Why Access Matters Episode 1 Transcript

 

Why Access Matters: A podcast by Accessibrand (thoughts and talks about accessibility)

Accessibility! It’s a word we hear more of, especially in physical spaces, but are elevators and ramps all there is to it? When you hear the word accessibility, what do you think of, or see?

So, take a moment to think about what it means for you… 

 

Hello again everyone!

 

 I am Jolene MacDonald from Accessibrand, and I’d like to welcome you to our podcast “Why Access Matters”. 

 

 In “Why Access Matters,” we proudly and happily bring you thoughts and talks about accessibility.

 

Now that you’ve thought about what accessibility means to you, let’s look at how it’s defined.

 

 Wikipedia states that: “Accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, vehicles, or environments to be usable by people with disabilities.”
 

This gives us a general overview of accessibility, but we’d like to talk about it more from a slightly different perspective, that of lived experience.
 

[Music]


Rather than limit it to “high-need persons” or “people with disabilities,” we believe that accessibility is one of the greatest tools in our belts.  Accessibility is for anyone and everyone regardless of visible or invisible disability. This drives one of the themes in our podcast: Accessibility is necessary for some, but beneficial for all of us.
 

[Music]
 

You might be asking yourself, “What’s so important about accessibility?”  Consider the disability rights movement. They advocate for equal access to social, political, and economic spheres, including physical access and access to the same tools, services, organizations, and facilities as non-disabled people. And this is another key theme of our podcast: The more we can move barriers, the more we can dismantle discriminations against people with different needs and limitations, including but not limited to, of course, people with disabilities.
 

To better understand how important it is to break down barriers, I talked to Dave Dame, the Director of Accessibility at Microsoft. He spoke of many key points about identifying our internal barriers and how to move toward a more accessible world.
 

[Music]

 

Why Access Matters: A podcast by Accessibrand (thoughts and talks about accessibility)

 

Jolene MacDonald:


Hi everyone. I am Jolene MacDonald, and we're here for our first episode, in our podcast called Why Access Matters. And Dave Dame is here to share his thoughts and experiences on accessibility. So welcome, Dave. Thanks for joining us.

 

Dave Dame:

Thank you very much for having me. My name's Dave Dame. I'm the Director of Accessibility. I have brown hair. I have glasses, and I'm wearing a blue shirt, and I'm Caucasian, and I got headphones on. So, for our viewers that might be visually impaired that’s the visual description we do as being a part of Microsoft, to make sure everybody’s included.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

Thank you, Dave. I'll also do that for myself. So I'm a Caucasian female with long brown curly hair and blue eyes, and I have metal glasses with turquoise frames. And Farshid, would you like to do that for yourself too?

 

Farshid Sadatsharifi:

Yes, I am relatively younger than both of you guys. just a bit of fun. So, with black hair and with a gray shirt.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

Thank you Farshid. So, Dave, you introduced yourself as head - or, sorry, not head of Microsoft, Head of Accessibility at Microsoft. Maybe eventually you'll get there!

 

Dave Dame:

More specifically, I'm the Director of Accessibility. So I sit in the product groups, so Windows and Devices, really trying to influence and ensure we're building accessibility across all our product lines, including Windows.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

That's awesome. I think one of the questions we'd like to ask you is, you brought your lived experience to your job and what brought you to work in Accessibility at Microsoft?

 

Dave Dame:

That's interesting. If I look back at my career, you know, being born in 1971, my parents were told, you know, Dave may not live past 12. Dave may never be able to speak clearly, if at all. And even if he does, don't expect much because there's not much that someone like Dave with Cerebral palsy can do. So actually, they advised my parents to put me in an institution. Now that sounds harsh, but in 1971, in Windsor, Ontario, that was the status quo. And, luckily, my parents didn't have the answer. I don't think any parents ever had the answer, but they knew they didn't want to make that one single decision that was going to impact my life. And I always like to say I couldn’t have been born in any better time than history because I was born just before rights existed. And technology was starting to surface, and technology has been the greatest enabler that has really helped me get to where I am.
 

I like to say that it's not my Cerebral palsy that holds me back. Rather, it's the mismatch in my environment is what holds me back. It's not like, um, we can't say Cerebral palsy prevents Dave to get in the building because there are stairs. Cerebral palsy prevents Dave from getting in the building because there's no ramp, right? So it's ensuring that kind of mindset. So, it helped me go into school, helped me go into university. And throughout my career, you always ask yourself, like, what do I want to be when I grow up? So, throughout my career of leading a lot of products to market and transforming a lot of organizations [to agile], when I turned 50 over a year ago, I started reflecting back because I was the first person to break a glass ceiling to be VP at a national bank. And then I started thinking, what else do I want to do?

And the software on Microsoft came to lead accessibility. So I saw it as an opportunity to really kind of give back to the company that provided the technology that enabled me to get there. However, I'm going to be able to help others like me have the life that I have, hopefully with a lot less effort. So I brought my lived experience in my years and years of leadership and change management and delivering products. And now, I have incredibly purposeful work and really working with amazing product makers at Microsoft to build products that are both functional, beautiful, and accessible.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

How does it feel to have this role now at Microsoft?

 

Dave Dame:

It feels great. I was nervous at first because the only thing I knew about accessibility was from my lived experience; turns out there are way more disabilities than Cerebral palsy, both visible and invisible. So, what I love about - interesting about this job is that you have to learn about so many different disabilities, visible and invisible. You need to learn so much about the system technology in the market, and you have to work closely with the disability community to truly understand where the mismatches are. And then, then pairing that up with great product making in order to make those products to really help enable others.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

That's amazing. I know I have a few gamers in the house who are very excited for me to talk to you today. he was, uh, my son was asking about the different types of gaming for accessibility. Now my son doesn't have a disability, but because I work in it, he was quite intrigued to learn more about it as well. So I think Microsoft has been leading that way for sure.

 

Dave Dame:

Well, and the thing is, our foot into gaming was really insightful, right? With a launch of the Xbox adaptive controller and tapping with the community to understand where the mismatches in gaming was from, from veterans to children alike. And we really got to understand things that we normally didn’t consider, and which was interesting was, you know, we're able to solve that, and we're very proud, but then we learned very quickly that you know what, there's more to somebody with a disability’s life, than just gaming. So recently, we've extended it to think about how people with disabilities work, learn, live and gaming. So we're really extending it through the different aspects of life. So, we can really help build the technology and hope to closing the disability divide. I don't know if you've read what Microsoft's mission is, but our mission is to close the disability divide, which is getting more people with disabilities in the workforce, but that also starts with enabling them in the education space to get the skillset, to be employable in the workforce.
 

So, we're really taking a, a focus on that to really build products, to help enable that. And then it really fulfills the bigger mission, which is to empower every person. That's every person, right? It's not the ones that are the, the average, but every person of all abilities to achieve more. And when you have that kind of clear vision and that clear north star, it's not easy every day for sure, but you know, the passion is there, and we compete with time, you know, time, budget and stuff to get stuff in, but we're always eager, and we're always looking at what do we need to learn to do what are we missing? Because none of us have all the answers, and we're humble enough to continually work with the community to help us understand those answers.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

I think that's a great piece to segue into our next question, too, because we're constantly learning about what we can do better. I don't think anyone is perfect at accessibility, but the, the willingness and the wanting to learn is what we need to get people to catch, so to speak. And our, the next thing I guess we want to talk about is like, what's your message to people who don't understand or know about accessibility and are afraid of it. What would you tell them?

 

Dave Dame:

It's interesting. I got asked one time, what does perfect accessibility look like? And I had no way of describing that or no clue to even begin what perfect would look like, but I do know what better can be. So I think we have to move away from the illusion that perfection exists and continually strive to be better. So then, the advice I would give for people that want to champion accessibility is to be curious, be vocal, and be an advocate for it. Um, and then just work with the community specifically. Too often people that don't work with the community assume they know what to do to make it compliant and accessible. And really, you truly don't understand until you work with them, right? And so, really build your network of friends, coworkers, and people with disabilities and begin to iterate with them to understand in your area what are the problems you can solve and then advocate for them, because ironically, when I was a product maker years ago, I made the same mistake of assuming a user will maintain their ability throughout their whole life, which is a fallacy, right? Everybody's going to be disabled someday. Just some of us beat you to it. So when we're designing products for someone like me and other people with disabilities today, we're actually designing it for everyone else when they start to need these features as their abilities diminish. So when you're trying to influence accessibility in your organization, it's not just for a specific niche; it's about future-proofing your product or service to make sure you can accommodate people throughout their whole life cycle of ability. And to know that you're doing your part, that people keep their full lives means you need to be vocal. You need to be patiently impatient, and cons - and constantly curious to really kind of truly understand.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

I think that the struggle that I have is when I'm talking to different people about accessibility, is getting them to understand that what you were just saying that it's the life cycle - disability can happen to us anytime. I, myself, it didn't happen for me until, you know, in the last 10 years, and people don't really see that, but I often with clients, it's, it's a struggle to get them to really understand it. They're just looking at it as a legal checkmark. Is there any advice you would give for that for people who are stuck in that mindset?

 

Dave Dame:

Well, think about it. None of their customers are going to come back and go. Wow, that's a beautifully compliant product or service you got, right? That's never going to be said, but they're going to remember the experience. And another thing I like to always say is that I have Cerebral palsy, but my money doesn't. So, if you want my money, you better buy something I will use it with a great experience. We would never go to a regular user and go; eh, at least you can use it, right? We would never come back with them if they had a bad experience, we'd want to improve that customer experience. A lot of those people that think in that mindset, to be fair, haven't been exposed to a lot of people with disabilities. Your job is to get them in front of them to understand these are your future users, our current users; these are your customers.
 

And think about people that might be, um, older in age. Think about people that might have, you know, either recently had a situational disability where they broke their arm, or they're a new parent, and they don't always have their hands free. So, you need to really get them to understand mismatches happen to all of us, whether it's situational, whether it's permanent or whether it's acquired at some point in your life, if you want a future proof your business and, and really build your retention rate to get more users like to, when you're trying to onboard new users, if you make it truly accessible, you got a bigger user base. What product or organization doesn't want more users or more customers? There is no organization on the planet that doesn't want that. So, it's really explaining to them the revenue or the potential customer base they're going to exclude if they don't think about that. And do you want to really lose your potential customers to your competition and say, well, I went to them because at least I can use their product with a great experience. Do you - do those same people want to stay up there and go, oh, we didn't think it was important enough? Like, that's not an answer you want to say. And with the population of disability growing: currently, there are 1 billion people that identify with the disability around the world. And 10 years, that number's going to grow to 2 billion. Who doesn't want that market reach? They don’t want that market reach then, they must have a niche product.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

Yeah. I, I totally agree with that. I think a lot of times, we talk about those statistics with people, and they're almost they're floored by it because they don't realize it. So we like to lead with education and empathy. But another question we had, to ask you is, why accessibility is essential for society, which you kind of touched on a bit. And it's not just for people with disabilities. You can talk specifically to technology if you like, or as a whole.

 

Dave Dame:

Well, if we think about why it's essential, I've said we're all going to be disabled someday. So, it's really building that agency and independence and autonomy for the greater population as it's growing. We all like to say diversity and inclusion, right? All the progressive organizations. We definitely love DNI - diversity and inclusion, but if we don't make things accessible, how are those people going to get in the building, right? So, for diversity and inclusion to begin, it starts with, can I go into the building? Do I have the architecture set up where I can have my independence? Is there a bathroom set up? Is there desks that raise or low? Can I reach the whiteboard? And then, if we think of diversity and inclusion, I always think we have those two mixed up. It should be inclusion and diversity because if I don't feel welcome, I'm not going to join your organization. I think diversity is a decision and a wagging indicator. Diversity means we have to make the conscious decision to hire great skills. And on top of that, looking for diverse employees of all abilities, gender, sexuality, nationality, and different experiences to build that innovation, we need. You know, when I started in my career, I worked so hard to try to fit in the box. And as I get older, working in the great brands and the great companies out there, the great companies are filled with people that are outliers to that box. So, organizations in society that want to be resilient have to learn to extend the box to really account all the outliers because it's that perspective, diversity and inclusion and all those things that's going to make us a better society, a better understanding society, less blind spots, because if you and I see everything the same, what are we missing?
 

It means we're both missing the same. So, when we want that cognitive diversity and diverse perspectives, it's to have a better resilient society so we can adjust when things like COVID hit, how do we adjust? Look how fast we turned around to be able to live our life remotely and digitally. The reason why we don't like to change is that we're scared of change, but when we're forced to, as humans, we are resilient to it. So let's remember the empathy and how well we adapted to remote working digital-first products. And then remember that as we’re moving into a more hybrid, flexible society, where we can think of accessibility, inclusion, and diversity. So people aren't excluded when world events happen.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

That's a really great insight. I know with COVID, even within our team, so many people had, you know, greater opportunities for work that they might not have had before because hybrid was, you know, allowed. The stress of having to, you know, get on a bus if they took the bus because they're in a wheelchair and get to their workplace, like the physical change for them, was amazing. And the mental health change. So I'm hoping that employers don't go back to the same way because they see the benefits even for people without disabilities.

 

Dave Dame:

Well, and it’s not just the stress of all that, you're right. But look at the logistic challenges. Whenever you require special transportation, there’s a 45 minutes [where] you've got to be ready before or 45 minutes after, they can be either really early or late. So that's 90 minutes on top of your commute that you've got to put in for a 20-minute commute each day. Look at that- And that's just one way to work. Add the return home. That's three extra hours. People with disability - disabilities are paying in tax simply to do what other people can take for granted. And now that they're able to do that, bring their full selves. Cause when I used to start new jobs, my wife would be like, are you nervous? And I'm like, no, I'll kill it. Like I know work-wise, I'm going to, I'm going to smash it. But what concerns me is the bathroom accessible?
 

Whether it be somebody to get me water if I need it, would there be somebody to help me with my coat on or off? again Things that most people get to take for granted are the foundation of what keeps me up at night. Now working from home, my bathroom's not accessible? That's on me. Right? I got no one to complain but myself. So now that I got an environment that's tailored to me, that's less attention I've got to spend on things outside, and then I can focus more on my job. And right now, luckily, I have a hybrid where I go visit Redmond every couple of months, and I work from home the rest of the time. We just figure out ways to make it work because, as humans, we have the resiliency to find a way.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

Yeah, I think it's amazing to see some of the opportunities that have come out of COVID, you know, there's lots of negatives, but there's been so many positives for opportunities even to attend conferences, you know, that you could have never gone to before, even for myself. Thank you for that insight for that, for sure. I think one of our biggest last questions is what is your advice to accessibility, activists and advocates, or whoever wants to support accessibility, what kind of advice would you give them? I know there are a million things we can think of, but what do you think at least with the first step could be for them.

 

Dave Dame:

Build a community of, of disabled people that are your peers, friends - follow on the social network, get to understand what they're struggling with and dealing with. Two, learn about disability. There's a lot of material out there. It's not enough to learn about accessibility because if you don't learn about disability, you don't know what you're building - what you're trying to build and accomplish for. So, learn about all different disabilities and not just the highlights. Get to understand the nuances, not only from what you read but by learning and by interacting with the community; those are the two biggest things you can do and really champion it. When you're building a product, ask, have we thought about accessibility? What about our users that might have visual hearing or mobility issues? Then let's not forget about invisible disabilities. Do they have anxiety? Do they have dyslexia? Do they try to learn all the different varieties of humans so you're building a product to get the biggest reach possible? So it's less about accessibility and [more about] not about excluding anyone.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

That's a great insight. I know I have an invisible disability; I'd say 85 to 90% of the time. But one of the things that I think is lacking for people too, is the education in public places. So, you know, managers will understand about accessibility, but then it doesn't trickle down or the education within the school system. So I think all of that is relevant to our discussion. And we know that we wouldn't build a building anymore that would exclude a race or a gender. So why are we doing this for everything else? Why are we doing that and we're excluding disability. A lot of times, I think people just don't get it, but the more we can bring light to it, the better for sure.

 

Dave Dame:

And here's what I'd like to add. I started doing this, and luckily I got to work with a team of incredibly intelligent, empathetic people. It's about learning about disability first and accessibility second. Really because accessibility is the solution. The disability is the opportunity. So, learn about those mismatches. And then accessibility is what you try to educate them afterwards, how proven practices that work. Oh, you're on mute.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

Of course, I'm wondering if that was our questions for the podcast, but I'd love to hear any other final thoughts or, you know, comments that you have in regards to accessibility and disability and how we can all work together to make it better.

 

Dave Dame:

And I think you were touching on something COVID; COVID gave the rest of the world an opportunity to be able to live with a mismatch in their environment, right? For people that didn't have to experience living with a disability, when COVID hit, it gave everybody a mismatch in their environment. They had to bank differently. They had to grocery shop differently. They had to connect with loved ones differently. We have all seen our parents hold the teams or zoom call under their noses because they didn't know to hold the tablet upward, right. So we all got to experience that mismatch. I hope we don't lose the empathy we gained from understanding that mismatch. So we use that forward to the work because it's in seeing the world differently than we have a different world available to us. So be a, be a daydreamer, be an imagery - think about all different ways that you can make your product more accessible and usable because amazing usability means it's accessible as well. So UX designers out there and just designers in general, don't limit yourself to a general type of user because if you look around you, no humans are generalized. We're all specifically unique. I think now we're just feeling more comfortable of identifying all our uniqueness. So if we don't start thinking about, you know, we're more different than we're the same and how do we build for one and extend for many and keep those thoughts and, and design inclusively. Because out of that is when we really have the power of leveraging society.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

That's awesome. I'm so thrilled that you could come to talk today. I've been - not stalking you, but I've been secretly following you for a few years. And I always think when we talked last time, I had said I'd always wanted to reach out. And then I thought, oh, maybe he's too busy. And then we got connected. And now, this is the second time we've been able to meet. And I'm so grateful to have your insight. I think, you know, as accessibility progresses and we're all in these industries together, it's so important for us to talk to each other and be able to work together in some capacity because none of us can do it alone. And I think that's the most important message for me is that we keep educating and we keep, you know, leading with empathy. People don't understand until they see it for themselves. And that is crucial. And I really appreciate all the time that you spent with us today, Dave.

 

Dave Dame:

My pleasure; thank you for doing what you're doing to help spread some wonderful stories and information because it's in storytelling, and information comes to empathy. With empathy comes understanding; with understanding comes a world that we all dream of.

 

Jolene MacDonald:

Absolutely. I think about, I think I told you before, my youngest daughter has a rare form of dwarfism, and she was really the inspiration for me to start Accessibrand because I want to see her have a better future without judgment and not to be, you know, lack of opportunities, because she is going to be four feet tall. So these are all things that we don't realize until we experience them. So I know that people are quite often embarrassed that they're not integrating accessibility, but I said, it's not until, you know, or if it impacts you, but now that you know, you should think about it. And it was the same for me until I – it was a huge part of my life. And now it's my life every day. And then meeting all of our team has just been incredible, and learning about everyone's different experiences. So the more we can share that, I think the better off the world will be. So I really appreciate your time today. Thank you, Dave.

 

Dave Dame:

Thank you. My pleasure to be here.

 

Farshid Sadatsharifi :

And I want to add that. I also feel very privileged to talk to you and hear from you. It was great. And yes, as a person also, I have Cerebral palsy as a person coming from another country without this kind of accessibility at the time, it's very interesting how things were quite similar for you decades ago and for me just a couple of years ago. So that was very good to hear from you. And thank you for being with us.

 

Dave Dame:

My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

 

[END OF INTERVIEW]

 

Why Access Matters: A podcast by Accessibrand (thoughts and talks about accessibility)

This podcast is published thanks to funding from CCRW (Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work) 
CCRW’s Mission is to promote and support meaningful and equitable employment of people with disabilities. Check out their services at: CCRW [dot] org.

 

Hello again everyone!

 I am Jolene from Accessibrand, and welcome to our podcast “Why Access Matters”. You just heard a conversation that I had with Dave Dame, the Director of Accessibility from Microsoft.

 Please take a moment to reflect and focus on some parts of what he said and ask some questions:

- He told us about the people who advised his parents to put him in an institution, and that his parents should not expect very much of him. Is this the kind of statement that’s familiar to you? Can any of us recognize moments when we judged people based on their limitations rather than their abilities?

 

- Dave told us that he “had no way of describing that or no clue to even begin with what perfect would look like”, but he knows “what can be better” Can you think of anything in your life that could be made better or easier for you?

 

[Music]          

     

Please send us your thoughts, ideas, and any feedback you have to our email, to:  Jolene [at] Accessibrand.com, or in the comments at our Apple Podcast page and Castbox, or under our posts on social media; we love when people connect there, and you can find those in the description box of our episodes.

 

[Music]                

 

 

Well, we’ve reached the end!

 I am Jolene MacDonald from Accessibrand. Thanks for your patience and time in listening to me, my colleagues and our special guest, Dave Dame, in our first episode of “Why Access Matters”. 

The next episode will follow on the last Friday of July, the 29th, but until then, please:

  • Send us your thoughts and ideas!
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  • Follow our fabulous guest Dave Dame and our admirable sponsor C.C.R.W. via the links in the description of our podcast, and
  • Don’t forget to introduce us to your friends, family and network!

 Please consider checking out our website if you need any accessibility services and would like to utilize the valuable lived experience and expertise of persons with disabilities. You can visit our website at: www.accessibrand.com

 

Why Access Matters: A podcast by Accessibrand (thoughts and talks about accessibility)

This podcast is published thanks to funding from CCRW (Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work) 
CCRW’s Mission is to promote and support meaningful and equitable employment of people with disabilities. Check out their services at: CCRW [dot] org.