Ather is a Software Engineer at Comcast and Founder of EvoXLabs. In this video he discusses accessibility in the era of telework, the importance of bringing the voices of people with disabilities to the table when designing technologies, and offers his advice on how employers can ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in a tech driven workplace.

Video transcript

PEAT. Building a future that works.

Hi I’m Josh Christianson, co-director of the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology or PEAT and I’m meeting with people with disabilities from across the country to reflect on the role technology has played in their careers and the potential it holds for the future of work. It’s a pleasure to be here today with Ather Sharif to discuss digital accessibility in the era of telework and get his advice on how employers can ensure inclusion of people with disabilities in a tech driven workplace. And I’ll let Ather introduce himself.

Thank you Josh. Appreciate it. As you said, my name is Ather, spelled as a t h e r Sharif, s h a r i f. I use he/him pronouns. For visual description, I am wearing a checkered blue and white shirt today. And my titles, I play, I wear a couple of different hats, so I’m a software engineer at Comcast. I’m also the founder and a researcher at EvoXLabs, which is a volunteer organization. And I’m also a PHD student at the University of Washington.

Ather, can you speak to the challenges and opportunities that exist within telework in regards to accessibility?

We are recognizing that there is a huge accessibility issue here. How do you incorporate the ASL interpreters? How do you incorporate the card services? As we bring in, bring more voices of people with disabilities on the table we will realize that there are so many different things and there’s so many different perspectives, as you said, that can be incorporated into the technology that we have created and the technology that we will create tomorrow.

When you think about the future of work as it relates to design and programming, what do you see?

So, I think what the future for me looks like is personalized designs, and that’s what my research focus is as well. To kind of think about tools that we can build that can automatically adjust to a person’s abilities and so that’s putting less burden on the user and more burden on the system, which should have been the case from the beginning. Traditionally what we see today is, are people building technologies for people with disabilities without people with disabilities and I think that that’s problematic. That’s very dangerous because it’s, it doesn’t represent the population. It’s an assumption of what they need and not necessarily getting them involved in the process. I think that’s important to do and I think that’s what our future should look like. So I think it’s really important for us to kind of spend time and energy in understanding the pain points of the community, getting a broader representation, understanding what is it that they need, what is it that can be helped and then, and only then, can we build a solution that will adapt to the users.

Ather, what advice would you give to employers so that they can ensure inclusion of people with disabilities?

Should really think about getting more people involved in the discussion, people with disabilities more involved in the discussion, whether that means in terms of guest lectures, whether that means guest talks, like a fireside chat or anything of those sorts, like have a sustainable ongoing series of talks or something along the lines, which kind of makes sure that the members of the team are constantly interacting with the disability community and kind of just educating themselves on what the different kind of disabilities are. What are some of the limitations? What can we do to improve that? So, the more we kind of understand that, we can be better at making informed decisions, so I think this is where we start.

Ather, thank you for your time, your insight and sharing a bit about your perspective on the future of work.

PEAT. Building a future that works.

PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy under contract no. 1605DC-19-F-00213/P00002. PEAT material does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Labor.