Mariella Paulino: All right. It's 2:05. Time to get this party started, how are we feeling, Keenan, Brian and Quemuel, how are you guys?
Quemuel Arroyo: Pretty good
Keenan Gao: Doing good.
Brian Switzer: Doing amazing.
Mariella Paulino: Awesome. Today is a fantastic day because I dreamed this event years and years and years ago and we have all of you with us together in celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. That is such a big thing and each one of us has our own disability. And we are all professionals. We are doing things in the world so I am really, really excited to have everyone meet each of you.
So before we get started, now that we have the technology all figured out, what I'm going to do is I'm going to ask each of you to turn off your video. I'm going to go over the Knowbility slide deck presentation. And then we will get started with today's conversation. All right. Let's go ahead and do this. So I'm going to go ahead and share my screen.
And let's see here. Share my screen. And we are going to go straight to the presentation for today. Which is accessibility numero dos. And today's presentation is going to be a panel on National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The entire month of October is dedicated to the employment hiring, the recruiting, the retention, the promotion of people with disabilities. And we have got a panel for you. These are people that I've met across my career, people that have been introduced to me. People that I went to school with.
So it's really, really exciting to have this panel for all of you today. Now before we get started, we have some guidelines that we need to discuss so that all of us have a positive experience today.
Before anything, there is closed captioning, real-time captioning, available. Courtesy of HRI captioning. They came through at the last minute and provided the closed captioning experience that you are able to see below. I want to encourage all of you to go ahead and follow them, they are doing fantastic, fantastic work.
So, the purpose of A11y hours is to provide an accessible space and that begins when all of us create that accessible and inclusive space. So be respectful. Be kind. Be polite and be conscious that all of us have our own experiences in our lives as people with disabilities. This is going to be an opportunity for us to engage in dialogue and conversation about this experience and to come up with creative problem-solving solutions and best practices that can make our experiences and the world at large better. And then finally ensure accessibility. So if there's something that somebody says that you need a bit more clarity on. This is your time to ask questions. To make sure that you come out of the A11y Office Hours, a smarter A11y. A more engaged individual. A more knowledgeable person. So use the next hour, take it. There's something really incredible with it. For all of you following us today we are so happy to have you and we're so glad that the message of Knowbility reached out to you. Make sure you sign up for our newsletter, it goes out weekly and it's put together by our incredible communications associate Anthony Vasquez. Sign up for our newsletter and there we talk about events, news, policy, technology, opportunities, that are happening in the accessibility space. Lots of really good stuff every single Wednesday. You can also follow us on social media @Knowbility on Instagram we are on Twitter we are on LinkedIn we are on YouTube and on Instagram and I'm trying to get us into TikTok. In the next few months. But we'll see how that goes. And then finally, if there's anything that we can do to improve your experience within the A11y Office Hours let us know by emailing us at hello@Knowbility. org.
Now before I get started today, I need to go ahead and describe myself. So my name is Mariella Paulina, I'm a Hispanic woman of Dominican descent. And I am wearing a red blazer with a black shirt that says the future is accessible. Behind me there's a white background that has the Knowbility logo plus my name. My pronouns, which are she/her and hers. And I am currently in New York City. The presentation that I've been showing is just really the same information I've been sharing with all of you with a white background and purple letters.
And now I will have the entire panel so we have Keenan, Quemuel and Brian and I am going to have all of them turn on their video.
So Keenan and Quemuel, come on up and turn on your video. So let's get started with you, Keenan. What I would like for you to do is just do a video description and introduce yourself.
Keenan Gao: Hi everyone how is the audio I'm Keenan Gao I'm a 27 year old Chinese-American woman I have black hair and wearing a short sleeved navy top with white polka dots behind me is a white wall with pictures of the space solar system there's a vase and flowers on both sides of me. Thank you.
Mariella Paulino: Brian, I'll have you go next.
Brian Switzer: Awesome, my name is Brian Switzer my pronouns are he/him/his I'm a white male wearing dark sunglasses and a light blue shirt I like to think I have sandy blond hair but my wife says it's brown but I can say it's still sandy brown in my head and behind me is a white wall with a couple of diplomas hanging up.
Mariella Paulino: Thank you, Brian, all right, Quemuel you go.
Quemuel Arroyo: Hi there Quemuel Arroyo I'm an African American Hispanic male I am wearing clear glasses, a pink shirt and blue blazer with a Dominican and American Flag pin.
Mariella Paulino: Fantastic so before we get more of the party started we're going to have a quick door prize from my colleague Erica. So Erica, I am going to bring you up to the stage. Are you ready?
Erica Braverman: I am ready.
Mariella Paulino: There we go Erica has a door, prize go for it.
Erica Braverman: My name is Erica Braverman I work with Mariella at Knowbility and I'm a white woman in my 30s with a yellow laced blouse that's getting a little crinkly as I spin around in my chair. I am wearing glasses I have brown hair in a ponytail behind me is a very plain white wall because I'm in one of the small Knowbility spaces just for sound quality reasons.
I am going to use a spinning wheel, like a virtual spinning wheel that I will show on the screen to pick a name. You're welcome to watch it if you want. But if you do not like to see spinning or moving content on the screen, please know that this does spin. It's just a heads-up. And I am going to share my screen.
Mariella Paulino: Will I be winning something, Erica? Will I be winning anything.
Erica Braverman: We can't do that because you work here. Sorry. You're already winning, Mariella. So this is what we have up here, it's a spinning wheel with red, yellow, blue and green sections and everyone who is attending has their name on here so I'm going to click it. And now it's really speeding up. It's making a little sort of beeping sound. It's slowing down. And we have Caroline, Caroline Goh. Congratulations, Caroline. We've got little fireworks and applause noises. All right I'm going to stop my share. Caroline I'm going to be in touch with you about your door prize and where we should send it but I'm going to turn my camera off and send it back to you, Mariella.
Mariella Paulino: Thank you Erica so just a little bit about Knowbility. So Knowbility is a nonprofit organization that provides community programming. We do audits, consulting, screening and workshops and how to make -- on how to make the web accessible. We have been doing this work since 1999. Holy guac that's a really long time so if you are an organization looking to train your staff, to improve your website or to make things more accessible in general, join us. We also have the A11y Office Hours, which is our latest initiative to connect with our vibrant and engaged community of advocates and allies to have powerful riveting conversations about accessibility, the state of technology and the world.
And with that further said we are going to go into our conversation today and I am going to start with the first question for our panel.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and I'm going to start with you, Keenan. So tell us about yourself. Keenan, who are you?
Keenan Gao: Hi, everyone, so basically I was born in China but I moved to the United States when I was two years old. I am hard of hearing so I have a hearing aid in my left ear and a cochlear implant in my right ear I have a Bachelor's from math in Carnegie Mellon and a Master's in math in University of Iowa and been working at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis for the last four years so here I will add a disclaimer that I do not represent the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis or the Federal Reserve. My views and opinions are my own only. And I have to say that every time.
Mariella Paulino: We got you, thank you, Keenan. So Brian I'm going to have you next so if you can go ahead and unmute yourself -- Keenan if you can mute yourself that would be awesome.
Brian Switzer: My name is Brian Switzer I am blind with a hearing loss I wear two hearing aids I'm currently using a screen reader and Braille display on the computer. I teach assistive technology at Perkins School for the Blind in their Career Launch Program which helps young adults with blind and visual impairment find and complete work. And I hold a dual undergraduate degrees in economics and philosophy. I have a Master's Degree in public policy. I’m From Suffolk University and I'm currently finishing up a Master's Degree as a teacher of the visually impaired at UMass Boston.
Mariella Paulino: Whoa, I did not know all of that, Brian, that is very cool, very cool to have you on the panel today. And then Quemuel Arroyo, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Quemuel Arroyo: Hi there. First I have to say thank you so much to you, Mariella, and the team at Knowbility for inviting me to join this panel. I'm really excited to be here with these distinguished guests. I am your quintessential New Yorker. I used to work in banking that wasn't very much fun now for the past eight years I've been working in the world of transportation and micromobility here in the Government both in the private and public sector I'm now the first ever Chief Accessibility Officer for the MTA for those of you who do not know the MTA is the largest transportation system in all of North America. We move millions of people around in our systems, the New York City Transit system which most of you might know the railroad and metro north and of course the largest paratransit system in the world with about 24,000 trips per day.
It is truly an honor to serve in this capacity where I'm actively redefining what accessibility means for the MTA, decoupling accessibility with disability because my stakeholders are also parents with strollers and children and the aging community in New York over the age of 65 very few of them would say they have a disability but I know, you know and they know that their vision isn't what it once used to be so I also make sure I also have their back. I move by providing access to opportunity but really independence so that all people, particularly persons with disabilities can move around their communities on their own time to get to school. To a hospital. To work. Or to a bar at the end of the day. That's the definition of accessibility to me. And I am a person with a disability. I sustained a spinal cord injury. I use a wheelchair to get around. And yeah, that's me.
Mariella Paulino: Awesome. So, so excited to have each of you on this panel. So it's National Disability Awareness Month. And obviously we didn't just graduate from you know 2nd Grade and go into our careers.
So let's start at the beginning.
What was your first job? And I'm actually going to start with Brian. So Brian, I'm going to start with you. What was your first job?
Brian Switzer: My first professional job after leaving college was teaching high school math. I was a teacher for a Public School System in -- on Cape Cod. If you guys are familiar with Boston and Massachusetts, Cape Cod is that fun beachy area. So it was a lot of fun moving there. And working there. I would teach calculus and algebra. And statistics.
So yeah, it was a great job. Posed a lot of challenges, as you can imagine as someone with dual disability. But the biggest challenge was probably transportation to and from work. So I ended up getting an apartment pretty close to that school system. And I was able to walk back and forth from work. And now I use a paratransit system, similar to what the MTA offers to get to and from work. And since COVID and the pandemic we've been working remotely which is even nicer I can wake up at 8:59 and still be at work on time by 9 a.m. so it's pretty cool.
Mariella Paulino: Very cool. Keenan, I know when we were doing the session yesterday you were excited to tell me about your first job and I was like no, no, no, no, save it. So you've got to tell me now, what was your first job?
Keenan Gao: The reason why I hesitated was because my first job wasn't so accessible so I wasn't sure if I should bring it up. But it was an internship that turned into a full-time job. I was working -- that internship came about after a really long and difficult place where I applied so many places. Everywhere. And it was hard to find a company that was willing to make accommodations for disabilities. So once I got the internship, I didn't feel like I had leverage to really ask for more accommodations because of all of the life experiences. So -- but as it turned out my manager at the time, that internship was really good so I worked at U.S. Bank for one year on what's called credit risk modeling. And although I didn't technically have accommodations in that job, they were able to restructure some of the job responsibilities so that it was a better fit for me.
Mariella Paulino: I want to make sure Keenan because your WiFi is a little bit choppy. Brian and Quemuel are you having problems hearing Keenan or are you hearing her fine or is it just me? Just a little bit choppiness so Keenan if you can for our next question, do you have another WiFi internet?
Keenan Gao: Let me switch.
Mariella Paulino: Let's switch over and while you do that Quemuel I'll pass the mic to you what was your first job.
Quemuel Arroyo: My first job ever is -- I started out as an intern at Merrill Lynch when I was 15 years old. And that was a world of difference from my community, what I was accustomed to and knew as my space.
After acquiring my disability, going to NYU for urban design and history of architecture, my first job post graduation was Morgan Stanley. As an analyst. In investment management for HR.
Mariella Paulino: Whoa, we all started at such different places. Wait, did I go -- there I am.
All right. So what were some of the biggest challenges you experienced early on in your career because of your disability? One of my very first jobs was actually working for an assemblyman. And I actually did not disclose that I had a disability until I had already gotten the position. And it turns out that a lot of the role, a lot of what was centered around the role was centered around talking on the phone, which was incredibly hard for me. So I would like to pose that question to each of you to ask, what were some of the challenges that you experienced early in your career as a result of your disability? Also, we'll go with Que first.
Quemuel Arroyo: That's a great question. Thank you for sharing your experience. For me, my biggest challenge wasn't so much at my job at Morgan Stanley but in the recruiting process particularly with campus recruiting I was recruiting as a student graduating from a very prestigious institution. A lot of the people that I was interviewing with came up with their own preconceived notions of what my needs would be. And that just screwed it all up for us. I have this very vivid memory of speaking to a partner at one of the big four consulting firms. He said to me, Que, you killed the interview. You're amazing. But our consultants travel every week. I don't think this is going to work. I don't know how you're going to do that. And I said, Madu, this wheelchair has traveled to Venice, Italy. I'm constantly in Dominican Republic. I travel independently. I don't have an aide. I don't think this is going to work because I can't work for an employer who doesn't see me as a contributor and my values and what I have to add but is blinded by their preconceived notions of what my disability brings and what my access needs are. And kind of like his draw dropped and I was like, sorry dude, we're good. And I should have followed up in many ways and I didn't and I regret that.
But it was just such a testament to how inept the workforce is to understanding disabilities and grappling -- wrapping their heads around a candidate's ability to contribute to their environment. And not seeing me as someone who needs a handout, needs extra assistance or is here to take from the organization.
Mariella Paulino: Whoa, love it. That is such a powerful story. You know, it's just so annoying sometimes when people put these limitations in our bodies and make all of these assumptions about us without even asking questions. Like you are out here. In your wheelchair. Traveling. Drinking, having fun, hanging out with friends. And then people are like maybe Que just won't be able to get from Point A to Point B. Like what? Annoying. But thank you for sharing that story. Brian, I will go to you next what were some of the biggest challenges you experienced early in your career due to your disability?
Brian Switzer: Yeah, I already mentioned before the transportation issue. Some of the other challenges were adapting things so that they weren't so visual. In my teacher training everything was really visual some of the things we learned like how to administer formative assessments where your students hold up a green or red card, I had to kind of transfer that into -- transform it into an audible bell system so that I could still administer a formative assessment during class. But it was in a way that worked for me. So being able to adapt those things being able to do things electronically rather than with pen and paper. And similar to Que, I also had to deal with a lot of preconceived notions, especially from parents of students. The students themselves really respected me and trusted I knew what I was doing but you would be surprised how many parents of students are a little skeptical of a person with a disability teaching high school math so yeah I had similar challenges around preconceived notions. Luckily my employer at the time was very supportive of hiring somebody with a disability. Which is very fortunate. But you know, you can't control every variable. There's still the parent and the student and a lot of people that you interact with on a daily basis.
Mariella Paulino: Thank you for that, Brian. And what about you, Keenan, what were some of the biggest challenges you experienced early in your career as a result of your disability?
Keenan Gao: I actually related a lot to Quemuel so I talked a little bit earlier about just to get the interview at the very beginning when they find out you need accommodations but in some interviews accommodations were available and they were able to -- they were willing to bring me in that interview pipeline but in those interviews I guess to give some background a lot of jobs that I was applying to were in hedge funds, finance, banking, trading desks. And oftentimes I got feedback saying that you did well in the interview but on a trading desk there's so many people talking, there's a lot of multiple phone calls you have to be part of, with a hearing disability I just don't see we can have you on our team and we don't think you're a good fit so I got so many of these rejections to the point I posted on a job ad board when I was in grad school asking recruiters, recruiters for the trading industry like how I can deal with this situation. A lot of the feedback from recruiters was actually, we agree with that feedback. We just don't see how you can be a good fit in the industry.
So I think it's -- in that there's a very real barrier of people perceiving you instead of being willing to see how they can make the job work and really seeing how you can still contribute to the job once those accommodations are in place. It's really hard to overcome.
And I actually just started a new job at the New York Fed on the trading desk for an exchange. So like -- so currently I work for the Minneapolis bank. But there's an exchange program where your manager can loan you to another team to go work for them for a period of six months to one year. And so through that internal exchange position, I was able to eventually work on a trading desk. But it took a lot of I guess internal steps where you have those relationships built. You have a manager that's willing to advocate for you to kind of overcome those barriers.
I don't see how -- I feel like without those support systems in place to at least overcome peoples' attitudes, it's really, really hard to overcome that when you're on the outside instead of on the inside.
Mariella Paulino: Each of you has touched on the importance of a support system. And of just having a space where you are set up for -- to succeed. So can you tell us about specific things that maybe an employer did to help you be successful so that you could actually receive the support you needed to thrive in your role? At any point in your career. Que, I would love to start with you. So what are specific things that your employer, any employer you have worked with, has done to kind of help you with success as a person with a disability.
Quemuel Arroyo: I would say one of my best experiences have been my first job in Government. I worked for -- there's no reason shielding it, I worked for Polly Trottenberg who was the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation and before coming to New York City DOT she was appointed to the access Chair by President Obama. So she wasn't new to accessibility. She/her self had not experienced a disability. But she was so keenly aware of the need for people to experience things. And provided me all of the latitude to tell her what my needs would be. And gave me time for me to, you know, really get into the job, feel it out, to really know what I needed. And at the end of the day, what I needed was very little. But when I did identify what those needs were, they were like, oh, yeah, of course we would have never thought of that. But thank you for letting us know. Just I guess what I'm trying to say is she gave me the opportunity to define my needs as we went along. She didn't prescribe them. She didn't push me to enter my first week on the job. She really gave me space. And that exchange really did set me up for success. Not only because, you know, my needs today are very different from my needs tomorrow and I don't want to be boxed into whatever those are. But it was a learning experience for both of us. It was a learning experience for me. That was my first job in Government.
And it was my first job requiring me to travel to all five boroughs in any given week. And really trusting me to vocalize and express my needs was the best thing that she offered me. And my team offered me. And I think that's a real ingredient for success. Trusting that the people will speak up when they have a need. And giving them time and space to have that interaction.
Mariella Paulino: That is such a necessary thing. Like the knowledge that you have the safe space to be able to vocalize to know that hey if I need an accommodation or if I need something like oh, my God Que is being so expensive, we should fire him. It should just be about you figuring out what you need so that you can verbalize those needs and then work with your team to create an accessible space. Thank you for sharing that, Que. Brian, I would love to go to you next. You hinted at some of these points earlier. But I would love to hear a more explicit answer on specific things that an employer did to set you up for success as a person with a disability.
Brian Switzer: Yeah, definitely. The best employers I've had are the ones who are very supportive. The ones who may or may not know the best practices around people with certain disabilities. But similar to Que, the ones who are open to conversations, check in on you, give you that space to say -- to challenge. And to accommodate you as you need. Your accommodations can change over time. You know, for instance, if your work adopted a new software program, maybe it works for you, maybe it doesn't. So you need to have that conversation with your employer as you go along. And everyone's needs are different. Even though I am blind, I know other people who are blind who don't know Braille who may not be experienced using a Braille display. There are people with visual impairments who prefer screen magnification. So just because you are put into a box of a certain disability doesn't mean that your needs are exactly the same as the next person. So it's important to understand that and for them to have those conversations with you. And it can help if they know some of the best practices around working with people with certain disabilities, when working with someone who is blind or visually impaired, stating your name is helpful. You know, my manager will do that a lot. Although I do recognize her voice by now. We've been together for three years at this point. But I still appreciate the effort.
And you know, they did a great job of making sure I was able to navigate on my first day, get to any meetings, any time I'm traveling to a new building, if you have ever been to the campus, it's quite large. A lot of buildings everywhere.
So they give me the opportunity to ask them to assist me in the first time navigating somewhere new. Figuring it out. And then you know from there on I got it.
And you know, they did a great job when I first started of setting up my technology. Making sure that I had the materials I needed to be successful in that workplace. So yeah, the best employers I've ever had are the ones who are open to conversations around accommodations. They are supportive. And they know some of the best practices, even though you know not every accommodation fits every person and need.
Mariella Paulino: Love that. Thank you for sharing that, Brian. And now, Keenan, I'm going to pass it on to you. What are some of the best practices your employer has done, like specific things, that have helped you be successful in the workplace as a person with a disability.
Keenan Gao: For me I think one thing that my employer does which I realize is not necessarily common at every company is that they agree with the philosophy that accessibility is the responsibility of the meeting host, not the participant. So that means that whenever there's a team meeting, whenever there is like a company-wide meeting, whenever there's an ERN an employee Affinity Group meeting the host will submit the requests for interpretation or captioning services, not the person who needs it. So this way the meeting is already accessible when I arrive. I've learned from talking to people even at large companies that this is not always the case. It is the -- that's something that I give a lot of credit for my employers and for all of my co-workers and managers for realizing that.
The other thing, I really echo with what both Brian and Quemuel have said that your needs can change even down the line. For example, I started out with closed captioning as an accommodation when I started in 2017. But then live captions, auto captions became popular I think they came into the mainstream around the end of 2019. So when I filled out my new accommodation requests to have auto captions be one of my accommodations, that was seamless. There was no assumption of what I already needed. There was no belief that my accommodations are fixed, that can evolve.
Mariella Paulino: Thank you for sharing that Keenan I remember a few months ago because I follow Keenan on Instagram so one of the things that we had talked about early on in the pandemic was just how Zoom was initially charging people for the closed captioning feature. So we had a lot of conversations about accessibilities. Like we should not have to pay extra to be able to have access to services like this. And when COVID happened and everything moved online, it was such a jolt to the system. And to things that -- that had previously been easy suddenly became incredibly hard which is one of the reasons why I love having conversations like this. Because they provide learning spaces for us to learn what exists out there, what are the laws. And allow for people to meet each other and like, hey, what do you do there? How do you figure this out?
All right. So we are doing excellent on time. So now let's talk about colleagues. In terms of people that you work with, not necessarily people that you report to. But people that work next to you.
One of the things that I like to do and I learned this very early on in my career, is to have a work buddy. Like somebody that when you are in a meeting, on video, and for example, there's a delay of a few seconds between the captioning and the ability to read what is being said, I like to have a Slack buddy. And that person is the person that I'm like, hey, Keenan, what is that about? And I will just go offside in the Slack to have that conversation and make sure that I'm you know staying connected.
What are some of the things that you -- each of you have with your colleagues to set yourself up for success? Keenan, I'll start with you.
Keenan Gao: So remember how earlier I was saying that my employer makes sure that accessibility is the responsibility of the host, not the participant? It wasn't always that way. When I first started at the Fed, it was my responsibility to get captioning for all of my meetings. This was okay at first. But then when the pandemic started and all meetings moved online, there was all of a sudden like double the number of meetings that needed accommodations. And our vendor needed much more time to get captioning provided because all of a sudden you have businesses, universities, classes that all need captions. So the length of time to request for captioning became longer.
And so when I expressed this frustration about having to juggle all of these requests, that's when I was talking to my co-workers, well, maybe when you set up a meeting, maybe you can put in that request. And so my entire team started doing that. And that allowed me to be able to bring up to HR, maybe this is something we can do at the company level. And so I give them a lot of credit for -- they never even pushed back even once. From the beginning they were like, yes, we will absolutely do this. It's not even a question. And I also related to what you said about having a Slack buddy. I can trust all of my co-workers to be the same for me, as well.
Mariella Paulino: That is awesome, thank you for sharing that, Keenan. Que, I'll go to you next, what are some of the things your colleagues have done?
Quemuel Arroyo: One of the things that my colleagues have done that has really shaped my experiences it's a double-edged sword. And that thing is including me in everything that they do. And I say it's a double-edged sword because though I love to feel like a team member, I remember when I was working in banking, it's no secret to anyone here that there's a big drinking culture in finance. And I would always get invited to these bars, these happy hours at inaccessible bars though I would feel so awesome that I was invited because I'm like, I'm in, check, I'm in the club, I would get there and my heart would break because they didn't think of my disability. And we would have these funny conversations where they would say Que I don't think of you as a person with a disability. You're so capable. You're so smart. You're a leader.
And I said yeah, but true life, I can't do stairs. And it was like -- or I remember once I got invited to Lincoln Center and the seats were completely inaccessible. And these peoples' faces like they got pale, they were so embarrassed. And I was like, ugh. And they said, I don't think of you as a person with a disability, Que. That's just not how I add you up in my head. And I was like so crushed because they are well intended. But then I'm not lost in the fact that a lot of harm has been done in our society by well-intended people. And that harm stems from the lack of conversation. And the reality checks, you know. And it happens with my family, too. Like there's just no bounds to peoples' I don't want to say ignorance because that has a negative connotation, especially when I know these are people who care about me. But it's a little bit their ignorance to forget that Que doesn't do stairs and I do need them to go that extra step to include me.
And I said it's a double-edged sword because it's so well intended. But you know, it crushes me every time. Yeah.
Mariella Paulino: I love this conversation. Because the level of honesty from all of us it's like, yes. Like it's just for the longest time, I thought it was just me in the world feeling this way and then I'll have conversations like this. So Que I'm like, yes, you get it. And then I'll have a conversations with Keenan and I'm like, yes, you get it. And it's just like it is not a me problem. It is a social problem. It is -- the problem is not the body. It is not my body that's disabled. Society is not -- society is not designed for people like me. Society is the problem. Not the individual. And Brian, I'm going to pass that question along to you. So what are some of the things your colleagues have done?
Brian Switzer: I don't know if I can follow up that story. That was really powerful story that Que gave us. I don't think I can top that. But in my experience working with colleagues, you know, the best colleagues are the ones who are allies who are supportive. The ones who are honest. Similar to what Que was mentioning, you know, if you have -- when you're blind and you know maybe you spilled a little coffee on your shirt, you kind of want that colleague who will come up to you and tell you, hey, you know, you might want to clean your shirt or someone who -- a little more brutally honest. Versus that colleague who pretends that nothing is wrong and continues on. They have kind of a realistic perspective. You know, if you're on Zoom and your camera is not facing -- your face isn't quite centered on the screen, they are willing to send you a text message. They don't have to embarrass you or anything. But send you a quick text message saying, hey, your screen is a little bit off. Things of that nature. They are a little more honest and willing to chat with you, without embarrassing you, making you feel different or anything and including you. And hopefully including you in making sure your accessibility needs are met whether it's going to a bar or in the workplace, as well.
Mariella Paulino: Thank you, Brian. And we are at time. We are the most prepared group I've worked with so I love it. So I am going to post the last question to each of you for today. And what is one message you want to close with for anyone watching this video on #nationaldisabilityemploymentawarenessmonth. #NDEAM I'm trying to make that a thing. So if there's one thing you want to drive home, one thing you want people to be able to remember from our conversation today. What would that be? Brian I'm going to start with you first. So what is that message you're driving home for our audience today?
Brian Switzer: Yeah, think about hiring someone with a disability. I think one of the main barriers to hiring someone with a disability is the cost. People think of them being more expensive because you have to provide accommodations. The number I've seen rolling around that accommodations on average cost about $600. And when you're thinking about hiring someone, that's really a drop in the bucket. My CEO likes to call hiring someone a million dollar decision. Because there's a lot that goes along with hiring someone from, you know, their actual paycheck to their pension plan to their healthcare. And so, you know, when you're thinking of all of those costs and bundling and the long-term outlook, how long will they be with the company, what values do they bring in with them when you are hiring, the cost of accommodations is really a drop in the bucket. And it's getting cheaper all the time. There's so many accessibility features built into the iPhone and Windows 11 and so on. You know, these features are becoming more and more free. Whereas they used to be super expensive. You know, back in the olden days an OCR scanner was the size of a washing machine and now it's just an app on the iPhone that's free. We've come a long way. So you know if that's your main barrier, I would look past that and think about hiring someone with a disability.
Mariella Paulino: Woo! Yes, that is right, Brian, you are speaking truth to power today.
Keenan, I am going to pass it to you next. What is one message you would like to drive home to our audience today for #NDEAM.
Keenan Gao: I would like to have two messages, one for people who work with HR and recruiting and another message to disabled people. So the first message to folks in HRI I'll add onto what Brian has been saying which is ask yourself whether or not you've even had any disabled applicants and if the answer is no, is ask yourself why not. Is it because your website is not accessible? Is it because they are having trouble even asking for accommodations in the interview process. Look at where in your pipeline where people are even prevented from you even knowing that they are a potential applicant. And then my message to people who are disabled is, if you're in the audience, I'm so thankful you're here. Because for me, I did not even meet another Deaf or hard-of-hearing person until I was 25 years old. I'm 27 now. And when you don't know people who share your identities, you're being restricted from a community. And that community can help you learn about resources and pipelines and really just help you know about so many things that could have been making your life easier. So if you are a person with a disability and you don't know or have a friend or a mentor that shares your identities, ask yourself why not. And what you can do to change that. Whether that be doing it in an online form. Whether it's doing meetups in person. Really the internet is so wide and there's so many ways to find your people that there's no excuse not to. Thank you.
Mariella Paulino: That is right, Keenan, find your tribe. And it's such a powerful thing. Because it is on Instagram that I connected with you. And we have been following each other for years. And to be able to share so many of the same experiences and to know -- there's my computer. To know that I'm not alone in this journey is a really awesome thing. So thank you for being a part of my journey there.
And now we're going to close up with Quemuel, Que, so closing thoughts? Give it to me.
Quemuel Arroyo: As a former HR professional, Brian really stole what I had to say. The only thing that I can add to his message is that people with disabilities are the very first hackers. They are the innate innovators. I should say we. And we are so because we live every day in a world that's not designed for us. So do yourself a favor, and hire a brilliant innovator. Hire someone who overcomes adversity every day. And does so full of life. And longing to find a community to be productive in. And to accept their gifts. So that was Brian's message.
So to me, I think the one message I want to drive home that's so important and I'll contextualize a little bit. Yes, I'm a person with a disability. But I'm also an immigrant. I'm Dominican. I'm also queer. And I'm all of these othernesses, too. And very early in my life, when I was 15, my first job ever I got at Merrill Lynch because I asked for an opportunity. And the person I was speaking to said, damn, Que, you know, someone at your age with your background -- and I had said to this person I know nothing about this world I feel angry I've never heard of the world financial center, Merrill Lynch, investment banking and this is all on the same island I grew up in I said I felt dumb. I needed access. And he gave me an opportunity.
The story there is stop waiting for an invitation. It ain't never going to come. You know, if you wait for an invitation, you will never sit at the table. Dive in. Cheryl Sanders started with the -- started the conversation talking about leaning in. I'm not about that. Dive in fully immerse yourself into whatever world it is you're inspiring to. If it's art, if it's culture, if it's finance, whatever piques your interest, jump in, dive. You will be shocked by how many safety nets appear. Out of nowhere. And I've had so many people stick their hands out saying, hey, Que I know what it's like to be new here I know what it's like to be the first or hey I may not be a Black man who is queer and disabled. But I have been by myself here, I have been alone in this situation. And I know how lonely that can be. Let me show you the ropes or let's hang. But just know you have me as a resource. I have been shocked by all the people who want me to be successful. Who didn't know me from Adam.
So to anybody who is out there, waiting on an interest, to be invited to the conversation, like sit tight because it ain't coming. Dive in.
Mariella Paulino: Boop, boop, boop, mic drops. We've got mic drops. Take shelter.
I love it. So -- and that concludes Knowbility A11y Office Hours for today. I want to thank each one of you for joining me on this incredible panel today. I am going to move each of you offside of the host here so let me go ahead and do that now. Thank you so much, Brian, thank you so much Que and Keenan you guys are awesome we'll be talking more later so let me remove you guys in a moment.
And all right, everybody, that was it. That was today's second A11y Office Hours and I want to give a major shoutout to our panelists today. I hope you enjoyed that. As much as I did. Que, Keenan, and Brian were all incredible. And what I want all of you to do for today is we have a feedback survey. That will be shared with each one of you. We would love to get feedback so that we can continue making the A11y Office Hours better. And if you loved it, let us know. If there are ways that we can improve on the conversations, the setup, let us know, as well. We are here to make the A11y Hour your favorite hour. So that link will be dropped in the chat. We are also going to open it up for a quick minute for a Q&A. If our panelists can stay. Or you can reach out to them via email. We also encourage you to stay connected to our newsletter. In there we share all of the information that's going on. We have the AccessU Knowbility conference which is an -- it's an international conference with the brightest, most -- the experts in the web accessibility space and accessibility and assistive technology. You do not want to miss AccessU. We're going to be sending out information about the conference. After the event make sure you follow us on social media. We are constantly talking about events, opportunities, workshops, and you can also email us at hello@Knowbility. org and make sure you follow us for Episode 3, this needs to be fixed but in November we're going to have a very special A11y Office Hours make sure you sign up for that news make sure you'll get information on that it will be an entire session talking about holidays, the web, making eCommerce accessible in the works but that is it for today I want to thank our panel once again, the Knowbility staff team for putting this event together.
Our captioner for making this event accessible. And to each one of you tuning in today, for the A11y Office Hours. And we are at time and I will talk to you later. Remember, do what you can, where you are, with what you have. I am Mariella Paulina, your host at Knowbility and I will talk to you soon. Goodbye, everybody. And thank you for your joining us today.
And that is a wrap. Hurray.
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