Future of Work Podcast, Episode 20.
Technology educator Chancey Fleet discusses where the future of assistive technology going and what HR workplace leaders need to do to make their workplaces and businesses more inclusive and accessible.
This podcast is developed in partnership with Workology.com as part of PEAT’s Future of Work series, which works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities.
Intro: [00:00:00.15] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller Merrell, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, H.R. and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:25.5] I’m reading a lot of buzz on the Internet about accessibility and technology. I [00:00:30.0] love that more companies are considering accessibility for their employees and in their hiring process. That’s what the Workology podcast and our Future of Work series with PEAT is all about. I wanted to hear more about assistive technology from an expert who helps train, lead and coach every single day in this area. Where is the future of assistive technology going and what things do HR Workplace leaders need to be more aware of? What do they need to do to make their workplaces and businesses [00:01:00.0] more inclusive and accessible? This episode of the Workology podcast is part of our Future of Work series powered by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology in honor of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act this July. We’re investigating what does the next 30 years have in store? What will the workplace look like for people with disabilities? And what is the potential of emerging technologies that will be there to help make [00:01:30.0] workplaces more inclusive and accessible? Today, I’m joined by Chancey Fleet. Chancey is an assistive technology coordinator for a library in New York. Chancey is a past Fellow at the Data and Society Research Institute. She also serves as the president of the National Federation of the Blind Assistive Technology Trainers Division.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:52.68] Welcome to the Workology podcast.
Chancey Fleet: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Chancey Fleet: [00:01:59.31] Sure. So [00:02:00.0] I identify as blind and I am a technology educator. I’ve been in that field since I was an undergrad in college where I was studying sociology and psychology. And I had the opportunity to start teaching people with disabilities how to use their technology and bringing to them the sense of confidence, flexibility, independent learning and freedom that technology has always afforded me.
Chancey Fleet: [00:02:28.83] So even though I was studying [00:02:30.0] sociology and psychology in college,
Chancey Fleet: [00:02:33.45] I thought for many years that those weren’t fields that I was really going to be working in.
Chancey Fleet: [00:02:39.81] I thought I had found my calling as an assistive technology trainer. What’s been interesting over the years, as technology becomes more complex and there’s more and more to negotiate, that it’s not just hardware and software, but also social forces, legal forces, organizational [00:03:00.0] cultures and the individual decisions that people make around technology and what that does to benefit or harm their lives. I find that I actually am drawing on that very old background that I have in sociology and psychology. And my current professional practice, I think gives it all together.
Chancey Fleet: [00:03:20.93] I teach people how to use digital tools with mindfulness, with confidence, with an outlook that is positive in terms [00:03:30.0] of what they can accomplish, but an outlook that’s also skeptical in terms of whether tools are ever really all good or all bad. And I think understanding how technologies appeal or don’t appeal to people. What frustrates and empowers a learner? And how technologies are designed with maybe more than just the user’s interests in mind. I think it all comes together in the practice that I have now.
Chancey Fleet: [00:03:59.4] I’m based at a library [00:04:00.0] in New York. I curate the assistive technology that we have in our branch and I run a technology coaching program. We do about 150 hours of one-on-one coaching a month, powered by staff and volunteers who are native users of assistive technology. I run a fully accessible graphics lab called the Dimensions Project, where we give blind and sighted people the tools to create accessible, non-visual, spatial representations using tactile graphics and 3D prints. [00:04:30.0] And then last year, I just finished up a fellowship at Data and Society Research Institute, where I did direct advocacy, community organizing and writing to shine a little bit of a light on the intersection between cloud connected accessibility tools and critical issues and data ethics.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:49.91] I’m already impressed. Let’s talk about the importance of accessibility when it comes to technology. You mentioned that you identify as blind so [00:05:00.0] you can speak firsthand as someone who’s using the technology, but also in your work with others.
Chancey Fleet: [00:05:08.33] It runs really deep for me. A lot of my early formative experiences were about moments where I noticed technology either getting in my way or helping me to remove a roadblock.
Chancey Fleet: [00:05:20.72] When I was in kindergarten, which was in 1987, my father got me a laptop. It was really early for a kindergartener to have a laptop. This laptop ran DOS, it had two floppy disk drives and it ran a screen reader called Arctic Business Vision, and he made sure that I learned to type as well as read braille and learn a word processor. And that means that at a time when most blind children were relying on a Braille transcriber to mediate interaction between them and their classroom teachers, to Braille out of worksheet, and then Braille out a homework that that a child did in response to that worksheet, [00:06:00.0] I would just sit there and load things up on a desk, read my work and do my work. And I realized that blindness didn’t cause me to be dependent on other people. You know, I didn’t think of it properly in those terms in kindergarten, but I noticed that if I had the right tools, I could just do stuff on my own schedule without waiting around and that has stayed with me for all these years. And it’s every bit as relevant when I find a new tool that works for me today. [00:06:30.0] And on the other hand, I remember these times when there was just an absurd lack of accessibility that kept me from having a good time. I remember opening up a Christmas present one year and it was a talking language translating dictionary and I really wanted it because I was a nerdy kid. But it turns out that only the words in the dictionary would speak. And that the rest of the thing wouldn’t. And I was crying on Christmas morning.
Chancey Fleet: [00:06:56.71] And, you know, sometimes as an adult working in this space, I am still [00:07:00.0] on the inside crying on Christmas morning because often accessibility that’s technically achievable doesn’t happen because when people develop hardware and software, they may not have robust ways of checking accessibility during the development workflow.
Chancey Fleet: [00:07:15.85] The people who know how to do that might not be empowered to stop inaccessible things from shipping. And frankly, we get fatigued, and a lot of blind workers are not as excited as they could be or should [00:07:30.0] be about new opportunities and new technologies, because we just like know in our bones that even though accessibility is well understood by enough of the community and so technically achievable, it’s often just work that is not done.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:46.34] Oftentimes when H.R. people think of accommodation, they think of accommodation in the form of like a screen reader or a footrest in the office.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:56.8] They don’t necessarily think about accessible [00:08:00.0] technology. So, can you give us some examples of maybe how accessible technology would be used in a work context?
Chancey Fleet: [00:08:09.16] I would say that a screen reader without accessible mainstream technology that it’s working to interpret is like offering your employee a footrest without offering them a floor. A screen reader’s job is to read whatever’s happening in the operating system selectively and efficiently and give us the tools that we need to avoid using the [00:08:30.0] mouse and avoid using the screen and still get our work done and feel confident, focused and productive. Lots of programs allow screen readers to do that very well. Microsoft Office and G Suite, although of course they have their issues and things always get a little bit better and a little bit worse. And it’s a cycle. Microsoft Office and G Suite do a pretty good job of making the screen readers job doable. Most web browsers, many websites. But [00:09:00.0] on the other hand, there are programs and it’s not necessarily programs where achieving accessibility would be more difficult. But elements on the screen are not labeled properly. Images are not described. Mechanisms are not provided that allow someone using a keyboard to do something that most people would do with a mouse. And these little sort of pedestrian and very solvable issues lead to [00:09:30.0] a condition where any worker at any time may be asked to onboard with a new program and discover that it is just hostile to them as a screen reader user. So what allyship an effective human resource management looks like in the accessibility space is not only providing the specialized tools that a worker may need, such as screen reader magnification programs, switch control, but also having [00:10:00.0] an organizational wide procurement policy where when something is being considered to be acquired, the vendor has to furnish proof that it’s accessible.
Chancey Fleet: [00:10:10.69] The internal process for figuring out what the accessibility claims are accurate is strong. There’s a mechanism for reporting accessibility issues when they do exist. There’s a roadmap of consequences for vendors who deploy accessibility regressions [00:10:30.0] after a contract has been signed and manifestly inaccessible technologies don’t get bought or their contracts don’t get renewed. It feels like a hard line to take and it is a hard line to take. Just like hard lines have been taken in the civil rights movement over the years on issues of parenthood and gender and ethnicity and many other things. It’s a hard line to take right now because everyone’s not doing it and it’s hard for anyone [00:11:00.0] organization or human resources department to do something that feels radical. But I guarantee you that if everyone woke up tomorrow and decided to stop purchasing accessible technology, the landscape would change in just a couple of years because vendors want to sell products and if they can’t sell products without providing robust, reliable accessibility. They will just have to start providing products that do meet [00:11:30.0] the standards demanded by Social Justice and by H.R. departments need to have disabled employees who are as productive as their potential and their skills would warrant. Jim Fruchterman who founded Benetech, which is a social justice technology nonprofit that, among other things, has developed book share, an accessible online library of over a million titles, has recently said the procurement is the single [00:12:00.0] most powerful lever that we can employ to shift the industry to become more accessible and move the needle on the employment of folks who have disabilities.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:12.74] I want to break down a little bit more of what you said because I feel like we could just end the podcast right now. You’ve given us already so much information, but I want to reiterate it because what you were saying is that HR people, as [00:12:30.0] we are going through and starting to look at procurement of technologies, we need to make sure that they are accessible for all employees, and that means bringing in employees who have different disabilities into the process so that they can test, ask questions, give their opinion and help make sure that we’re selecting the right tech. Is that, that’s what you’re saying?
Chancey Fleet: [00:12:57.43] Yes. And also making space for [00:13:00.0] employees with disabilities to choose not to be accessibility testers by default. I’ve done some freelance accessibility testing in the past and across my roles. Sometimes I’ll still do it as a way to be in solidarity and help the folks who are having to deal with H.R. and procurement and support their work. That being said, I’m not passionate about that activity. I don’t enjoy it. It feels stressful and a little bit upsetting and it is not something [00:13:30.0] that I really want for my career. So, I think it is important to incorporate people with disabilities into the process of procurement and deployment and decision making. Sometimes workers will want to be actively engaged in accessibility testing, but sometimes that just looks like keeping them in the loop and empowering them to help make decisions, given information that’s been furnished about accessibility and it’s [00:14:00.0] possible to contract with firms who can do extensive, robust accessibility testing. And it’s also possible to have someone in-house for whom accessibility, testing and remediation is a specialty. You don’t always want to put that on your workers just because they are the end users who will be affected. Sometimes that’s the very last person that wants to do it.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:25.02] Thank you for that clarification, because I immediately think, oh, I have these people here, but it’s [00:14:30.0] a voluntary option and they might not be the best person to do the testing. If they’re not users or comfortable with different types of technology or just for whatever reason, they could also.
Chancey Fleet: [00:14:46.83] For me, what it is, is it feels a little close to home. It’s very hard for me to detach and do a dispassionate, granular audit when I know that my future productivity and comfort is in the balance. It’s just [00:15:00.0] a, it’s a funny position to be put in.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:03.69] I appreciate the insights here because you’re opening my eyes because I’m like, oh, these people are here. Like, let’s involve them in the decision-making process. But that doesn’t mean they’re always the best people to be involved.
Chancey Fleet: [00:15:19.31] I think of it a lot of the way, what I hear from folks that are on the frontlines of social justice that intersects with ethnicity and [00:15:30.0] parenthood and other backgrounds is that a big part of allyship is, yes, making space for marginalized groups to be part of the process and part of the decision making that happens, but being super careful about asking marginalized groups to do all the labor of eliminating their own marginalization? I hope that makes sense. For some people, they do want to get in the weeds. And even for me on some days, if I think [00:16:00.0] I know exactly how something could be better and I have a vision for changing it, and I’m not just going to be reporting on what’s wrong, I will get excited about it and I will engage with it. You absolutely do want to ask your workers. You want to give them the opportunity to be as involved in the accessibility, testing and vetting process as they want to be. You just want to make space for it to be a decision.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:22.32] Thank you. This is fantastic. The other thing that you said was that as an H.R. leader [00:16:30.0] or a purchaser of this technology is to be prepared to walk away from that technology if it doesn’t do the things that it’s supposed to do.
Chancey Fleet: [00:16:42.63] Yep. You said it right there. It is a hard one. And I think what makes it the hardest is that right now. Vendors know that each H.R. department, each procurement team is an island and there’s [00:17:00.0] not a broad-based groundswell of people who are putting their feet down in full and saying no more, no more inaccessible products.
Chancey Fleet: [00:17:12.1] If that were to change, if folks were to make a conscious decision to make a hard stand right now, and enough of that happened in enough large organizations, the effect would be swift and it would [00:17:30.0] be dramatic.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:31.77] Well, that’s why we’re having you on the podcast so that we can help start this conversation. So, people are confident and comfortable and willing to walk away when a piece of technology doesn’t do what it should be doing. For all employees.
Break: [00:17:47.25] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller Merrill. And you were listening to the Workology podcast. Today, we’re talking with Chancey Fleet about creating an accessible workplace with technology. This [00:18:00.0] podcast is sponsored by Workology and is part of our Future of Work series in partnership with PEAT, the partnership, on Employment and Accessible Technology.
Break: [00:18:10.23] Are you tired of putting your professional development on the backburner? It’s time for you to invest in yourself with Upskill H.R. by Workology. We’re a membership community focused on personal development for each are gain access to our elite community training, coaching and [00:18:30.0] events. Learn more at UpskillHR.com.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:35.58] So one of the things I wanted to ask you because as an H.R. person, I’m sitting here thinking as you’re talking like, wow, there’s a lot of technology I need to do this testing, usability testing. Is there a database or a resource that we can go to to get more information on what technology really does what? Because I feel like we talked to the salespeople and they’re just going to say, oh, yes, it does all these things, but that’s [00:19:00.0] not always the case.
Chancey Fleet: [00:19:01.47] So I’m not immersed enough in the field that I can give you specific recommendations about the exact path to follow. But I do think I know some resources. So, one good place to start is webaim.org. The aim part stands for accessibility in mind. So, it’s webaim.org. And there you will find a treasure trove of information about accessibility and technology. You’ll find information on the prevailing guidelines, which are web content accessibility guidelines. You’ll find surveys about the trends in the market among screen reader users, articles on how to address specific types of challenges, including the challenge of balancing your automated testing and your person driven testing to make sure that your approach to identifying accessibility status and making decisions is as robust as it can be. Going online though of course is not enough by itself. There’s a wonderful community of accessibility and technology professionals. I personally love to follow the A 1 1 Y tag on Twitter. A 1 1 y is a short form for accessibility because it’s A and then 11 more letters and the Y and there’s a really generous, smart, open, prolific community of people who are posting up articles, answering questions, offering office hours, offering mentorship [00:20:30.0] and doing lots of other cool things. Twitter is a really productive and generative space for me. And I think if you let it be if you engage with that community, that’s one way to have to have colleagues in accessibility, even if you don’t happen to have colleagues and accessibility already in your organization.
Chancey Fleet: [00:20:50.01] I also recommend that you go to your local accessibility meetup again and many cities have an A 1 1 y meetup and sometimes a yearly A 1 1 y conference or camp. And [00:21:00.0] those tend to draw an interdisciplinary crowd of people from technology, arts and culture, user training, side user experience. All with accessibility in mind. They usually have different presentations every month and room for networking and I can’t recommend enough getting involved with your local A 1 1 y meetup if you have one, and then lastly, and this should go without saying, but let me say it anyway. Bring people with disabilities into [00:21:30.0] your pipeline. And that doesn’t just mean, I mean it does mean hiring people with disabilities onto your teams immediately who are already well qualified and ready to go. But it also means doing outreach in our communities and investing in the development of emerging professionals. Some of the ways to do that, you can invite high school and college students with disabilities to come and do tours and talks at your organization to do job shadows. And you can also offer [00:22:00.0] volunteer experiences and internships. If your organization does any kind of civic, tech or public facing work, consider sending some of your employees out to places where a lot of people with disabilities are, to vocational training programs, to summer camps.
Chancey Fleet: [00:22:18.85] To Disability Pride events, to all those places where you might find people who, if they connect with you, might think of you when they are looking for a job. And if you work in a role where you’re [00:22:30.0] in a position to do proactive outreach around recruitment and employment, make sure that you make your welcome clear. A lot of people with disabilities, myself included, conserve our energy by really singling out opportunities where it’s already clear that we’re encouraged to apply. If I see a posting that says, you know, in that boilerplate of folks who are encouraged to apply, people with disabilities are encouraged to apply, that makes me [00:23:00.0] more likely to engage. If I’ve actually seen someone from your company at a disability focused event engaging with us in a substantive way, I am all the more excited. So, I think not only signaling things but also actively doing things that demonstrate an investment to communities of disability is a way to get your future employees thinking about you and excited about joining you.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:23.21] I’m starting to see HR tech companies talking about accessibility and inclusion with [00:23:30.0] their technology, which I love. It’s happening. But I wondered how we hold them accountable or ask these questions as maybe they’re starting to talk about things like WCAG 2.0 standards. How do we ensure that they’re doing what they say they’re going to do?
Chancey Fleet: [00:23:48.55] This is a new iteration of a timeless problem. In the first stage, the company totally ignores the needs of a demographic. And in the second [00:24:00.0] stage, the company realizes that it’s good for marketing to embrace the demographic and they start doing marketing. And we can see this across marketing to communities of color, to specific genders, to people who are GLBTQ. And now, congratulations. It’s our turn to people with disabilities and sometimes marketing matches up with reality and sometimes marketing attempts to make its own reality for long enough [00:24:30.0] for purchase decisions to get made.
Chancey Fleet: [00:24:32.38] And so, it is a good sign, I think mostly, when a company chooses to include information about inclusion and accessibility in its marketing messages and there are many companies who have a sincere commitment that should be applauded. That said, marketing is advertising. Claims, whatever they are, always have to be checked. And so, while marketing may draw you into [00:25:00.0] conversation with the company and that’s perfectly fine, then it’s fine to get excited that we’re being represented, then it’s time to do your homework. Then it’s time to do your accessibility audit, ask the hard questions, and even if a product is perfectly accessible at the time, make sure that your contract is ironclad and that there are consequences and steps to be taken in the event that accessibility regression occurs.
Chancey Fleet: [00:25:24.28] Because even a company that is fully, sincerely committed to accessibility may experience [00:25:30.0] changes in ownership, staffing and organizational priorities and accessibility can break at any time. Thank you.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:39.28] This is all very helpful. I just started to notice this myself and I thought, what is this? What does this really mean? So, I appreciate your insights here. Also, I’m a little bit jaded about when it comes to marketing and advertising in this space. It’s like buzzword. Bingo. Let’s move on a little bit. I want to talk about data privacy. When you and I were talking [00:26:00.0] and we were doing our prep for the show on the subject, you said something to me that really opened my eyes. Can you talk to us about why data privacy is something that H.R. leaders should be thinking about when it comes to accessible technology?
Chancey Fleet: [00:26:16.21] We’ve spent so long convincing people about the need for accessible technology that we’ve conditioned folks to think that accessibility is some sort of pure good that [00:26:30.0] can’t be complicated by other factors. And this is why we see accessible technologies reviewed in the mainstream tech press with just the most ridiculous rose-colored glasses. So, for example, I use a visual interpreter service called AIRA, a real time access to visual interpreters who can interpret any visual elements of any situation.
Chancey Fleet: [00:26:55.99] And I love working with AIRA interpreters because I can walk up to [00:27:00.0] the office copier or do origami at home or figure out what’s up at a farmer’s market and instant access to visual information that is not determined by someone else’s priorities or schedule is one heck of a drug.
Chancey Fleet: [00:27:15.43] That being said, this is a for profit tech company. And even though The New York Times created, in a word, literally entitled Tech for Good and gave it to IRA, IRA also happens to be a company that [00:27:30.0] is not very transparent about the security features and data processing happening in its app.
Chancey Fleet: [00:27:39.75] It’s a company that retains audio, video and location data about the sessions that users have had, sometimes on very sensitive topics, for a period of 18 months, unless the user says at the top of every single session that they’d like to opt out of recording. And if you check [00:28:00.0] out the terms of service, all of that data, the visuals, the conversations, everything could even go with the company in the event of an acquisition. So, yes, accessible technology is wonderful, but we have to have the same critical lens that we’re already used to applying, I hope, to other tools that we use that we don’t think of as specialized like content and learning management systems, communications platforms and other things that we need to acquire and track in the HR space. Just as important as a robust approach to accessibility is a set of high standards in terms of data privacy, data protection and transparency about data analytics and how our data may be used as a byproduct for other goals that a vendor may happen to have. One trend I’m seeing [00:29:00.0] in the space right now is that more and more accessibility tools are cloud connected and that’s sold as a feature. Access to A.I. and machine learning and processing power in the cloud is touted as an automatic good and in some cases that is what we need. And with the right security protocols, that may even be what we want. But there are products [00:29:30.0] out there that, for example, process plain text. You know, I can take a picture of a printed page and they send it to the cloud to be processed. It’s stored on some server somewhere. And you know what? My phone has enough processing power to do that job locally just fine. When you see a cloud connected technology solving an accessibility problem, please ask yourself whether cloud connection is a feature for you or a feature for the vendor.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:59.01] Because they’re storing that data, [00:30:00.0] they won’t. They’re pulling it somewhere and then using, collecting that information, how it’s being used or shared. Once you’ve sent it to the cloud, it’s out of your hands.
Chancey Fleet: [00:30:09.78] I have one direct ask for our listeners because I’m really passionate about the visual interpreters’ space. I am living in a world now for the past couple of years where if I encounter some tiny annoying thing, whether it’s a copier, or a thermostat or, you know, my 3-D printer that came with a diagram [00:30:30.0] for how to assemble it, I can connect to a visual interpreter and without bothering any of my colleagues or deciding that I’m not up for the challenge, I can power through that task. Visual interpretation is an amazing asset to my career and to my personal life, and I worry that we’ve been given a one-time gift of public trust and acceptance of deploying cameras [00:31:00.0] in the service of accessibility in spaces where normally cameras are not allowed. I think that right’s important and I want it to stay. And so by my direct ask is that when you engage with A.I. or human powered visual interpreter technology in the workplace and that you are procuring it for your employees, make it a condition of contract, that there is transparency about how data is processed and that data is [00:31:30.0] not stored for residual secondary purposes on the servers of the vendor. I think we need to have an organizational and location based ability to opt out of being part of that data harvesting operation, because I think if we don’t do that, we are letting ourselves in for exposures which might include exposures in the event of a hack or a security breach, a law enforcement request [00:32:00.0] or an internal leak that could have a reputational impact on not only the person or the company who’s interpreted time is exposed, but also a reputational impact on the visual interpreter industry as a whole.
Chancey Fleet: [00:32:18.97] And I love it too much to want to see that happen. So, let’s call on those vendors to do better than they are right now on making sure that we can [00:32:30.0] access interpretation without that residual exposure.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:32:33.76] And one of the reasons they’re likely asking you every time you go in and say, yes, I want to connect with a visual interpreter on a technology like IRA, maybe you can explain, like how it works because not every HR person is. I mean, I wasn’t familiar until I started working with PEAT that this thing even existed, which I think is fantastic. But also, you’re talking about potential perils, you know. [00:33:00.0]
Chancey Fleet: [00:33:00.46] Yeah. So. And let me preface this by saying that I’ve done a lot of soul searching before I took the decision to say this out loud to H.R. people, because I don’t want to have a chilling effect on the industry. As I said, visual interpretation is a really powerful tool in our lives. But I think if we want to preserve it, not only for ourselves right now, but for generations to come, we’re going to have to demand more transparency [00:33:30.0] and rigor from the industry in terms of privacy and security. So please don’t take this as a call to shut down visual interpretation in the workplace. Please just take it as a call to demand more control over what’s happening to data that gets generated in the workplace, just as you would with any other vendor. So, a visual interpreter app might be an A.I. tool. So, there are some tools that I might or might not classify as visual interpreter apps that will retext, sort currency, attempt to identify images, scan barcodes and more. But what I primarily think of as visual interpreter apps are human powered either by volunteers or by workers, and they are generally apps on your mobile device that use your camera and your microphone to create a remote connection to a human visual interpreter. That visual interpreter sees whatever your camera sees, answers any questions that you may have and describes anything that needs describing. In the case of IRA, your interpreter also has the ability to do web searches on your behalf, see your location on a map and recommend directions, and even join you using a screen sharing program like TeamViewer so that you can conquer an inaccessible website like the timesheet website that I use. So I use IRA several times a week to solve problems both large and small anytime I have to use a piece of business technology that unfortunately has an LCD screen or a touchscreen everything from my copier to my 3D printer to the phone on my desk right now, that’s an opportunity to use IRA If I need to do something kind of complicated.
Chancey Fleet: [00:35:24.29] You know, sometimes I help library patrons with crafts or with their computers. So [00:35:30.0] I need to be able to follow directions to assemble things. Origami sometimes is, believe it or not, a legitimate part of my job. And when I go online and look for YouTube videos of Origami so that I can learn it and teach it to others, what I encounter are completely silent videos. That’s just someone’s hands moving. or maybe, maybe you’re at a conference and you’re in the audience. There’s a technical. PowerPoint presentation. And whoever put it together is not bothering to describe the slides or making them available [00:36:00.0] online. And you’ve got to figure that situation out. Or maybe your networking with your colleagues and you would love to be able to go get a coffee and a bagel. That’s all, not a tall order, but you’re meeting all these new people and you don’t want to turn any of them into your personal assistant because that changes the dynamics when you’re networking. It’s really powerful to be able to just find out where things are with your phone and subtly, independently go get what you need. So that’s what an official interpreter app does. It offers flexibility through [00:36:30.0] description of visual things on demand.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:36:33.15] Awesome. Thank you for giving us a starting point for that. I think they’re amazing. It would be a life changer, lifesaver for, yeah, so many people. I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast that we’re heading towards this year is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. So, with the PEAT Future of Work series, I’m asking each person that [00:37:00.0] we’re talking to over the course of this year, looking back and then looking forward. But looking forward, what emerging workplace trends or technologies do you think are going to have the biggest impact on people with disabilities moving forward.
Chancey Fleet: [00:37:15.96] Oh, data analytics and AI in hiring decisions. So, I’ve been reading about tech, for example, that does facial sentiment analysis [00:37:30.0] to help predict, to help score the quality of applicants’ interviews. And as someone who has eyes that are going to do their own thing, no matter what I say, and who doesn’t make traditional eye contact, I have a feeling that that might be a test I would fail. Other people who are neuro divergent or have other disabilities or just have certain personality types might [00:38:00.0] be eliminated using this sentiment analysis. Even though they might be the best person for the job and make unique contributions to…or might bring unique expertise to a position. I’m really worried about that. I also downloaded just for fun, an infuriating kind of fun. I guess an app called Job Flair. And please check the field notes. If it’s JobFlare or CloudFlare. [00:38:30.0] I believe it’s called JobFlare. I downloaded this app called JobFlare that promises to take potential applicants through a flight of quick sort of gamified skills tests after which they can be rated and matched with potential opportunities. I encountered one test that asked people to quickly mix and match images, and those images are not described, [00:39:00.0] not legible to my screen reader and I encountered another one that was a math test that was much the same.
Chancey Fleet: [00:39:07.45] And when you test the skills of people you have never met against a normative model of what success looks like, when you predicate their success on an A.I. driven decision maker who cannot be asked for accommodations, happy before you can ever connect them with a human being inside your [00:39:30.0] company, you are enacting a type of discrimination that is very hard to detect, hard to prevent and hard to prove.
Chancey Fleet: [00:39:40.84] So I really think that these tools that claim to make hiring decisions more seamless and frictionless for you are actually creating a tremendous legal liability and having a chilling effect on diversity inclusion. So I would recommend [00:40:00.0] against using them in their current form. And if you think that they have a future, engage really strongly with vendors to explore how their A.I. models are redefining existing biases and the culture.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:40:16.36] Thank you. I appreciate the thoughts on this. I think that there I have a lot of conversations upcoming and future podcasts where we’re tackling, we’re talking a lot about artificial intelligence and the data analytics and [00:40:30.0] employment screening and for a variety of different employee groups. You’re not the only one who’s thinking about this. So, I think it will be interesting. Definitely. And as we move as we move forward. Very complicated. Yeah.
Chancey Fleet: [00:40:48.25] And I would encourage you, if you’re thinking about this in more intersectional terms beyond just the scope of disability, please do check out the Data and Society Research Institute, Were at datasociety.net. .And we have [00:41:00.0] researchers working on all of the intersectional implications of these tools for hiring and worker management. We have a labor futures initiative and we publish papers and we also have pretty frequent public talks and it’s a really diverse and thoughtful community where everyone is welcome to come and engage around these issues and think critically together.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:41:26.75] Chancy. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. [00:41:30.0] I really appreciate it.
Chancey Fleet: [00:41:31.21] You’re so welcome.
Break: [00:41:32.44] The Workology Podcast Future of Work series is supported by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT’s initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. Learn more about PEAT at Peatworks.org. That’s Peatworks.org. [00:42:00.0]
Closing: [00:42:00.49] I absolutely love the work that Chancey is doing and I appreciate her candid and open opinions that honesty is so refreshing. It really is a breath of fresh air. It’s so hard with all the marketing talk in the H.R. technology space to cut through the noise and understand how we in H.R. as workplace leaders can help our employees and candidates have a great hiring and employment experience. It’s conversations like these that give me a new perspective and hopefully [00:42:30.0] enlighten you on how all these different technologies can change the game. I especially loved the visual interpretation technologies. They are life changing and something that you should really consider adding for your visually impaired employees. The Future of Work series is in partnership with PEAT and it is one of my favorites. Thank you to PEAT as well as our Workology podcast sponsor, Workology.