Introduction of keynote speaker by Frances West, Founder, FrancesWestCo
Keynote Address: Neil Romano, Chairman, National Council on Disability
Introductory Remarks: Axel Leblois, President, G3ict
So now, let us open our program.
Please join me in welcoming Frances West, founder of FrancesWestCo and the distinguished M-Enabling program committee member, who will introduce our opening keynote speaker.
Frances. An international recognized thought leader, author speaker strategy advisor and a woman in technology, trailblazer known for her work in innovation, technology, and business transformation.
She's the author of "authentic inclusion drives disruptive innovation" and the founder of FrancesWestCo.
A global strategy advisory company, focused on working with organizations, to operationalize inclusion as a strategic business and technology imperative. Her human-first insightful and impactful approach comes from her experience, as a global executive and her ground-breaking work as IBM first chief accessibility officer.
Frances West, delivers thought-provoking keynotes, and meaningful strategy advisory services that influence leaders, impacts businesses, and inspires organizational transformation.
So welcome, to the stage, (laughing) Frances!
Frances: Good afternoon!
FROM THE FLOOR: Good afternoon.
Frances: I hope you notice, we got the memo, on the color, for those of you who are not fuchsia or pink, you know, you need to check your e-mail.
Frances: (Continuing) thank you so much for that great introduction, I love to come to M-Enabling, like, she -- like Francesca mentioned this is our eighth, um, conferences and I think I've been to every one of them.
This is, by far, I think, the most meaningful, and productive conference, for somebody like myself, who, used to work for IBM, but now, as an entrepreneur, because it's a great place to learn and also to network.
And I have the -- the pleasure today, to introduce the -- the first keynote speaker, Neil Romano.
And, I've been thinking about how do I introduce him? So I'm just going to give you the first line of his bio.
Chairman Romano has been, the chairman of the national council only disability and this is a presidential appointed position, and he became, the president of NO ---[sic] of NCD in 2018, but I know Neil more than just a chairman.
I knew him, when he was, actually, a nonchairman, just as a person, we actually started working together, back in the early 2000, when I first took over the -- the responsibility at IBM.
And, Neil had a tremendous background and experience, in communication. I don't know whether you know, but he's a -- an Emmy-award nominated producer and his whole life has been about changing the narratives, and the message about disabilities.
And he has done a lot of work, running different kind of program and promoting the participation of people of any kind of underserved or communication, including, for example, running the marketing awareness program for just say no -- remember that?
Drug campaign, back in the -- I don't know, 70s or 80s? I don't want to date myself, or date you so --
Frances: And this is, then, -- then I just -- like I said we started actually being partners because he did a tremendous project for IBM, to tell our employee- -- or employees with disability stories, and then, he -- then, I watched him just rise through the occasion to become the assistant Secretary of Labor in 2007.
So this is a man that has really, not just kind of talked about disability, but putting into action -- to promote disability in a completely different light.
In a different context.
And frankly, in a very cool, and funny and humorous way -- and he was still cracking jokes over there as we're getting ready and I told him, "Remember like Francesca said, I'm a first generation non-English-speaking immigrant so at times humor does elude me" anyways it's a pleasure for me to introduce an innovator, a trailblazer, and the most importantly, my friend Neil Romano, to be the keynote for this conference.
Mr. Romano (1:44:42 p.m.) : I have this much more to go. Okay, all right! I'll get over there quicker! Thank you, good morning, thank you all very much.
Frances, I notice Frances ran off the stage as quickly as she can, because she was afraid of the ubiquitous kiss, and the hug, and she said she didn't want to date herself nor did she want to date me, she let it know off the bat she didn't want anything to do with that any way, Frances thank you very much. First of all, there is nobody who could have introduced me that could have been more of an honor, Frances is not just a friend, but sometimes we undersell ourselves.
Frances has also been one of my mentors, she has taught me a great deal. We have worked on projects together, and frankly, recently she came out with a book -- I'm sorry, Frances.
I don't care. She said Neil don't say anything about the book. I said why it's a great book. I've been learning for you for 20 years she has a book called "authentic inclusion" and I'm reading it, as a matter of fact it's marked up from beginning to end and two-thirds of my speech is going to be about it so you'll hear it from her.
But I would like to really say in complete honesty and candor how truly, honored I am to be here today.
I want to thank, the people at G3ict, where is Axel? Thank you, very much, for -- by having me here today.
I -- you know, I guess all of us, or many of us, have speeches and things that we're going to do, or want to do -- I'm sure you've all heard the example, there's the one you write the one you think about before and the one you give. I'm pretty much the one I give.
But I had a theme that I came up with.
I think one of the most difficult things to do, for me, is to stand in front of a group of people, who have done so much for so many.
And realize that part of the issue, for me, is that I'm going to ask you to do more, for more people.
So it's always a very difficult place to be, when you're looking out at people, many of whom, I have met, or many of whom I have heard about -- who have done incredibly important things, so what I decided I would like to talk about today, is I would like to talk more about. :
I'm not a Wonk at all, yes, I'm the chairman of NCD, yes, I've been in the government for many, many years but I'm not wonky kind of guy. I'm a story teller a communicator for my whole life, and I think it's more important we talk about, why we do what we do.
Why is it important? Because you know what I found out? Sometimes we work so hard, that we either forget, why we're doing it, and/or, we burn out.
I know there are people in this room saying, "You know, I've been working on this for a long, long time. We've been coming to these meetings for eight years, when is it going to get better?" I just want to remind everyone in the room, it's never going to get better, unless you continue to fight and work.
So I'm going to do something I generally don't do. I'm going to talk to you a little bit about myself. You know, you heard about the introduction, you've heard film-maker all of that. But the part that's left out that's always left out in the introductions, are the issues, that have relate more to me, as a human being, that relates to what you're doing.
I'm going to show you, how I, have benefited.
From enabling people.
What you're looking at, is a person who has severe dyslexia.
I was born with it.
And I fought my entire life, in order to be able to communicate. So it's funny that I'm known as a communicator. I didn't speak until I was probably six.
And what happened was if anyone knows anything about dyslexia, I have the type, where I barely can spell or read. So you can imagine the school for me was a lot of fun.
Mr. Romano: And then, to make matters worse, I got into high school, and I was faced the first time, with what's known as the computer lab.
Well, I have to tell you, if you think spelling, for me, was a danger place, computer labs were places that I, literally, left the building to walk around them so I wouldn't be involved in all of those little numbers and things.
Because that surely, wasn't my thing!
(Continuing) so automatically you see something immediately about a person, with a learning disability.
Not only had I been left behind, in much of the learning, that took place, but I saw myself missing the newest train.
It was leaving the station, without me.
The world of computers, left me completely.... as a person, who would have to spend the better part of his life, depending on people.
Mr. Romano: I started my first company, when I was -- just a little bit over 24.
And I, literally, had to hire people who would read my e-mails.
And write them for me.
When I was in college, it was by the grace of both God and the fact that I had people who were always willing to type for me -- that I was able to complete reports and things, the fact that I made it to college was in and of itself something I was predicted not to be able to do.
But the fact of the matter is what you work on, my -- is, then, became the turning point of my life.
And it's really very funny, because the turning point of my life, became when I learned about things like Wordperfect, spell check, grammar check!
Mr. Romano: (Continuing) and it's interesting that one of the greatest advances, for me, is one that I learned about when I was with Frances, but didn't start using until I got older, which was speech-to-text.
I learned about dmitri who worked at IBM who developed that. And I have to tell you, as I stand here today that without that, I would not be standing here today.
Because I had the opportunity now, to communicate.
Mr. Romano: So when I think about the people in this room, I look around the room.
And to me I see Guttenbergs, the language changed because of you, the ability to get information out changes because of you and when you effect people with disabilities, you change the entire dynamic.
Each and every one of you.
In every single way....
You think you're doing something small or you think you're doing something that's just simply profitable, or you think you're doing something, but what you are doing is... you are opening up the world.
To people, who have been left behind.
Mr. Romano: People with disabilities, who have been thrown into gulags of indifference for no other reason than to have been born with some kind of disability. People who have not been allowed to earn a living. People who have not been allowed to experience everything we experience, not just in the United States, but all over the world, with opportunities.
If you cannot communicate, if you cannot understand, if you are left behind, in technology...
You're really not going anywhere.
You think you might.
And you might muddle through, here and there, and one of the things I dislike the most about somethings that go on in the disability community is we show someone with a disability, who overcame, and, you know, did all of this and in a special way and it didn't involve anything to do with -- with technology, and so on.... and the advances that you folks make, and more often than thought, it's not really that deep, or real...
Mr. Romano: It doesn't provide the bedrock, it doesn't provide the foundations that you... provide.
And that, to me, is -- what you're all about today.
You know, I -- I took the time, yesterday, to look up the word "enabling."
You know it's one of those words that, I think everybody thinks they know, but doesn't really know.
Basically, what it breaks down, when you go into the Latin of it -- is it's to give a person a tool.
You are the tool-makers that move Society forward.
You are the tool-makers that make it easier, for people to get things done.
You know it's really -- it's really funny, without those tools, we find ourselves in -- in odd places, sometimes.
I -- I like to tell people, that when... when I was called by president Bush, on the phone and asked if I would be the secretary of.... assistant Secretary of Labor -- I almost gave myself a promotion, my God. That would be been wonderful, the picture and the whole thing in the hallway.
NEIL: Anyway, but when I first was called by the president, I think I did what any good.... second-generation Italian American boy from Brooklyn would do. I immediately picked up the phone and called my mother.
NEIL: To my wife's ever-dying unhappiness, but anyway --
NEIL: I go to my mom on the phone and I said, "Mom! You're not going to believe this! The president of the United States just asked me to be the assistant Secretary of Labor."
My mother didn't make a sound. Not a sound.
I actually thought I had killed her.
NEIL: You know, and really -- "mom, mom," finally she came around.
I said, "Mom, what's the matter?"
She said, "Neil, does the president know you can't spell?"
NEIL: So we have to assume that, as people with disabilities, we drag around a certain amount of -- of baggage.
But I had to explain to my mother about spell check.
NEIL: There's the difference. That's who you are.
That's what you do.
You change the lives of people.
Now, let me just say... by putting the tools in their hands, to do what it is, that they can do...
I have to tell you, if anyone ever feels when you work in this field that you're doing anybody a favor... find another field.
NEIL: Inclusion is not about doing anyone a favor.
Inclusion is about giving people the opportunity.... to do what they can do, under their own power.
But with the additional tools.
You know, it's really funny -- I -- I know this is going to sound completely bizarre, but I just read a short book about hammers.
And how the first hammer... was just a small tool.
But it changed the world.
And how we are reinventing and reimproving the hammer constantly, to make it more effective for people.
And make them more.... make it more useful.
So now, we have -- we have hammer cranes that can take down the side of a mountain. It's still a hammer.
(Laughing) so it's one of those things where we need to understand that authentic inclusion, when we approach it, does so much, for so many people, but it is a tool.
What we do what you guys do, what we work on is a tool. It's not charity.
We're working on benefiting the American people. Benefiting the people of the world.
By what we make.
It's an interesting thing.
I always tell people, that authentic inclusion -- which is the title of your book, I'm sorry, I find it all over my stuff --
NEIL: That authentic inclusion, is not about compliance.
Exclusively. It's not about compliance, it always makes people crazy when I say that.
"What do you mean it's not about compliance? !"
I tell my business partners and people all the time.... that compliance, is the Razor's edge, on which lives, lawsuits.
NEIL: When you are doing the absolute minimum, to get by, and complying, that's not authentic inclusion.
Authentic inclusion is when you embrace, the entire concept.
From the beginning, to the end, from the beginning of the project, to the middle of the project, to the end of the project.
From the way you lay your business out.
To the way you lay out your programs and the stuff that you work on.
Thinking originally, about the end user. All the time.
And about nothing but the end user, and recognizing that a lot of those end users are people who, historically, have been left behind.
Because nobody thought about them.
Unfortunately, in this field, for quite some time... the concept was: Faster, if you think about it in reality, it was about faster and it was about those who could use these products and tools, and how to make them go faster...
But it did not do what you are doing!
Which is to say, "Slow down, a little bit. And let's make sure we have more people."
You know, it's interesting, roughly 1 billion people on the planet have some form of disability or other.
Now, I stand here, as a -- as a bona fide, American, capitalist, probably of the -- of an order.
Why would we develop products that only two-thirds of the world would value?
NEIL: What is the business proposition there?
What does that mean? Does that mean we develop things that people can't use? And that's okay? Where is the profit there.
Where is the -- what is the business case for only letting X number of people be involved?
We can't afford. There's not economy on the face of the earth that can afford to leave behind... 20, 30, 40% of their people.
Because we are not developing the tools for them.
Or thinking about them in every single equation, that we work with.
It's just not effective.
It's not effective business.
It's not good Policy.
And it's certainly is not the right idea.
NEIL: (Continuing) a couple of.... ten months ago, I had the honor, of being sworn in, um... to this Office, which I held already, for a number of months, but I didn't get around to being sworn in for a bit; and I was given the honor of being sworn in, in front of, the original Declaration of Independence and the constitution of the United States.
I have to tell you, that, to me, was.... truly uplifting.
Because it's rarely, I ever give a talk, that I don't mention the fact that I have a favored founding document. Now, all the people in this room have a favored founding document. Okay, let's meet in the back, because all three of us will have a good time. But I actually have a favorite founding document -- and it's funny because I have to stand there and pledge my -- pledge, you know, an oath about protecting and defending the constitution of the United States.
But in my mind, I'm thinking, "The document I really want to defend, the document I really want to push, is the Declaration of Independence."
Because there's a portion in that Declaration I think we might know, many of us almost by heart. That all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and among these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, and it's funny when I talk to people, and they say how could they say that. Didn't that many women couldn't vote? Obviously, African-Americans were not being treated equally.
If you didn't own property, you couldn't vote and on and on and on.
The people who wrote it were slave-holders, they weren't stupid.
They basically wrote a document that's the check, that they expected all of us to cash.
In the future.
That is the highest ideal of inclusion.
To remind us, through the ages, that every human being is equal.
And that it's our responsibility.... it's not the responsibility of massive government programs, or large corporations -- it's everyone's responsibility. Even my friends that used to work with me.
[LAUGHTER] it truly is.
So as I conclude here... I just want to energize you with the fact that what you're doing: Is no different than being part of any other struggle, for civil rights in this country, and around the world.
There is absolutely no difference in my mind... for those of us, in this room, who fight daily, for the millions and millions of people who have been historically, left behind...
And your work... is there and you are guaranteeing that in the future, we will not overlook these folks anymore.
Thank you, all, God bless you.
Francesca: Thank you, chairman Romano, for the inspiring remarks.