The Power of Disability Inclusion in the Technology and Entrepreneurial Sector
How Technology Startups Can Leverage Disability Inclusion and Become Relevant, Competitive and Gain an Unfair Advantage
Image: A cartoon of six identical individuals dressed in business suits and sitting around a table with notepads and pen. At one end of the table, an individual is cupping his hand to whisper quietly to the person on his left, “Diversity is good. Pass it down.”
One of the criticisms of the technology industry and entrepreneurial community is that it lacks diversity and inclusion. by focusing on products and platforms, it has forgotten about people. Advocates for diversity and inclusion (D&I) want to see a greater commitment to inclusion in product development and diversity in global employment and hiring practices.
Capital Factory is a Certified B Corporation® whose mission is to be the center of gravity for entrepreneurs in Texas. Recognizing the need for more D&I in the technology and entrepreneurial communities, Capital Factory, recently hired Mellie Price as their D&I Director.
“We jump at every opportunity to host events at Capital Factory that bring diverse entrepreneurs of all faiths, races, genders, and sexual orientations into our community,” said Mellie Price.
Image: A large crowd of people are standing and sitting inside while attending an event held at Capital Factory in Austin. TX.
Capital Factory hosts D&I related meetups, pitch contests, and hack-a-thons. and they have some of the best partners like Google for Entrepreneurs,Code2040, DivInc, Code2040, Latinitas, Bunker Labs, Perot Jain, Women Who Code, and others. — And Capital Factory has hosted three $100,000 “Diversity & Inclusion Investment Challenges” and making investments in other diverse founders and organizations, but they aren’t stopping there.
Capital Factory is now seeking to expand their D&I capacity and activities by hiring a new D&I Coordinator to organize monthly summits focused on promoting D&I for Women, Blacks, LatinX, LGBTQ+ and Veterans.
I applaud Capital Factory for its commitment to D&I and for helping the technology and entrepreneurship communities across the State of Texas foster a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplace; but they forgot about people with disabilities. This is something many organizations do — not because they have an intentional bias against people with disabilities, but usually because of an implicit bias about diversity.
Diversity is typically used in reference to differences in race or ethnicity, but it actually encompasses an infinite range of experiences — including disability.
Image Description: An artist installation of a super-large metallic wheelchair with black wheels and multi-colored spokes displayed in an open-air green, grass field with buildings shown in the background. Picture Credit: Randy Lyhus for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
I posted a few comments and recommendations to Capital Factory’s D&I Coordinator announcement hoping to move the discussion of diversity, equity, and inclusion forward and empower Capital Factory, and other prominent organizations of influence, in their efforts to help the technology and entrepreneurship sectors diversify their workforce by outreaching, hiring, promoting and retaining qualified individuals with disabilities. In reply to my comments and recommendations, Joshua Baer, the Founder of Capital Factory and a guy I respect and appreciate, asked me three important questions.
The questions and my responses follow below.
Thank You” Joshua Baer for his personal and professional commitment to D&I and for his determination to help technology and entrepreneurship communities across the State of Texas foster a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplace.
Question (1): I agree with you that people with disabilities are an important part of a diverse and inclusive community and that it is critical that people developing technical solutions make sure they are designed with all kinds if users in mind.
People with disabilities are the nation’s largest minority, and the only minority group that any person can join at any time. One in five Americans is a person with a disability. Some people are born with disabilities; others acquire disabilities through accidents, illness, or the aging process. People who are not presently disabled will likely become disabled in the future, especially if we live long enough.
Disability is a natural part of the human experience. Disability is one of many natural characteristics of being human. There have always been people with disabilities in the world, and there always will be. People with disabilities cross all racial, educational, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic, and organizational lines. Disability is a fundamental facet of human diversity.
Technology must be designed with all kinds if users in mind —and that means everyone. Unfortunately, people with disabilities often face technology-related barriers to information and communication technology (ICT) access. Leading examples of barriers include websites that are not compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers, training videos that lack open captioning and audio descriptions, and electronic documents whose images lack alternative text.
When websites, online systems, mobile applications, Smart City innovation and other forms of ICT fail to incorporate or activate accessibility features that enable users with disabilities to access all of the information or data elements available, there is a digital divide between how citizens with and without disabilities access ICT.
Image: Tweet by the Smart Cities Library™ “This gap between the technology “haves” & “have nots” is called the #digitaldivide. #SmartCity roadmaps must include #DigitalLiteracy & #DigitalEquity strategies to resolve the different reasons people aren’t online including lack of access or tech skills” https://www.smartcitieslibrary.com/category/digital-inclusion/
To extend the benefits of ICT to everyone — including people with disabilities and individuals that are aging — ICT must be intentionally designed, developed and fabricated at the outset of project development. Absent this design and development approach, people with disabilities and other underserved communities are left behind and at best, forced to play catch-up — an expensive and undesirable path for everyone.
It is up to us to take the actions necessary to ensure technology is designed with all kinds if users in mind.
My friend, Haben Girma, is the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School. President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change, and Forbes recognized her in Forbes 30 Under 30. Haben advocates for equal opportunities for people with disabilities traveling across the globe consulting and public speaking, teaching clients the benefits of fully accessible products and services.
“Disability never holds anyone back. Disability is not something that people need to overcome. The barriers that exist are created by society, and it’s up to every single one of us to work together to remove those barriers,” says Haben Girma.
Throughout history, disability has sparked innovation, leading to breakthroughs in wide-ranging inventions from keyboards to telephones. Take a look at Haben’s Keynote below, “Disability & Innovation: The Universal Benefits of Accessible Design,” presented at the 2016 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. Haben will share how designing with accessibility in mind benefits not just users with disabilities, but developers, too.
Listen to Haben’s remarkable story and learn how incorporating universal access principles into ICT product development can increase access for people with disabilities while simultaneously improving the overall usability for everyone.
Haben Girma “Disability & Innovation: The Universal Benefits of Accessible Design” 2016 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference.
Plan Text Transcript at: https://habengirma.com/transcripts/wwdc_2016.txt
Question (2):Do you disagree with Capital Factory’s actions because you think you think we doing the wrong activities to promote diversity and inclusion, or because we didn’t highlight disabilities as one if the minorities we are focused on?
Businesses that want to remain relevant, gain a competitive edge, and increase their market include qualified individuals with disabilities in their global diversity and inclusion strategies and employment practices.
What’s the third largest market segment in the U.S.? The answer might surprise you. It’s not a particular race, gender, or cleverly named age cohort. It’s people with disabilities. The size of this population — more than 50 million strong — surpasses Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans, as well as Generation X and teens. Add in their families and friends, and you’re looking at billions of dollars in purchasing power.
Want a slice of that market share? Any smart business owner would. As with any customer segment, one of the best ways for a company to tap into it is to ensure it is represented in its workforce.
Progressive organizations everywhere are learning that businesses inclusive of people with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, benefit from a wider pool of talent, skills and creative business solutions. People with disabilities are subject matter experts on disability and living with the experience of different disabilities. By outreaching, hiring, retaining and promoting qualified individuals with disabilities, the technology and entrepreneurship sectors can gain a better understanding of how to meet the true needs and expectations of people with disabilities — expanding their customer base in the process and gaining a competitive edge over companies that do not employ people with disabilities.
Businesses that want to remain relevant, gain a competitive edge, and increase their market share must include qualified individuals with disabilities in their diversity and inclusion strategies and global employment practices.
Consider this, wouldn’t it be helpful, not to mention cost effective, to employ an engineer with disabilities with a robust familiarity of the functions and use of assistive technologies, able to develop applications, websites, and other ICT products using inclusive and accessible design principles across desktop and mobile platforms, and has the considerable skill, proficiency, and intelligence to effectively communicate the complexities of accessibility to technical and non-technical audiences.
Now, imagine a team of professionals with cross disabilities and a wide range of skills including an understanding of all aspects of disability (blindness, mobility, deafness, cognitive and speech) working across the scope of your organization to help cross-functional teams identify accessibility gaps, coach designers and engineers on best practices, and contribute to ongoing policy and guidelines for accessibility standards and requirements.
How helpful it would be to your technology company, not to mention cost effective, to employ an engineer with disabilities with a robust familiarity of the functions and use of assistive technologies, able to develop applications, websites, and other ICT products using inclusive and accessible design principles across desktop and mobile platforms.
Question (3): Do you think that similar types of activities that we do to promote racial diversity, such as summits and office hours, would be effective with people with disabilities?
Yes I do.
The goal of Disability D&I should be to attract and identify qualified individuals with disabilities — individuals who have the best mix of skills and attributes for the jobs available in the technology and entrepreneurial communities.
You may want to consider engaging a subject mater expert in disability inclusion to help navigate the processes and ensure that qualified job seekers with disabilities can fully access and participate in the activities and events you host and facilitate.
- Physical Accessibility
- Technological Accessibility
- Attitudinal Awareness
If you choose to seek assistance from a Disability Inclusion Consultant, make sure they have expertise and resources welcoming of the skills and talents of people with disabilities and are able to provide professional training to internal and external stakeholders.
Make sure the consultant you choose can:
- Expressing a Commitment to Disability Inclusion,
- Finding Qualified Candidates with Disabilities,
- Help ensure your facilities, outreach materials, and activities are barrier-free, accessible and inclusive.
Disability inclusion is an economic issue as much as it is a civil rights issue, Companies are starting to embrace Disability D&I — realizing that to be successful, relevant, and competitive you have to diversify your workforce by hiring people who understand your customers. That is information that every technology company should better understand.
People with disabilities are robust consumers of technology. Tens of thousands of customers in the United States use the internet, digital devices, desktop applications and mobile apps — that includes games. As well, consumers with disabilities use a wide-range of assistive technologies — such as braille embossers and screen readers — on a daily basis to access and use their digital devices.
One last thing, if you’re reading this sentence but still haven’t viewed Haben Girma’s presentation, “Disability & Innovation: The Universal Benefits of Accessible Design” — you’re not only missing out, but you might be making a big-mistake.
Image: Tweet from Knowbility quoting Haben Girma from her presentation at 2018 SXSW, “If we are lucky, we will become old and our bodies will change. We deserve dignity and access at every stage of our lives. When you make something accessible, you are doing it for you and your community. You’re investing in YOU “ @HabenGirma#SxSW2018
About The Author
Darren Bates is a lifelong champion of equality, inclusion, and social justice for people with disabilities and other historically marginalized populations. Darren is internationally recognized as a Visionary Leader in Global Inclusion and Smart City Innovation.
Darren offers accessibility and diversity training, consulting, and professional speaking services. Darren combines his subject matter expertise and knowledge of Workforce Development, Public Policy, Disability and Diversity and Inclusion to help clients create and sustain intentionally inclusive workplaces where all people feel included, respected, valued, and inspired.
Through Darren Bates LLC, Darren and his team deliver a wide range of consulting services, resources, and training to help government and private industry build and refine accessible and inclusive Smart Cities and digital cultures that ensure no citizen is left behind or accidentally excluded due to the rapid pace of innovation and urbanization.
Founder of Darren Bates LLC
A boutique consulting firm that helps private and public organizations diversify their workforce by outreaching, hiring, retaining, and promoting qualified individuals with disabilities. www.darrenbatesllc.com
Founder of the Smart Cities Library™
The premier online resource for building for building and refining accessible and inclusive Smart Cities. www.smartcitieslibrary.com
Building a Global Culture of Access and Inclusion™
A Smart City is a Connected City and a Connected City is an Accessible and Inclusive City™
Originally published on Medium.com