IAP 2018-E4: National Disability Employment Awareness Month


In this episode:

Mark introduces two new podcast hosts (Todd Waites and Derek Bove) and one producer (Marissa Sapega) from Interactive Accessibility’s parent company, The Paciello Group. Todd discusses his experience living with only one arm but explains why he has never considered it a disability. All three talk about how they got into the field of accessibility, which leads to a discussion on National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

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Links of Interest

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Statistics on percent of US population with disabilities

Statistics on employment for people with disabilities


[background music]

Announcer: Welcome to the "IAP," the Interactive Accessibility podcast, bringing you the people, technology, and ideas helping to make your world accessible to everyone.
Mark Miller: Hey, welcome to the IAP. I am your host, Mark Miller. I'm here with a couple of new hosts, Todd and Derek, and our producer, Marissa, which I will be introducing to you guys in a few minutes.


I want to thank you for helping us keep it accessible. Do us a favor. If you're enjoying the IAP, share it, tell someone about it. Even link to it from your accessible website.

Guys, we're here with a whole new crew today. This podcast has been Jeremy Curry and I. Jeremy is still involved, couldn't make it today, but I am so happy to have some new people here, Todd and Derek. I'm going to have you guys introduce yourselves real quickly.

Then we are going to get into our topic today, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Of course, that's this month, right? October.

Todd, why don't you start? Give us a little bit of introduction. I wanted you to start because you've got a little bit of a unique story. You don't have to give us all the gory details. If you can give us a little bit of an idea of who you are and why you are in this industry, that would be great.

Todd Waites: When you talk about arm amputation and you say gory, that's really...
Mark: That was a mistake, wasn't it? [laughs] Sorry about that.
Todd: If there was Facebook Live then, I would have just had the surgery recorded and shared with everybody in real-time.
Mark: [laughs] That'd probably do a lot for viewership, Todd.



Mark: Tell us about this. You were a young man in this event. I'll let you tell it, what happened to you here.
Todd: I'm still a young man. I was 14 when...
Mark: [laughs] We may disagree on that.
Todd: [laughs] On the young or the man part?



Mark: We'll see how the podcast goes. [laughs]
Todd: I see. At 14 years old, I threw a football and my arm broke. When they looked at the X-rays, it looked like something was off. About a week later, I no longer had that arm because they determined I had cancer.
Mark: How old were you when that happened?
Todd: 14.
Mark: 14. What a crazy age to have something like that occur?
Todd: You know what? It was the perfect age because, if it had to happen, that's the age that...If anybody wants to amputate their arms, 14 is really the age that you should go for it because you're not so set in your ways that you're not teachable, and you're not so young that the kids are...The kids were a little brutal, but not as much as...
Mark: That's a good point. I wouldn't have put it that way.



Todd: ...a kindergartner that walks into his class for the very first time and he's much different than everybody else. He's, for the first time, experiencing a whole classroom of kids that may not really be excited about him. I was grateful for when it happened.
Mark: Great. Listen, it's really good to have you part of this podcast. I think that your experience and the way that you'll be able to relate to some of those topics is really going to be interesting as we move on, do more and more episodes here.


I also want to introduce you to Derek. You want to give a little bit of background on yourself, and maybe a brief idea of what got you into the industry? We'll go from there.

Derek Bove: Thanks, Mark. My story is not as interesting as Todd's. It's a little bit more mundane. I actually started my career working for one of our sister companies now, Ai Squared, the makers of ZoomText. That was actually my first job out of college back in 2004.


I've been in this industry basically my entire professional career. It's come full circle because I left the industry for a couple years and went on my own. As companies became acquired, came back to now our global brand.

I remember coming into the industry, and on my interview just thinking to myself, I had no idea how low vision and blind people would access their computer. It was never something that even crossed my mind, right? I didn't even know it existed. For a lot of people, awareness of this is something that's still needed.

I think we've made a lot of strides in the last 14, 15 years. This has been my one and only industry that I've worked in, and I've met a lot of great people along the way. I've worked in a lot of different departments, and now work with many of you guys in sales. It's been a great ride so far.

Mark: You know what's interesting about that is that you and I have the complete opposite intro, but the same reason for being in this industry. I was working for years outside of the industry, and I had a friend who worked in this industry.


I literally spent probably three years, through him, trying to fight my way into the industry because I just wasn't fulfilled selling the next Cisco 2016 to some company to shove into their network.

I looked at my buddy who was in this industry and thought, "I need to go to bed at night being a part of something like this, not a part of just technology." Then I realized through coming to the industry that I kind of, in my own way, have a little bit of a disability, which I never thought about it that way. I've been ADHD, obviously, my whole life.

It was interesting because I've given myself a little bit more permission to accommodate and work my way through that issue since I've been in the industry. I think you and I are here, Derek, for a lot of the same reasons. I can't imagine not working in this industry now that I have. Mainly, it's because of all the people.

I'll pick on Todd a little bit here. When I'm working with somebody like Todd or somebody like Jeremy, who's blind, and these guys are as successful if not more successful than me, it inspires me.

I think, "Man, if somebody who can't see has that kind of a disadvantage or Todd, who's had to learn how to navigate the world with half the arms I have and does, there's nothing that Todd can't do that I can do of substance that I don't have any excuses." I don't know if you feel the same way, but that's how I feel.

Tie in to International Disability Employment Awareness Month because I think that that's what...As somebody who works with a lot of people who have different disabilities, for me, that's one of the things I would want people to realize out there, is that with just the proper accommodation, people with disabilities are equal to people without disabilities and they're valued to a workplace.

In some cases, even more so because of what they've had to go through to operate the way that they operate. It makes them stronger in other ways. Do you know what I'm saying? Does that make sense?

Derek: Yeah, absolutely. Just to share an interesting stat, 25 percent of Americans identify with having a disability. That's according to some recent studies. That's self-identifying. Mark, you mentioned ADHD and you're self-identifying here on the podcast.
Mark: I did before.
Derek: A lot of people aren't. That number is higher than 25 percent.
Mark: I don't really know that I think about myself as having a disability, but I recognize that now. I went years without even thinking about that. Because I didn't think of it that way, I didn't consciously go, "Well, if I accommodate this way, it'll help."


I want to pause for a second, though. I also want to introduce Marissa, who is our producer, which is great to have a producer because we haven't had that before, which means that we're going to be bringing you guys way more and way better content.

We decided before the podcast launched that she's the Roz if we're all Frazier of the podcast. Marissa, you want to just give a quick intro, let people know who you are, please?

Marissa Sapega: Hi, guys. This is Marissa. You'll hear me popping in every once in a while supporting the podcast. I just started with TBG about six months ago. I have to say that I love it because not only am I working to achieve something greater than myself, but the people who work in the world of accessibility are literally the nicest people I've ever met in my life.


I have not met one person at a conference, at TBG, or any of the places that I've been to that has been arrogant or self-absorbed. They're just an incredible bunch of passionate people. I'm really happy to be a part of it.

Mark: That is wonderful to hear. I can't imagine the people that are better than you. How's that?



Mark: Greater than yourself, I think, is the way that you put it. Let's talk a little bit about National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In looking into this a little bit, I don't know if you guys can believe this, but this is 25 years of celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act. This month bring us back around to the Americans with Disabilities Act.


This actual month, American's National Disability Employment Awareness Month, dates back to 1945, when Congress declared the first week in October as...Get this, because you would never say it this way in this day and age, but back then it was called the National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. [laughs]

We've come a long way. I don't think any of us would use the word handicapped, probably, because we've all been conditioned to say "people with disabilities," but it was National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.

What I'd like to talk about probably more than anything really is the importance of this. What do you guys see as like, "So what if we have this month, or this week, or whatever you want to call it, this month where we are focused on employment for people with disabilities?" Does that matter? Does that help? What's the real value that you guys think there is in this?

It happens all over. It's not just for employment of people with disabilities, but there's all sorts of weeks, months, and days that try to draw attention to stuff. I just wonder if you guys think if it works, if it's important, if it's something that we should be focused on.

Derek: It's all about back to my initial point and what I said when I first started. It's all about awareness. We've seen more awareness into this industry over the years. I can recall there was a commercial on TV.


It may have been Wells Fargo or some bank showing a blind patron going into the bank or something like that. You're seeing more of that [laughs] in this day and age when, really, there was no awareness around any of these -- low vision, blind, cognitive, whatever.

This is an opportunity for us to talk a little bit about, not only about the different conditions, but about the technology that's out there. We've come such a long way just in the smartphone era of providing people with access to information through different means and hopefully helping.

I'd be interested to see what these numbers looked like at the beginning of the 2000s versus now. I'm hopeful that we've made some strides since then.

Mark: What you say brings back to memory a story that I heard you tell, Todd. Todd does a lot of speaking in public schools and various areas like that. You were talking about a girl that came to you and had some heartfelt things to say in a little event that unfolded for her.


Do you want to relay that story? Going back to Derek's point on awareness, that, to me, is one of the best illustrations of what awareness can really do for people with disabilities in anything like that. Todd?

Todd: It's funny because people look at folks with disabilities as a whole separate category. In some ways, that can be true. The category of being...If you're sight-impaired, you typically use JAWS, but it doesn't mean that you're in this...I don't know.


I go to a lot of events, trade shows, and things where there are a lot of folks with -- and I'm putting up the air quotes, one with my left hand and one with my right foot, the air quotes -- "People are disabled."

I'm always blown away because I never see one person that I would consider disabled. There's a myth there, and I wonder if, down the road, that term will be rephrased. I know, for me, everybody I know within TPG works very, very, very hard.

We have a lot of different folks with varying "disabilities" and some without any. Everybody works just as hard and is great at what they do regardless of that.

Mark: That's a good point.
Todd: When I started entering the work world, I was shocked at how much harder I worked than the other people. I think that I've learned that just by having to work harder in life than...Hiring folks with disabilities is not something you check off on a box. It's not something that you're just, "Oh, look. We're great. We also hire people with disabilities."


The fact is, you're going to get very, very, very hard working people, in most cases. I still remember, [laughs] my first job in high school was I worked at a hamburger place called Fuddruckers. I was a dishwasher. [laughs] When I went in to apply for the job -- I learned this after I started -- the manager actually had some concerns about it.

It was literally dishwashing and bussing tables. One of the head cooks there, or whatever, said, "I bet you if you hire him, he'll outwork the guys that you have now." I didn't purposely go in with it. It just happened that way.

Mark: Did that person know you, Todd, or was that just somebody that was putting together that you probably work harder?
Todd: No. Yeah, I don't know how he put that together. Either he thought everybody else was just lazy, or he thought...



Mark: I can see it, though, because there's two sides of it. You have to work harder to hit normal, or what somebody without a disability would have to do, right?
Todd: Mm-hmm.
Mark: There's just a challenge there that you've got to get past in order to...Like for you, this is...Literally, I was thinking about this after we were, a little while back, all in Orlando, and I had to spend some time with Todd.


I was literally brushing my teeth, and I think I was holding something in one hand, and I started to try and do something with the other hand, and I set that thing down and I used both hands like I normally would.

I thought, "Man, that was...for a second, [laughs] that was a little bit tough." I thought, "Wow, Todd's learned how to do that with one hand." Then I started to think about how I would do it with one hand. I'm sure I would figure it out, but it's not like super easy.

There's that side of it. You figured out how to do it with one hand, or somebody's figured out how to do it without sight. Right?

The other side of it is that there's certain people in the world that would be posed with a challenge like that, that would lose an arm at 14 or lose their sight, and go, "Forget it. I'm going to sit back. I can't do this. I've woe is me."

When that person shows up and says, "I want to be a dishwasher and I only have one arm," you know, one, they're not the person to give up. They're a fighter to begin with. As a fighter they've had to work way harder to get where they are.

That's just my, quick off the cuff speculation. I guess it could be way off, but those are the things that occur to me, and I wonder if that's what occurred to this guy.

Todd: It's funny that you mention the toothbrush thing because when people ask, "What was the hardest thing to learn?" I always say, "It wasn't the big things in life. It was the little things like putting on socks and all that kind of stuff."


The toothbrush thing, that was a major thing because I would have the toothbrush on the sink, I'd put some toothpaste on it, and, eight times out of 10, it would fall over and the toothpaste would no longer even be on the brush. I learned to put the...I put the handle end in my mouth and just put the toothpaste on that way. Now it never falls over.

Mark: Then you set the tube down and grab the toothbrush.



Todd: For first 25 years I went without brushing my teeth because I was frustrated. Just kidding.
Mark: To me, that's amazing and that was a little solution to a little problem, but when you multiply that times whatever, you really are fighting a lot.
Todd: My dad would not let my mom help me. I always [laughs] was frustrated with my dad, but now I have to really thank him for that. I have to say, though, honestly, I'm not trying to make this about me. I have such a...I don't even consider it. I think when you lose an arm, you lose two percent. Right? You can't clap. There are some things that were harder, but you don't lose a whole lot.
Mark: It's workable.
Todd: Yeah, it's definitely workable. There's a kid in Missouri that I'm going to go out and spend some time with his family and do an assembly at his school for free because he has the same amputation that I had from the same exact cancer. I don't have a shoulder or anything. This kid had the same exact thing and it spread to his leg.


Now they operated on his leg. They didn't take it. He walks with a limp. The one hand he has, he has to hold the cane with. This kid's in fifth grade.

Mark: That's incredible.
Todd: I look at him and say, "Oh my gosh. How are you going to do it?" [laughs]
Mark: We got to wrap up the podcast here, but I think that if I had to summarize what everybody's saying here is that when you think about hiring a person with disabilities -- and, Todd, you said it, one of you guys said it -- it really is not just a checkbox.


You probably are getting somebody who's going to add a ton of value to the organization just like somebody else would and, in some ways, maybe even beyond that.

The last story I'll leave people with is, I was recently out in Las Vegas and I saw the Michael Jackson ONE program, a Cirque de Soleil show, which was incredible. Highly recommend it if you're out there.

In that show, one of the performers was missing a leg. You know the crutches that have the tight grip around the arm. That's what he used. I was watching him and, at first, my thought was like, "Wow! That's great that they included somebody with disabilities."

Then I watched him do acrobatics on those crutches. I watched him planche. I don't know if you guys know what planche is, but it's when you...Imagine a push up where you pull your feet up off the ground so it's just your arms and your hands touching.

Todd: [joking] Oh, I do those all the time.
Mark: [laughs] I'm sure. I just watched him rhythmically. I watched him work with the other performance and the other performance work for him. By the time that show was over, I realized that that guy was in that show not because somebody was checking off a disability pox, but because he was good.


He was good. He was interesting. He could do things different and exciting that added to the whole visual context of the Cirque de Soleil show. It made me feel really good. It made me feel like I wanted to find the person that cast him for that and say, "Look, you really recognized something great here, on multiple levels."

That's the point. There's all these rules. There's all these regulations. There's all these checkboxes. Then, there's the value. If a month like this and people having discussions like we're having can make people realize that value, then I think the value of declaring this month is clear.

Anybody have anything to add? I think we need to wrap things up. Any last thoughts?

Todd: Thank you for allowing me to join in. I hope to do this again.
Derek: Yeah. Thanks, Mark. This has been great.
Mark: I really appreciate having you guys. Marissa, we really appreciate you pulling all this together. We appreciate you guys listening. Please look for us. We're on iTunes. You can find us on the Access Batters Blog on the Interactive Accessibility website.


We're working with The Paciello Group, TBG now. Please find their website and I think you'll find these podcasts. Eventually, we're going to duplicate them up there as well. Please subscribe. Please keep listening.

This is Mark Miller thanking Todd, Marissa, and Derek, and thanking you guys, and reminding you to keep it accessible.

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