Bender’s HighTest Accessible Technology Solutions Team.
May 22, 2018 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Johna has served as an Accessibility Consultant at Bender Consulting Services, Inc. for over 3 years.  Jim has served as a Digital Accessibility Consultant in various capacities with Bender Consulting for over 20 years.  Both guests will discuss their roles as valued team members delivering in Bender’s HighTest Accessible Technology Solutions line of business.  The HighTest team ensures web applications, proprietary software, business processes, and electronic documentation are accessible to everyone.  The team evaluates and ensures compliance with accessibility standards in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, for electronic and information technology and the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (W3C WCAG 2.0).

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Transcript

DISABILITY MATTERS

Jim Homme and Johna Gravitt

May 22, 2018

         

 

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>> ANNOUNCER:  Welcome to Disability Matters with your host, Joyce Bender.  All comments, views and opinions expressed on this show are solely those of the host, guest and callers.  Now, the host of Disability Matters:

Here's Joyce Bender.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  And welcome to the show, everyone.  Hope you're having a great day.  I am so excited.  I have been meeting with people from Japan ‑‑ is all know I went there a couple of weeks ago.  But then a contingency came here to Pittsburgh through Global Pittsburgh that is working with the State Department and it is so exciting to have these bonds with the people in Japan.  And I am also mentioning them; we have 17 countries that listen to this show; and one of them is Japan. 

So, a special shout‑out to all of you.  And to my good friend Yoshiko Dart.  Yoshiko, I was telling everyone about you again when I had that meeting; and what a great leader you are.  So, before we begin the show, we want to thank our sponsors, our lead sponsor, the past several years, has been HighMark. This company is so awesome; working for quality of life for people with disabilities.  So, thank you HighMark, thank you David Holmberg, thank you, thank you, Deborah Rice Johnson, thank you so much.

Well, today, what a pleasure for me to have two of my employees as our guests.  Two people on the HighTest team at Bender that works in digital accessibility and, really, experts in their own area.  We have with us today Johnna Gravitt and Jim Homme.  Welcome to the show.  Jim, how about we start with you.  How about you begin by

telling our listeners about your background in the disability community?

>> JIM HOMME:  Well, Joyce, I became involved in the disability community because I am a blind person.  I am a screen reader user.  I grew up not really involved in the disability community per se.  I went to school way back at the '60s and '70s when there was a school for blind children here in Pittsburgh and it had a good academic practice.  I immediately after that went to college, to get my degree in music education.  To me, that was a huge adjustment because all of a sudden I was they would call it mainstreamed today.  And I ‑‑ there were no disability offices at that time for people who needed help.  So I had to learn to advocate for myself.  And I never really considered myself a joiner of organizations with disabilities until I became actually employed at Bender.  And just maybe about nine years ago or so I had taken a correspondence course in chess and joined my first blindness organization at that time it was free to join.  I was the United States Braille Chess Association.  I just became President of that association this year and it's been a lot of fun.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Well, I know what a great job you have been doing for us and how well‑known you are nationally, Jim.  How about you, Johnna?

>> JOHNNA GRAVITT:  Well, before I started working at Bender I actually worked for a small company, Silver Lining Technologies; and what I would do there is train people on how to use their assistive technology, whether it be screen reader or Dragon, back when Dragon Dictation was used.  I would make house calls to help them set up their laptops.  But one of my most favorite things was my volunteer work at this place called CyberVision and there I was an adult mentor to students who were losing their eyesight.  I got to talk to them about everyday life, you know, being a blind person and how you can do things independently.  You just had to find different ways to do them.  It was very rewarding for me.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  That is just so great. And, Johnna, your husband also works for me.  Mike.

>> JOHNNA GRAVITT:  Yes.  Mike Gravitt, yes.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  And Mike is a software engineer that has worked for me almost since I started the company in 1995.  A real leader in our company.  So, Jim, would you explain to our listeners what are HighTest's mission and services?

>> JIM HOMME:  Well, you probably ‑‑ let me explain it this way:  Our HighTest team helps people with ‑‑ who want to make their products accessible; websites, mobile applications, Microsoft Office documents.  And the way I try to explain it to people is we all know a lot about physical accessibility from walking outside, seeing the ramps on street corners, going into buildings, seeing that you don't have to step up anymore and things like that, elevators with Braille signs, stuff like that has been around a long time.  But for digital accessibility, it has been around approximately the same length of time; but the digital world, like it is in the physical world, we have to communicate the correct information to the technology that people with disabilities use so that that technology can communicate the right information to the person so that they understand what it is they are looking at, how to use it and where they are.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  And how do they contact us, Jim, if they need our help?

>> JIM HOMME:  They can contact us through our website at benderconsult.com or there is a contact form on the site; and one of those options includes our HighTest services.

They can call at (412)787‑8567.  And we'll help them as quickly as we can.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Thanks, Jim.  And remember:  As Jim mentioned, you know, years, years, years ago, I know of people ‑‑ this is before PCs.   I know people who would go on interviews with their resume in hand but could not get into the building if they used a wheelchair.  And they actually would have to have someone else take it in.  Or they would have to ‑‑ even if it was accessible; but from that point on was not, then ‑‑ in other words, they just had stairs once you got inside, then they would have to interview the person on the first floor.

So, in other words, if you wanted to work, you couldn't get through the door.  Well, guess what?  Same thing today for people who need accessibility.  If you cannot see ‑‑ in other words, understand the website or applications, you can't get through that door.  So, no access, no employment. 

Johnna, how about you?  Why don't you tell us about your specific work at Bender Consulting Services in the HighTest area.

>> JOHNNA GRAVITT:  Okay, well, my primary responsibility is the screen reader portion of the accessibility testing.  I use different combination of Korean readers and screen readers or browsers with multiple applications with voiceover and the iPhone to test for accessibility as violations that are relative to the WAGS guidelines.  I also assist Jim in document accessibility and we also are working together on enhancing our report that is we give to customers, making those more streamlined.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  And Johnna, do you see that a lot of companies don't get it; that being accessible is not like a nice thing to do or being accessible it is so innovative, we should look into it.  But, do you agree from knowing so many people in your own community and others that it's a must right now?

>> JOHNNA GRAVITT:  I agree, it's a must.  I agree.  Because I feel that all people with disabilities should have equal access to the same content that people without disabilities can have on a regular basis.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Yes.  And when I spoke on Global Accessibility Day I talked about this.  You know, I will talk to companies, for example, and they will say, oh, you know, we are really trying to be progressive in the disability arena and we are working next year on getting different platforms to be accessible.  And they say this as if it's ‑‑ oh, that would be a nice thing to do sort of like having an ERG group at company.  That would be a nice thing to do sort of like sending people to training.  Hey!  It is not a nice thing to do, it's:  You must do this.  Justice for All.  I always say:  If tomorrow you became a person who is deaf or blind or had a learning disability, you wanted to work for a company; but because they lacked accessibility, you could not fill out the employment application then guess what?  You are going to lose out on great talent.

>> JOHNNA GRAVITT:  Right.  That is absolutely correct.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Yes.  There is a woman, a person who is blind, and she wanted to work for this company and she would not give up ‑‑ it was not accessible ‑‑ it was somewhat if there is such a thing as somewhat accessible.  But:  So difficult to go through all of the halls and all of the stoplights that you had to go through to get this application completed.  It took her 45 minutes. 

Now, this woman has a Ph.D. and she did get hired.  But they would have lost out not only on her but I assure you, there are many people who are blind:  They would not sit there for 45 minutes.  So you, by not being accessible, you are losing out on a great talent pool of people.  So, remember:  It's not a nice thing to do.  It's a business thing to do.

So, Jim, for our listeners around the world, they may not know what we are talking about when we talk about digital accessibility.  Could you explain that?

>> JIM HOMME:  I certainly can.  Digital accessibility is when you make it so that your software, your websites and your mobile applications are able to be used by people of all disabilities.  The regulations cover people who are blind, people who have hearing disabilities, people who have motor disabilities and people who have learning disabilities.

And there are specifically targeted regulations that cover that.  We go by the WCAG 2.x standards, which are internationally recognized.  And at the beginning of this year, just became enforceable in the United States as the new section 508 guidelines.  And, incidentally, Joyce, you were talking about how being accessible is a thing that companies must do.  But it is also something that is also a nice thing to have.  We know at Bender, through our recruitment efforts and finding people with disabilities jobs, that it absolutely benefits a company's bottom line to have people with disabilities at work there.

They are more loyal and a lot of other benefits.  But I can absolutely tell you that if you are at a company and you are marketing, you need to know that, besides the legal benefits that you gain by not getting in trouble for not being accessible; you get search engine optimization which brings you more visitors, which will ultimately bring you more customers.  Back in the early 2000s, Microsoft and DuPont did studies with people with disabilities and they found that, for every person with a disability who accesses a website or a mobile application, they influence the spending power of at least three more people.  So, mathematically, if 1/5 of the people in the United States have disabilities and you shut them out of your website or your mobile app, you are losing maybe more than 1/5 of the revenue that you otherwise would have.  We are also aging in the United States more and more.  More and more older people are living longer; and they are acquiring disabilities.  So, it's extremely essential that, for business reasons, companies need to be accessible or they are losing money.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Jim, you so elegantly and correctly explained that.  It is wonderful for the company and it's a must.  I mean, it's the law.  But it isn't as if I do this and then that's it.  What do I get out of this?  Oh, you get a lot of out of it.  Jim just gave you some of the reasons.  But I have to make it clear to you that it is a business return on investment advantage.  I am going to give you another example.  I in the last two weeks was at two different events where the speaker was talking about the ongoing labor shortage.  And we are headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  And even here we have currently 80,000 jobs that cannot be filled.  Now, these are of course in all areas from IT to manufacturing to people doing welding but these are jobs that cannot be filled and the whole question was:  What are we going to do?  Because, as we go on, just as Jim mentioned, more and more people are retiring; and how will we fill those jobs?  And sometimes I get angry when I am at one of these events and no one says, "Oh, what about that untapped labor pool, people with disabilities?"  It so upsets me when this happens.  So if you want to compete:  Listen, there is an untapped labor pool called people with disabilities with great talent where talent should be the only discriminator where people want to work.  And just think:  You will have that cutting edge advantage over other companies.  So, part of this is you can't do that unless you are accessible.  You can't attract that labor pool of people if you are not accessible.  If you don't have accessibility.

And I know, we have a lot of new things going on right at Bender Consulting.  Johnna, would you mind sharing with our listeners information about new digital accessibility at work training product?

>> JOHNNA GRAVITT: Sure.  Sure.  First of all, this is my promotion.  I am the product manager of digital accessibility at work.  And the goal of digital access at work is to develop a curriculum that will help people to understand how to test effectively for the WACG guidelines.  They will also learn how to use assistive technology.  To be honest with you, this is so new to me that I haven't even had a chance to teach someone about this yet.  But I am so looking forward to it.

The participants in the program will cover how to use screen readers; how to effectively navigate the web.  And this is so going to open up people with disabilities being able to advocate for themselves and to get new jobs; to be more hireable.  And I can't wait to be able to start putting this project into management, into use.

And that's really all I can say about it at this time.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Well, it's going to be new job opportunities and more productive, increased productivity.  That is so exciting, Johnna.  While I have both of you on the phone, talking about ‑‑ when I spoke the other day to this group of Japanese disability leaders and a politician/businessperson, they wanted to know:  Well is it possible for people who are blind to gain employment in the United States.  And, you know, there was a time ‑‑ and Jim, I don't know if you remember this ‑‑ but maybe in 1996 or 1997, I went to an event that ‑‑ Vocational Rehab was sponsoring in Harrisburg and with the Department of Labor.  I was seated at a table with a gentleman and I am talking about how to find employment for people from the disability community.

And so you all know, at that time, and the reason I won the President's Award at the White House from President Clinton is at Bender Consulting we were the only for‑profit company working in competitive employment for people with disabilities.

In other words, IT, Finance, Accounting, the types of positions I mentioned.  This gentleman seated by me said "I found employment for 300 people who are blind."  And I said "What?  Wow.  You are far ahead of me."  He said, "Yeah, they are all making brooms."

 Do you remember that, Jim?

>> JIM HOMME:  I distinctly remember that.  As a matter of fact, I am going to give you a story that goes a little further back in my history when I was at the blind school here in Pittsburgh.  I was in eighth grade, about to go to high school.  My guidance counselor, a wonderful gentleman, sat me down and said to me, "About the only thing I see in your future is making brooms."

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Mmmm.

>> JIM HOMME:  And I sat down there and I said I am going to find a way to prove him wrong.  And I didn't know how I was going to do it; but I just knew I was going to do it.

And on May 28 this year, Memorial Day will be my 30th year in Information Technology.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Wow.  Jim.

>> JIM HOMME:  And Joyce, you and I both know ‑‑ I am sorry.  My 22nd year at Bender.  I got the wrong anniversary.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  That is all right. 

>> JIM HOMME:  But also this year on Halloween ‑‑ scary thought ‑‑ is going to be my 30th anniversary in IT and a lot of people may not know that Joyce was the person who got me my first job way back in 1988.  I'm the first person with a disability that Joyce got a job for, back when she started to volunteer a long time ago.  And it was a really, really big deal.  I was very, very lucky.  I got my job back in the days when graphics was not a really big thing.  I missed punch cards by about five years. 

I was a COBOL developer.  I learned to advocate for myself about seven, eight years after that, because I got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and had to go back to school.  Got back to work.  Nobody would support me; I had lost all of my savings.  That is when I started working for Bender.  My little girl was about to be one year old.  She now has a job at HighMark through Bender.  She is 22 years old now. 

The screen reader company said we are not going to support you.  They plopped a whole new piece of software object on my desk.  I had no idea how I was going to use this piece of software.  But that is reality if you have a disability, if you are blind or have a disability and if you have something that is inaccessible.  You either have to survive sometimes or lose your job; and I was determined that was not going to happen.

So I sat down and I wrote all of the code for myself that I needed to write for the screen reader that I was using at the time to survive at my job; and I became the only blind certified Lotus developer ever.  That was how I learned to advocate for myself as a person with a disability.  And, through that experience and through advocating for myself was how HighTest got born because I decided that somehow, some way, we were going to help other people with disabilities figure out a way to gain employment, get promoted and keep their jobs and of course as you grow older, you want the world to be a better place when you are not here anymore.  So, all of that really drives me and I would like to see things to be better for people with disabilities in general, especially in the arena of accessibility, for that reason.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  That is such a great story, Jim.  And I am so proud you and proud to have both you and Johnna at Bender.  And Jim's right:  He is the first person that I helped gain employment; and it was in IT.  I just want to mention:  That story that Jim told about the counselor saying the only thing I see in your future is making brooms:  Do you know that, to this day, I have had people say to people who are blind and or deaf or other disabilities:  The only thing I see in your future is working at MacDonald's.  And we have got a long way to go.  We have to break down this stigma that exists and still exists in this country.

Johnna, before we talk about ‑‑ well, two things I actually want to ask you:  What is your vision?  The product that we talked about, what is your vision about that?

>> JOHNNA GRAVITT:   I want this to grow exponentially and help people get more jobs and be able to effectively advocate for themselves in the marketplace.

I would love to see people with disabilities, all types of disabilities have the opportunities that people that do not have a disability, have.  And I really believe that this product is going to help that.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Well, I do too, Johnna.  And, once again, if you are interested in hearing more about this product and more about our services at HighTest and how we can help you or your company, benderconsult.com.  Just go to that website and there is a contact place you can ask your questions and get in touch with us there.  benderconsult.com.

Johnna, you too, like me and Jim, you do volunteer work; and you know at Bender that is one of our value statements:  That volunteerism is part of who we are.  Johnna, and I know you do volunteer work.  And I also know you have a leadership role.  I wonder if you could talk about that for our listeners.

>> JOHNNA GRAVITT:  Sure.  I have a guide dog from a school called Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  She is my second dog from that school.  I love the services that they provide to people with disabilities.  Well, it's free for us, actually.  We don't pay anything, but this year I was selected to serve a three‑year term on what they call their Graduate Council and what my role there is to interview students who have just graduated with their dog and provide the feedback, back to the school to let them know if things need improvement or things they actually loved.

And then on top of that I was selected to be on the Technology Board of Guiding Eyes and my role there is going to be talking to these students about technology that they use while they are on campus and if there's anything that can be improved there.  And I will also be researching new types of technology that they could possibly utilize while they are there as well.  And I truly love to be able to give back help.  I want to be a part of volunteering for as long as I can; and even when I am no longer on the Graduate Council, I am still going to find ways to give back to the school that has provided me with such an amazing dog and such a greater independence because of my dog.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Well, is that dog part of who you are?

>> JOHNNA GRAVITT:  She sure is.  She is an extension of me.  She's like my child.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  And I know, Johnna, I have talked to you and I have talked to Jim and Mike and many others about this; but maybe you could talk also for a minute about the not playing with the guide dog when you are a stranger.

>> JOHNNA GRAVITT:  Oh, so, there is a lot of etiquette surrounding guide dogs and how people, you know, in the public interact with them and it's very, very important that if you see a blind person walking down the street with their dog, do not approach them and start petting their dog or talking to their dog because quite honestly, you could put that person in danger.  If you distract the dog from the job that she's doing, you could possibly cause that person to get hurt.

Because, you know, at end of the day, they are dogs.  They are very well trained and very well behaved, but they are dogs.  And they do get distracted by people and things.  It's a very, very important if you want to interact with the person that has the dog, talk to the person.  They will be more than happy to educate you on what the guide dog can do and how they are trained.  But never, ever approach them and start playing with the dog.  And it's okay to ask if you can pet their dog.  But accept it if they tell you no.  Because it's important to not distract that dog's focus.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Yes.  I am glad you brought up the last point about don't be offended if the person says no.  And Jim, I know I was with you once when someone did not ask you but just started petting the dog and asking you the name of your dog.  What do you have to say about that?  Do you have any additional comments about that, Jim?

>> JIM HOMME:  Johnna covered it very well.  I would just emphasize just the one point:  That dogs are going to be dogs no matter where they are.  They don't understand what it is about ‑‑ they don't get the idea that it's not okay to pet me.  They are going to love somebody no matter what.  That's just because they are dogs.  They can't help it.  We have to try to think for them.  And imagine what possibly could happen.  And it is really, really helpful if folks would understand that they are actually helping the dog do its job by ignoring it.  I know that it's really attractive to want to walk up to a well‑behaved dog and say hi to it because, let's face it, well‑behaved dogs are rare.  And these dogs are extremely well‑behaved in all kinds of situations and it's a really hard thing not to do.  I remember when my best friend got his first Seeing Eye dog and I didn't know any better.  I pet the dog and you are didn't understand what kind of danger I was putting him in.  I lived with him for a while in his apartment.  And he had to take me aside and explain it to me.  Once I got my dog, I got the idea graphically because my dog loved my wife.  And she saw my wife across the street in downtown Pittsburgh on one of the busiest streets, Fifth Avenue, tried to pull me into the traffic to go see my wife and my wife had to hide in a building to keep the dog from hurting ‑‑ getting me hurt.  So I figured it out very quickly that that's what you don't do.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  I hope you all got that.  I am going to tell you what, I have a Yorkie.  I can be way out.  And the minute he sees me, he is jumping and jumping, trying to get out of the door.  Why I am telling you that is, just as Jim said:  If the dog really loves you and you have been doing the wrong thing:  Petting, playing with the dog or giving the dog treats when the other person doesn't know it and that dog sees you, it's going to be like my dog, going to start jumping and want to get to you.  And just as Jim said:  That could be a very terrible accident.  So, please, ask first.  And, number two: Don't be offended if the person says no.

So Jim, we were talking about accessibility before.  I guess you would probably agree with me that some of the ‑‑ when you get to the bottom line, that the main benefit for a company is the bottom line, is helping from a business perspective.

>> JIM HOMME:  Absolutely.  That would be my premise.  That would be my ‑‑ what I would say.  It's all about the bottom line.  And it's all about a lot of other things too.  The accessibility industry is beginning to mature now.

The best way I can explain it is you probably remember from history class how, when Henry Ford came on the scene, how automobiles began to be mass‑produced.  Henry Ford standardized mass production of automobiles; and that included things like making bolts the same size; making parts the exact same way.  We are starting to get to that point now.  Not only in the software industry where we are using a lot of components to build software; but we are also learning that if we build accessibility into those components, that software will just be accessible, right from the beginning; and that's going to lower the cost of accessibility.  Right from the beginning.

And right now, we are at a point where we understand that it's much less expensive to build software and consider accessibility right from the beginning than it is to get into trouble legally or to go to somebody and say:  What do I need to do to fix this thing; to make it accessible?  It's probably I'm only guessing here, maybe five times more expensive to fix accessibility than it to build it in from the beginning.  One of the things I really hope for is that a lot of these script libraries, companies will want to devote some of their time to helping make the more popular ones accessible right from the beginning.

And people want to volunteer to do that.  Because that would just help all of us exponentially.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  How true that is:  Universal Design.  As Jim said, as people age, lose vision, hearing, have a mobility issue or have some type of cognitive delay, remember, if you have accessibility built in it as there for everyone accessibility has to be to everyone.  So, Jim, before we end the show today, I thought maybe you could talk about some of the trends in digital accessibility and where the industry is headed.

>> JIM HOMME:  I kind of alluded to that a couple of minutes ago when I was talking about how the whole industry is being more automated.  We are going into some areas now where there's research being done about how to standardize the way we test for, the way we report on and the way we feed accessibility automated tools, the information that they need to crawl through software and tell us what the accessibility errors are.  That kind of thing is in its infancy.  And that's reflected in a lot of the tools that people are building right now in let's just say the non‑accessible world.  Just as an artificial way to talk about it, to separate the two.  But of course we always wants the non‑accessible stuff to be accessible right from the beginning.  But anyway, artificially talking about that:  It's really going very much the same way.  And the thing that will speed that up is if we make some of the libraries accessible.  What that's going to do is it is going to lower the cost of accessibility; it is going to make it so we don't think about accessibility.  It is just going to be built in and I can tell you as a person with a disability; as a blind person, I hope I get to see the day where I will just be able to turn on my computer and everything will just work and I won't even have to think about whether I can use the software or not, whether it's going to impact my job or not.  And I would like to see that same kind of thing for the young person coming up.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Me too.  Me too.

Johnna and Jim:  Thank you so much for being with us today.

>> JOHNNA GRAVITT:  Thank you so much for having us.

>> JIM HOMME:  Thank you.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Two of my favorite people.  Two superstar people in digital accessibility.  And if you are listening to the show now and you need that service remember:  benderconsult.com.  You will have two superstars helping you out.  So, before we end the show today, we always end the show with a quote and today that quote is:  What a blind person needs is not a teacher but another self.  Said Helen Keller.  And how true that is.  This is Joyce Bender, America's voice, where Disability Matters at voiceamerica.com.  Talk to you next week with my guest Deborah Ruh.