Sullivan Alexander, recently interviewed Dana Marlowe, Principal Partner at Accessibility Partners.
About the interviewee:
Dana Marlowe has an unrivaled passion for equal technical access for all. In the accessibility field, this intensity has made her a staunch advocate for people with disabilities. As one of the principal partners, and the head of business development for Accessibility Partners, she works together with a wide base of clients to help to make sure that information technology is accessible for people with all disabilities. Ensuring compliance with disability and technology legislation, Dana interacts with government agencies, Wounded Warriors, and IT manufacturers (in both the public and private sector) this year to test all kinds of products, including hardware, software, mobile apps, and websites.
From the initial meeting to the end of a project, Dana highlights just how necessary accessible technology is guaranteed that users with disabilities have the best possible ability to succeed within the government and within society.
Describe the business model including (products or services offered, number of employees, location, type of customers you work with, etc.).
Accessibility Partners, a small, woman-owned business, helps government agencies and organizations of all sizes improve their accessibility posture by providing distinctive and powerful solutions. Consultants, test engineers and trainers will work together to create innovative and practical accessibility solutions, and thereby obtain sustainable and successful results. Accessibility Partners was created in 2003 and expanded to an official LLC partnership in early 2009 with headquarters in the Washington, DC area. We have successfully completed projects for both industry and government clients. Our staff works extensively as an exclusive accessibility partner providing top-level consulting and training services.
Accessibility Partners is an organization of senior consultants, technologists and subject matter experts. Our staff possesses a combined 60 years’ experience in accessibility. Known for our broad industry experience, creative solutions and high customer satisfaction, we are comprised of impassioned subject matter experts provide the scaffolding for clients’ needs today and in the future.
Tell us about one of the innovative solutions or services your company designed for a customer.
On one engagement for a client, Dana has demonstrated how a user with disabilities might use a server. It was informative and hands-on. Instead of speaking in generalities, Dana truly laid out how a person with a disability, whether it was sight or mobility, would interact with a piece of hardware.
She called out attention to blinking lights or inaccessible accompanying software and question the developers how they would use this feature if they couldn’t see. Dana has never been aggressive, but assertive with her explanation. She highlights that a disability is something that anyone can encounter at any point in their lives. With this perspective, accessibility compliance is no longer one hurdle that must be jumped for IT manufacturers, but a real opportunity to promote use of products by everyone. By improving upon implementation accessibility, Dana strives to create a mutually beneficial relationship between producer and consumer with disabilities.
What challenges did you face and how did you overcome the challenges?
We started Accessibility Partners in a downturn economy, and there were no guarantees of our future. Conservative spending was of the essence. With this in mind, I knew that I had to make some smart money choices if I wanted us to take off. Operating on a telework model spread across the country, communication was my highest priority. We met them with the idea of BYOD—Bring Your Own Device.
When someone in our company purchases an item like a tablet, accessible computer, or especially phone, and pairs it with the proper assistive technology, they can create a device that truly works for them. Things can pair with magnifiers, speech amplifiers, and other forms of IT. It’s unfair and impractical to assume a one-size-fits-all mentality with technology, and sometimes you just have to trust a user. I firmly believe that our employees know their abilities and situation better than anyone.
What do you see as “hot button” issues in your industry, and what are the implications?
My business sense is telling me that the IT of the future will be focused around the theme of inclusivity. We’re seeing this trend in the government already. Thanks to President Obama’s Executive Order, there has been a push to hire more people with disabilities. This translates into an increase in the necessary technology to accommodate their needs. Section 508, a mandate that requires any technology purchased by the government to be accessible, is currently going through a refresh. The FCC also made their legislation for captioning of online media and news stricter, as well as increased accessibility for mobile technology.
These legislations as well as the increased hiring will lead to more manufacturers emphasizing accessibility from the design stage. Since it is the law and necessary for procurement, companies will realize the power of marketing for a disability market in both government and the private sector.
What makes your business different from the competition?
We make it a point specifically to hire people with disabilities to be our technology testers and we consist of over 70% of people with disabilities. This is way above national average of people with disabilities in the work force, which now sits at 20% as of October 2013. Although there expert testers without disabilities in this field, I believe that our business functions so well because we provide that firsthand experience with disabilities to other companies.
Our employees are first-hand experts in accessible technology, and who is a better market to test these products than the very people who will use them? We thrive on the contributions of people with disabilities not just because it is a ‘nice idea’ to hire them but we see them as the experts. Furthermore, the final products of what our company tests make life easier and more useable for people with disabilities. Our company believes that accessibility isn’t just a privilege; it’s really a right that everyone should enjoy.
Sullivan Alexander, Contributor on the Price of Business on Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK (on Bloomberg’s home in Houston) whom you can learn more about at www.contureadvisors.com.