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Inclusion – It’s No Laughing Matter!

I have been working with and consulting on the needs of individuals with disabilities for 20+ years. Throughout my career I have focused on three key areas to advance the mission and goals of the community of individuals with disabilities:

  • Employment opportunities
  • Improved Accessibility in the digital/IT space
  • Accessible banking and financial services

I am sometimes asked “Why are you so passionate about this?” Let me tell you a story…

A bit over 20 years ago, I was a bright eyed bride to be.  I’d met my hero, Bob, and felt SO blessed that he waited until he met ME to fall head over heels!  The only fly in the ointment was the fact that my hero was unemployed.

Why I am passionate about progress in employment opportunities:

Bob was hands down the smartest guy I had met up to that point and he had an extraordinary work ethic. I knew this because we met on the job. I was managing a training team supporting the conversion of the LAN/WAN network for the Social Security Administration and Bob was performing personalized training for the SSA employees with disabilities.  He showed up early every day, limping on what we later discovered to be an untreated fractured ankle. Unfortunately for Bob, it was a short term contract that left him, again, looking for work a few weeks later.

Personally, I have never struggled to find work. I am very fortunate that opportunities have always been readily available to me and I have even had the opportunity to choose between positions a time or two.  Not so for Bob. My brilliant, hard working, imminently skilled (not to mention gorgeous :-)) fiancé also happened to be blind.

For several weeks I watched Bob apply for every job he reasonably could, many of which I felt he was seriously overqualified for. My heart would break for him every time he would get a phone call informing him that the position was filled or funding had dried up making the position no longer available.  Finally I put my mind to it and vetted want ads for jobs at which I knew Bob would excel with minimal accommodation.

Which leads us to that fateful afternoon when Bob, dressed to the nines in his best suit with a fresh haircut and laptop in hand, arrived for an interview with a leading language school. He was applying for a position as an ESL instructor. The interviewer took Bob back to the interview room, but didn’t bother to close the door. After a few perfunctory questions to establish to a certainty that Bob was indeed blind. She escorted him back to the waiting area and asked him to hold on while she consulted with her colleagues. LAUGHTER. Not whispered giggles or muffled guffaws, but full throated “How ridiculously hilarious is THIS guy for even THINKING to apply for this job!” laughter.  After Bob convinced me that walking back and demonstrating my own exhaustive vocabulary and proficiency in foreign language was not the best option, we left together with the sound of disrespect ringing in our ears. Fortunately, Bob landed a position as a customer service representative for the Social Security Administration (SSA) two weeks before our wedding day. However, this experience crystallized within me the desire to do all I could for as long as I lived to NEVER see that happen again!

Why Do I care about promoting Accessibility in digital/IT and business, both internally and externally:

Bob worked SSA for seven years for essentially what he would have received from the same agency staying home and collecting disability checks. All he wanted was an opportunity to EARN a living and provide for his family, and it paid off.

The SSA saw in Bob what so many failed to see before. What I had always seen in him. A brilliant, loyal, hard working man with a lot to offer. But, even with all of the exceptional support that SSA provided, Bob often found himself faced with barriers to productivity. Often he would encounter a PDF document that was merely an image file, with no text that he could access to perform his tasks. Often, he would find unlabeled form fields within a required work application that made doing his job impossible unless he asked sighted coworkers to help.

Bob being Bob, however, didn’t rail, quit or lose his cool. Instead he started researching how he could help his coworkers do a better job for all SSA employees with disabilities, and at the seven year mark, Bob was invited to SSA headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland to help improve the experience of both employees and beneficiaries of the agency. His career started to take of from there.  He is now a management analyst specializing in IT and will be getting his 20 year pin in early September, 2019.

Why I am concerned with Accessible banking and financial services:

To this day, many individuals with disabilities find barriers to acquiring insurance, purchasing a home, or even banking independently. This can be directly attributed to a predominant lack of accessibility within the digital/IT space. Lack of understanding among business leadership, CIOs, product owners, designers, developers, etc. around what their roles and responsibilities are. Also, those who do try to educate themselves often find themselves at a loss for where to start.

The true irony is that most business leaders don’t understand what a disservice this is TO THEMSELVES!  According to the Global Economics of Disability Report, the spending potential among this group, together with their friends and family, is approximately 8 trillion dollars worldwide. To put that in perspective, that is GREATER  the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of ALL BUT 2 countries in the world, exceeded only by the US and China. Can you imagine totally neglecting that much of the marketplace?!

My belief is twofold:

  1. Business doesn’t intentionally neglect this market, or these potential employees. They just don’t yet understand how NOT to.
  2. Intentional or not, Bob deserves to retire from a well paid and well deserved job.  And, he deserves to transact financial and other matters online, with dignity and privacy, just as much as the next hero.

The accumulation of everything that I have experienced both personally and professionally has brought me to now. With Accessibility Match Consulting, I am leveraging my 20+ years of experience and my 2100+ member network of highly respected industry partners and harnessing it all for good. Good for employees, good for business, good for all. Accessibility Match Consulting IS a matchmaking company in the truest sense of the word.  We facilitate matches between HR and knowledgeable recruiters, assist recruitment companies with identifying qualified candidates, match HR managers and employees along the process of vetting third party vendors of support technologies and services, as well as providing guidance in the digital/IT space. Like any good matchmaker, we will also do a lot of consulting and hand holding along the way!

On September 26, 2019, Bob and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. I’m of a mind to celebrate somewhere tropical.

Please, tell me what YOU think!