Creating inclusive work environments for the visually impaired: a panel discussion
Introduction and panelists
Our 2023 edition of the Inclusive Innovations event culminated in a panel discussion that gathered different voices in the topic of accessibility to explore the future of work for people with visual impairments. The panel was moderated by Vicky Cardona, Envision's community manager, and comprised the following panelists:
- Iolanda, an enterprise product manager at LinkedIn who spearheaded the internal accessibility program at LinkedIn and focuses on hybrid work and the products that support employees.
- Hoby Wedler, a blind entrepreneur, chemist, and educator who runs a food and beverage product development consultancy and a creative and marketing company called Sense Point.
- Hunter Benedict, a product manager at Google who is new to the world of low vision and is primarily speaking on behalf of his family, who had a daughter born with low vision.
- John Gassman, a visually impaired accessibility consultant who spent almost 20 years with the Walt Disney Company.
Challenges faced by blind and low vision individuals in the workplace
Vicky kicked off the discussion by asking the panelists about the biggest challenge faced by people with blindness in the workplace. The speakers provided their perspectives:
Hoby shared a personal story of facing discrimination during a job interview, despite his qualifications and experience. He highlighted that one of the biggest challenges for people with blindness or low vision is society's lack of understanding about their capabilities and potential contributions in the workplace. Hoby emphasized the importance of setting high expectations and not underestimating individuals with visual impairments. Despite the obstacles he has faced, he has become an entrepreneur and enjoys showing people what he can do.
Hunter shared his thoughts on what he thinks might be the biggest challenge faced by his daughter at the workplace in the future. He believes that people's expectations and biases can be hindrances, and it's important to instill a belief in oneself to overcome challenges. The speaker also mentioned the benefits of not having biases and how their daughter has taught them that there are many different ways to be successful, which is not a limitation but rather a benefit.
John shared his perspective on the challenges that people who are blind or have low vision face in the workplace today. He believes that one of the biggest obstacles is the preconceived notions that many companies have about the capabilities of blind individuals. Despite this, John feels lucky that Disney was willing to give him a chance and recognized his potential to succeed. He emphasized the importance of qualified blind individuals being given an opportunity to prove themselves in the workplace, and hopes that more companies will follow Disney's example.
Iolanda approached the topic from a different perspective, reflecting on the challenges that many individuals faced during the transition from remote work back to the physical office during the pandemic. She highlighted how muscle memory of navigating around the office was lost and how dynamic environments could be disorienting for many. Iolanda urged people not to fall back into old habits and to embrace the opportunity to reimagine how we work together and communicate with each other.
Role of technology in addressing challenges
When asked about the role of technology in addressing these challenges, Iolanda expressed her excitement about the potential of AI and mentioned GPT-4 as a notable development. She discussed various ways that technology could help individuals with disabilities, such as providing guidance in unfamiliar buildings and assisting with communication barriers.
Hoby reflected on the rapid evolution of technology and how it has transformed our lives in recent years. Despite the constant changes and advancements in technology, he stresses the importance of making the most out of what is currently available to us. He believes that embracing technology and using it in the best possible way is crucial in overcoming any obstacles that people with vision impairments may face. Hoby commended organizations like the Lighthouse, BeMyEyes, and Envision for their efforts in leveraging current technology to provide greater independence to people with blindness.
Hunter also shared his thoughts on technology and highlighted the importance of understanding user behavior to create better technology. He believes that as younger generations grow up in more inclusive environments they will have more empathy and create technology that is more useful for a wider range of people.
John expresses his optimism about the future of technology and how it can benefit everyone, regardless of their abilities. He emphasizes that there are people out there who are dreaming, inspiring, and creating new technology that can make a significant impact on people's lives.
John closed on a note of positivity, urging people with visual impairment to get a good education and go as far as possible to the point where the employers would consider it a disadvantage to have them in their company.
Hunter, who has a daughter with low vision, stressed the importance of pushing individuals to be successful and giving them opportunities to do so, while also respecting their boundaries.
Iolanda suggested using social media as a tool to showcase one's work and abilities, allowing individuals to reach a wider audience and make connections in their field.
Hoby spoke about the importance of happiness and positivity in the workplace, and how elevating someone's happiness can encourage them to seek gainful employment and succeed in their work.
Vicky closed off this insightful panel discussion with an optimistic quote from Thomas Edison : “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this - you haven't".
You can watch the panel discussion in full below.