Inclusive Workforce

What Does Accessibility, Diversity and Inclusion Mean to IBM?

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by Dr. Ruoyi Zhou, Director, IBM Accessibility Research, and Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, IBM Chief Diversity OfficerPhoto of Ruoyi Zhou and Lindsay-Rae McIntyre

Celebrating and reflecting on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we call upon everyone to build awareness and create real change for people with disabilities. Through workforce policies and new technology innovations, we must ensure that people of all abilities are engaged, and able to unleash their full potential.

IBM has built its values and culture on the pillars of diversity, inclusion, and our long-standing commitment to accessibility. This commitment began in 1914 when IBM hired its first person with a disability and continues today as we strive for equal opportunity, workforce diversity, and by making new strides in accessibility research for global impact.

The passion IBM has for inclusion and accessibility comes from a firm belief that it is the diversity of our talent that drives the innovation our clients and the world expect from us.

For Lindsay-Rae, her path started when she was a child.

“When I was 5 years old I had Legg- -Perthes disease, I had to wear a brace that prevented me from moving my legs and lower body for a little over a year. In all that time; I don’t ever remember being teased, disabled, or disadvantaged, and in no scenario did I ever feel excluded. My mom would help me swim, I continued to be a gymnast, my brothers carried me in a wagon or a sled depending on the season – and everyone around me saw it as a non-issue, they embraced it and figured out a way.

Valuing differences is a core value of how I was raised, I don’t remember anyone asking me to be ‘inclusive’ – it was just something I thought to be the right thing to do. Embracing inclusion is something I have felt passionate about leading. Then. Now. Always.”

For Ruoyi, her dedication stems from a different perspective.

“After focusing on top and bottom lines for nearly 20 years, developing technology for people with disabilities and the aging population offers a sense of purpose and accomplishment that no other job can match.”

We also asked some of our own team members why they work in accessibility and what drives them to make the world more inclusive:

Brent Shiver, Advisory Software EngineerPhoto of Brent Shiver

“As a deaf individual, I often experience firsthand what it is like not being able to access non-captioned videos or technologies that rely on audio to convey information. Being excluded is one of the most unpleasant and helpless feelings one could ever endure. I want to change that so everyone is always welcomed and included with the latest technologies. Working in this space helps me understand and empathize with users of different abilities who require accessibility so that I can develop better solutions. It’s a no-brainer that I work in this space.” 

Charu Pandhi, Accessibility Tooling and Automation LeadPhoto of Charu Pandhi

“Accessibility to me is about eliminating barriers and providing equal access to information technology for the widest possible audience irrespective of their age or ability. More than one billion people in the world have some form of disability, a large demographic that we should never forget or exclude as we design and develop new technology. We need to continue to push the boundaries of what defines accessibility and inclusive design. My job in accessibility research is the most humbling and gratifying as I see the direct impact of my work—making IT accessible to enhance the human experience for all.”

Erich Manser, Accessibility Software EngineerPhoto of Erich Manser

“I was diagnosed at a young age with a sight-robbing condition (RP) which leads to blindness. Though I was only mildly impaired through my teens and twenties, by the time I was starting in a tech career, my vision was changing to the point that I needed to use special settings to help me see what was on my computer screen. This personal experience caused me to realize how critical design plays in technology, and the importance of making design inclusive. Welcoming the greatest number of potential users needs to be a priority for every company, government or public organization. Exploiting the possibilities of technology will empower super human outcomes and help make the inaccessible accessible.”

Mike Gower, Accessibility and Usability SpecialistPhoto of Michael Gower

“Two things that really make my job fascinating: the constant opportunity for technical innovation, and the ongoing, invigorating phenomenon of witnessing users benefit directly from my interventions. As my own eyesight diminishes and as my brain starts functioning differently, I’ve come to understand that I’ll be the beneficiary of this inclusive design and development philosophy. For any of us lucky enough to be ‘able bodied’ at the moment, it pays to pause and remember that this is a temporary state of being. We are all aging into a state of disability. By taking the time to make things more accessible, we can build a more inclusive world. And, trust me, it’s going to benefit all of us.” 

Bo Campbell, Inclusive Design LeadPhoto of Bo Campbell

“Accessibility is incredibly important not only because it gives everyone a chance to contribute and be productive in society, but because it also promotes diversity in the workforce which is proven to be a major factor of success. Personally, driving efforts to create inclusive products is more humanitarian in nature. My hope for the future is that accessibility will continue to be woven into new products as personalized features that match usability with user ability. Accessibility is primarily a design issue which is why I continue to build awareness and enablement with the design community at IBM and across the industry.”

Share Your Thoughts

We would also like to hear what accessibility, diversity and inclusion mean to you. Please share your stories on social media and hashtag using #InclusiveIBM and #IDPWD.