Making workplaces digitally accessible is an imperative for all organizations seeking to achieve DEI objectives.  In this session, disability advocates and workplace accommodation experts will review the latest innovations that organizations can leverage to implement inclusive workplaces strategies.

Session Chair: Shilpi Kapoor, CEO, BarrierBreak


  • Everette Bacon, Vice President of Blindness Initiatives, Aira Technologies
  • Karthik Kannan, Co-Founder and CTO, Envision
  • Manish Agrawal, Co-Founder, IAccessible, Inc.
  • Jonathan Thurston, Director of Digital Accessibility, Walmart
  • Jhillika Kumar, CEO, Mentra

This video is lacking captions. We expect captions by February 26, 2024.


Welcome back after the networking break. I hope you enjoyed it. As we continue, I would like to introduce the next panel discussion, New Enablers for Inclusive Workplaces. The session will be moderated by Shilpa Kapoor, Founder and CEO of BarrierBreak. The floor is yours.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Thank you so much.
So firstly, I wanted to say thank you to G3ict for doing such a phenomenal job of hosting this, we're having fun, let's have more of this.
So I have got the pleasure of speaking to five amazing people today. We'll talk about New Enablers of Inclusive Workplaces.
Before we start, I'm actually going to ask each of them to introduce themselves, nobody knows them better than themselves.
So I'm going to start with the women in the room, we'll start with you.

JHILLIKA KUMAR: Great to meet with everybody  we're building the next Linkedin!
Mentra, we look at cognitive variations of the human brain and my team and I are based in North Carolina, in Charlotte, in fact. And for me, what brought me in this space, my brother, nonspeaking autistic individual, I'm neurodivergent and as is our team, we're excited to build a technology to empower millions to enter the workforce and to find the support and empowerment that they need to succeed.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Thank you. We have heard you this morning already, looking to go deeper in the conversation now with you.
Jonathan Thurston.

JONATHAN THURSTON: I have ADHD, Jonathan Thurston, Director of Digital Accessibility for Walmart Accessibility of Excellence. We're a fairly new center of excellence and we're definitely deep into our journey. So a lot of my work focuses on the associate experience, so I'm happy to talk about that today.

SHILPA KAPOOR: We go back I think about 8, 10 years.


SHILPA KAPOOR: We love to hear from you. The next person I have got, Manish Agrawal, and interesting, we met last I think 20 years back. It was quite a lifetime of accessibility. Let's hear about you.

MANISH AGRAWAL: I'm Manish Agrawal. I'm the cofounder of IAccessible which is a social enterprise I set up to connect people with disabilities. I'm blind, and in fact all of our team have lived experiences of disabilities. We are based on the premise of nothing about us without us. You know, we're in a lot of these accessibility conferences and it is really important, it is not a phrase just for us. We're hoping to make accessibility testing design and user research to be driven by Persons with Disabilities. That's what we do.

SHILPA KAPOOR: We love your mission. Totally agree with that. That's what we do at BarrierBreak, we love that. More power to you.
With that, we have Karthik Kannan.

KARTHIK KANNAN: I'm a founder and CTO of Envision, we make smart glasses helping women with visual impairment to live independently. The glasses have a camera helping the visually impaired person capture images around them and we extract information and speak it out. Besides being on smart glasses and available as a smartphone app used by over 200,000 people across the world both on iOS and Android. I'm here all of the way from the Netherlands, excited to be here, first time to be here, yeah. Thank you.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Yeah. It is really weird, when I started BarrierBreak, we had done a sketch of certain use cases we wanted to talk about. One of them was a sketch of a person sitting wearing glasses, reading a newspaper and the person had visual impairment, I hear you talk about it, it is like a dream I had comes to actuality. That's really the power of inclusive technology today. I think we talk about more about how it applies to workplace now and then. Last but not least, let's hear from you, Everette Bacon.

EVERETTE BACON: My name is Everette Bacon. I am the Vice President of Blindness Initiatives for Aira. Aira provides visual interpreting services to blind and low vision individuals. We do this as an accommodation piece. We have partnerships with well known companies like Microsoft, Walmart, Amazon, Google, Salesforce, hundreds of other companies and we're excited to be able to provide this service through a remote desktop app or of course a mobile application on the phone. Aira trained verbal wall interpreters that provide visual information, whatever the blind or low vision individual needs, whether that be navigation information, just, you know, seeing what's around them, giving them any kind of visual information description that you can think of. This is also my first time here, so excited to be here.

SHILPA KAPOOR: A lot of first timers with me, amazing. Tells us that the world of accessibility is surely expanding through all of us.
With that, amazing, you know, we have got to know them a little. Now let's ask them, you know, one question that everybody can help answer.
How do you see innovation and technology in the workplace, and how do you see that becoming inclusive? What technologies are you seeing? So from your personal view, you know, how do you see it?
I think we'll start with you, Everette Bacon, this time, see what you think about it.

EVERETTE BACON: Sure. Well, we know that everyone has a computer. We know that now the mobile phone is something that's in the workplace, is being used by everyone. Now we see more wearables becoming more prevalent.
So the great thing about Aira, we're offered on glasses, like the Envision glasses offered on different platforms with mobile access. So that's how we see that working in the accommodation space. We have a partnership with Amazon that we're very proud of.
Amazon has found a way to provide the Aira services to individuals not only looking for employment, but employees that are also working for Amazon. They can use Aira services to help them with application needs, getting ready for an interview, navigation to a certain interview location, and then they can use the accommodation in the workplace for whatever assignments Amazon may have.
So we think it is wonderful. It is a great way to employ more blind and low vision individuals.

SHILPA KAPOOR: That is such a difference from, you know, the world of inclusion and the workplace than ten years back, five years back. People didn't have the access before. That's wonderful. You have a product on the podium with us, let's talk about inclusion in the workplace and how technology makes an impact.

EVERETTE BACON: You know, as you said, you know, so different from ten years ago, five years ago. I think that the technology is accelerating as a very rapid pace. On the one hand, there is this new opportunity for more things like AI describing pictures for me and glasses, give me more independent access to content. At the same time, there is this risk that I see of technology not being developed responsibly enough to be inclusive, and, you know, the potential of the disability device becoming bigger, just because the rate of change is so high. Everybody is like go, go, go, let's work it out in the market and deploy. So I think both aspects are true today.
And the other aspect which is also true in terms of responsibility, it is this aspect of including People with Disabilities as we are developing the technologies and applying the technologies in the workplaces. That is at a faster, more compressed time scale, it is even harder, and that's the kind of services that we provide where we encourage companies to go hire People with Disabilities but if they cannot in the timeframes or not everybody in every department can do that, you know, take our services, our services like other companies like ours, where People with Disabilities can be consulted for these newer initiatives.

SHILPA KAPOOR: That's interesting that, you know, firstly it is benefiting you over these years, and the acceleration that you talk about is something that we also heard in the keynote this morning, where, you know, literally we're saying that from last year to this year, technology has shifted so far, all of us were in doubt of some of the AI technology that was there last year, are all going out, trying it, seeing how to use it in the workplaces and the same thing will apply. Acceleration is a big thing that is going to promote inclusive workplaces and having more and more People with Disabilities join the workforce I think.
It leads me to you, Jonathan, what's your take on this, you know, from hiring to tech.

JONATHAN THURSTON: First of all, my experience is the best way to move the needle with accessibility, it is to in fact, hire people with disability. There's many organizations that you can partner with or work with if you're trying to start programmes and start the initiative within your own company, accidental allies, it is an example of a great company, another one, Helix, there is different organizations out there that will help support you with this. How do you move the needle without growing your employee base with folks with disabilities? It is the voice of the associate, it can really help move that needle. That's probably the number one thing I would recommend you try to accomplish, it is to increase the amount of employees that have disabilities.
Also to encourage selfidentification. You know, this is another tricky area. The numbers that companies often have around selfID of employees with disabilities, it is very low, it is not fry truly representative, why is that? Many reasons, one big reason, it is because of stigma. So let's get rid of that stigma. Let's talk about our disabilities, let's hire folks with disabilities, let's make a more inclusive workplace by doing that.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Jhillika Kumar?

JHILLIKA KUMAR: Absolutely, I think of this question as how technology comes in the workforce in two fold. We have the pre-hire and post-hire. Before you have someone joining the workforce, I think technology especially with AI has a huge potential to really build a more inclusive screening process. This morning we talked about how there is a lot of introduces, how AI screens individuals and I think there is also an opportunity to understand, you know, for folks who don't have traditional backgrounds, may not have gone to, you know, an ivy league school, have gotten that work experience, internship experience because of lack of economic access, there is an opportunity to tap into those populations, you know, for getting the job actually, expanding talent pools and opening up the channels and there is bootcamp, all sorts ever upscaling opportunities outside of the traditional pathway to employment that we can tap into.
That's before. Once you get into the job, I think technology especially tools like ChatGPT, open AI, they create this incredible platform to facilitate conversations that are so hard to typically have in the workplace, how do I ask my manager for accommodation, how do I ask them, you know, to change the way that they give me taskers or instruction, how can I deliver feedback to an employee that I didn't like the way they did, you know, saying a certain thing, I felt discriminated against. A lot of the conversations are so hard to navigate, especially when they hit  you know, emotional conversations, and I think that AI gives a great, you know, tools like ChatGPT gives a framework to use the technology to communicate. I mean, when you go to therapy, they say communication is key, that's so important. Even in the workplace, you know so, many of the challenges that we have, we grow, expand company, it is figuring out who how to communicate better and to support employees that, you know, have cognitive variation, have disabilities and have unique needs that may not be understood by everyone.
So I think it is going to help to level the playing field and how do we talk about disability in the workplace, how do we talk about the before and after the job. We have the further conversation of how we're doing that.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Interesting.
Your perspective, you use a lot of AI in what you do, how do you see technology moving?

KARTHIK KANNAN: I think, for me, I haver  it is a little bit of a dilemma, on one hand, I feel that companies aren't that proactive in actually adopting new technologies quickly enough.
I also feel on the other hand that nerving be just a technology only solution, some of the best most productive workplaces, most inclusive workplaces have been a conversation that's used technology but has always had a human in the loop whenever, you know, technology doesn't cut it.
Sometimes when people use our tools, we notice that, you know, they don't get the response, they're not able to see the task, completely independent, and that the time W a human in the loop to go out, them, that makes a huge difference in being able to get the work done.
So I feel very strongly, you know, that human element, it is needed despite introducing technology in the workplace, we need to always have a human in the loop to help round out the areas where technology can't really function very well.
Right. At least for now.
I'm guessing that's going to change a lot in the near future.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Interesting. We will continue the conversation, if anybody has questions, feel free to start posting it in the Slack channel, I'll keep looking at it through the entire thing. So let's talk about you, Everette Bacon. Aira was a first thing that I remember thinking about how it would impact mobility for People with Disabilities. Quirk access to things around them. You talked about it is literally something that people use, like you said Amazon is using it within the workplace.
So how do you see people or organizations like Amazon, others, adopting Aira, what are the challenges that you see them have in adopting it and then what are you seeing as the kind of things that people are doing on a day to day basis with Aira in the workplace.

Well, thank you for the question.
You know, it is interesting, when we first started Aira, I remember, I was an adopter of Aira, I was not an employee at the time, at the time I was working with accessibility for the State of Utah, I had been in that field for almost two decades.
Aira was a wonderful navigation piece, able to change the way that blind people could navigate independently.
We found that this is, of course, the use of Aira and still is a very powerful use case, what we found was that many blind and low vision individuals were wanting to use Aira in a multitude of way, whether that be giving a description of something in front of them, whether that be recognizing a product, whether that be getting information, on the web, so that they can navigate an accessible website, a mobile application. And on forgetting and on, there are multiple use cases for. That is what is exciting about how we are seeing companies now look at recruiting and employing, retaining blind, low vision individuals. We have seen a company now over the past 8 months hire 100 blind individuals, recruit them, hire them, and retain them. Then the other spectrum, we have seen a company that over the last 24 months has only recruited and hired and retained one blind and low vision individual.
There is still a whole lot of area of growth and we still know that the unemployment rate for blind, low vision individuals is still very high, but yet this is a community that is either, you know, just hungry for employment.
So we have seen Aira being used in the workplace with helping with making sure that a long email is read, gathered the information, accordingly, and helping with the editing of spreadsheets, whether it be, you know, putting a pie chart together, a graphic related on a specific column and row, getting that information described to them.
We have seen Aira used obviously for navigation in the workplace, the barriers that a lot of people think is out there for this is security.
Aira has been able to partner with so many companies that I have listed before that security is not really an issue any more.
The idea of a human remote Truman giving information used to be something that people thought would never happen and now it is happening everywhere, and it is something that's being accepted now. So that is a big turning of a Titanic ship that I like to call because we saw that that was not happening six, seven years ago, now it is happening in a multitude of places, we're excited about that.

SHILPA KAPOOR: I hope the Titanic ship keeps turning and moving forward, rather than anything else.
I think that's very exciting to hear.
You know, I love the experience that you talk about, somebody hiring 100 people, and recruiting them, maintaining them, giving them access.
I also heard you talk about how the use case that you started with, which is navigation, suddenly also evolved based on the uses that you were working with and it expanded.
So, you know, from an Aira perspective, when I was going to think about the importance of People with Disabilities, for your customer base, how do you see that interaction happening so that you can make a more user friendly product which works for them.
How do forgetting you it today?

EVERETTE BACON: Repeat the question again, please?

SHILPA KAPOOR: How do you evolve from just a navigation tool to all of the other things as use cases? What all did you do to, you know, get People with Disabilities to be a part of the journey of you understanding the various use cases?

EVERETTE BACON: We incorporated blind and low vision, our customers from the start. That's who we went to, that's who we spoke to, we created use group cases with blind and low vision individuals working with national federation of the blind, American Council of the Blind. We worked with finding linear blind individuals and finding what they wanted, and then taking that and working with employers on accommodations and how visual interpreting can be brought in as an accommodation piece.
We really looked to the users of Aira to direct us in the  in how we're going move forward, how we're going to evolve, our trained visual interpreters, they work directly with these explorers and listened to the explorers and they're there to provide the service directly to the blind users.

That takes me to Manish Agrawal, you talked about nothing without us, you know, right. And that is exactly what Aira is doing in building the solution. How do you look at, you know, ensuring that People with Disabilities were part of the process and also to be able to see AI come into play and how are we going to balance, you know, that entire experience for Persons with Disabilities.

MANISH AGRAWAL: If I can go a little deeper into what I was talking about, you know, responsible AI, and in the context of accessibility, Persons with Disabilities, AI obviously has a lot of potential to bring a lot more equity so, you know, I can do things faster, as a blind person, I could summarize a long  you know, it is complex, you know, has a lot of sections, and I could just ask ChatGPT to summarize it for me or things like that.
But there are certain principles and Jenny, if you attended the keynote in the morning, you have heard from them, I talk about them a lot as well. There are three things that I primarily talk about, what we need for AI to be responsible from an accessibility perspective or from People with Disabilities. One, it is the bare minimum. It needs to be accessible.
Right, if you cannot  if you don't make it, make the tools accessible, this whole potential benefit of what you can provide to Persons with Disabilities is lost. Instead of having the disability divide, it creates a great big huge gap. The second is the terrible data, that one, it is again huge and needs the inclusion of People with Disabilities in the creation of that data and in testing that data, that it is representative.
Today, if I was to go to ChatGPT and any prompt, if I say, that I'm blind, the first thing in the response is oh, I'm sorry, you're blind. I'm not sorry I'm blind! (Laughter).

MANISH AGRAWAL: You know, and ChatGPT is not making it up, right. It is showing us the human data. So it is showing us the measure of society and how the society thinks about it, about accessibility and disability.
We need representative data and to be able to review that bias  remove that bias from the training data that we're creating for all of these AI systems. A lot of that needs to be done by, you know, we call it where People with Disabilities, they go in, they try to trick all of these systems into giving them the wrong answer. It is only People with Disabilities that can do that, they know how to get, you know, those wrong answers. The third piece, it is the whole aspect of feedback. When these systems go out, the traditional forms of testing, you know you do the CAD testing, you do the compliance testing, those don't apply to the systems any more. These are these are land box systems that it is very hard to tell how they came up with that answer. You know, so when these systems get deployed, or as they're being deployed, we need systems, robust systems that are able to collect feedback from People with Disabilities, who run into issues and biases like the one that I just mentioned.
Then those have that feedback troop go correct these things.
These are critical for things like hiring that others had mentioned earlier, you know, a lot of the things will get used for making hiring decisions on resume, right. We opened a job with one of the organizations that work for and within two days we had 800 resumes. So you know, recruiters are going to rely more and more on AI systems to  you know, to sort out the resumes and what do you have if you have bias built in? Right. So those are the kinds of things that I talk about, you know, I will let Jonathan talk about if he has anything to add.

JONATHAN THURSTON: I was just agreeing with you. 100%, absolutely.

SHILPA KAPOOR: So when you think about what, you know, Manish Agrawal is saying, you now, right, I know you agree with it. What is your perspective, you know, on how companies can look at the accommodation process and what would you recommend companies do? While they hire People with Disabilities?

JONATHAN THURSTON: That's such a great question.
I have a mixed relationship with the idea accommodation, first I love them, having a disability, understanding the importance of making sure that we have an equitable workplace. It bothers me that we have to go through a separate process. It feels like it is an othering process. So my vision, my goal, I think it is shared by many other people as well, just to remove the process, make technology, assistive technology available on demand as you need it. Not have to say please, can I install this application on my computer so I can do my job better, you have to flip that, here is the technology, you ever access to whatever you need to do your job better. Right. Put that model. Snot only do you make assistive technology available to folks with disabilities, you make it available to everybody. So everybody can learn from it. Sort of engage in those different types of experiences. I would love if we all sort of considered flipping that model and making sure that everyone has what they need to do their job well.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Which is literally flipping the model. Today it is all about asking for an accommodation, requesting an accommodation.
So here is an example, here is a conversation that happened last week with me, and a large consulting, a global consulting firm. We were asked to provide a list of assistive technology that they should allow within the organization. Now, this is, you know, one of the top three leading consulting firms in the world and when they ask me this question, you know, they actually had no clue about accommodations at all.
The thought process of accommodations was literally as limited as a screen reader or minimum a magnifier, nothing beyond that. Then when you see that, you talk about providing on demand, there is another side to the problem, Jonathan. It is even at least like  I'm from India, people don't necessarily know their choices of accommodation.

JONATHAN THURSTON: That is absolutely correct.

SHILPA KAPOOR: How do you provide that, you know, knowledge and framework as an organizer?

JONATHAN THURSTON: One first step is hire more folks with disabilities. Capture their voice as an associate. Right. Of course are there is all different kinds of disabilities. The tools that I would need having ADHD is very different from other folks with different types of disabilities. If you hire more folks with disabilities, that voice becomes stronger internally. Also look at the market. What are other companies like you doing. Right? What is your competition doing? Because you want to do better than them, not only in the market, but with your associates as well. Right. Then maybe your customers as well. Maybe you can get clean insights from the customer's requests. Right.
Listening, active listening, design thinking, inclusive design. Interesting, so, you know, I employ about 160 People with Disabilities in my team of 270 people. Every one of them has a different ask and it is fine. It should be fine. You can hear the nuances in the ask and it is sometimes something as simple as I need something to stop the glare on my screen. Right. Down to something as much as, you know, can I get screen reader or even I get solutions, et cetera. But I think that the key here is about also diversity, equity, inclusion teams, knowing more about how to have these conversations and how to bring that forward. I think we literally read about that somewhere, I hope somebody goes out, creates it one day for all of us to use. It takes me to you, you're working with an audience that's often underserved, even more so underserved than other groups at times because of they may not selfidentify or know that there may be a challenge. I know so many people that say that, you know, at 27, 28, I know that I'm neurodivergent, I was diagnosed, you see so many of the conversations.
So, you know what, are the perspectives on how do we include neurodivergent people in the workplace?

JHILLIKA KUMAR: Yeah. So, okay, we have done a bit of research on this. We had around 40,000 neurodivergent job seekers we serve. And a lot of large organizations and sort of what we have seen with the different companies, it is almost this repetitive set of stages that we often see companies go through. Starting with, you know, inception, where you have a few folks that are raising their hand and saying I'm neurodivergent, I need accommodation, typically the organization is looking at risk mitigation, how do I solve this problem ASAP? We see proposals little bit, the targeted model, you know, where you have champions coming in the organization, and starting programs to hire, let's say 5, 10, 20 neurodivergent within that. Then we see the department leaders raising their hand, I'm neurodivergent, I have a family member where I have a disability, and actually saying across the organization, I'm going to open up all of my roles to be accessible for neurodivergent. The goal, the gold standard eventually, it is that we want companywide neuro inclusion, right. Every single job posted on a career site to be accessible for neurodivergent.
So when we talk about, you know, where do we see this going, we ideally hope that, you know, every recruiter is trained, has some awareness of how to interact with, respond to, accommodate neurodivergent in the interview process. We have a world where hiring managers are aware, even if they don't have, you know, family member, affinity for neurodivergent, they're leading with, you know, IQdriven principles, where the continued understanding, listening, providing the support all wait to every employee providing allyship, you know, being a supportive partner in the journey. So that's kind of how we see the companies grow on the journey and eventually, I mean, there is a step, one in every 7 are neurodivergent, meaning that 20%, 15 to 20% of your organization today, you know, is neurodivergent, so many don't disclose. Including that psychologically safe work environment, it is where we want to move towards, how to open the conversations up, how do teammates, leader, employee associates step up, say I'm neurodivergent, these are the challenges I go through, these are the disabilities I face on a daily basis, here is how to support me.
This is where we hope to see the future of corporate America, fortune 500, small businesses to evolve to actually include this population.


JONATHAN THURSTON: Can I add on to that, that's brilliant. I interpret that as a growing awareness of accessibility and inner inclusion within that organization. Personally, one thing that I have found, it is that the more that I selfID, the more I say I have ADHD, the more people come up to me, they say, you know, I do too. I have dyslexia. I have this other thing. And it creates that conversation.
It creates an environment where it is comfortable to talk about this. It is an ideal state. I love that.


SHILPA KAPOOR: It is a culture shift in an organization. It is everybody shifting towards this direction and it is interesting, both of you talk o about listening, active listening, empathy, the same language that we're all speaking, and I think we have to get it out in the larger world and have everybody think like us. I'm hoping that that happens soon. Jenny said this morning, when are you able to turn this around, hopefully faster than we have all gotten here. It is interesting that there is a question on the Slack channel asking about, you know, how do we actually build selfidentification in the workplace. Both of you have talked about that. I brought the question up, so that once we finish, everybody else can think about that, how do we actually promote selfidentification, what can we do, how can we build an ecosystem that makes people comfortable to selfdisclose. You know, first coming in, you know, you have talked about the solutions, we have talked about any solutions, and one of the biggest things that you see are these, you know, myths that employers have in their minds about whether they should be using technology in the workplace, talking about security, privacy a concern. There are often other things that employers think about when thinking about this. So, you know, in your world of solutioning with Envision, what are challenges that you see and how could you actually work, you know, employers through some of the myths that they have, how do you bust the myths that they have?

MANISH AGRAWAL: We don't think of it like  (Karthik Kannan) we have to convince the employer, it starts with the end user for us. It is they who actually take the classes into the workplace, for example, or start using the app in the workplace of Envision, that's a point of conversation. So that is usually how we go about it, even when we try to work with severe prices, it is always been what's the most benefit that we can give to all individuals, versus and start from there, building up towards trying to convince the employer that this is the right option to go forward. A lot of times, what we noticed, people have very long notions of assistive technology, I think that the assistive technology that a lot of people are used to thinking about, it is the legacy assistive tech, as I would like to call, it the big scanners that you have to put on your desktop, and, you know, that can  that's only capable of doing one particular piece  one particular thing at a time.
It is clunky, bulky, doesn't get the job done.
You have the new assistive technology, it is powered by artificial intelligence, meaning that, you know, it can actually do a lot more, pretty much it is a Greenfield, right, you can customize the tool for the person who is using it, you can over a period of time, because it is software, you can actually go ahead, have for example the classes or any new assistive tech powered by AI, constantly keeping improving itself, constantly expand the kind of things it can do. The big myth that we have to bust with employers, it is that this is, you know, very different from the AP that you have known all of these years. This is not  I won't even call it assistive tech, it is just, you know, it is an assistive
tool that helps someone at the workplace to actually go about doing their things more independently.
I think companies like Envision, Aira, they're under that case, where the tool is versatile, not as expensive as it used to be, we try to focus on the end users, you know, trying to make sure that they have the best possible experience and they sometimes go out there, talk to the manager, say hey, you know what, I have used this app, I'd like to get the glasses, then we have the conversation and even then it is always not straightforward, but then eventually when the managers start to see, yes, this is a tool like a smartphone or a computer rather than just a clunky device that sits on a table, that costs thousands of dollars, it can do a lot more and they start to open up their minds and see more possibilities.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Wow. So again, comes back to the user very often, education, and that gets you buyin. You're so right, I remember when I started off in my career, you talk about the large magnifier machines that we bought, or the chunky braille printers that you had, you know, the ideal solutions us remember were so humongous, it was not really portable in that point in time. So much of that has changed. I hear, Everette Bacon, you know, having a view on this. What do you think, Everette Bacon? How is technology where we need?

EVERETTE BACON: I remember the first reader that was the size of a washing machine. It was providing OCR character recognition at that time and it was massive. It cost some 80,000 dollars at the time. It was intense to know how much technology used to cost and how big and bulky it was and it is funny too, I talk with young blind people nowadays who, you know, they have their phone, their portable braille display, and they're out and about, doing whatever they want to do in life, and they even complained that the not even one pound braille display is too much to carry sometimes. I remember when we carried braille writers that weighed 25 pounds and CCTVs that were in two pieces that we had to roll in on a cart from class to class.
So it really has changed.
Getting back to the question before, a minute ago, I think that the biggest thing that we need to help talent acquisitions professionals, human resource managers, we need to help them understand that disabilities are acceptable, just disabilities are normal, disabilities are something that just happen every day, many people have them. So I remember, I used to work for a blockbuster video, it used to be human resource managers were taught to tell hiring managers at stores you can't ever ask about a disability, you can't ever ask, it is against the law, it is  yeah. So I would sit there, I would go couldn't I just talk about it? Then no, you can't talk  well, I'm the blind manager hiring.
How can I not talk about it.
That's the way it was.
And I think that the paradigm is definitely shifting, I think talent acquisitions portals, professionals, they're doing a great job of, you know, normalizing disability, and just treating, you know, allowing individuals to feel comfortable disclosing and we need more of that, we need disabilities to be accepted. That's the biggest thing we can do to change and make it to where more people feel included and they feel comfortable disclosing that they have a disability.

SHILPA KAPOOR: That's so well said. I think it is about  you know, somebody is asking how do we takeaway that stigma, how do we get more people to disclose? Actually we have a question to that, Jonathan, someone is asking you, do you have specific strategies to encourage senior leaders to self disclose? Executives to self disclose?

JONATHAN THURSTON: Oh. You can start by self IDing on yourself, on your own. I have actually seen this be effective with leadership as well.
The more open you are, about discussing the space, the more open and comfortable other people are. In fact, I have had great experiences with leaders self IDing after you are confident and comfortable enough to selfID yourself. My experience has been, I have been increasingly seeing that more and more and more. The more I talk about it, the more other people seem to be able to talk about it as well. Also there is the point that we should all remember, it is that we are all going to have a disability at some point. All of us. As we get older, every day, it is just part of being human. Right. So we should remind each other, that this is part of human culture and part of who we are and we're all different but we should celebrate the differences. All right. Again, the more you talk about it, the more people are comfortable I think to open up on their own side too.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Interestingly said.
Here is a situation, and I have something called tremor, anyone that meets me, you will see me hold a glass and kind of tremor through it. In the country where I live in, it is not a disability. Right. It doesn't fall under our definition.
There are so many different, you know, aspects to all of this. When I self disclose, because the moment I self disclose, let's say I'm speaking, my tremor will increase, I'm stressed or I'm nervous, et cetera, the moment I self disclose, my tremor stops, it knows that I have self disclosed and accepting of the situation and the people. I think that's what you're talking about, Jonathan, kind of bringing that out into the open.
It is phenomenal.

JONATHAN THURSTON: That's so interesting, by recognizing it, it goes away.

KARTHIK KANNAN: I have an example of something very similar, you know, more similar to what Jonathan was saying, you know, we had  we had worked with the design team on code signing (Manish Agrawal) choke where there were blind people in the room, giving feedback on design, they had no idea that they could ask blind people about design. You know, we had a discussion, you know, towards the end of the session, there is the  they say, you know, I have had dyslexia, I never told anyone.
There is this thing where people are able to come out when they see, you know, this is normal, you know, this can work and they're able to talk about it.

JHILLIKA KUMAR: Yeah. It is a powerful thing when it is coming from leadership, I just, you know, thought about this. I think because of this stigma that exists with disability, it is sometimes so hard to have representation across cultures and positions in an organization and oftentimes disabilities, it is associated with weakness almost which really it shouldn't be, because when you have folks in leadership positions that are driving change, grossed significantly in their careers, and you're seeing that neglected on, you know, the board room, the C suite, across the organization, across manager, it is almost changing it to see it as a strength, like this is, you know, I'm here, I'm able to see things differently, build innovative technology because of my differences. So, yeah, it made me think when talking about disclosing as a leader, it almost changes the narrative so much when you have folks come out about it on a public forum as well.

SHILPA KAPOOR: True. By any chance does anybody here have any tangible case studies or an example of a link between hiring disabled people and neurodivergent employees and innovation? Technology is so much about all of that. Anybody has an example to share, we have got a question on that.

I see that a lot at envision (Karthik Kannan) we have a lot of people that are blind, low vision, that directly work on the product. They're the ones using the product, and designing the product at the same time. One very interesting thing that happened early on was when we first built the first version of the app, as a technologist, as an AI engineer, enthusiast, I was extremely, you know, focused on getting Envision to give nice captions of the things around you. You know, so you take a picture, it gives you a nice little caption of what the caption it in natural language, in my head, it was a cool feature that we could have. There was a close second feature that we built as well in the very first version, which was just a very clunky OCR solution, take a picture, it gives you a text and you don't format the text in the right way, you speak everything out.
I thought, you know, amongst the two people are most taken by the captioning feature. So we had, of course, an intern at that time working with us, he was a design intern and he was studying design in the Netherlands, and when I sat down, I started using the app with him and figuring out how he uses the app, nine out of ten times he used the OCR feature, it was the image caption feature. Right. And so I'm here, you know, I spent almost eight months of my life perfecting this image captioning thing. He was not even using it 10% of the time. Right. When I had the conversation with him, is it’s when I realized that text is the most dominant visual medium that is there around us, everything around us is text. A key thing that AI can help do, you know, it is given access to that textual information that is around us.
So that was, you know, like a key starting point and understanding how cocreation can be, you know, a useful way of building, you know, a product, even today I envisioned that we would have the ability of inviting people from across users of the product, new user, we ask them to bring a plus one, it is a party we have in the office. When we invite them, we put a person from our testing team and then, you know, one  a blind, low vision designer, a tester, in the room along with the AI engineers and along with the product designer, we see all four of them collaborating on a feature at once, it is crazy to watch, sometimes the product designer will think this is the most important thing. Then when it actually goes in the hands of one of the people that we're coCommittee creating with, it is something else and the AI engineer is tweaking the AI on the fly to respond to the changes that the person wants. So we have this slightly messy, elaborate, very, very needed feedback loop with the ones that are building the product that we'll eventually want to excel, that's a very tangible use case and early days of Envision, eight months ever effort thrown away and this one feature, we didn't even put  I didn't even put two weeks into it, and it was the thing that people used the most.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Well, any experiences with you?

JHILLIKA KUMAR: Yeah, in terms of case studies, we're trying to build this out every day, the organizations, because, you want to show productivity of hiring, you know, talent in this population. So there was, you know, everyone refers to the Accenture study, neuro diverse teams, 30% more productive, teams with including Persons with Disabilities, non-disabled individuals, working together in synergy, it can be 30% more effective because you're representing the world that you live in, you know, with the team that is building that tech.
Then, I mean, in terms of, you know, data on this, I think that is potentially a large gap that we see, you know, how can we go to leadership of different organizations and demonstrate that, you know that you're getting increased live benefits, increased innovation, increased productivity, by bringing in neurodivergent and people with disability, that's something that we should all strive to build that metrics and the accountability to however you're recording the data and how generally the outcomes are.
I know someone we spoke to at linked in, actually in India, Bangalore, we were mentioning that they hired newer row divergence to the team specifically neurodivergent individuals, one with dyslexia, OCD, one with autism, and they reported that the outcomes of the engineers almost significantly outperformed other teams, I think all of us, in the teams we operate in have an opportunity to, you know, not the only hire as we talk about, also to measure, what is the impact of that. Then take that to teams across the organization and advocate for that because it is  you know, it is great to talk about and then how do we actually take that and drive impact. I think numbers and metrics really drive impact. Especially when you take that to board rooms and executive tables.
So it is a great question, I wish we had more data on it. It is a great call to action.

SHILPA KAPOOR: It is, it is surely one.
You know, Manish Agrawal, let's come to you on a question there is.
You know, a person is wondering if employee hiring platforms, the accessibility, whether they play a role in increasing the hiring of People with Disabilities. I can give you an example of our  when we were looking for an HRMS system, we couldn't find an accessible one. You know, that was truly there. So what's your take on that.

MANISH AGRAWAL: Yeah. I mean, all the way from recruitment system, even to still apply for a job, it is so hard for us, with the user, for low vision user, you know, magnifiers, it not hides things. You know, then there is the human bias, the AI bias I talked about, then you have the interviewing systems where you may  you know, you have a technical person like me, you have to write code in the interview which may be a completely inaccessible system, once you get past that interview, then you have to go into the organization and work there.
We had a finance intern come in and they could  their manager looked at 26 different applications that they could potentially work on in a given day. The slice and dice of the job role in different ways, we found that all 26 of those applications were completely necessary. You know, these are all  you know, industry applications, and you know, the finance department is small, they don't build the applications. Who goes and fixes them? So these are  these are a real problem that people run into without systematic change where, you know, procurement, make sure that accessibility is there in the systems. That we buy. You know, how do you make sure that the interviewing systems that are put together are accessible. All of those.

SHILPA KAPOOR: We have one minute to go, I'll ask everybody to give me a quick one call to action from each of the crowd of what you want them to do, futuristic, this is a question I didn't give you earlier on. Do you want to start?

EVERETTE BACON: Sure. I have a call to action, I would say be acceptable of people with disabilities, accept them, you know, think of them as every day normal people. That is the biggest thing, and get away from the inspiration type, the inspiration thought process that People with Disabilities are inspiring but don't dwell on that don't focus on that. focus on that it is acceptable to have Persons with Disabilities in your workplace every day, participating in leadership, roles that you want People with Disabilities to fill them.


KARTHIK KANNAN: AI is one of the biggest, I would say revolutions that have happened in the assistive technology space, I think not a lot of employers are adopting it in this particular instance.
I wish more employers would be more open to adopting AI in the workplace for assistive technology.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Manish Agrawal.

MANISH AGRAWAL: Hire People with Disabilities, you know, however you can.
If you cannot hire them full time, you know, get work with organizations that can bring people exposure to people with those with disabilities, the more people interact with, you know, People with Disabilities, it becomes normal, people understand, how we use technology, how we are able to work in the workplace and, you know, that normalization of biases and attitude, it is the most important thing.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Jonathan Thurston.

JONATHAN THURSTON: Be supportive, be supportive of our community. If you have a disability, talk about it. Support other folks with disabilities, especially even if they have a different type of disability than your own. We should all be working together to promote inclusion and that's how we should all be partnering.

SHILPA KAPOOR: Jhillika Kumar.

JHILLIKA KUMAR: This one is tough. I think two things, one is when it comes to assuming competence, especially for folks who might, you know, present in ways that might be different from what we expect, I think it is so important to assume capabilities, assume skills, don't sort of judge based on what make the not cover, go deeper, try to understand what is the true skill and ability of this individual regardless of, you know, external appearance or presumed disability, and second, I think we have to move away from, you know, when budget happen, we have an economic crisis, oftentimes the first thing to get slashed is the DE&I budget, the next step for us, it is how to show  how do we make hiring People with Disabilities not just an DE&I initiative, but making it a part of demonstrating productivity, profits for the company and increasing bottom line. That's the next stage that we need to encourage, you know, talent acquisitions leaders and HR managers to embrace.

SHILPA KAPOOR: For me, the call to action, it is to hire People with Disabilities on your own team. If you start doing that, we will get there. So thank you, everybody. This has been an amazing conversation. Thank you for being on the podium, we have MEnabling, G3ict, it is has been fun, thank you to the audience, thank you for the questions. Thank you to the panelists, and our next session will begin at 5:30 p.m. in this room. And just a reminder, please don't miss your opportunity to have a professional head shot taken while you're here at the Summit, our photographer is located outside of Salon 3. If you have not picked up your badge, do so at registration. Thank you. We'll see you back here at 5:30.

This text, document, or file is based on live transcription. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), captioning, and/or live transcription are provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. This text, document, or file is not to be distributed or used in any way that may violate copyright law.

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