PEAT Talks Transcript: Small Business Accessibility through Biz Ability

Introduction:

>>Hello and welcome to PEAT Talks, the virtual speaker series from the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. On every third Thursday of the month, PEAT Talks showcases individuals whose work and innovations are advancing accessible technology in the workplace. My name is Christa Beal, I’m a member of the PEAT team, and I will be hosting today's talk.

Before we get started I will quickly review a few logistics. We will have time at the end for Q&A, so please enter any questions you have into the chat window or by emailing info@peatworks.org. You can also email info@peatworks.org if you are having any technical difficulties. You can download today’s presentation on PEATworks.org and an archived recording will be posted online following today's event. We will also be live tweeting today’s event, so please use the hashtag #PEATTalks with two Ts. 

Today, PEAT is honored to welcome Ted Drake, principal engineer at Intuit. Ted is an experienced front end designer, engineer, developer evangelist, and accessibility expert. Ted leads the accessibility efforts for Intuit for its desktop, mobile and web products. Previously, Ted worked on some of the most viewed websites on the Yahoo network and managed mobile accessibility within Yahoo’s Accessibility Lab. Ted is a well-respected accessibility expert and ally of PEAT, and we are lucky to have his guidance on PEAT issues.

Ted is also joined today by his partner in BizAbility JJ Meddaugh. JJ is an owner and president of AT Guys, a small business specializing in product training and consulting, which primarily helps the blind and visually impaired. Through the development of his business and other research, he has become well-versed with a variety of tools to enable small businesses to be run independently and accessibly by a blind person. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University. JJ will be on the line to share expertise with us as well.

Today we will be talking about today BizAbility, a community-driven resource for business owners with disabilities and entrepreneurs to find the accessible tools they need to build and run their business effectively. PEAT is excited to spotlight this resource for entrepreneurs and small businesses because three in ten workers are self-employed and it is important that the solutions they choose to run their businesses are accessible. Now without further delay I will turn it over to Ted.

Presentation:

>>Hello everybody. I am assuming this is sounding good can you give me a yes? Yes. Thanks a lot everybody. I am happy to be here and I want to also mention that I'm so happy that JJ was able to make it.  This is a project we have had passion on and we are happy to share this information with everyone. We gave a presentation on this last year at CSUN, but this is something that we haven't talked about in a while. In the presentation there may be images on the screen, but in general they’re not going to be that important in general, so if you cannot see the screen, I will let you know if there is anything important to view otherwise you will not be missing out on anything.

Currently on the screen is a picture of JJ and myself. I first met JJ a long time ago back when I was at Intuit, I mean at Yahoo, and he was the only android user I knew. He was helping me learn more about android accessibility with Yahoo sports. Over the years we’ve talked about this project, and how we would like to make it easier for entrepreneurs with a disability to better run their companies, to give people the resources they need to manage a company, to build a company, to work with their employees, inventory, and every aspect of a business. How can we remove the barriers to make it easier for people to do their jobs, and to build their independence? 

That is essentially what the goal of BizAbility is. I will try to advance the screen. There we go. 

With BizAbility our goal is to build independence, and to foster success. For anybody that is running a small business, is self-employed or they are an employee at a small business and they are trying to do the best work they can. In order to do that, they need to figure out how they will learn about what they will do, what kind of equipment, what kind of applications, what kind of tools will work with their disabilities?

So that is BizAbility in a nutshell. We looked at two existing resources as models, we looked at Apple Vis, the forums at Apple Vis, where people are able to go in there to leave comments and suggestions and ratings for Apple-based applications. And we also looked at the FCC clearinghouse for mobile devices and in that clearinghouse if you are looking for a specific features set, you can go in there and you can find an android phone with the keyboard with a Sim card that is removable, an SD card, anything that is needed for you, you can look into that clearinghouse and find.

We were kind of looking at how we can combine those two, create something that is standardized and provides easy searchability, along with community activity. Now the reason why this is so important, as you mentioned earlier as you started, three out of ten people are self-employed. We looked at this. Entrepreneurship provides a lot of opportunities. A lot of times, depending on the person’s location, their ability to move around, their ability to work with other customers, sometimes self-employment may be an only option to provide a full independent lifestyle and earnings. In order to do this, in order to run a business you will need to have tools, tools that make it easy to run your business.

How will you do point-of-sale? If you are shipping stuff, how will you put stuff in boxes, weigh them to create postage? If you are trying to learn how to run your business, where are you finding those classes? When you take those classes, can you get a transcript? Can you navigate the classes with the keyboard? These are the issues that we looked at. This is where we went to find the solutions.

I have on the screen a bunch of the statistics I mentioned earlier to help give a little bit more context to the problems that we are trying to solve by encouraging self-employment. 32% of working age people with disabilities were employed between 2010-2012. That is a large number of people that are not employed. The current underemployment rate is two times that of nondisabled people as of May 2015. Employed people with a disability are more likely to be self-employed. Which is what we are saying, sometimes this is the best option. 

And 28.4% of people live below the poverty level. And the average household income was $37,400. We are seeing a lot of need to increase independence, allow people to raise their income. And self-employment is the solution for many people. And now I will turn it over to JJ to talk about the entrepreneurial benefits and problems. If you are looking at starting a business, becoming self-employed, here are some of the benefits and problems. 

>>Thank you Ted. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this. I started my business in 2010. There are types of reasons why I chose to work for myself as opposed to someone else. I was not bound by location. I was able to choose a city and a building in locations that worked for me. I first worked from home, and then to an office that was very convenient to public transit and other resources that make it really easy for me to run a business without having to use a car, which is obviously a big thing for someone who is blind at the moment.

One of the biggest things I am able to do is to choose my own technologies. At BizAbility we have gathered resources about technologies that work well for business owners with disabilities, whether it is shopping carts or blogging platforms. When you are working for another company you are bound by the technologies they have chosen. When I start my own company, I am inherently able choose technologies that are accessible. Of course you can set your own hours, that’s an obvious benefit of being an entrepreneur, sometimes they end up being long hours but you can do. And there are possible tax incentives, and some government assistance available as well.

There are challenges you will have to overcome as well. Some of this is what we are trying to do with BizAbility is overcoming these challenges. Knowing what technologies are accessible, I had nowhere to go to figure out which shipping see shipping solutions were accessible because most other companies that were doing this, blind people, would find someone with vision to do their shipping or the day today tasks. I didn’t want it that way. I wanted to be able to have the opportunity to do these things by myself. That kind of ties in too, is the lack of peers, the lack of mentors, the lack of community to talk to, as far as getting the solutions deep down for my specific business problems, especially online business which are a more recent phenomenon. They have only been around for the last 10 to 15 years or so.

Finding education and resources, so a lot of this, the problems we are trying to solve with BizAbility, is creating resources, is creating a community of people and like-minded business owners that can both mentor and learn from each other as we try to expand businesses for blind people and other people with disabilities.

It is also work noting JJ hosted and managed many startup weekends. He is encouraging small businesses and self-employment beyond the disability community for everybody in his city. 

>>Absolutely. It is a really important thing just to encourage; it is a cool culture to be a part of whether you are disabled or not.

One of the things we looked at when we were building BizAbility is, we wanted products that were proven to be good. Mainly because we had tested them, or we knew someone who had tested them. But also we wanted universally designed products, we do not have disability specific products. For instance we do not have AC device meant for customer service. Instead what we are looking at is, if you are going to be buying a product, or are going to be using a tool, hopefully that tool will be used by everyone within the company. So that’s what we’re looking for, is Universal Design, that is what we were looking for. Because basically as you expand your company you need to be able to have tools that can be used by everyone regardless of their ability. And a good example of this is one that JJ uses for shipping out products: Endicia, for printing and postage, and the Dynoscale. I will let JJ talks about those. 

Sure. Shipping, as I mentioned a minute ago, is one of those big challenges as a business that sells products, and I wanted to share products. I didn't find ways to do that independently, and there are several steps of that, from determining the types of materials to use, printing labels, making sure the text is actually on the label correctly, doing the packaging, weighing the package, shipping it and correctly  applying the label. As Ted mentioned, Endicia is one of these products that services that need quite well, it intersects directly with the United States Postal Service, among other services to print preprinted labels where you only have to copy and paste an address to the clipboard. The app will pick it up, you tell it the type of package you want to use, and then it will print the label. I have chosen half sheet labels, because they are two per sheet, I would print on the top half and then flip it around, and then print on the bottom half. So I always know which text is going on which label. 

It also supports USB scales and there are several that they support. I can press a button in the app, and when the USB scale is connected, my package is weighed, and the resulting weight is displayed on the computer screen and spoken to me. I am able to get an accurate weight on my packages and not overpay for shipping. So this is an example of an app that really by accident, just happens to be a good Windows app design, is what I would call 95% accessible. There’s a few things, you have to use a mouse cursor for, do some alternative navigation techniques. You can’t just have everything, but it’s certainly accessible to the point that I’m able to confidently recommend it as a solution for someone who is using keyboard access primarily, and someone who is blind and needs  to ship out packages. This is just one example of a product we have found kind of by accident that works really well. 

This goes back to the goal, we do not want every other business to sort through all the products when there is one that we know is available, which comes to the product inclusion policy, our philosophy. We wanted to include products that we knew worked, that provided a function we knew was necessary for a small business.  We do not have a lot of extraneous stuff, we are looking at the core products.

The products included have been tested by either JJ or myself, or we know someone who has used the product and endorsed it and in some cases we knew that the product had issues, but that the product team had an accessibility department and they had been working on it and had been making progress. An example of that might be something like LinkedIn, or Twitter, or Facebook. Also I work for Intuit. Intuit makes small business software, but it’s unbiased. We are happy to list Intuit competitors in fact there are lots of Intuit competitors that are within Bizability. There is no bias towards Intuit on this.

The product categories we focused on is accounting, education, inventory, management, marketing, online stores, payroll, point of sales and shipping. This does not cover all of your small business categories, but within this set of categories you will find most of what you need to order and run a business.

The BizAbility website is based on, is one of the things we recommend, is based on three very simple packages. It's built on WordPress, which is free and for the most part accessible. We use the Woo Commerce free plug-in, which is a free accessible shopping cart solution, then we use Joe Olson’s WP Accessibility plugin. So these three plugins, these three packages provide a free solution for us to create BizAbility. It includes the ability to have product ratings, set up the categories. And if you were building an online store this is a great way of doing it. 

This also goes back to Universal Design, if you're looking for a job in the future and you know how to work with WordPress, there is a lot of opportunities out there.

So what can you do? Our goal like we said earlier, was to play off the concept of Apple Viz, which is very community-based. What we love is for you to go to BizAbility.org and leave comments and ratings on products. If you are using one of these products, and you have a suggestion like for instance, when I use product X, I find it easier to do this in order to accomplish a task. Or maybe version blank of this product works better than version blank. Any kind of help suggestion you may have that is helpful for other consumers would be great. We are looking for contributors, so if you want to become a contributor, if you already have a small business, you have your set of tools. We would love to add you to a contributor to add products. Share BizAbility with your colleagues. In order to make it bigger and better, in order to make it truly accessible, it’s got to have more input than just from JJ and myself.

Currently we have a lot of product pages that will give basic details, basic information on products that we found to be accessible. I would like to expand that as well to have some tutorials and guides as I was talking about in the shipping part of this, I will probably create a guide on how to take a package to beginning to shipped out of the mail, so it would be cool if you have a process that works very well, to create perhaps a how-to or tutorial to tell other people how to replicate what works well for you. 

Finally I would like to give the URL, it’s BizAbility.org. We have a twitter account which is at @biz_access. We would like to leave plenty of time for questions, so we are ready for questions at this point.

Questions:

>>Sure. As a reminder, please start entering your questions into the chat window,  I will start with a question I have, if you are interested in suggesting products and being a contributor, what is the best way to get linked up with you all to do that?

>>That’s a good question. I will pull up the website real quick to see if we have a contact link on there, if not I definitely need to add that. Otherwise you can reach out to our twitter handle, or to JJ or myself, and we can follow up with you about that. 

>>Another question, going JJ's way, what is the number one piece of information you can give to someone to help ensure that the tools they  use are accessible?

>>There are two parts to this. First of all, if you are starting a business, and you are a person with a disability: do your research, and find tools you are comfortable using, even though you might be able to rely on someone else with vision, or whatever abilities to perform certain tasks for you, you can’t always rely on someone else. You should always have it to where you are able to perform all functions of your business if need be.

The other part of it is that if you are starting a business and you are not disabled, it is still very worthwhile for you to look at these tools, that you might consider as you are building your business. Many of these are top-notch tools, you are not cutting corners by using these ones that are recommended and others that are available. As Ted mentioned, there are millions of people with potential disabilities that you will be locking out of your hiring pool, by not using accessibility tools. Whether you are using them in other parts of your business, you are opening it up to millions of potential clients that could become partier company. 

>>Good information. Now little bit more about visibility. In addition to the passion project, what do you see as the future and the database going forward?

>>It is very much in its infancy at the moment that is part of the thing, yes we both have full-time jobs, so have not been able to put as much time into it as we like. Hopefully I definitely see the future as finding more contributors to work with us, the more of us that there are the faster the resources will grow and that is what fueled AppleVis. There’s a whole lineup of guide writers and contributors now that they have to fuel that website. I think that the larger the pool of successful business owners that we grow to bring in resources, the faster the website will grow and it will just spiral out from there. 

>>I would agree with that, we have the stability that this website will not go anywhere, it’s not going to disappear. This information will remain, but we really do, the reason why we have been doing the outreach is we want people to help and to join, to make this truly a community project.

Conclusion:

>> All right great, I think all of you in the PEAT Network should check BizAbility out as we would like to be a resource for you as well as you move this project forward. I think that is all we have today. I would like to give a special thanks to Ted and JJ, for taking the time to speak with us time to speak with us today and for all of you who took the time to join us. We will be posting this recording in the next week or so, and encourage you to share this with your friends, family, and neighbors. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon.

Thank you. >> [Event Concluded]