Mo: Hello, hello, hello and welcome to this week’s everyday inclusion and belonging where we talk about everything, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging under the sun or as it is right now, under the snowy skies.

We are coming to the close of 2020 and boy, what a year. This series has been amazing. I’ve had so many cool, incredible thought leaders and guests sharing their ideas about diversity, equity, inclusion and I’m super excited to end the year with Morris Huang joining us and talking about technology and tools for inclusion.

Um Morris, I’m going say go dogs to start us off you got the rival Georgia school there as well. Introduce yourself, share what you’re up to, and then let’s dig in on this.

Morris: OK, sounds good. So my name is Morris Huang. I actually met Mo here through a Colorado Technology Association, I think it was one of the meet and greets. I was there representing our Center for Inclusive Design and Engineering which is located at the University of Colorado, Denver.

I’m currently post docking there. Are centered director Is Doctor Kathy Bodine. She and her team have done a ton of work for people with disabilities, both physical and cognitive, and I’ve had a great time learning a ton there for the past two years.

This is my third year, start of my third year, working there and so hope to be able to make this one stick and hopefully be a good representative for the center here, so.

Mo: Well and you know, it feels to me like the possibilities with technology and inclusion, are mind blowing. And if I think about, you know, even just like the last five years. I would love to hear from an expert if you feel like it’s as mind blowing.

And just this whole idea about technology and tools for inclusion and what that what that can do in terms of opening up so many opportunities for so many people. Including creating this really, really fabulous mix of diversity.

I feel like before there were not insurmountable barriers, but higher barriers than there are today with technology.

Morris: Yeah. And so, I think case by case, so we’ll kind of go to big picture. So, when you think of providing inclusivity and accessibility for a person with a disability in the workplace, for example.

Technology and Tools for Inclusion

Um, if you don’t necessarily know someone with a disability, the first things you think of are probably like, oh, you know, wheelchair ramps. You know, being able to have access to their desk spaces, appropriate desk heights to accommodate power wheelchairs, these sort of things. But it’s honestly a lot more than that, right? There’s a lot of more complex situations that are involved there.

And I guess I’ll sort of advertise what our sensor does to kind of help with that and how like you said, technology has changed in the past five years to really empower individuals with disabilities.

And so, I guess 1 way to sort of think about this is at our center, we work with assistive technology. Which is technology that’s specifically tailored towards individuals with disabilities. But then we also do research on the front of mainstream technologies that can be leveraged for individuals with disabilities.

A great example of this and I’m echoing some things that I picked up from our clinicians, who do a lot of complex seating and mobility for people with disabilities. They were telling me just like the voice control, right?

Your voice to text, voice control of your phone. It wasn’t designed for people with disabilities. It was designed for the convenience of your everyday person. Maybe a busy person’s running around with their phone or you know, hands free interaction with your phone while you’re driving.

But for individuals like you said, maybe with muscular dystrophy or some sort of disability that makes it so that it cannot interact or do not have the fine motor skills to interact with their touchscreen phone.

Now they can do some sort of voice text stuff and this opens up tons of opportunities. You know their communication becomes a lot more independent. They are able to probably even interact with software and do managerial positions by being able to communicate a lot more cohesively with their technology.

So that’s an example of the mainstream tech that can really help with that. On the flip side of that, I kind of want to just get in here to say, a lot of the larger companies are also developing tech you know, that is I guess, more along the lines of assistive tech as well.

And that really helps lower costs for individuals with disabilities. A great example of this is Microsoft with their Xbox controller. If you watched Super Bowl right, those commercials.

And then Logitech also put out a ton of little switches, right, that can interface with your switch adaptable controller. And in the past if someone wanted to play games right and they wanted to use one of those controllers, I think one of those controllers would have to be heavily customized and would run them about $2000, which is really just not money that that we see individuals with disabilities necessarily always having right. And so, the Microsoft controller is $100, right?

And then then you’ve got your Logitech switch which runs I don’t know, something like $50. Whereas normally just one of those switches would run probably around $50.00, so.

Mo: I hope that we’re now seeing like tech and inclusion, like right, they should just be intertwined. Like tech should be a vehicle for inclusion. You just think about Microsoft now, right? Like talk about voice, I can open up Word, I can you know, have transcribe and I don’t have to be typing anything.

We can’t do live close captioning yet. We take the transcripts of this, load it to Microsoft and then we create blogs that It’ll be you and I, and then it’ll be the transcription of all of this. Just by using that Microsoft functionality that’s built in.

Because we know, I mean the stats around under employment for people with disabilities is staggering. It’s absolutely staggering.

Morris: It is.

Technology and Tools for Everybody

Mo: I think that there are so many possibilities that just literally benefits everybody.

Morris: That’s another big part of what our center does too. We try to do usability related research and uh, usability of products. You know, mainstream product runs the whole continuing in terms of benefiting everyone, right? It makes things probably just accessible for individuals with disabilities, but it also makes things easier for individuals who are not diagnosed with disabilities so. Yeah, that’s a that’s a great point.

Mo: You and I were talking before we went live about, there was a family that their son was, I think it was ten years ago, he’s 18, he was graduating high school and he had muscular dystrophy, right? And they were trying to find a place where he could be an independent 18-year-old.

the only places that they could find were for people with developmental disabilities or elderly. And it’s taken him 10 years, but they just opened this facility for younger people with disabilities and what is super cool, is there starting to also partner. So, it’s providing awesome jobs for these folks too and testing different technologies. They’re testing different products, I guess they’ve tested like some Tommy Hilfiger clothing.

Yeah, there’s some testing with Microsoft on some products and so yes. They know that they’re putting out products in the world that are going to be accessible and everyone’s going to benefit from them.

Morris: Yeah, that’s awesome. My dissertation advisor, he taught a course that was human centered design right. And so, that’s really the core of all these things, and I would say, you know my current boss, Kathy Bodine, she’s definitely behind this as well.

Inclusive design, you know our center for inclusive design and engineering. That’s literally what our center is called. So that’s really a focal point where you put the person first, right? It’s great that there are facilities like that that are that are doing this, and I think it’s something that is sometimes difficult.

You know, just executing even the clinical settings, right? Ignoring the business setting, right? Even in the clinical settings there are. There are times that there are struggles with putting the patient first or putting the client 1st.

And let me know if I’m going a little bit too much on a tangent, but I’m just, I’m just thinking about all my coworkers and on some scale, I feel like I am the least qualified to speak to these things because they have years and years and years of kind of clinical experience in working with these individual disabilities in such close proximity.

Whereas I’m just really starting my career in this space, so I just want to point out things like you know they follow a very user censored approach when it comes to dealing with clients that come to our clinic.

Opening New Doors

Some of these clients I feel like they’re just they’re just so emotional because they feel like they’re the first time that they’re being heard by our clinicians because they do such a good job of helping them find their voices and then putting that into a plan of action so that they really co- design a solution for them.

Mo:  The initial barrier that you brought up around cost. I had a niece with cerebral palsy, and I mean just one of her communication devices was 10s of thousands of dollars. And now we’re talking about, you know, 100 bucks. So exciting what this is opening up just simply from a financial standpoint.

I can open up Microsoft Word and do some things and you know things that are just, when I say like the last five years, it’s so incredibly exciting because if you’ve been somebody that has been limited both by attitudes and beliefs, but then just sheer financial barriers and then just things that didn’t even exist.

It is mind blowing to me and in such a positive, incredible way.

The power and the potential that were able to unleash now. So, let’s then talk about attitudes and beliefs because I think this is something, people that have watched this series have heard me say, like if you want to problem solve, get a person with a disability, right? Because they were the original lifehackers, they’re having to problem solve like all day long. but there’s still this.

Bias in the Workplace

Some of them, unconscious bias and some of them, I think very conscious negative bias about people with disabilities in the workplace.

Morris: Yeah, I think with regards to this unconscious bias or conscious bias. So, first of all, there’s the stigma of you know, individual seeing individuals with certain physical disabilities, right? Or say they are noncommunicative right? Then, there’s the belief that, OK, maybe they’re less intelligent than you are, right.

Because the medium through how we communicate day-to-day right here is just we talk. We talk, you listen, you talk, I listen right, and the reality is that that’s not, that’s definitely not a marker of an individual’s intelligence or ability at all.

I’ll tell an interesting story here. This is actually a story that Kathy, our director told me when she was interviewing me. And so, she had started out as an SLP right speech, language, therapist and she at one point had I think a couple of clients who were going to, I think, be condemned to basically the I guess asylum, right.

And because they were non-verbal right? So, they were saying that they had mental retardation or something along those lines, right? An I think she had heard that some professor in California I don’t know maybe Berkeley or Stanford had hacked like ATI, right? So that it could, you know you can use it to do some sort of simple text type writing communication.

And so there she was, like talking to him on the phone and soldering this thing right. And then she had this thing and she took it to those individuals who were nonverbal and only one of them scored slightly below average. And then the rest of them were above average intelligence.

And so, it was at that moment she was like wow, like technology is just such a powerful thing to be able to, you know help dispel this illusion of your perceptions you may have about an individual with disabilities.

And I think stories like these are very, this one stayed with me because it’s very impactful to you know just drive home the notion, when you speak with someone your preconceived notions are really, really reshaped because these sorts of stories, right. When I speak with someone that’s nonverbal, I’m just like alright, what’s going on in their head? I want to know.

Mo: Well and this, and if we think about how we set up workplaces that this is the norm.

Right, this type of communication and that is inclusive of a really narrow focus. With the statistics being known, one in five people and this is just US based, people with disabilities and it’s probably closer to one in four. OK, so and most of them, I think it’s funny it’s always when you think about a person with a disability, it’s always a cherry user.

Morris: Yeah it is, it is.

Mo: And so, I think there’s this idea of really just opening up our minds and our ideas about what communication looks like. And what we value in communication from an inclusion standpoint is really the idea, or how the idea is conveyed. Right now, it’s how the idea is conveyed and how do we shift that focus to the idea.

Morris: Yeah, I’m sure you and others have talks in this series have discussed.

Uh, and we will go down this tangent, but I have to say this piece for my wife. She’s always complaining about how she’s in her design group. She suggests an idea and then and then you know, like 5 minutes later it pops into someone’s out of someone’s subconscious. The guy says it and they’re like, what a great idea!

So yeah, I completely understand that, and you know, that’s a person with a voice, right? And it’s for someone who may not have, uh, have a voice or may not be able to communicate through that direct medium, right? That’s going to be even harder to be heard, right.

Mo: Right, unless we’re putting in, you know, we talked about the pause, right. Putting in a pause for ourselves about, you know what’s important or, you know, like what am I doing to make sure that this environment that I’ve created in the workplace, everybody’s voice, everybody’s ideas are heard, however we get them.

The Power of a Story

I’m curious, so I loved to what you shared Morris about just this power of stories. Like how that one story stuck with you and I think that’s something that we could do in workplaces right, is share some of these just absolutely breakthrough stories about those individuals were about to be institutionalized because we hadn’t taken the time.

Um, and so you know what are, what are some things that we’re doing individually, collectively even from who we’re considering to even bring on our teams. I’m just wondering if there’s just some really easy wins here um, that we could be thinking about in terms of technology and inclusion? Yeah because you said earlier inclusive technology benefits everybody.

Are there some things that I should be thinking about as a leader or as an individual, or as a teammate around technology and inclusion, that should just be like, yep, this as a matter of course, we should have this.

Morris: In terms of I guess on the communication front right, we already talked sort of this, you know speech to text sort of thing.

Um or text to speech you know, these variances also are very useful for helping to facilitate communication in terms of all-encompassing tech. Not all encompassing, but some examples of technology that really help there.

I honestly don’t have a very firm grasp on this, but what jumps to my mind is Jim Sandstrom, who handles a lot of our accessibility setups for individuals and individuals’ homes or setting or some of our OT’s Brian Burns, he’s already retired but he did a lot of computer access stuff with individuals.

And I think a lot of these individuals just need to be set up in a space that they are able to access the computer right. So, some of the computer access software’s right. So multiple modalities for them to be able to utilize their computers, right? So again, sort of the speech to text sort of thing, right? If typing is just not something that they’re going to be able to do very conveniently.

Mo: Or if I can’t read.

Morris: Uh huh. Yeah screen readers, absolutely for the vision and yeah for the vision impaired. That’s extremely important.

I think what might be interesting is there’s a lot of smart home tech out there, right. And so, the smart home tech, you know can be a little finicky at times, but maybe if it’s set up in such a way in your lobby or your lounge area, right? So that’s you know, it’s a convenience not only to your workers, your employees without disabilities It also enables employees with disabilities to be able to access stuff.

Mo: I love that idea. Yeah, I hadn’t even thought about some of that.

Morris: Yeah, I’m just thinking of outside of just the work, right. Like if they want to take a little break, right? And they want to I don’t know, somehow get access to some coffee or they want to get access to some of the you know amenities that you guys provide to all your employees. You want to make sure that’s being accessible to all of the employees if possible.

Mo: I love this. I can’t wait, you know, even just thinking five years from now, some of the things that are being done. And you know when you talk about human centered design?

I don’t know if you saw but there was just a lawsuit for some of the first, what is it called, virtual reality.

Morris: I actually haven’t followed that. Yeah, so what’s been happening?

Mo: No, no close captioning.

Morris: Oh, OK.

Technology and Tools Design

Mo: Right so, and that’s an example of if you’re designing without people from communities, being engaged in that design process, you’re going to miss things, because it’s not your reality. You can’t see you know, or at least having some of these test groups to make sure you know, I always tell the story of when they released the first Apple Watch, when they were talking about how it was the most incredible health tracker.

You know they literally had nothing about women’s menstruation cycles, right and pregnancy. The entire team had been men, right. So, they’re talking about this most incredible thing, and it’s like, hold 50% of the population you missed it, right.

So, I think you know, thinking through all of this and this remaining human centered.

And we talked about the power of curiosity, you know, thinking about some of these readily available technologies and tools and what we can be doing to make sure everybody’s voice is included. And the space is inclusive, and you know, I want to get beyond accessible right.

And we are, I promise, because this is probably the third time in a row, I’ve mentioned this how much I hate the word accommodations. Because it’s just so, like I’m going to accommodate you, but beyond that, be truly inclusive.

I love the work Morris that you and the team there at the center are doing. And I feel like the more we’re having this conversation individuals that are thinking about this as a part of inclusion. And every single one of our roles and imagining, let’s say I’ve got somebody you know, whether it’s physical, you know cognitive all of it.

What are we doing to get the best ideas at the table and to create workplaces literally that everyone can thrive?

Morris: Yeah, I think from the technology standpoint, I’m just going sort of piggyback off of what you said about VR. We’re looking at trying to do research or research proposals, looking at things in that realm. AR, VR, because this sort of technology is in its adolescence right.

And so, as you know technology like you said, with the smartwatches and those sorts of things. Once some of those or apps, phone apps, phone design, software design, all of these things. Once they’re built a certain way, you know and then you try to integrate accessibility options as an afterthought. It just doesn’t pan out well. It typically just does not pan out well at all, right?

And so, which is why sort of shifting the mentality and having these conversations earlier on like especially when technology is sort of starting to hit its stride like AR, VR right. If you have these conversations earlier on, it’s less painful and more affective right, to integrate those accessibility options and make the technology inclusive and that’s what we’re hoping to do.

Try to do research on some of these earlier technologies in their adolescence and then offer recommendations. OK, this is what you need to do now, right. These are some guidelines that you really need to pay attention to when you’re building some sort of knew app or tech that’s in the AR, VR field.

So, something along those lines and that’s the way we think so.

Mo: Well, and it’s always easier at the start, always easier. I like how you said it doesn’t go well, yeah.

Morris: No, it doesn’t.

Mo: You’re trying to bolt it on.

Leave me with one last truth bomb about technology and inclusion that you just like, if you’ve got one thing that you want folks to remember from our conversation or maybe we haven’t even mentioned it yet, but just something that it’s like, all right here it is.

Morris: One last truth bomb, huh?

I would say, I guess I will say, that technology is incredible for leveling the playing field, or at least trying to bring that closer for individuals with disabilities. But at the same time, the technology is just technology as well, so you have to be very mindful of what your user needs as well.

Remember Technology is for People

And so, there’s a lot of squishy stuff you know not just this hard tech stuff, right? There’s a lot of squishy, soft skill stuff that’s involved here and um I’ll just slip in, uh, one last, one last real story from one of our clinicians, Eliza Goldberg. She’s an awesome SLP speech and language therapist.

And I think it was through her that she had been trying to set up an AAC augmentative and alternative communication device for a little girl. Tech is great, right? But then she had to pay attention to is she was trying to communicate with the lease of the point that she wanted swear words on her AC tablet.

But she didn’t want her mom necessarily to know, because, you know, teenage girls communicate with their peers in a certain fashion, right? And so that’s the thing, right? You need to have the technology, but you also need to understand the needs of your users in order to really make it work for them.

Mo: And not play God about what should or shouldn’t be per device. That was such a great way to leave this and I super, super appreciate you sharing your brilliance. Everything that you all are doing at the center, keep it up. And all of us in this community, thanks for being a part of the everyday inclusion and belonging series this year.

We’re going to keep going next year. Keep this conversation going an everybody, do the next right thing and do your part to create a more inclusive world. Cheers.

Morris: Thank you.


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