The Technology Mark

Year after year, the USBLN conference serves as a catalyst to create connections between businesses and people with disabilities so that people with disabilities show employers the groundbreaking ideas they can bring to their teams. We at PEAT look forward to continuing the conversations about accessible technology and the ways that people with disabilities can drive innovation.

 

European Space Agency announces call for ‘parastronauts’ with disabilities

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The European Space Agency is diversifying its astronaut pool with its first call for astronauts that is open to candidates with physical disabilities.

In this call for new astronauts, the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade, ESA announced that it plans to accept four to six career astronauts (who will be permanent ESA staff) and about 20 “reserve astronauts,” who could fly for shorter missions to destinations like the International Space Station.

As part of this call for astronaut applicants, ESA Director General Jan Wörner revealed during a recent news briefing that the agency is aiming to bring its first “parastronaut,” or astronaut with physical disabilities, on board, according to SpaceNews.

As part of what it calls the “Parastronaut feasibility project,” “ESA is ready to invest in defining the necessary adaptations of space hardware in an effort to enable these otherwise excellently qualified professionals to serve as crew members on a safe and useful space mission,” the agency said in a statement, adding that it will open up this opportunity for one or more applicants.

For this parastronaut, who would be the first astronaut with physical disabilities selected not just by ESA but in history, the agency is “looking for individual(s) who are psychologically, cognitively, technically and professionally qualified to be an astronaut, but have a physical disability that would normally prevent them from being selected due to the requirements imposed by the use of current space hardware,” ESA added in the same statement.

ESA consulted with the Paralympic Committee to determine exactly which physical disabilities would work consistently with space missions, according to a New York Times. Currently, the agency is accepting applicants with leg amputations, significant differences in leg length or who are very short (typically, space agencies have a height minimum for astronaut candidates), according to the Times, though the agency hopes to expand this opportunity to others in the future.

After being recruited, astronaut candidates chosen as part of this project would work with the agency to determine what physical accommodations they might need to fly to space.

Continue on to Space.com to read the complete article.

13 Practical Ways To Help Employees Adapt To New Technology

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collage Forbes Human Resources Council

Tech continues to play a larger and larger role in businesses and industries of all stripes. As companies bring on more and newer technology to help improve productivity, employees who were initially trained on older systems or who are new to a higher-tech workplace may struggle to keep up or even resist using the new tech at all.

Giving your team the support they need to learn and leverage new tech is a win-win situation for everyone. Below, 13 members of Forbes Human Resources Council share tips for effectively introducing new tech tools to your team members.

Take a multi-pronged approach.

Implement a range of training systems, from written instruction to live video training, to accommodate different work styles and preferences. It’s important that executives lead by example by using the technology themselves and reminding employees of support and resources available on a regular basis. – Neha Mirchandani, BrightPlan

2. Create a sandbox for employees.

The one important strategy in any major wave of change is the willingness to create a sandbox for the employees. For any new tech—or non-tech—strategy to succeed, an appetite for and acceptance of failures and mistakes are required. People learn when they know their mistakes won’t cost them their jobs. They are more open to bigger challenges if there is an allowance for a learning curve. – Ruchi Kulhari, NIIT-Technologies

3. Implement annual skills evaluation.

Annual skills evaluation programs are a great way to keep employees engaged and motivated. Digital transformation requires core competencies for virtually any job to evolve. By evaluating skill levels and skill gaps, your organization can easily identify ways to ensure employees are keeping up with the competition. Employers must constantly update employee skills to match the pace of innovation. – Sameer Penakalapati, CEIPAL Corp.

Read the full article at  Forbes.

Bumble Is Driving Powerful Change for Disabled Women Like Me

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Bumble founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd at the Fast Company Innovation

The trailblazing social network Bumble has had a busy, history-making month, one that proves the female-focused company’s strategy is poised to shape the future of social media.

First, Bumble rolled out a new policy on body shaming in an effort to “create a kinder and more accepting internet for everyone.”

Their updated terms and conditions explicitly prohibit “unsolicited and derogatory comments made about someone’s appearance, body shape, size, or health. This includes language that can be deemed fat-phobic, ableist, racist, colorist, homophobic or transphobic.”

Users who engage in body shaming, either in their profile or through the app’s chat feature, will receive a warning and repeated violations will result in a permanent ban. To illustrate the prevalence of body shaming, Bumble also released a video featuring disabled users talking about times they were shamed for their bodies.

As a disabled woman, I’ve regularly experienced body shaming on the internet; in fact, the taunts and mocking has steadily increased over the years. People have made fun of my appearance, called me things like “ugly” and “blobfish” and even used my photo in last summer’s cruel new teacher prank on TikTok.

While I mostly just roll my eyes at these comments now, they still hurt because it’s another reminder of just how embedded ableism is in our culture. And it’s also one of the reasons I’ve avoided joining dating apps altogether — I don’t need yet another place to be bombarded by body shaming and ableist rhetoric.

That’s why I was thrilled to see the disability community represented in Bumble’s video. In a world where we continually view disabled bodies as “less than” and unworthy, this ad is the societal pushback we need in 2021. We need to normalize disabilities and disabled bodies and Bumble is taking a much-needed step in that direction.

Bumble user Alex Dacy agrees. The social media influencer, who has spinal muscular atrophy, appeared in the video and was excited to be a part of such a pivotal moment for disability representation, especially coming from a large company like Bumble. The conversation around disabilities and body shaming is long overdue and Dacy is happy to see Bumble leading that conversation.

Read the full article at CNN.

What To Look For In A Disability Organization

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There’s an important question that may get too little attention in the world of disability services, activism, and culture. If we really care about people with disabilities and disability issues, we should all do better than just tossing pocket change in every fundraising bucket we see, or signing up for every walkathon a coworker’s kid puts in front of us.

But how do we choose which disability-related causes and organizations to support? Some criteria are the same for any kind of charity or organization seeking voluntary support. Look for sound, transparent finances and accounting practices. Make sure they use funds to further an important mission rather than simply enriching top executives. Support organizations that give regular, readable reports of services provided, advocacy accomplishments, and goals achieved. Look for strong oversight by a genuinely representative Board of Directors or similar governing entity.

These are basic tips for choosing any charity or cause, for donations or for volunteering. But what other qualities should we look for specifically in disability organizations? Here are some criteria and questions to ask, and why they are important:

  • Medical research and treatment

This is the most traditional and well-known type of disability organization. Their goals are mainly to fund medical research into treatments and cures for specific disabling conditions, and in some cases to help provide some of those treatments to people with those conditions.

The closest thing to an original is the March of Dimes, started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to find a cure for polio. But the model continues, with some modernizing alterations, in the March of Dimes itself and in other legacy organizations like the Multiple Sclerosis SocietyMuscular Dystrophy AssociationUnited Cerebral Palsy Association, and the Alzheimer’s Association. Notably, many of these organizations are better known to the general public for their fundraising events, and less for the work they do.

  • Direct services

Most disability organizations provide at least some personal and material assistance directly to disabled people and their families. For some, direct service is the main focus. Services can include funding for adaptive equipment, paying for certain high-cost medical procedures, or enriching experiences like support groups and summer camps. In local chapters and offices, direct services may also include one-on-one information, counseling, and advocacy assistance to address disabled people’s everyday needs, concerns, and barriers.

Read the full article at Forbes.

Registries of Disabled People Debated in Police Reform Talks

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a woman and a girl are sitting on the couch

Some police departments around the country are expanding the use of voluntary registries of disabled people to include those with mental illness.

Victoria Mitchell wishes police would have had the full picture of her son’s struggles with mental illness and reacted differently before an officer shot and killed him last year in Ansonia, Connecticut.

Her son, Michael Gregory, had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attempted suicide several times. He was in crisis when he was shot on Jan. 2, 2020, while charging officers with a knife, after telling them they were going to have to shoot him.

Mitchell, a nurse who cares for people with mental illness, supports some parts of a proposed statewide law enforcement registry of people with disabilities including mental illness. The idea is being studied by the state’s Police Transparency & Accountability Task Force as a way to alert officers about someone’s disability and avoid deadly use of force.

“Maybe had something like that had been available, they would have proceeded differently — knowing that he’s not in his right mind,” she said. “They could have called someone in to de-escalate the situation.”

The Connecticut proposal would be a major expansion of voluntary registry programs already in place at a large number of police departments across the country, which are primarily aimed at helping officers find people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia who go missing and get them back home.

A smaller number of departments have added people with autism and bipolar disorder in efforts to improve their interactions with people with developmental and mental health disabilities, in response to public outcries about shootings by police.

Since 2015, nearly a quarter of the nearly 6,000 fatal shootings by police in the U.S. have involved mentally ill people, according to a Washington Post database of police shootings.

Advocates for disabled people, however, said there are significant problems with the registries including further stigmatizing people with disabilities and privacy concerns.

Read the full article at ABC News.

‘Framing Britney Spears’ Doesn’t Bring Up Disability and That’s a Problem

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Britney Spears performing close up photo

Britney Spears is physically able-bodied, beautiful, and successful. It’s not what disability narratives have historically prized throughout the years.

Everyone has an opinion on Britney Spears, even if you think you don’t. Since the pop star’s infamous series of erratic decisions starting in 2007 — which led to her being placed in a conservatorship for the last 12 years — there have been numerous opinions stated about whether Spears is a prisoner or being protected. This week, FX’s “The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears” sought to lift the veil on what many people have heard about Spears and her confinement, but one word was noticeably absent throughout the hour-long broadcast: disabled.

Last year, as the #FreeBritney movement started up, disabled rights advocate and writer Sara Luterman brought up Spears’ conservatorship with regards to disability rights issues in The Nation. A conservatorship, as Luterman lays it out, is “generally imposed on people with a documented disability who are determined, by a judge, to be unable to care for themselves.” A conservator determines how the conservatee spends their money, takes care of themselves day to day, and anything else falling under a wide swath of things deemed necessary.

As Luterman points out, “Guardianship is most commonly used on young adults with intellectual disabilities and older adults with dementia. It isn’t clear how many people are under guardianship in the United States, but in a 2013 report, the AARP’s ‘best guess’ was 1.5 million Americans.

Yet within “Framing Britney Spears” the topic is never couched with regards to disability. Instead they make it clear that conservatorships are usually reserved for those who are elderly. The distinction is pertinent, as elderly doesn’t always mean disabled — but too often disabled always means elderly. The series also limits their discussions to #FreeBritney allies or those with legal connections to conservatorships, and never does it solicit the opinions of disabled rights advocates.

And this is disturbing, because there are elements of Spears’ life that definitely sound troubling — but when you factor in the more nefarious ways conservatorships control a person’s medical and, especially, sexual and reproductive health, it’s reminiscent of the numerous ways those with disabilities have been controlled and prohibited from being considered actual people.

Read the full article at Indie Wire.

The First Blind Man to Climb Mount Everest and Other Inspiring Athletes Star in Super Bowl Ad

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Erik Weihenmayer

Guaranteed Rate, one of America’s top 5 retail mortgage lenders, announces that the newest ad in its national brand campaign, Believe You Will, will air during this year’s Super Bowl.

The 60-second spot will feature some of the Believe You Will campaign’s ambassadors, including Dustin Poirier, who recently defeated UFC legend Conor McGregor, and Ryan Newman, who will be racing to win his second Daytona 500 next week, marking the one-year anniversary of his infamous, fiery crash.

“It’s exciting to be a part of the most iconic sporting event in the world,” said Guaranteed Rate President and CEO Victor Ciardelli. “Our new Believe You Will campaign is authentically us. We are a mortgage company that believes ‘We Grow For Good’–the more we grow, the more good we can do. We believe people are amazing and can do anything they want in the world; they just have to believe they can.”

Guaranteed Rate’s ad, as well as the entire Believe You Will campaign, was produced by the company’s in-house creative team. The Believe You Will campaign’s ambassadors were identified based on their personal stories and philosophies, which connect directly to the idea that incredible goals can be attained through the power of positivity and belief.

“At Guaranteed Rate, our core values are rooted in the power of belief and positive thinking, to achieve audacious goals,” said Guaranteed Rate Chief Marketing Officer Steve Moffat. “To share that philosophy, we found remarkable stories of people who believed in their abilities to overcome challenges and achieve their goals. We hope that people around the world will be inspired by these stories and will believe that they too can achieve great things.”

The spot airing during the game highlights several of the campaign‘s inspiring ambassadors, including:

  • Dustin Poirier, who believes he will regain the UFC lightweight title after having just defeated the legendary Conor McGregor in a vicious 2nd-round TKO on January 23.
  • Ryan Newman, who believes he will win his second Daytona 500, one year after being in one of the sport’s most shocking crashes ever.
  • Erik Weihenmayer, who believed he could defy the odds to become the first blind person to climb to the summit of Mount Everest.
  • Rose Namajunas, who believed she could rise above extremely tough circumstances and become a UFC champion.
  • Seth Jones, who believed that even though his dad was an NBA veteran, he could forge his own path to become an NHL All Star.
  • Starr Andrews, who believes she can accomplish her dream of being an Olympic figure-skating champion in Beijing.
  • The voice of the ad and the entire Believe You Will campaign is motivational speaker and coach Dr. Eric Thomas, known to many as “The Hip Hop Preacher.”

Guaranteed Rate rolled out its Believe You Will campaign after a year of momentous growth for the company as it met record-breaking consumer demand and launched various high-profile sports sponsorships. Well known for its title sponsorship of the Chicago White Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Field, the company sponsored a wide array of sporting events in 2020, from mainstream sports like NASCAR, IndyCar, MLB and NHL, to more niche sports like professional bass fishing, figure skating, bowling and lacrosse.

To preview Guaranteed Rate’s Believe You Will Super Bowl ad, please visit:
rate.com/about-us/purpose and follow the company on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook @GuaranteedRate and #believeyouwill.

About Guaranteed Rate Companies

The Guaranteed Rate Companies, which includes Guaranteed Rate, Inc., Guaranteed Rate Affinity, LLC, and Proper Rate, LLC, has more than 9,000 employees in over 750 offices across the United States. Headquartered in Chicago, Guaranteed Rate Companies is one of the largest retail mortgage lenders in the United States, funding over $73 billion in 2020. Founded in 2000 and located in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., Guaranteed Rate Companies has helped homeowners nationwide with home purchase loans and refinances. The company has established itself as an industry leader by introducing innovative technology, offering low rates and delivering unparalleled customer service. 2017 marked the launch of Guaranteed Rate Affinity, LLC, a mortgage origination joint venture between Guaranteed Rate, Inc. and Realogy Holdings Corp. (NYSE: RLGY), a global leader in residential real estate franchising and brokerage. In 2020, the company launched Proper Rate, LLC, a mortgage origination joint venture between Guaranteed Rate, Inc. and @properties, one of the nation’s largest residential brokerage firms. Collectively, the Guaranteed Rate Companies have earned honors and awards including:Top Lender for Online Service for 2018 byU.S. News & World Report; Best Mortgage Lender for Online Loans and Best Mortgage Lender for Refinancing by NerdWallet for 2021; HousingWire‘s 2020 Tech100 award for the company’s industry-leading FlashCloseSM technology; No. 3 ranking in Scotsman Guide‘s Top Retail Mortgage Lenders 2019;ChicagoAgent Magazine‘s Lender of the Year for five consecutive years; Chicago Tribune‘s Top Workplaces list for seven consecutive years. Visit rate.com for more information.

SOURCE Guaranteed Rate

Here’s What Nike’s First Hands-Free Sneaker Means For People With Disabilities

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Hands free nike shoe design

On Monday, Nike announced the release of its first-ever hands-free sneaker, called the GO FlyEase. Available in three colorways, the style is an advancement of the brand’s FlyEase series, which was originally designed to improve the lives of athletes with disabilities, using zippers and straps rather than laces.

Monday’s release takes that design a step further, with technology that allows wearers to step into their shoes without a single adjustment or closure point. Like the original FlyEase, the GO FlyEase sneakers were designed to make the act of putting on and taking off shoes for the one in four people who have a disability easier. “Usually, I spend so much time [getting into] my shoes,” said Beatrice “Bebe” Vio — a fencer and Paralympic winner, who walks using prosthetic legs — in a press release. (Vio tested the shoe for Nike.) “With the Nike GO FlyEase, I just need to put my feet in and jump on it. The shoes are a new kind of technology, not only for adaptive athletes but for everyone’s real life.”

But while the GO FlyEase hands-free sneakers appear to be a gamechanger for people with disabilities, many assumed that the sneaker was nothing but a comfortable alternative to traditional, lace-up footwear. Rather than innovative, users on Twitter called the design “lazy” and “weird.” In turn, those who recognized that the GO FlyEase shoes could positively impact the lives of many people defended it.

“Before anyone jumps to criticize [Nike’s GO FlyEase sneaker] for its ‘laziness,’ instead think about how THIS is what accessibility can look like, and how this could benefit people with disabilities,” tweeted I’m Not Wearing Pants. Others joined in below her post, sharing reasons for why they believe the GO FlyEase sneakers are inventive, telling firsthand stories about people who could benefit from hands-free shoes. “I have a family member who was in a bad car accident,” tweeted Buckaroo Vito. “Their range of motion is so bad their partner has to tie their shoes for them. These shoes, if they made a range of styles, would be great for them!” Before long, the post by I’m Not Wearing Pants had over 199,000 likes and more than 39,000 retweets, most of which mirrored the sentiment.

Continue to the original article at Refinery.

So You Want A Diverse Workforce? Then Truly Welcome People With Disabilities

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graphic of a diverse work place

About 1 in 4 Americans live with a disability. Here’s how organizations can become disability confident.

By now, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been in place for over 35 years and roughly 62 million adults in the United States live with a disability — that’s about one in four people.

Yet how many of us can honestly say we are confident when it comes to including persons with disabilities in our workplace culture?

 

(Image Credit – The Hill)
According to a report from the Return On Disability Group, although 90 percent of companies claim to prioritize diversity, only 4 percent consider disability in those initiatives.

To be clear, a disability-confident organization is one that puts policies and procedures into practice that ensure people with all types of disabilities are included equally. Similarly, a disability-confident employer thinks about the unique needs that may arise when designing their products, services, collateral, and even job descriptions.

In order to excel in today’s evolving marketplace, you must not only acknowledge the importance of persons with disabilities to your business but also embrace actions that support their success as both employees and consumers. Furthermore, persons with disabilities account for total disposable incomes of over $500 billion, so it’s critical to businesses to ensure that persons with disabilities feel welcome to apply and contribute to your existing team.

  1. Screen In, Not Out

Like any employer, you want the best person for the job. This means, you must be prepared to show your disability confidence by guaranteeing that persons with disabilities are truly welcomed — and that starts before the interview. This can only be done if you and your hiring team are committed to “Screen In, Not Out.” This important Inclusion-ism is literally an Human Resources litmus test.

Anyone who has ever attended a Human Resource course has been advised to screen out in order to minimize the number of resumes and to weed out less desirable applicants. There are two clear issues with this practice that disability confident employers need to consider; first, by choosing to screen out you are knowingly shrinking your applicant pool in a time when a different perspective could be crucial to your company growth. Secondly, the “screen out software” that is being used by larger businesses perpetuates unconscious biases that result in a lack of diversity among applicants and, ultimately, your team.

  1. Stay Curious

The second Inclusion-ism you will want to embrace, in support of more disability confidence, is to stay curious. In short, never assume that you know what is going on; by contrast, you should be genuinely open enough about the why and hear the reason without judgement. Instead of asking “what is wrong with you?” you may question, “Why does it seem that you are regularly late on Wednesdays?”

Often, the reason comes down to a simple issue requiring minimal accommodation. You may soon discover that this employee could be a top producer on your team (aside from being late on Wednesdays).

Bottom line: embracing a “stay curious” attitude means being open to and looking for ways of doing things. By encouraging your entire team to ask questions, listen, and observe with the primary goal of understanding any given issue, you are on the road to becoming disability confident.

  1. Win, Win, Win

In the 1989 publication: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective,” Steven Covey describes the significance of a win-win situation which leads to mutual benefit.

It is time to refresh that concept to gain relevance in today’s diverse workplace. This is where “Win, Win, Win” comes in. The fact is it takes three wins to be truly inclusive. When you promote a person with disability from within, the business wins (you’ve selected the best candidate), the individual wins (they receive an opportunity that less disability-confident employers may not offer), and the entire team wins (benefiting from an innovative and adaptable leader who has overcome barriers). Plus, there are significant benefits to your customers who may see themselves reflected in the diversity of your team!

As we all know, people living with disabilities are everywhere; at work, play, traveling, shopping — just like everyone else. The more we strive to be Disability Confident Leaders, the more we can be sure we are practicing from a true Win, Win, Win perspective!

Tova Sherman—a TED Speaker and thought leader with more than 25 years of experience in diversity and inclusion—is the award-winning CEO of reachAbility, an organization which provides supportive and accessible programs dedicated to workplace inclusion for anyone facing barriers. She is the author of Win, Win, Win! The 18 Inclusion-isms You Need to Become a Disability Confident Employer.

Read the original article at The Hill.

 

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