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Profiles in Accessibility:
Bruce Howell

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Welcome to Profiles in Accessibility, where it is our mission to highlight different topics within the digital accessibility field by engaging with the community of leaders, advocates, and users. We believe these conversations can help to create foundations for developing a culture of digital accessibility within organizations. At the same time, it brings attention to the importance of going beyond compliance by implementing digital accessibility practices that make the internet a better experience for everyone.

Our conversation on accessibility is led by our senior marketing manager, Travis Franklin. Joining him in the interview is our director of engineering and founder of our accessibility services, Paul Morris, and our growth manager, Clyde Valentine, who is also the lead on this community building program.

Our guest is Bruce Howell. He joined us from Newton, Massachusetts where he manages the accessibility services business line at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts. The Carroll Center for the Blind is a Massachusetts-based non-profit founded in 1936 focusing on equipping individuals with blindness or vision impairment with the skills and capabilities they need to live life independently. Bruce serves as the Carroll Center’s accessibility services manager and is deeply involved in developing training programs to help individuals achieve gainful employment by teaching them employment skills, use of assistive technology, software testing, and similar capabilities.

Bruce has a BA in English and Political Science, is himself functionally blind, and has supported Carroll Center for the Blind since 2010. His passion stems from the idea that jobs like accessibility testing are roles to which individuals with vision impairment are uniquely suited, and it is because of their impairment that they perform more effectively than a fully sighted individual in that role. QualityLogic shares that vision, and we are honored to be having the conversation.

Travis Franklin
Hello and welcome, everyone. Let’s get right into it.

Bruce, can you tell us about what you do day-to-day and how that intersects with accessibility?

Bruce Howell
Great. The Carroll Center for the Blind was established in 1936. It was originally the idea of a Jesuit priest named Thomas Carroll who was concerned that when many veterans were returning from World War Two, there wouldn’t be enough support programs for those who had been injured and lost vision during the war. Thomas was instrumental in creating a center where they could learn and develop skills to be independent. For example, he was involved with teaching the techniques of the white mobility cane that you see many blind people using today.

The Carroll Center works with people of all ranges of age and vision impairment. And, because we teach them to use all assistive technologies as thoroughly as we do, we recognize that their ability to use those technologies is impacted by how well the online or digital document content they’re trying to interact with has been designed and developed. About 10 years ago, when I was hired to manage this business, we saw an opportunity to work with the entities that were designing and developing online content to help better understand what is needed to make sure the assistive technologies work well.

In the time that I’ve been at the Carroll Center, we’ve worked with clients in all industry sectors, including government agencies, for-profit companies, and nonprofits with a goal of making content accessible for people of all abilities.

Travis Franklin
Tell us your story.

How did you first get into accessibility?

Bruce Howell
There can be a certain degree of frustration in doing seemingly routine engagements, like communicating with my doctor through a physician’s online portal, or a financial transaction through my bank. I have found it really frustrating getting into either a web application or a mobile application and suddenly, there’s something that you need to be able to navigate or interact with, and it’s just not working. I either have to get somebody sighted to help me or give up and find some other way of completing that type of transaction.

So for me, this is a personal motivator, because I know that I am at least an above-average user of these technologies. And if I can’t figure out workarounds to make them successful, then I realized this is going to be a huge roadblock for other members of the blindness and vision-impaired community. So that’s my passion. That’s why I got into this.

I love working with people, and we’ve had an opportunity to work with so many different people. The Carroll Center accessibility services business uses a number of contractors that are web accessibility engineers doing the work professionally for a career. They also do this work for the Carroll Center. I’ve had a chance to meet some fantastic people with amazing abilities who have a shared passion for making the world more accessible on an equal basis for everyone.

What are some of the most important issues that you think are affecting the accessibility community today? What are some of the stories that you’re hearing from people who come to you for advice and support?

Bruce Howell
Well, although I think we’re all a little bit tired of hearing about COVID related impact on our world, the fact of the matter is, over the last two and a half years, we’ve realized that prior to COVID so many of the things we do were done in person. That was the preferred way of doing it, whether it was how you did your job, how you interacted with people, or how you did your shopping. Since COVID, I think the world has changed dramatically, and the way we do things now and how we are using digital spaces have had a huge impact on the challenges of accessibility.

Suddenly, people were thrust into a situation where they can’t do things in person because it wasn’t safe or not allowed. Unfortunately, people who are visually impaired or blind found that the things they needed to do online were not easy, and, in some cases, impossible. Either they didn’t have the appropriate skills, or they were finding out that the content they were trying to navigate wasn’t compatible with their assistive technologies.

There was additional confusion and failure when colleges and universities suddenly sent all students home and pivoted immediately to teaching courses entirely online. Many of those colleges and universities were not prepared to understand or deal with the fact that some of the learning management systems, or how courses were constructed, were not accessible to many students. The blind students, or students that were visually impaired, were at a real disadvantage compared to their sighted peers.

I think the same thing about grocery shopping. Suddenly, the idea of being able to shop online, whether it was for groceries, or just to order food, became not only something people wanted to do, but in many cases, things that people had to do. When people started using websites for this purpose, some of the online grocery shopping apps had major issues. It put people in actual peril because they couldn’t buy the food they needed. These situations, including telemedicine and online conversations with doctors and health providers, are examples of the vital importance of accessibility.

So I think COVID, in a strange way, has brought the issue of accessibility and equality to the forefront in a way that might have taken much longer otherwise. In a really odd way, COVID has been positive in terms of its impact on heightening awareness of digital accessibility.

Also, the idea of people working remotely has become a lot more acceptable. Many CEOs across the country weren’t excited about the idea of their employees working remotely, but were thrown into a situation where they suddenly had to enable their employees to do so. Many leaders have learned that it can work if we’ve got reliable people who are well trained and responsible. Productivity working from home can be just as strong or stronger than by insisting they travel to the office location to work.

Travis Franklin
I’m curious if you are seeing other trends over the last couple of years.

Besides the positive disruption with COVID, are you seeing changes or new approaches in business? Is there a shift in the adoption of accessibility?

Bruce Howell
I think it’s a mixed-status to be honest with you. If you look at the job openings for people in the field of accessibility support, you see a real uptick in the demand for those individuals. I think that’s some indication that the corporate world is understanding they need to do more about building a team in-house that can do offer this type of support. And if businesses don’t have the financial ability, then they need to look outside for that help.

I think the recent set of guidelines the Department of Justice just released more than encourages, it pretty much insists that public companies be accountable for producing online content that is treated with the same level of care and accessibility as businesses would with their physical properties. So, for me, these are positive signs that things are changing and improving. Does it mean that all websites, all mobile applications, all enterprise software, and all learning management systems and courses are fully accessible? Sadly, no, in part because there are so many different technologies that come into play.

The platforms that are being used to build and design still aren’t making a consistent effort to incorporate users of assistive technology into that design, build, and testing process. So, we have a long way to go. I think there are positive signs, but we’re not where we need to be for full inclusivity.

Paul Morris
I’d like to interject on that one. Bruce is completely right, in as much as we had the disruptive innovation right after COVID. That happened to everyone, and we saw it inside at QualityLogic. But while the Department of Justice guidelines are good, the number of vendors still not up to speed is astonishing. For example, Walmart’s shopping app is really challenging to use for people with impairments or who are blind. Amazon is another one, which is mind-bogglingly difficult just to deal with on a day-to-day basis, whether you want to go shopping on Amazon, like everybody else in the world does, or listen to their music or whatever. Either way, the apps are essentially bad. There are one or two which are okay, from Amazon, but a lot of them are bad. So that’s where I think you’re seeing kind of a mixed bag.

I think we’re hearing a lot of people telling a good story and seem to be aware of the challenges, but the rate of progress and remediation is a little frustrating. I don’t know if you see the same thing, Bruce, but certainly, a good example is Amazon services. I’ve been griping about that website for a while, and I’m still griping about it today wondering if they’re ever going to make it fully accessible.

Bruce Howell
Yeah, Paul, that’s wonderful commentary, and I agree with everything you’re saying. I think we still have a long way to go. Part of my perspective is unfortunately influenced by my better-than-average ability with devices and screen meter technology. I am oftentimes able to work around these obstacles, whereas a more average user would just give up and say it can’t be done.

I’ll give you a couple of quick examples. I agree with you about some of the apps that they have for music, downloads, and similar things like that. I tried to attend a live concert that they offered free to Amazon Prime listeners a couple of weeks ago. I could not activate the link to get either YouTube or the alternative approach to broadcast. Something was wrong with my ability as a keyboard user, which is the way screen readers activate the link to bring me to where the concert was being presented. It was very frustrating.

Another example is the online grocery shopping app I use. Although it works pretty well on my phone, there are keyboard traps on the web app. So, I prefer using the mobile app. For instance, in order to use special offers to get money back, it’s impossible to activate and get back to the shopping cart on a keyboard. I literally have to close the app and start over again. The only fortunate thing is that the app retains the things that I’ve added to my cart. It’s a relatively easy solution from my perspective but the developers don’t understand the techniques and the realities that screen readers run into.

Travis Franklin
Yes, and speaking on a technical level, that’s exactly what we do at QualityLogic. Our testers find those keyboard traps and share them with the client.

So, it is clear that you are both higher-end users who understand the technology and understand the shortcuts.

What about the average user that comes in and is not as experienced with the technology? How are they dealing with some of these issues? How is the ability to do their job affected?

Bruce Howell
A couple of things that I want to say in answering the questions. One is that, as a person who’s blind or visually impaired, I have a responsibility to get the proper training and education to be able to use the devices and the assistive technology I want to use. Screen readers offer a very complex set of software allowing people who are blind or visually impaired to type in using a keyboard primarily to enter the things that they want to do. You get audible feedback that tells you what you’re typing and where you are on a website, and what you’re interacting with. We rely on that ability for the keyboard commands we use to do what we expect it to do, and to get the proper audible feedback back to a screen reader. So, part of it is education and training. It’s my responsibility. If I’m going to rely on this kind of software to interact with my computer or my smartphone, I need to get the training to be able to do that well. Things change, things get updated, and new versions of these screen readers come out. So, it’s my responsibility to make sure I stay current and keep the right versions on my devices, and know how to use them.

However, that’s not the whole story a lot of times. Even if I’m doing my part, the person developing these apps or software applications has to do their part in the design and coding to make sure the interaction is effective.

The third part is beholden to the employer. If I’m an employer and I want to be able to hire people who are visually impaired or blind, I need to be prepared. I need to make good purchase decisions when I’m picking out the kind of software that I want all of my staff to use, and that means software that someone who’s blind or visually impaired will be able to interact with effectively.

Employers should be putting procurement language into the contracts. I’m putting pressure on those vendors to produce accessible materials that I can purchase. So, there’s an interplay there of personal responsibility for the person who’s blind or visually impaired, the employer purchasing software, and the people that are producing the various online content.

Travis Franklin
So, my next question is about employment.

What are some of the reasons you believe the unemployment rate among individuals with blindness/vision impairment is so high and what can be done about it?

Bruce Howell
The unemployment rate for people who are visually impaired, and blind is often quoted as being as high as 70%. So yeah, this is an extremely difficult nut to crack. It’s been at that level and held at that level for years. I think the greatest potential for people who are visually impaired or blind is to be on an employment path where they can use their technical skills. That includes everything that I said earlier about the need to get the training and education. They need to be able to use their devices and their software to be successfully employed.

So many jobs out there require using technology in order to perform the functions of the job. As a community of people who are blind or visually impaired, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to get ourselves prepared for that engagement. But that’s certainly not the whole story.

There’s a great myth, misconception, or misunderstanding on the part of employers about how difficult it is to hire somebody who’s visually impaired and blind, and to provide the accommodations and things that they need for them to fit into the corporate culture. Many large companies have sort of a cookie-cutter approach to the way they create jobs, and they want to replicate and hire 20 different people to do the exact same job. I would tell those employers that they miss opportunities to hire very loyal, long-term employees by doing that.

Employers may have to consider doing a little job carving, where they maybe take away a couple of responsibilities that require sight, give them to a different employee, and add something into the job description for the blind or visually impaired hire. It takes a little creativity and bravery for employers to be willing to take some of those steps and make it happen.

In that context, there are opportunities to provide remote employment for blind or visually impaired applicants because much of the challenge for people who are blind or visually impaired is getting to the job site. If you’re in an urban area, you’ve got a lot of public transportation possibilities that make getting to the job site less of an issue but there are still challenges. Obviously, the more suburban or rural areas, the bigger obstacle to employment for people that are blind or visually impaired.

We need to be creative. We need to think about what we can do to alter the jobs so someone who is blind or visually impaired can do it successfully. Perhaps have them be part of a team where they’re working with other people that are sighted so they share responsibilities to get the job done. We really need to be thoughtful about what can and can’t be done remotely. If it can, we should try to make that happen. There’s a real untapped labor force out there, and I believe that employers can tap into it and find the people they need.

Finally, the job-seeking consumers who are blind or visually impaired have to be ready and prepared. We have to have good communication skills. We have to be well trained on our devices and technologies.

The Carroll Center is currently offering what we call a screen reader user test or training program, and we’re building all those components into it. We’re helping people that are blind users of screen readers find a career path where they have unique talents based on the very fact that they are blind. They have life experiences to bring to bear and really help companies understand how someone who is blind and needs to use these technologies needs to be able to interact with the online content that they’re building. We’re very hopeful and excited that this program actually qualifies people who are blind in unique ways, and even better than their “non-disabled”, job-seeking peers.

Travis Franklin
Paul, anything to add?

Paul Morris
Yeah, thank you. There’s some good stuff in there, Bruce, and I totally agree with you on all of those points. One of the things that I also think impacts the blind community is when people who are born blind go into schooling as blind individuals. A lot of them seem to come out being prepared to be disabled and unable to contribute in the same way. That’s not true.

It’s funny, we use the term vision impaired, right? We’re actually sight impaired. There are a lot of blind people that have an amazing vision which has nothing to do with eyesight. And I think, as a community, somehow, we need to inspire that vision. There are more career paths for individuals that have a problem with eyesight than they know. They can come out and actually get work doing something incredibly valuable to everybody.

I also think there’s an endemic problem in the lack of assistive technology instruction in schooling for the blind. People believe that they don’t have an opportunity because of a 70% unemployment number that’s known in the community. Clearly, if you’re presented with that statistic early in your life, it’s very hard to believe that you’re going to be one of the 30% that is in the community working.

So, a lot is going on there. And, Bruce, I don’t know what you think about that, but I really feel like a lot of the community has given up. Certainly, transportation is a huge issue, but I also think there’s a lot of belief that they just simply can’t because of the attitude of employers, and possibly because of the cultural way that they’ve been raised to be disabled.

Yes, Paul, I like that you’ve provided that context because I work at a rehabilitation agency for the blind and we recognize everything that you just described. I think many times people who are young, who are blind, tend to be sheltered by parents that are overly protective which creates an attitude of expectation on the part of that child. Expectations that people are “going to do things for me, I don’t need to figure stuff out, I don’t have to advocate for myself, because my parents are going to take care of me.” And then, they’re in K through 12. These days, in most parts of the country, and certainly here in Massachusetts, students who are blind or visually impaired are encouraged to be mainstreamed in regular K through 12 educational settings.

The Carroll Center provides a lot of teachers of the visually impaired and orientation mobility instructors who work in these school systems, and I think that’s great. But again, you also run the risk of the child then thinking, “I’ve always got these people to advocate for me, so I don’t really have to figure this stuff out on my own.” Then when they graduate from high school, and they want to go on to college, what a surprise, because suddenly, “wow, you mean there’s a disability services office, but I actually have to contact them? I have to ask what I need? I have to express to my professors that I’m blind and that I may need certain accommodations, and then I have to identify what those accommodations need to be?”

At the Carroll Center, we really try to work on all those issues. We have programs in the summer that are summer camp opportunities for kids to come together to be around other children that are visually impaired and blind. And in many cases, that’s the first time they’ve had that experience because they’re in a classroom setting where they’re the only child either in their class or even in the whole school that has any vision impairment. So, for them to suddenly be around other students and see what they’re capable of and have shared experiences or just be able to network with them starts the process of saying, “wow, look what that person can do. I can do that too.”

I can’t tell you how exciting it is for me to experience those feelings at our graduation ceremonies. To be there and watch the parents in tears because they had no idea that their child was capable of the kind of growth that they experienced over an eight-week program at the Carroll Center. Simply changing those kinds of attitudes early in life is instrumental in preparing them for being more responsible for their own success in the future.

Travis Franklin
I’d like to shift the conversation a bit. We’ve talked a lot about the responsibility of the individual but let’s talk about the support structure that is needed for success from an employer’s perspective.

What does it take to put together a truly successful training program?

And, Paul, I’d like to hear your thoughts on this, too, because you built that as part of the QualityLogic accessibility testing team. What are some of those training functions? And then Bruce, what is the Carroll Center doing to support the individuals going into working environments?

Paul Morris
Yeah, great. I’ll chip in first on what we do, and then Bruce, feel free to advise us on it. I’d love to hear what we could do to improve. For us, the experience of getting somebody onboarded as an individual that has a physical limitation is not quite linear. We have conversations with them to get a thorough understanding of who they are and what their situation is. Knowing what’s going on in their life actually helps us onboard smoothly. That includes paperwork for all benefits and that type of thing. Making that a process specific to who they are and what they need makes them feel welcome. I think it also gives them a sense of trust and relaxation and the confidence that they’re going to be able to integrate into the environment.

For other employers, that’s something they need to be educated on. During the onboarding process, a lot of organizations will just hand somebody a stack of paper and say, “Go fill this out.” I’ve been in that place, back when I was fairly visually impaired, and my first reaction is, “I can’t do that.” It is at that point where the person has to advocate for themselves and actually say, “I can’t do that.” But it’s daunting because the last thing they want to do is start making noise about how they integrate into existing processes. You know, the perception that you are an annoyance to your new employer creates an issue. So, trying to get all of that out of way in the very beginning is critical to me.

We also need training for individuals. One of my big problems is that a lot of the people that I see, haven’t had any assistive technology training. If they’ve got some, it’s because they’ve gone out and self-advocated, gotten assistive technology, and started learning it on their own. It isn’t because they got educated at a vocational rehab place or a school for the blind. And the last time I talked to some of the schools for the blind, they didn’t even have assistive technology training in their curriculum, which astonished me. So, finding out where people with their skill sets and then building on that is important. We do that as well with some of our sighted employees. The goal is to train people without making assumptions about skill levels and find out where they are, and then go from that position.

Bruce, what are your findings?

Bruce Howell
Well, I think, first of all, I’m ready to apply for a job at QualityLogic because I love what you just described there. I think that is so on point. The way you introduce people to the opportunity of working there, the fact that you’re already understanding and want to make it as easy as possible for them. And if it doesn’t work that way then, we’re going to assign somebody to help make sure you get through the paperwork. How empowering. I think that’s wonderful.

I would add that the challenges are exacerbated by the online application process before they even get to the job. Many times, employers require an online application just to be considered for the job and may not be taking the effort to make sure that it’s an accessible process. Many third-party vendors produce these online onboarding processes or platforms. It requires filling out all kinds of information, and they may have to attach a resume to it. I’ve seen multi-page processes just to apply for consideration. So, it kind of starts there. Employers need to consider how easy the process is or is not for everyone.

At the Carroll Center, we are different because we’re a rehabilitation agency for the blind. So I think we tend to have a little bit more consciousness of enabling new employees to fit in and get the materials they need. But we’re not perfect either. The issue is partly because as companies, we work with other vendors, like benefits providers, etc., and guess what? They provide a totally inaccessible application. So how are you as an employer dealing with those situations?

There are ways of rendering documents fully accessible, but they either take having someone in your company become a document accessibility expert or finding a strategic partner that can do that remediation work for you. Companies have to decide if they want to commit those resources, time, and talent to learn how to do what, frankly, is a pretty challenging area. It’s just as challenging in many ways as making web content accessible. I think attention to all these components goes a long way towards making a new employee who’s blind or visually impaired feel like they can fit in.

I’ve talked a lot about remote working and how important that is, and another key aspect is how do I get technical support? One of the most frustrating things is when you’re using your computer, and suddenly things go silent. You don’t know what’s on the screen or, you’re not sure what happened. Did I do something wrong? Or is there just some conflict with my software? So, you need to be able to think about how you’re going to resolve those kinds of situations either by having easy tech support, where they can get virtual access and take over the control of the computer or watch the employee do what they’re doing and provide guidance. There’s also a mobile app called ARIA, which is a subscription service that provides bonded, sighted people that can assist someone who’s blind, do things on their computer, find their way in and out of a building, whatever the task is that the individual needs. Perhaps an employer makes an active decision to provide that subscription service to blind employees so they can get sighted assistance whenever they need it.

There are a lot of techniques that you can build into your process, and these are all things that employers need to know more about and understand.

Paul Morris
Let me describe how we do that, Bruce. When we have people working remotely, we’ve actually installed remote cameras. With this system, the IT person can physically see what’s going on, but also has remote access. So, there are several ways to get people unstuck. It just takes the imagination on how to get them in a place where they can operate.

We’re actually testing, like you are, many ways to ensure things are compliant. So, we already know the experience is probably not accessible, because otherwise why would people come to us? That’s where all the camera setups come in. We can actually see and experience what the person is interacting with. That helps us, not only get them unstuck, but also enables them to document the issue correctly. Because as we both know, when things go wrong, there’s often no clear reason why it went wrong in the first place.

Bruce Howell
Yeah, I totally agree. As an aside, I have a particular brand of laptop, brand new laptop, and I’ve been having all kinds of problems with programs crashing. And just today, our IT person at the Carroll Center found support information from the manufacturer of this particular Windows laptop, addressing the exact kind of issues that I’ve been having with a conflict between JAWS and an application that comes pre-loaded on these laptops. It was causing too much information to be temporarily stored and causing JAWS failure with some of these applications. This morning, I disabled that particular application on my laptop, and it is working so much better.

These are the kinds of things that somebody out there on their own is not going to easily resolve or figure out unless you’ve got a great IT team. Those are the kinds of things, too, that an employer needs to be aware of to support a remote employee, particularly if they’re blind.

Travis Franklin
Speaking of the employees.

What are some of the misconceptions about individuals with blindness or sight impairment?

Bruce Howell
I think the biggest one that I often share with people is that not all blind people are the same. And I know that sounds really trite. Someone who is born without vision has a very different perception of the world. Someone like Paul or myself who had vision when we were younger and has lost it as we’ve aged is different than someone who has never experienced sight at all. We understand what colors are and the shape of things, what they look like. If somebody describes a tree to us, we have a pretty good idea of what that’s going to look like. However, somebody who’s blind from birth has no idea what those things mean, especially the things they can’t tangibly touch and feel and begin to learn about. So, just understanding that is really helpful, particularly when we’re talking about work in a tech field.

As a specific example, I understand what a website is going to look like and what a webpage is going to look like on my computer. I may not perfectly understand, but I get it. I understand there’s a banner at the top and there are navigation menus. There might be a left-side or a right-side navigation menu. There’s going to be the main content area, and then there’s going to be a footer at the bottom of the webpage. But somebody that’s never seen a web page understands it as a series of linear things because that’s the way screen readers operate. They go from left to right, top to bottom. So, for them, the interaction of things visually and geographically positioned on a screen may be really difficult to understand. Those kinds of concepts are really important, and employers need to understand those differences.

Secondly, related to the topic, not all blind people have the same level of sight abilities. There’s such a wide range of what we call vision impairment or blindness. People that are legally blind may have some usable vision. We shouldn’t assume that blindness means they can’t see anything. It ranges widely in terms of what vision may allow them to do or not to do, but it does make a big difference. I think those are a couple of the key things from my standpoint, that people need to understand about, “blindness” or “vision impairment”.

Paul Morris
Yeah, I was going to say, I don’t know if you sighted folks saw this, but there was a meme that circulated a while back. It was a picture of a blind lady with and white cane, and she was looking down at her cell phone. Right. It was insulting, and it went viral for a number of reasons. But what it showed to me was that people who were able to see at one point, tend to focus their vision on the same location they would have when they could see.

Bruce Howell
You don’t know how many times when I’ve presented, I’ve had to tell people, “I know it looks like I’m looking at my keyboard, it’s a force of habit.” I can’t stop myself from doing it. But I guarantee you, I cannot see it.

Paul Morris
Exactly. So that’s what you talk about in employment perceptions, right? I’ve been in meetings where people were like, “well, you’re looking at me”, and I’m like, “No, I’m looking where your voice is coming from, and I’m doing that because I’ve been doing it all my life. It’s natural for me to do that”.

Somebody that’s blind, and has been blind from birth, often will not make that same connection. So that’s where employers shouldn’t make assumptions about what the person may or may not be able to see. Because some of the visual cues given off by a person that formerly had sight are going to be very different from those given off by somebody that’s been blind from birth. It’s fascinating. One of the hardest things, from the employee-employer perspective, is thinking that working with someone who is blind is going to be hard. But it’s really not going to be hard, it’s going to be different.

Travis and I have worked on many things. We’ve worked on all our content and a lot of documents together, and I don’t think my integration into that environment has made it harder. But it has caused my sighted colleagues to think a little differently. And I think that is what a lot of employers would do really well to understand. Different doesn’t mean hard. Different just means different. Employers could be glossing over a lot of good talent out there that they should be embracing.

Travis Franklin
That’s a great point. It is it’s a complete mind shift because we’re so used to approach any situation in life, that’s unexpected, or that we don’t completely understand as, oh, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be too much for me to learn. And it’s not, it’s just different. And speaking for myself, the amount of knowledge I have gained from working with you, Paul is incredible. It’s really expanded my understanding of the different situations that people exist in, whether it’s, a sight impairment, or maybe needing to use a crutch for six weeks. I mean, there are so many things that I never completely understood that I see differently now. And I think that’s an incredible value that all employers, or really humanity in general, would really benefit from.

So, we’re coming to a close in the conversation, but I did want to ask:

Bruce Howell
I think artificial intelligence is going to play an increasing role in accessibility, but it needs to be done carefully. We saw some of the big companies begin to introduce AI to guessing what’s contained within images, within pictures. It’s sometimes better than nothing, sometimes very good but sometimes not at all helpful because the problem with AI is that it is artificial intelligence. So, it can literally tell you what is depicted in that image. But a lot of times when images are used on a website, they’re conveying a particular message. So, unless you have the context of what the surrounding content is, any artificial intelligence is going to struggle a bit with making that a truly valuable experience.

Having said that, there are still huge ways that AI could be beneficial. I think of certain navigational mobile apps that are being created and tested these days where AI is used to help a person who is blind or visually impaired find their way more independently, particularly in indoor settings. It can be used to do the fine-tuning for GPS getting you within 50 feet of a particular location, but not necessarily to the exact place. Maybe you’re trying to find a bus stop, for instance, to work. I think AI is going to be very helpful in that context.

I think more and more of our technology is going to be voice-activated with less need for people to be able to type. So certainly, that’s an advantage for people. In some of those instances maybe not as much for people that are visually impaired or blind, but for people that have some kind of hand dexterity, or arm mobility challenge where they can’t easily use a regular keyboard or even click with a mouse. So, the more that we have voice-activated devices and things that we need to interact with, I think the more advantageous for our future.

Technology just continues to evolve and change and one of the key needs will be the need to design with the accessibility built-in right from the start so that accessibility isn’t continually chasing technological advances — something that has all too often been the case in the past.

Travis Franklin
That’s a great point. Paul, anything you want to add in closing?

Paul Morris
Bruce, it’s been great talking with you. It sounds like we’re very much aligned in our thought processes. I think there’s so much we can do to inspire our own community, and you’re working with a great organization that does just that. I’m trying to do it in my own little way, by inspiring folks to know there’s a job opportunity where they can really contribute, and not have to be, frankly, on disability. But that’s not the only career path open to them. I think it’s just being able to inspire the imagination of the individual and letting them know some groups and employers do understand.

I’m making an effort to work with some local organizations here to really try and inspire employers that aren’t walking down this road to give it some thought, try to imagine how you might include people in their organization that aren’t typical individuals. They need to know that they can inspire some talent from folks that might have amazing ideas, but just don’t get heard. I think one of the biggest problems with a lot of folks in the blind and visually impaired community is that they just don’t get heard, or even know their voice can be heard, and that’s my current focus.

Travis Franklin
Paul, thank you so much for that, and Bruce, I appreciate the time you’ve taken to join us. We really appreciate the chance to learn from you.

Bruce Howell
Yeah, thank you very much. This has absolutely been my pleasure. I love what you guys are doing at QualityLogic. I’m thrilled that we’ve made this connection, and hopefully, we’ll continue to grow the relationship further through the program that we’re developing.

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