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ATU542 – Inclusively with Tiffany Meehan and Aubrey Northam

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guests:
Tiffany Meehan – VP of Marketing – Inclusively
Aubrey Northam – Software Developer – Mobilux

Website: inclusively.com

Blog Post: https://inclusively.com/news-and-resources/web-accessibility-it-takes-a-virtual-village

Socials – @workinclusively
https://www.linkedin.com/company/workinclusively
https://twitter.com/workInclusively
https://www.instagram.com/workinclusively/
https://www.facebook.com/workInclusively/

Stories:
Accessible Overlay Opinion Piece: https://bit.ly/3mnBEkb
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If you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email tech@eastersealscrossroads.org
Check out our web site: http://www.eastersealstech.com
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—– Transcript Starts Here —–

Tiffany Meehan:
Hi, this is Tiffany and I’m the Vice President of Marketing at Inclusively.

Aubrey Northam:
And this is Aubrey and I’m a Software Developer at an agency called Mobelux.

Tiffany Meehan:
And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update. A weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis Indiana. Welcome to episode 542 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on October 15th, 2021. On today’s show. We’re super excited to have Tiffany Meehan and Aubrey Northam from Inclusively to talk about their technology and how it can help individuals with disabilities find jobs and find employers with great accommodations. We have an opinion piece about accessible overlays and whether they’re a good thing or not and we’d like your input. What do you think about accessible overlays? Are they a good thing? Let us know your thoughts by shooting us a line on Twitter @INDATAproject. Give us a call at (317) 721-7124 or shoot us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org.

Josh Anderson:
After all these months of lockdown, maybe you’re looking for some new podcast to listen to. Well make sure to check out our sister podcast, Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ or Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions. If you’re super busy and don’t have time to listen to a full podcast, be sure to check out accessibility minute. Our one minute long podcast that gives you just a little taste of something Assistive Technology based so that you’re able to get your Assistive Technology fixed without taking up the whole day. Hosted by Tracy Castillo. This show comes out weekly. Our other show is Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions or ATFAQ. On Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, Brian Norton leads our panel of experts, including myself, Belvin Smith and our own Tracy Castillo as we try to answer your assistive technology questions. This show does rely on you so we’re always looking for new questions, comments, or even your answers on Assistive Technology questions.

Josh Anderson:
So remember if you’re looking for more Assistive Technology podcast to check out, you can check out our sister shows Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ, wherever you get your podcasts, now including Spotify and Amazon music. So listeners during today’s interview, we get into website accessibility a little bit, and that is a big thing. It’s been in the news quite a bit. Usually unfortunately on the bad side. Maybe places where their website is not really accessible and individuals with disabilities can’t access it to get information, to shop, to really do what the website is there for. An inner discussion during the interview that will be coming up here very soon, there’s also a slight mention of overlay tools. Now, you may have seen these on different websites. They usually have, oh, a small little either symbol or maybe a little person they’re usually blue. But anyway, what happens is you click on this and it puts an overlay on the website.

Josh Anderson:
So you can adjust the font, maybe the font size, the color, the contrast, some of them may have OCR features where it can read back to you, but essentially it’s something that goes over the website itself in order to make it accessible. Now, there’s a lot of different schools on whether this is actually a good thing or a bad thing. And you’re going to hear opinion come out a little bit in our interview here in a little while. Well, I do my best to keep my opinion out of this show, except for, of course my love for Assistive Technology, which hopefully shows through on a weekly basis. But I do think that’s something that people do have some varying degrees of opinion on. So I did find an actual opinion piece over on thedrum.com and it’s called, We need to ditch overlay tools in creating truly accessible websites.

Josh Anderson:
Now I’ve probably said it on this show before, the opinions expressed on this show aren’t necessarily mine or that of Easterseals Crossroads INDATA Project or Assistive Technology Update. But this is a very interesting interview and a conversation that I wanted to take to the listeners. So basically what it talks about is these overlay tools like we mentioned, and whether they’re a good or a bad thing, in the opinion of this writer, who’s Matt Gibson, they are a bad thing. They are a bit of putting a bandaid on something as opposed to actually just fixing it completely. Essentially he says that the overlay tools are like saying, “Hey, our website’s not accessible. Here’s a way to access it.” And that’s not really the way things should be built. Now I’m not saying they’re a bad thing.

Josh Anderson:
I think that they are helpful. They do make it where you can get into the website. For smaller places, smaller companies, smaller organizations, things like that who maybe you have an old website trying to completely redevelop the thing may be completely cost prohibitive and not possible for them to be able to stay in business and do such things. For newer businesses I would definitely say, just start with accessibility and make it that way from the beginning. Then you don’t need these. The big problem with the overlays is sometimes if I’m already using assistive technology, this overlay can counteract it, can mess it up, can make it to where I can’t access this thing at all. Could almost make the issue worse. That perhaps I’m someone who just prefers to maybe invert my colors, change my font size, stuff like that. Then this overlay could really help with that accessibility.

Josh Anderson:
But I suppose the question is, are they a good thing or a bad thing? Are they a step in the right direction? Are they something that maybe businesses, organizations and other people are using just to cover up the fact that their websites aren’t accessible to stay out of legal trouble? Who knows? And I’m sure I don’t like to lump people together a whole lot. So I’m sure different business and organizations have different reasons for using such tools. I mean, of course the real goal of anything is for everything to be accessible to all individuals, regardless, just regardless, regardless of anything, regardless of disability of sex, creed, color, religion, any of that stuff. We want everything to be accessible so that folks can get to it, see it, and experience it in their own way. So again, I’m not really going to take a position on this because I really do hate to, and I feel like any move towards accessibility is a step in the right direction.

Josh Anderson:
Hopefully for these overlays, it’s something that maybe folks are using now and going to move on to just making sure everything’s accessible. Also some folks can’t afford Assistive Technology, so maybe they don’t have their own Assistive Technology. In which case this overlay may make it to where they can access this information. The hope is just that everything’s built accessible and that everything is able to be accessed by everyone. That’s a perfect world. And unfortunately, that isn’t exactly where we are. But since this came up in the conversation and the interview coming up here in a few moments, and I happened to find this story of opinion, I thought I would take it to you listeners, and see what your thoughts are. If you do have a thoughts on accessible overlays and they’re placed in the accessibility space, are they a good thing?

Josh Anderson:
Are they a bad thing? Should there be more? Should there be less? What are your thoughts on that? I want you to reach out and let us know. You can hit us up on Twitter @INDATAproject. Send us an email at tech@astersealscrossroads.org, or give us a call at (317) 721-7124 and let us know what your thoughts are on this subject. We’ll try to compile those and maybe try to get them on a show coming up here later in the year. I’ll also put a link to that opinion piece over in the show notes. Listeners, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Now around here, that’s every month, but it’s always great when many of the things we talk about on the show enter the public arena.

Josh Anderson:
Today we’re lucky enough to have Tiffany Meehan and Aubrey Northam from Inclusively to talk about how their technology can assist individuals with disabilities and employers get matched up and find success. Tiffany, Aubrey, welcome to the show.

Aubrey Northam:
Thank you.

Tiffany Meehan:
Thanks.

Josh Anderson:
I am really excited to talk about this technology and this great tool, but before we get into that, could you both tell our listeners a little bit about yourselves and your backgrounds?

Tiffany Meehan:
Yeah. So thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to chat today. My name is Tiffany and I’m the Vice President of Marketing at Inclusively. I’m a first-generation Latino and disabled so the work that Inclusively is doing, it’s just incredibly personal and really important.

Aubrey Northam:
Yeah. And my name’s Aubrey Northam and I’ve been a Software Developer on the Inclusively product. So I’ve got a background in design. I’ve always been focused on the quality of the user experience. So as the industry has evolved over the years and web accessibility has become a bigger focus. I was really drawn to approaching web accessibility as this creative opportunity for a user experience that’s more thoughtful and intuitive for all users. So when the Inclusively team first started partnering with Mobelux which is the Software Development Agency that I work with, it was a really natural fit and we just hit the ground running.

Josh Anderson:
That’s excellent. I love when the accessibility is built in and baked in from the beginning. It seems to just make things work so much better. And we’ll get into that a little bit more, but I guess we should probably start by telling our listeners what exactly is Inclusively.

Tiffany Meehan:
Yeah. So Inclusively is a technology centered employment platform that we’ve built for disabled job seekers to connect with the employers and job opportunities. So we provide the ability for disabled professionals to add their workplace accommodations into their profile. And then in turn, they can search jobs with those accommodations and then traditional experience and skills. And that really brings a lot of the recruitment process out of the shadows where I think traditionally candidates have been really hesitant to disclose their disability and recruiters really hesitant to ask. So we’re really providing this ultra transparent process for both the job seeker and the employer.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, that’s a great thing. I know. I came from the job coach world into Assistive Technology. And that was always the hardest question when people would ask me, “When should I disclose?” And it’s like, “Well, I don’t know. That’s completely up to you and it depends on the business and everything else and it’s you’re right. And that’s such a hard question.” So just taking that question out has to take away some of that anxiety for the individual searching for the job.

Tiffany Meehan:
Definitely. And it just provides that really inclusive experience. So we have everything when you start from generating a resume, if you don’t have one yet or uploading your own and just having an interview preferences, communication preferences. So really making that whole hiring job search process for everybody.

Josh Anderson:
Now, why was Inclusively started?

Tiffany Meehan:
Charlotte our CEO and co-founder, she comes from a tech background. So about three years ago, she was selling her last company to American Express. And her cousin Cameron became the first licensed aesthetician in Florida with Down Syndrome. And that was really incredible and had not been done before. So Charlotte really saw that her cousin with these workplace accommodations could thrive and to give facials and works in this great salon. So she wanted to replicate that success within the disability community and realized that with these accommodations and with the proper training, the opportunities just didn’t really exist in one space yet. And so that’s where we can create that whole platform that has all these opportunities and really focuses specifically on disabled job seekers.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. And you touched on this a little bit towards the beginning there Aubrey, but what kind of things have you been doing to ensure that your website and that Inclusively is accessible to all?

Aubrey Northam:
Yeah. Absolutely. So first and foremost, we really wanted to create an accessible digital experience. So just like any business, you want all of your consumers to be able to access your product equally and in a fair and inclusive way. So the way that we sat about doing that for Inclusively was, that we really figured out we needed to approach it from the source code level. And from a technology standpoint, there’s a lot of growing solutions these days in terms of using overlays or plugins to help give your site a boost. Maybe if you didn’t set out with accessibility in mind, like we had the opportunity to at Inclusively. But for us, we knew that we really wanted to go above and beyond on that inclusive approach.

Aubrey Northam:
So for us that meant really baking semantically accessible code. And part of that of course, was finding great testing partners. So we partner with a company called Nobility and they’ve been awesome. They really help keep us on track and help us with remediation. And of course our users are a huge part of that as well, both helping educate us and being a testing partner that we really don’t get access to in a traditional industry or website opportunities. So it’s been a team effort for sure.

Josh Anderson:
No, it sounds like it was. And I liked that you’re using the testers and using other folks to try it. It seems like so many times in our world we become the experts and we think we are, and we build what we think is really a great thing until the users use it and tell us just how wrong we were. So doing that at the beginning probably makes it a whole lot easier.

Aubrey Northam:
Yes. Yeah, you’re right about that.

Josh Anderson:
So talking about that a little bit, just to give our listeners a little bit more of an idea, what does the process of looking for a job and getting help with a job in Inclusively look like? What does that look like for a job seeker?

Tiffany Meehan:
Yeah. So a job seeker can come onto the site. They register, they would create a free profile, upload a resume, or they could generate one with us. We have that capability and then they would search for jobs and put in their accommodations that they would need. So we call accommodation success enablers on our site, and it’s really the different examples would include like screen readers, remote work, service animals, accessible parking. We have over 80 right now that you can pick from. And that is really the personalization of job searching and providing that. So [Mekeni 00:14:31] would register and do all that, and then they can connect to inclusive employers and jobs that they find on the site.

Tiffany Meehan:
And then an employer would follow up with them if interested and just start that process. But like I mentioned in the beginning about the interview preferences, that’s something really important too, because it doesn’t just start… Accommodations don’t just start when you have your first day. It starts from the hiring process and that’s why it’s been such an emphasis with us on the tech side to make the site so accessible, to even look for a job. And then when you find a job to be able to say, this Zoom works better for me or Google Meet works better or Teams work’s better. So all those kinds of options. Having that experience is really important.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Now just to get more in-depth on that kind of question, what does the whole process look like if I’m an employer?

Tiffany Meehan:
So with the employer, they would list the accomodation that they have made progress towards and they’re looking to do more of. So then they would list their job postings and even with that, we make sure that the job postings have inclusive and not limiting language at all. And then we would serve up recommended candidates to those roles that match their jobs that they have. And that’s where our technology really plays in that. It’s an algorithm that’s searching for the best candidates that fit and serving those up to the employers that they can then interact with.

Aubrey Northam:
I’ll jump in and say that that’s one of the more unique parts about Inclusively on the tech side. So when we do have this more comprehensive representation of a job seeker or candidate, our team uses this graded algorithm to consider which available roles will be best suited for that candidate. And part of that is generating recommendations really tailored to that exact candidate and their strengths. And that of course, evolves and updates as new jobs get listed and profiles get updated and employers come on board. So it’s always an evolving process and we work really hard to make it well suited for both the employers and those candidates using those comprehensive success enablers.

Josh Anderson:
No, that is absolutely. That’s great. That’s great that that can actually do that and really help folks get placed because I know sometimes yeah, finding the job you want to do that actually you can do and has the tools already in place so you’re not running around trying to do all that on your own can be a huge help. A huge help. So Tiffany, Aubrey, I’m going to ask you a question that I already know the answer to, but I really can’t hear the answer enough. Why should employers want to actively recruit and hire individuals with disabilities?

Tiffany Meehan:
So for us, really, it really goes to that disabled people are just incredible problem solvers and we’ve had to navigate a world that really wasn’t built for us. So every situation and interaction and just communication. And so I think that the lived experience that disabled professionals especially bring to a workplace is really in demand by employers and that they’re valuable skills, problem solving and time management and just being innovative is just too great. So we just really encourage employers to really look at the experience and the skills and it’s really skills based. And what can they do to get that candidate up to speed? Is it extra training or is that MBA necessary to the job? Things like that. Just really looking at the candidate holistically and then coming in and finding the best job.

Aubrey Northam:
Yeah. And I would add on the employer side, we’re seeing so much job seeking on the candidate side and the employer these days. And the obvious benefit for employers is that by recognizing what accommodations you as an employer can reasonably and oftentimes easily provide, you’re really expanding the pool of well-qualified candidates that you’re attracting. And oftentimes diversifying your workforce in the process to bring new people and perspectives to the table. And that’s always going to be a win-win.

Josh Anderson:
No, it definitely is. And that’s exactly the answer I wanted to hear, but like I said, I already knew the answer to that when working in this for quite a while. It’s always been great to work with employers who it seems like it’s just something they don’t think about. They see the barrier and not really the potential or the individual it seems like sometimes. But there’s been so many times I’ve went in and worked with individuals with Assistive Technology and I’ve went back to check on them and half the people in the office are using the same kind of technology after that because they realized that “Whoa! This actually helps everyone.”

Aubrey Northam:
Right.

Josh Anderson:
It’s absolutely incredible. Well, Tiffany, Aubrey, could you tell us a story about a job seeker that was assisted by Inclusively?

Tiffany Meehan:
So we’ve had actually quite a few job candidates that have come to us and express that they’ve had some issues with just interviewing. So that’s been something where they’ve gone through the process on their own and realized when they got to the interview that live captioning wasn’t really working and it really wasn’t a successful interview. So they found us and we’re able to put in their preferences and say, I want to use Google Meet and have that option and just ace the interview from there and they’ve been placed and are doing well. So I think things like that, just an example alone really shows that by making that change, it allowed candidates to be successful and to… They have the skills, they have the experience and we’re taking that anxiety a little bit away and the employer was able to make that change.

Tiffany Meehan:
And that didn’t cost anything. And I think that’s also a big misconception with accommodations that people think they’re very expensive or they’re timely, but the reality is they cost little to nothing. And really on average, it’s about $500 per hire. So things like that, just communicating that to employers and getting them at a comfort level. But those candidates have done really well. And it was a situation where they were put in a place where they felt they couldn’t disclose up front because they might not get to the interview or the interview, they might be ghosted and stuff like that. So we were really happy that that allowed them to thrive and do really great.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. And can you tell us about a couple of your premier employers that you’ve been able to work with?

Tiffany Meehan:
Yeah, so we work right now with about 30 inclusive employers. So they’re really committed to making hiring processes more inclusive, to hiring more diverse and disabled candidates. So we currently work with some employers like Salesforce, Comcast, Microsoft, Charles Schwab, WPP just came on. So we also like Aubrey mentioned, we have a lot of accessibility partners, like Be My Eyes and Best Buddies and Nobility. So we’re always growing that side of employers and really just focusing on employers who are going to make that commitment and put in the time and effort to hire and to be trained. And we also provide digital trainings and resources for them when they’re onboarding. So that’s a great resource for them to have. And we’re looking right now, we’re expanding into some more micro trainings for employers. So that will actually be a little bit more targeted for if you have an employee who has a physical disability, just [inaudible 00:21:56] and tips and how to actually onboard that new hire successfully.

Tiffany Meehan:
And that would really help the education piece, because I think a lot of the work that we’re doing it’s really just educating. And a lot of people don’t know and they’re afraid to ask. So we’re bringing that out into the light a little bit more and saying, “This is how you do it.” And having feedback. And our team one in four of us have a disability from our Board of Advisors and everyone. So it’s been really great to work with the team and give that input from the community.

Josh Anderson:
That’s great that you’re doing that education piece because I know sometimes that can be a huge barrier for the employer. The fear of saying the wrong thing, of doing something wrong can almost just make it to where they can’t move forward, but just knowing that this is the right way to do things and this and that, but also just emphasizing that, “Hey, the individual you’re working with is a person at heart and they’re probably not looking for you just to say the wrong thing and stuff like that. So be yourself and be kind like you would anyone else,” but a little bit of training has to be just a great tool for those employers.

Tiffany Meehan:
Definitely. And that’s what we really teach as well as that inclusive interviews and all of this design. It benefits everybody, everyone can use it. So if you get to that level where you can be inclusive, it will just benefit the entire company and people will feel more loyal and want to stay. And it really helps the employer to see it in that way from the retention side that. Putting the work and really finding great employees is important, but there’s a whole untapped population of people who were ready to work. And I think even remote work with the climate that we’re in has opened a lot more doors and has provided that opportunity for disabled professionals to really get into the workplace and not feel that they won’t be allowed to work remotely. That’s kind of the standard now.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. I think you’re right. I think that’s a few of the, if you can say good things that’ll come out of everything that’s happened in the last year or so is A, there’s just so many jobs out there. So folks are probably going to be a little bit more inclusive on who they hire, but also yes, just the work from home position is no longer seen as a barrier, as a burden or anything. They’ve actually figured out that that is something that can be productive and helpful to all employees. So where does Inclusively go from here? What is next? What are you working on? What’s coming down the pipeline that we can look forward to in the future?

Tiffany Meehan:
Well, we’re always adding more jobs, employers, so that’s really our focus. Is just having more jobs, having more candidates sign up to apply to jobs. And we’re always working with new inclusive employers and building out the trainings and we also just launched our new community portal. So that’s a really great space for our community of candidates and employers and to network and just to learn more about career development opportunities. And we’re also going to be launching a new advocate portal and that will really connect all of the accessibility partners like nonprofits. And we’re really looking at Inclusively as this network for people to come and to connect and to learn more if they want to have resources or find jobs, but really just a community of disabled job seekers and professionals.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, that’d be great. Yeah, that’s great. Because then they can all learn from each other on what’s worked, what hasn’t, best practices and everything else. So that’ll be really wonderful. Well, Tiffany, Aubrey, if our listeners want to find out more about Inclusively, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Tiffany Meehan:
So we’d love for you to check out inclusively.com and you can definitely follow us on social media @workinclusively. So we’re pretty active on that in posting updates. Aubrey has wrote a great blog for us on inclusively.com about our accessibility. So that really goes into more depth and we’d love everyone to check that out as well.

Josh Anderson:
We will make sure to put all that down in the show notes. Well, Tiffany Meehan, Aubrey Northam, thank you so much for coming on the show today, telling us all about inclusively and the great things it can do for job seekers and for employers. And we’re looking forward to more great things from you in the future.

Aubrey Northam:
Thanks for having us.

Tiffany Meehan:
Thank you.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about Assistive Technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Send us an email at tech@astersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAproject, our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com. A special thanks to Nicole Prietto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and brought over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners or this host. This was your Assistive Technology Update and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

 

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