Inclusive Design

Diversely Deaf IBMers Work to Create An Accessible Future

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This past August, I started my position as UX designer at IBM Accessibility. I was new to the team, and relatively new to the world of inclusive design—but only from a designer’s perspective. Born profoundly deaf, I brought with me a lifetime of experiences with accessibility (or lack thereof, in many cases).

My second week on the job, our team met face to face (many of us work remotely in different cities). I was thrilled to meet my new colleagues, among whom was Brent Shiver, a talented software engineer who also happens to be deaf.

A man wearing earbuds and a dark shirt is signing in a Webex call portal. On the bottom of the screen is a live transcript in a browser placed underneath the Webex window.

Alexandra’s CART services in action – In a video call between Brent and Alexandra,  Alexandra has a view of Brent’s interpreter who speaks on behalf of Brent. Alexandra follows along by reading the live caption done by a CART writer which is placed beneath the video.

Brent uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate, whereas I am an oral communicator, relying on digital hearing through Cochlear Implants. These differences worried me: there is a huge rift in the D/deaf world between the Deaf (people who sign) and the deaf/Hard of Hearing (people who do not). Fortunately, my fears were assuaged immediately.

Brent and I are equally passionate about fighting for the same thing: access. As Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) who are striving to be leaders in our respective and joint communities.  We understand that no matter where you come from, or how you move through the world, everyone deserves to be included.

Our first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be PwDs is an asset to our team for many reasons. Brent and I are able to collaborate on making sure IBM Design serves and includes both Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) communities. Because disability occurs on a spectrum, we offer unique perspectives as people who operate differently not only from hearing people, but also from each other. For instance, Brent uses an ASL interpreter for both online and in-person meetings, while I speak but rely heavily on lipreading. My need to see people’s faces clearly necessitates a CART transcriber on video conference calls, due to the poor video quality. Though we communicate using entirely different methods, we both share the experience of living in a sometimes inaccessible world.

As both creators and beneficiaries of this technology, it is only natural that Brent and I help lead the team, offering our insights and advocating for diverse solutions. IBM’s commitment to accessibility for its employees (providing ASL interpreters and CART services, for example) has given us the ability to participate as leaders in the design process. I am proud to be on this team, and am excited for the future of IBM Accessibility, as well as the company at large, as we move towards a more inclusive, accessible world.

UX and Visual Designer

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