How entrepreneurs with disabilities are making their own space in the business world

LinkedIn
Toronto-based entrepreneur Eyra Abraham founded Lisnen, a mobile app that allows users to receive notifications of critical sounds like fire alarms and sirens.

By Sarah Laing, The Globe and Mail

This article is part of a package produced by the Globe Women’s Collective around International Women’s Day and this year’s theme of #BreakTheBias

Eyra Abraham felt the call to entrepreneurship like an alarm ringing in the middle of the night. More specifically, one that she couldn’t hear – with potentially life-threatening consequences.

“I slept through a fire drill in this condo that I had purchased in Nova Scotia,” says Ms. Abraham, who is hard of hearing and wasn’t able to hear the alarm out in the building’s hallway. “I only found out that I missed it when the property manager [mentioned it].”

When she investigated ways to make sure that didn’t happen again, Ms. Abraham’s only options were rewiring her entire apartment (which would be expensive and inconvenient) or purchasing a device from the U.S. to amplify the sound from the hallway (one that didn’t even work because fire alarm tones are different in Canada). Knowing she was moving soon, Ms. Abraham just left things as they were.

Fast forward to her next apartment, this time in Toronto: one night Ms. Abraham woke up to the smell of smoke. She checked her phone, looking to see if the building had texted her an alert to evacuate, which is how they were supposed to accommodate people with hearing loss for emergency alerts. Nothing.

“I called the front desk and nobody was answering,” recalls Ms. Abraham of her panic as she wondered if she was the last person left in the building. “I finally Googled and found that it was a fire a couple blocks away and the smoke was just going through the building.”

It was a crystallizing moment for Ms. Abraham. She realized that what she wanted was a solution with sound recognition that worked with her own smart device, “so wherever I go I can get notifications, and I don’t need to go through the whole procedure to get assistive care or a device installed or any of that.”

Not long after, in 2017, Ms. Abraham founded Lisnen, a mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to identify sounds like fire alarms or sirens and turn those into notifications that deaf or hard of hearing people can use to be aware of everything that’s going on around them.

“I got frustrated waiting for someone else to make it,” says Ms. Abraham, who was working in communications at the time but had studied computer science at university. “I decided to take it on myself.”

That motivation – seeing a need that no one else is addressing and going for it – is a common thread in many entrepreneurial origin stories. For founders of intersecting marginalized identities, including those with a disability like Ms. Abraham, innovation often comes from living in a world built for a very narrow window of human experience, where founders can see space for new ideas because they have an outsider’s perspective.

‘Silent awkwardness’
People with disabilities are vastly under-represented in entrepreneurship – a 2021 BDO study showed that just 0.5 per cent of small or medium-sized businesses in Canada are owned by a person with a disability, despite the fact that an estimated 22 per cent of Canadians live with one or more disability. While the range of businesses helmed by people with disabilities is varied, these business owners often face common barriers.

Ms. Abraham says there is often a “silent awkwardness” when she first walks into a room with potential investors.

“The reality is, there are not a lot of people like myself coming into these meetings and having these conversations with stakeholders or partners,” Ms. Abraham says. “There’s a lot of relationship-building and trust that takes time, so I have to quickly identify commonalities with that person so they realize that I’m not different [from them].”

Ms. Abraham points out that while some might see a product like Lisnen as being solely for people with disabilities, the pioneering work of entrepreneurs with disabilities has often benefitted the masses.

“Most of the technology we have in the mainstream started with a use case to support people with disability,” says Ms. Abraham, pointing to the telephone, which Alexander Graham Bell first developed as a speech aid for deaf people, and texting, which Nokia introduced as an alternative for audio communication. She also points to voice-activated devices like Siri and Alexa, which use technology first developed as assistive technologies.

If information like that was more widely known, it could be the “missing link” to getting stakeholders and investors on board a bit easier, Ms. Abraham says.

“There’s a potential return for investors,” she says. “This is not a niche for a few thousand people. This is a product that can impact many people around the world.”

Breaking the corporate mould
For Stefani Blazevic, entrepreneurship was about carving out a career when the corporate mould didn’t fit.

While her goal had always been to start her own business eventually, Ms. Blazevic’s autoimmune condition meant that her years in corporate were, in her words, “not easy.” She had to take vacation days for medical appointments and struggled to get crucial resources such as an ergonomic keyboard. Plus, the pressure of long hours and travel caused her disease to progress.

When she was “packaged out” of her position, Ms. Blasevic says she knew it was time to launch her own venture. Now, she runs a recruiting firm, InfloHR, which affords her the autonomy, flexibility and earning power she didn’t have before.

“If I want to work part-time, I can scale back. If I want to hire someone, I can do that. It’s up to me,” she says.

Like many other people with disabilities, necessity forced Ms. Blasevic to create her own space to flourish, and it’s part of why she works hard to find those same opportunities for other people.

“It’s my calling,” she says of finding the right fit for both candidates and employers. Along the way, she shares her work/life tips – such as ways to leverage technology to automate the mundane parts of her job – to ensure that people of all abilities find the same kind of career satisfaction she’s found by forging her own path.

Click here to read the full article on The Globe and Mail.

Be Your Own Boss: Those with Disabilities Succeed with Self-Employment

LinkedIn
Be Your Own Boss: Those with Disabilities Succeed with Self-Employment.

By Mike Moen, Public News Service

Graduation season is in full swing, and for those with disabilities transitioning to adulthood, traditional barriers still exist in securing employment.

Advocates in Iowa say entrepreneurship serves as a good solution. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said nearly 10% of workers with a disability are self-employed, which is higher than the general population.

Maureen Schletzbaum, operator of Straw Hat Farms outside Des Moines along with her daughter Marissa, who has Down syndrome, sells flowers and fresh produce. Maureen said their business was inspired after Marissa finished high school as a way to nurture their daughter’s drive for independence in a rural setting with few opportunities.

“She has a lot of abilities, and as long as she has the correct support, she can really do a variety of things,” Schletzbaum explained.

She pointed out Marissa excels in customer relations and attention to detail. The Iowa Development Disabilities Council urges young adults and their families to further explore their interests and carry them over into self-employment, especially if they encounter job-search challenges. Vocational Rehabilitation Services is considered a top resource in getting started.

Marissa, who learned horticulture through FFA, said she loves engaging with customers and explaining the varieties of produce they sell.

“Cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage,” Marissa outlined.

Brooke Lovelace, executive director of the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, said while they still encourage business owners to be more inclusive in their hiring, entrepreneurship is a good avenue for those with disabilities to tap into their creativity and skill set.

“There’s some examples of folks running their own coffee shop, or they like to bake, and so they’re doing a small bakery,” Lovelace stated.

She also encouraged residents to support the entrepreneurs by becoming regular customers.

Click here to read the full article on Public News Service.

A human rights movement ‘disguised as a coffee shop’ employs and empowers people with disabilities

LinkedIn
Bitty & Beau's Coffee shop

By Jonathan Lehrfeld and Ariel Gans, USA Today

Brendan O’Donnell, 43, grinned ear to ear as he took an eager customer’s chai latte order.

“I have a learning disability, and at a very young age, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to walk and talk. Now, look what I can do,” said O’Donnell, who recently began work as a barista at Bitty and Beau’s Coffee, a coffee shop that primarily employs people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

O’Donnell, a former AmeriCorps employee and courier for Massachusetts’ U.S. senators, said that unlike many people with disabilities, he has not struggled to find employment, but he has been treated differently during his job search.

“It’s happened a lot of times in my life that people don’t respect people with learning disabilities,” O’Donnell said. “They think that we’re not the same.”

Just 19% of people with a disability are employed
“Disability” describes a range of physical, developmental and mental conditions. Many disabilities are invisible but still require special accommodations.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers may not discriminate against people with disabilities and must provide “reasonable accommodations” to level the playing field to get a job and perform it successfully.

Most people with disabilities do not have O’Donnell’s success landing jobs. In 2021, 19.1% of people with a disability were employed, compared with 63.7% of people without a disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2016, Amy Wright sought to help change that when she founded Bitty & Beau’s, named after her two youngest children, 12 and 17, both of whom have Down syndrome. She intends it to be a place where disabled people can do work they find empowering.

Wright describes Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, which has grown into a chain, as a human rights movement “disguised as a coffee shop.”

Her first shop was in Wilmington, North Carolina. She subsequently offered franchises, and the chain’s 12th location opened in Washington, D.C., on April 30. Wright said she has plans to open 14 more locations around the country.

“What we’re really trying to do here is give people a place to see people with disabilities doing meaningful work, earning a paycheck, making a difference, saving for their futures, and when guests come in our shop and see that, they can’t unsee it,” Wright said.

Shift thinking ‘from charity to prosperity’
Every Bitty and Beau’s Coffee employee receives at least minimum wage, with room for advancement through promotions and raises. Many in the organization’s leadership also have disabilities, according to Wright. Bitty and Beau’s Coffee works with its employees to determine their hours, and give their full-time employees benefits.

Click here to read the full article on USA Today.

Disabled people are ‘invisible by exclusion’ in politics, says Assemblymember running to be the first openly autistic member of Congress

LinkedIn
Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou

By , Business Insider

The halls of Congress have yet to see an openly autistic legislator, but New York Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou could change that.

Niou, who was diagnosed with autism at 22, said she was “surprised” to learn she could be the first openly autistic Congressmember but also said it showed a lack of representation of disabled communities in policy making.

“I think we hear a lot of the first and only sometimes,” Niou told Insider. “While it’s an amazing thing, I think that what’s more important is that there are people understanding that it’s also a really lonely thing. And I think that it really is important to have representation because you need that lens to talk about everything in policy.”

Niou, a progressive Democrat and Taiwanese immigrant who represents New York’s 65th district, announced her run for Congress this year in a high-profile race against Bill de Blasio and Rep. Mondaire Jones.

Niou’s diagnosis became well known after Refinery 29 published an article discussing it in 2020. After parents and kids reached out to her relating to her, she became aware of how talking openly about her autism helped to “drive away stigma.”

Among full-time politicians, disabled Americans are underrepresented. People with disabilities make up 6.3% of federal politicians, compared to 15.7% of all adults in America who are disabled, research from Rutgers shows.

“People with disabilities cannot achieve equality unless they are part of government decision-making,” said Lisa Schur in the 2019 Rutgers report.

The number of disabled Americans may have increased in the past two years. Estimates show that 1.2 million more people may have become disabled as a result of COVID-19.

Niou also said that she knows what it feels like to be shut out of the government process. In 2016, Niou became the first Asian to serve as Assemblymember in her district, a large Asian district that includes New York’s Chinatown.

Disabled people have been “invisible by exclusion from the policy-making process,” Niou said. Her disability status helps her bring perspective to a host of laws from transportation to housing, and she wants to make sure that neurodivergent people have more of a say in the legislative process.

“We’re not considering all the different diverse perspectives, especially when you’re talking about neurodivergent [issues] or when we’re talking about disability issues,” Niou said.

Disabled people are more likely to be incarcerated, are at a higher risk of homelessness, and more likely to face impoverishment.

Click here to read the full article on Business Insider.

4 Reasons Why Businesses Should Care About Disability Issues

LinkedIn
image of stickfigure with disability to show an image for with Disability Issues

By Andrew Pulrang, Forbes

Disability issues like accessibility, equal service, and employment rights are important to disabled people. But are they really important to anyone else?

Businesses are legally required to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act, state civil rights laws, and sometimes local accessibility standards as well. But there are ways to “comply” with these laws and regulations with only minimal attention and care. And too many businesses still tend to think of accessibility and disability accommodations as semi-voluntary “good deeds.”

Disability advocates have for decades asserted that accommodating disabled employees, properly serving disabled customers, and otherwise taking disability rights issues seriously is “good for business.” But why, exactly? Disability awareness is a subject that slips much too easily into abstraction and vague moralizing. So it never hurts to get more specific by reviewing some basic facts about disability and businesses today.

These four points are pretty obvious, or they should be. But we rarely think of them all together, and seldom really process their implications for businesses.

1. A large percentage of the population has a disability.

According to the CDC, about 61 million Americans have some kind of physical or mental disability. That’s 1 in 4 Americans, 26%. These numbers may be surprising, even doubtful, if the term “disability” only triggers images of wheelchair users. But there are many different types of disabilities, all of which are relevant to discussions about disability rights — for example:

  • Physical impairments, like paraplegia and quadriplegia, Muscular Dystrophy and Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, amputation, and a host of other anatomical conditions that make physical mobility and activities difficult.
  • Sensory and communication impairments, like being Deaf or hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired, or having speech impairments, all of which make everyday navigation and communication difficult.
  • Intellectual and developmental disabilities, including conditions affecting the brain such as Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome,  and traumatic brain injuries, with widely varied effects on understanding, planning, learning, communication, and decision-making skills.
  • Learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and similar conditions, which affect how the brain and senses decode and interpret information like written text and verbal speech.
  • Autism, which encompasses a wide spectrum of differences in sense and perception, that can affect how people interact with their environment and people around them.
  • Mental illness, including a range of conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder.
  • Chronic illnesses that can have long-term impairing effects, such as heart or lung conditions, diabetes, and chronic pain.

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

Being blind and deaf hasn’t stopped carpenter Tony Meli, who makes ornate creations in his workshop by touch

LinkedIn
Blind and deaf carpenter Tony Meli

By Donal Sheil, ABC.Net

Tony Meli may be blind and deaf, but in his personal workshop, he is capable of things that defy belief.

The 54-year-old from Jerrabomberra in southern New South Wales communicates using a special form of Auslan where he holds peoples’ hands while they sign to him.

This enhanced sense of touch is part of what gives Tony his remarkable talent with tools.

After transforming his backyard with landscape structures, brickwork and decking, the carpenter has now turned his hands to making ornate chair benches and fruit bowls.

“When I’m working in the workshop, I feel that I do have more power, I have control,” he said.

“I love it, it just makes me happy.”

While navigating his garden might sometimes prove difficult, he laughs off the challenge as a reality of his everyday life.

“I put stuff in the wheelbarrow, and often I’ll find I’ve taken a path less travelled and I’ve ended up somewhere where I really don’t want to be,” he said.

“So you’ve got to laugh.”

“When I’m working in the workshop, I feel that I do have more power, I have control,” he said.

“I love it, it just makes me happy.”

While navigating his garden might sometimes prove difficult, he laughs off the challenge as a reality of his everyday life.

“I put stuff in the wheelbarrow, and often I’ll find I’ve taken a path less travelled and I’ve ended up somewhere where I really don’t want to be,” he said.

“So you’ve got to laugh.”

Tony was born profoundly deaf and worked as a certified carpenter in Canberra for more than a decade before his vision started deteriorating.

The loss of his vision at the age of 32 forced him to retire early, and caused him a lot of anguish.

“Over time I did notice that my work was changing, and I began to get really seriously concerned and upset, very sad,” he said.

“I didn’t want to just be sitting down in a chair doing nothing, I didn’t want to do that.

“It was really that I wanted to work, I wanted to go to work.”

Tony said none of the procedures he did now had changed much since he lost his vision, but that he instead took extra care to ensure his safety.

He said his faith also provided a daily source of strength and guidance in his work and life more broadly.

“Every day I do pray, and I do ask that Jesus looks after me, and he watches over me,” he said.

“And I thank him at the end of the day. I’m tired, and at night I do thank him for looking after me.”

Tony said being a deafblind carpenter meant he had to have a lot of inner strength, like the pieces he builds.

“I really do have to be strong, strong like a table,” he said.

Click here to read the full article on ABC.Net.

This 31-year-old woman with Down syndrome launched a cookie company 5 years ago — and has already made over $1.2 million

LinkedIn
iVitto is the CEO and COO of Collettey’s Cookies, a fast-growing bakery start-up that sells cookies online, at 7-Eleven convenience stores and at the TD Garden sports arena in Boston.

By Cory Stieg, CNBC

At age 26, Collete DiVitto had just graduated from Clemson University. She moved to Boston in hopes of working and living on her own — but hiring managers kept saying she “wasn’t a good fit.”

“I was ready to be independent,” DiVitto, now 31, tells CNBC Make It. ”[But] it was hard to find jobs.”

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, DiVitto — who was born with the genetic disorder Down syndrome — had quiet aspirations to turn her baking hobby into her own business. The process felt daunting, so her mother, Rosemary Alfredo, decided to teach her the basics of getting a small business up and running.

Today, DiVitto is the CEO and COO of Collettey’s Cookies, a fast-growing bakery start-up that sells cookies online, at 7-Eleven convenience stores and at the TD Garden sports arena in Boston. The Charlestown, Massachusetts-based company has made $1.2 million in lifetime revenue since launching in December 2016, according to a CNBC Make It estimate, which the company confirmed.

Collettey’s Cookies is also profitable, the company says — no small feat in a daunting food industry.

The company has 15 employees, many of whom also have disabilities, which DiVitto says is intentional: A challenging job market is an unfortunate reality for the majority of adults with disabilities in the United States. In 2020, only 17.9 percent of people with a disability were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

DiVitto says she makes a point to personally train her employees with disabilities, one-on-one. “Creating more jobs for people who are disabled,” she says. “That’s my whole mission.”

Crafting a recipe for a small business
Entrepreneurship runs in DiVitto’s family.

Her maternal grandfather owned a small landscaping business. Today, Alfredo and her siblings each own several businesses. “We’re all kind of sassy and stubborn,” Alfredo says, citing both as valuable qualities when you’re working for yourself and tasked with regularly making big decisions.

Alfredo’s first step to teaching entrepreneurship: walking DiVitto through the logistical steps of determining a legal structure, registering the business, designing a logo and creating a website. Then, DiVitto — who has been baking since age 4 — brought samples of her chocolate chip cinnamon cookies to a local Boston shop called Golden Goose Market.

Perhaps she got lucky, or the desserts were really tasty, or both: The market’s owner, intrigued, ordered 100 12-packs of cookies. “We’re buying 40-pound bags of flour, bringing them into our apartment, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know what’s gonna happen,’” Alfredo recalls.

“I was so scared at the very beginning,” DiVitto adds. But landing the deal, she says, made her feel “amazing and confident. I never, ever felt that way in my entire life.”

The following week, the pair secured space in a commercial kitchen, giving DiVitto more cookie-making space. Altogether, Alfredo says, it cost “less than $20,000” in out-of-pocket expenses to get the business off the ground — with most of that going to kitchen rent.

And then, as Alfredo puts it, DiVitto’s story “went viral.”

DiVitto says she sold 4,000 cookies in her first three months of business, and more than 550,000 since launching. As of Monday, Collettey’s Cookies has more than 40,000 followers on Facebook, and another 28,000-plus on Instagram.

According to the company: DiVitto’s chocolate chip cinnamon cookie — called “The Amazing Cookie” — remains the most popular of the company’s five flavor options.

Paying it forward to aspiring entrepreneurs
When it comes to developing recipes and baking the cookies, DiVitto is the expert and authority. “My mom and also her family, they don’t know anything about baking,” she says. She’s in the commercial kitchen six days per week, often starting work at 4 a.m.

She’s also born much of the weight of growing the company. Alfredo says Collettey’s Cookies has never received outside funding, though not for lack of trying: “That was our biggest challenge, people questioning [DiVitto’s] abilities and the potential success of the company with her as the CEO and COO.”

Nadya Rousseau, the founder and CEO of marketing and PR firm Alter New Media, credits DiVitto’s success to a mix of ambition and direct candor — the same factors, she says, that drew her to work with Collettey’s Cookies pro bono earlier this year.

“I just was struck with how authentic she was, and straightforward,” Rousseau says. “So many people have layer upon layer in front of them and they can’t just speak their truth. She’s always speaking her truth.”

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

Reebok Introduces Adaptive Footwear Offerings in Partnership with Zappos.com

LinkedIn
reebok adaptive shoes

By Robbie Wild Hudson, Boxrox

BOSTON, Mass., yesterday Reebok, the iconic lifestyle brand, and leading experiential e-commerce and customer service company Zappos.com announce the launch of Reebok’s first-ever adaptive footwear collection: Reebok Fit to Fit.

Inclusive of both performance and lifestyle, the collection was designed in collaboration with Zappos Adaptive, a curated shopping experience by Zappos featuring functional and fashionable products to make life easier for all. The partnership was established by Reebok Design Group (RDG), the brand’s global hub for all design, development, innovation and creative services.

Building on Reebok’s iconic design heritage and silhouettes, the collection aims to enhance the quality of life for everyone by providing functional products that don’t compromise style or performance. Each style within the collection offers enhanced features to help people with disabilities gain more independence.

“At RDG, we continue to prioritize innovation by creating products that inspire physical activity,” says Todd Krinsky, Senior Vice President, GM, Product at Reebok Design Group (RDG). “We’re proud to introduce our first official adaptive footwear collection to help those with disabilities thrive – from sports and fitness to everyday life.”

Key highlights of the Reebok Fit to Fit Footwear Collection include:

Nanoflex Parafit TR ($90): The performance focused Nanoflex Parafit TR offers a Breathable Mesh Upper that’s lightweight yet durable. The product features a Medial Zip Closure and Heel Pull Tab that makes it easier when putting on your shoes. Available in adult unisex sizing.

Club MEMT Parafit ($65): Designed with style in mind for everyday moments, the Club MEMT Parafit offers a Medial Zip Closure for easy on and off functionality, Extra 4E for wider foot support, a Low-Cut Design for easy mobility, and Removable Sockliner for a custom fit. Available in adult unisex sizing.
“First-hand feedback from the disability community is essential when designing or modifying a product that is accessible and also delivers on fashion,” says Dana Zumbo, Business Development Manager at Zappos Adaptive. “We’re thrilled to have partnered with RDG on their Fit to Fit Collection, and for the opportunity to introduce our first functional and fashionable athletic shoe to the Zappos Adaptive shopping experience.”

Click here to read the full article on Boxrox.

Shopify’s Inclusive Accessibility Tool For Small Businesses

LinkedIn
toy blocks with a rocket going up drawn on them to represent accessibility and their accessibility tool

By Marketing Technology Insights

Accessibility Spark transforms web accessibility for Shopify stores by replacing a costly, manual compliance process with an automated, state-of-the-art AI technology. Accessibility Spark strives to achieve the vision of ‘Accessibility for all made accessible to all ’ by offering an affordable one-stop solution to small businesses.

According to the United States Census Bureau, over 2.1 billion people have a disability. That’s almost one-fifth of the global population. In the United States, that number is estimated at 56 million people or 20 percent of the population. Digital accessibility compliance ensures that inclusive practices are implemented for people with disabilities to participate fully in society. With Accessibility Spark, small businesses can explore an untapped market and offer a wider and more inclusive experience. It unlocks expansive possibilities of enhancing conversion, increasing website visitors, and boosting the probability of higher ranking on search engines.

Digital accessibility ensures websites are usable by everyone and people with disabilities have access to the same user experience as everyone else. This includes everything from making websites and apps accessible to people with disabilities to ensuring that they are presented with similar opportunities as everyone else. ‘There is a severe lack of awareness regarding the need for accessibility on the internet. As we continue to digitize every aspect of our life, accessibility on the web is as essential as making the world more accessible and inclusive.

Accessible e-commerce space is not just a need, it is an urgency. With over 1.75 million merchants on Shopify, it was imperative to have this market space accessible to all. Small businesses are often unaware of such laws which them susceptible to expensive lawsuits. Accessibility Spark was developed to offer a one-stop solution at an affordable price to protect small businesses against such violations. It enables Shopify merchants to create ADA & WCAG compliant websites, shield their businesses against regulatory actions and reach a wider audience of approximately 56 million that might stay untapped without the ease of accessibility on websites.’ says Accessibility Spark’s CEO.

Accessibility Spark has created a medium to help all Shopify merchants to unlock their growth potential by avoiding the elusive hurdles in the process. Incorporating a web accessibility icon automatically detects your website by making it to the search engine optimization ranking. Better customer experience and wide functionality are one of the most direct paths to conversion. A boost in one of these features is an automatic boost in the other. It was estimated that the websites that used web accessibility icons attracted 30% more traffic than the websites which didn’t.

Accessibility Spark works as an automated legal expert that takes care of worldwide web accessibility legislation, up to date adherence with ADA standards, and largely reduces the risk of lawsuits. It thoroughly evaluates each website within 1-hour with an automated scanning process with an emphasis on keyboard navigation adjustments, personalized orientation for each impairment, screen-reading adjustments, and customized design for each website. Shopify store owners can ensure that their stores are accessible to all, regardless of their disability type or level of impairment, with its 100+ adjustments including accessibility adjustments for blindness, epilepsy, cognitive disorder, and motor impairment without disrupting website design elements.

The credibility of accessibility compliance is a hidden yet uncompromisable feature and Accessibility Spark is driven to equip Shopify stores with the highest standards of compliance. It offers value with a detailed accessibility statement and a certificate of performance for added transparency and higher protection. Accessibility is not limited to the website content; they also need to obtain the web accessibility icon in order to reach out to all internet users. This certification not only raises the profile of Shopify stores but also helps in building a more humane connection with its consumers. A business that cares is the business that grows.

Digital accessibility is a pressing need and Accessibility Spark ensures ‌store owners don’t have to wait any longer after installation to make their stores complaint. It is up and running within an hour of installation and within 48 hours, all accessibility issues are identified & adjusted according to adherence to ADA & WCAG standards. After the initial scanning and report, it runs daily scans to support constant compliance for any new or added content, forms, images, videos, or widgets. In addition, it delivers a professional compliance audit every month.

Click here to read the full article on Marketing Technology Insights.

How the first disabled and woman-owned NYSE floor broker is changing Wall Street

LinkedIn
Cynthia DiBartolo (c), rings the bell during the NYSE closing auction on July 8, 2021.

By AJ Horch, CNBC

Cynthia DiBartolo’s journey to the New York Stock Exchange floor was fraught with challenges and difficulty.

In July 2021, DiBartolo’s firm, Tigress Financial Partners, became the first disabled and woman-owned floor broker to become a member of the NYSE.

Floor brokers are members of firms who execute trades on the exchange floor on behalf of the firm’s clients. They are physically present on the trading floor and are active during the New York Stock Exchange opening and closing auctions.

Tigress Financial Partners has been co-manager or selling group member on more than 620 IPO and secondary transactions with an aggregate market value of over $321 billion, including for companies such as​ Warner Music, Monday.com, and Airbnb.

In mid-2020, Wall Street banks, which are predominately run by white men, came under intense pressure to improve diversity following the Black Lives Matter protests.

Companies vowed to improve their practices via philanthropic programs, diverse hiring practices, and internships for underprivileged candidates. DiBartolo crafted a diversity questionnaire to make it easier for companies selling stock or issuing debt to find and vet minority and women-owned firms. American Airlines has already adopted the survey, and JPMorgan has begun to create a database to help automate the process.

Prior to launching Tigress Financial in 2011, DiBartolo served as a compliance director, an attorney, and as a risk management director for some of Wall Streets’ largest firms. However, her life would change in 2009 with a diagnosis of throat and neck cancer.

DiBartolo became severely disabled following life-saving surgery that compromised her ability to eat, speak and swallow. Through reconstructive surgery, DiBartolo was able to regain her ability to speak, but can only do so several hours a day.

Cancer not only took DiBartolo’s voice but also her career, as she recalled in an interview with CNBC’s Bob Pisani. “You see, there was no place for an attorney, risk management director, compliance director who couldn’t speak,” she said.

During her recovery, DiBartolo began to understand just how marginalized people in the disabled community were. “During the time I didn’t have the ability to speak, I realized how marginalized I was not just in financial services, but in society,” she said.

Inspiration from her father convinced her that she needed to act; “They took your tongue, not your brain.” her father told her. Using her experience from decades on Wall Street and tenacity DiBartolo launched the first and nation’s only disabled and woman-owned financial services firm.

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

How entrepreneurs with disabilities are making their own space in the business world

LinkedIn
Toronto-based entrepreneurs Eyra Abraham founded Lisnen, a mobile app that allows users to receive notifications of critical sounds like fire alarms and sirens.

By Sarah Laing, The Globe and Mail

Eyra Abraham felt the call to entrepreneurship like an alarm ringing in the middle of the night. More specifically, one that she couldn’t hear – with potentially life-threatening consequences.

“I slept through a fire drill in this condo that I had purchased in Nova Scotia,” says Ms. Abraham, who is hard of hearing and wasn’t able to hear the alarm out in the building’s hallway. “I only found out that I missed it when the property manager [mentioned it].”

When she investigated ways to make sure that didn’t happen again, Ms. Abraham’s only options were rewiring her entire apartment (which would be expensive and inconvenient) or purchasing a device from the U.S. to amplify the sound from the hallway (one that didn’t even work because fire alarm tones are different in Canada). Knowing she was moving soon, Ms. Abraham just left things as they were.

Fast forward to her next apartment, this time in Toronto: one night Ms. Abraham woke up to the smell of smoke. She checked her phone, looking to see if the building had texted her an alert to evacuate, which is how they were supposed to accommodate people with hearing loss for emergency alerts. Nothing.

“I called the front desk and nobody was answering,” recalls Ms. Abraham of her panic as she wondered if she was the last person left in the building. “I finally Googled and found that it was a fire a couple blocks away and the smoke was just going through the building.”

It was a crystallizing moment for Ms. Abraham. She realized that what she wanted was a solution with sound recognition that worked with her own smart device, “so wherever I go I can get notifications, and I don’t need to go through the whole procedure to get assistive care or a device installed or any of that.”

Not long after, in 2017, Ms. Abraham founded Lisnen, a mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to identify sounds like fire alarms or sirens and turn those into notifications that deaf or hard of hearing people can use to be aware of everything that’s going on around them.

“I got frustrated waiting for someone else to make it,” says Ms. Abraham, who was working in communications at the time but had studied computer science at university. “I decided to take it on myself.”

That motivation – seeing a need that no one else is addressing and going for it – is a common thread in many entrepreneurial origin stories. For founders of intersecting marginalized identities, including those with a disability like Ms. Abraham, innovation often comes from living in a world built for a very narrow window of human experience, where founders can see space for new ideas because they have an outsider’s perspective.

‘Silent awkwardness’
People with disabilities are vastly under-represented in entrepreneurship – a 2021 BDO study showed that just 0.5 per cent of small or medium-sized businesses in Canada are owned by a person with a disability, despite the fact that an estimated 22 per cent of Canadians live with one or more disability. While the range of businesses helmed by people with disabilities is varied, these business owners often face common barriers.

Ms. Abraham says there is often a “silent awkwardness” when she first walks into a room with potential investors.

“The reality is, there are not a lot of people like myself coming into these meetings and having these conversations with stakeholders or partners,” Ms. Abraham says. “There’s a lot of relationship-building and trust that takes time, so I have to quickly identify commonalities with that person so they realize that I’m not different [from them].”

Ms. Abraham points out that while some might see a product like Lisnen as being solely for people with disabilities, the pioneering work of entrepreneurs with disabilities has often benefitted the masses.

“Most of the technology we have in the mainstream started with a use case to support people with disability,” says Ms. Abraham, pointing to the telephone, which Alexander Graham Bell first developed as a speech aid for deaf people, and texting, which Nokia introduced as an alternative for audio communication. She also points to voice-activated devices like Siri and Alexa, which use technology first developed as assistive technologies.

If information like that was more widely known, it could be the “missing link” to getting stakeholders and investors on board a bit easier, Ms. Abraham says.

“There’s a potential return for investors,” she says. “This is not a niche for a few thousand people. This is a product that can impact many people around the world.”

Breaking the corporate mould
For Stefani Blazevic, entrepreneurship was about carving out a career when the corporate mould didn’t fit.

While her goal had always been to start her own business eventually, Ms. Blazevic’s autoimmune condition meant that her years in corporate were, in her words, “not easy.” She had to take vacation days for medical appointments and struggled to get crucial resources such as an ergonomic keyboard. Plus, the pressure of long hours and travel caused her disease to progress.

When she was “packaged out” of her position, Ms. Blasevic says she knew it was time to launch her own venture. Now, she runs a recruiting firm, InfloHR, which affords her the autonomy, flexibility and earning power she didn’t have before.

“If I want to work part-time, I can scale back. If I want to hire someone, I can do that. It’s up to me,” she says.

Like many other people with disabilities, necessity forced Ms. Blasevic to create her own space to flourish, and it’s part of why she works hard to find those same opportunities for other people.

“It’s my calling,” she says of finding the right fit for both candidates and employers. Along the way, she shares her work/life tips – such as ways to leverage technology to automate the mundane parts of her job – to ensure that people of all abilities find the same kind of career satisfaction she’s found by forging her own path.

Role models matter, whether their precise lived experience is exactly your own or not, says content creator Molly Burke.

In Ms. Burke’s case, that role model was her mom, who was a serial entrepreneur throughout her childhood.

“Whenever I would get stressed about the lack of opportunities for a blind woman like me, my mom would tell me, ‘You don’t have to rely on somebody to hire you. You can start your own business,’” recalls Ms. Burke, who gradually lost her sight as a child due to retinitis pigmentosa.

“Starting my own business wasn’t scary to me because it was something that I had been taught was very much in my realm of capability,” she says, adding that she launched her first business – a motivational speaking venture – after binging Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank.

Ms. Burke now runs a thriving multimedia company (which includes a YouTube account with nearly two million subscribers) and employs several people. “If everything I built goes away one day, I will still follow the path of entrepreneurship,” she says. “Every dream I have is a dream of starting a business of some kind. I think blindness just helped me find a specific path at a younger age.”

Having said that, Ms. Burke notes that blindness has also been a source of discrimination in her life and work.

“I used to get comments from people saying that I wouldn’t be a successful YouTuber if I wasn’t blind,” she says. “I hate that people put my success down to my biggest challenge in life, because that’s not fair.”

In fact, Ms. Burke’s manager was told not to bother taking her on because “there’s no space for a blind person in this industry.” But her persistence has helped paved the way for other content creators with disabilities, something she’s incredibly proud of.

Ms. Burke says that the resilience people with disabilities are forced to develop is an asset when it comes to building a business.

Click here to read the full article on The Globe and Mail.

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service

American Family Insurance

American Family Insurance

United States Postal Services-Diversity

United States Postal Services-Diversity

Alight

Alight Solutions Logo

Leidos

Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. Business Beyond Barriers Conference + Expo
    July 14, 2022
  4. Disability:IN Annual Conference
    July 18, 2022 - July 21, 2022
  5. The Arc and NCE Summer Leadership Institute
    July 18, 2022 - July 20, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. Business Beyond Barriers Conference + Expo
    July 14, 2022
  4. Disability:IN Annual Conference
    July 18, 2022 - July 21, 2022
  5. The Arc and NCE Summer Leadership Institute
    July 18, 2022 - July 20, 2022