Future of Work Podcast, Episode 23.

Gregg Vanderheiden, Executive Director of the Trace R&D Center at the University of Maryland and Co-Director of Raising the Floor, discusses how employers can find and select accessible workplace technology. Gregg also introduces us to Morphic, an innovative operating system extension that makes assistive technologies and settings show up on any computer a person needs to use.

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.​

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Transcript

Intro: [00:00:01.05] 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 HR and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:26.49] There is so much more to accessibility when it comes to technology selection and adoption. And there are so many moving parts, which is why having the right technology resources and familiarity with those systems and platforms is so important. We take for granted simple things like placement of apps, special shortcuts that we use on our phones and computers, and how to ensure our user experience is uniquely designed, but also customized for everyone, but also individualized for everyone too, at the same time. 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 the next 30 years will look like for people with disabilities at work and the potential of emerging technologies to make workplaces more inclusive and accessible. Today, I’m joined by Gregg Vanderheiden. Gregg Vanderheiden directs the Trace R&D center at the University of Maryland and co-directs Raising the Floor, part of the international consortium of over 50 companies and organizations that are building the global public inclusive infrastructure GPI with the goal of making all digital interfaces accessible. Gregg is a recognized pioneer in computer access for people with disabilities and has worked in the field of technology and disabilities for just shy of 50 years. Many of the initial digital accessibility features for both Windows and Mac OS came from his work with Apple and Microsoft. His work can be seen on a wide range of products, including computers, phones, automated postal stations and track ticket machines and airport communication terminals. I think he has covered the list of items that I use on a regular basis and you do too. He has worked with over 50 companies and numerous government advisory and planning committees, including the FCC, NSF, NIH, GSA, NCD, the Access Board and the White House. Gregg, it is with pleasure I welcome you to the Workology podcast.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:02:44.19] Thank you.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:45.45] This is quite impressive. How did you get involved in all this? What’s your story?

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:02:50.76] Well, I was tricked way back in 1971. I was actually an electrical engineering student at the University of Wisconsin, and another person approached me asking questions. They were actually trying to find somebody else. But they had talked about this young boy who couldn’t speak or write or type, who had cerebral palsy, and I ran into them the next day. They were still looking for the person. And then I started spouting out ideas, oh, why don’t you try this? And if that doesn’t work, why don’t you try this? Why don’t you try that? I was at work at the time and he kept saying, I don’t understand. I don’t understand. And he finally said, well, I have a car right outside. Why don’t you just, why don’t we just go out to the school and you show me? And the last thing I remember saying is you don’t expect me to walk out of work in the middle of the day? But I found myself out at the school and I met a young lad who couldn’t speak or write or communicate, used a piece of wood with the letters wood-burned into it. And then he would slowly point out one letter, and then he would point out the next letter, and then he would point out.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:04:11.82] And that was the way he would communicate. And even though he was very slow, he was about twelve years old. He had spunk. He was a little sassy and clever. And I just decided that we need to try something. The first idea, I threw out what I saw. The second one I tried with them and the third one worked. But it was actually slower than what he was doing. So I joined with the other fellow.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:04:39.06] We pulled together a group of about over, quickly grew to about fifteen students from nine different departments, speech and language, special education, etc. And it wasn’t a class project. It was just all of these students who were trying to develop a solution for this young lad. And I quit my job. And we just went forward from that, and all of a sudden it turned out a lot of other people heard about it. And so we then started working on it for a bunch of people and it grew and grew and grew from there. And actually the Trace Center grew out of that. So the Trace Center started off as a bunch of undergraduate students, as a side project, just trying to work on solutions for this young lad.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:25.03] What an amazing story. It’s crazy. That’s wonderful.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:05:29.97] It was. And that sort of set the pace. So the Trace Center has always been more about trying to figure out how to find solutions. This is back before the Internet and all that. So it took us a long time to try and find out anything that anybody else was doing. And so we started gathering that up.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:05:50.25] One of the things the Trace Center was known for is that about 95 percent of all the information we disseminated was about everybody else’s work, not our own. Because after we had gathered it all, we said this was just so hard. It shouldn’t be that hard for anyone else. So we created compendiums and we worked with Marian Hall to actually get able data first available on CD, CD ROMs and then later on the Internet so that everybody would  be able to access it. The Trace Center has always been about trying to advance the field and and, and everyone in it, in any way possible to help people with disabilities to use technology to overcome barriers. Although actually starting in the 80s, we saw computers coming out. So we started off with, in the area of what would be called augmentative communication, which actually came from a chapter that I wrote in the in the late 1979 and beginning in 1980, because they were actually firing speech pathologists for giving kids communication boards because they were speech pathologists and a communication board was therefore practicing outside of their discipline. And so we had coined the term augmentative to say that it didn’t replace speech. It augmented speech and it actually facilitated it because we found that kids with communication boards were more relaxed about communication. And actually their speech often was better than before. But we went from the 80s to the 90s where we got, when computers were coming out and that’s when the center shifted, not just from “can technology help overcome barriers?” but began recognizing that technology was going to become a barrier as people started using computers for everything, school, employment, you know, everything else. And you could see the writing on the wall. If people with disabilities could only run special programs, they couldn’t run the standard programs, then it was going to be a problem. And so we began a long crusade to make sure that technology not only facilitated, but also it didn’t become a barrier that anything anybody could do on technology, people with disabilities could do as well.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:07.62] Gregg, can you help the audience and walk us through what assistive technology is?

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:08:13.23] Ooh there’s actually a debate about where it begins and ends, but assistive technology is generally any technology that helps people who have disabilities overcome a barrier or something that’s holding them back because of the disability they’re experiencing. You can’t think of it as something that’s specially built for them. That’s clearly an assistive technology. But the federal law was actually set up so that other things, like if you cannot handwrite, then a computer is assistive technology all by itself because you are unable to write without it. If there are people who can’t speak, then anything that would help them to speak, even things that we, people who don’t have disabilities would use, if they are able to use it to overcome their disability, it becomes an assistive technology for that individual. Now, as we build features into products that allow people to use them, people will say, well, that’s not assistive technology; that’s built-in flexibility of the interface. And other people would say, well, it’s a built in screen reader. So if I buy it from a third party, it’s AT. If it’s built into the computer, it’s not AT. And so, again, I would apply the same test we did before. Any technology or any feature that helps an individual to overcome what would otherwise be a disability would be an assistive technology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:46.59] Can you give us some examples of how assistive technology is being used in the workplace?

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:09:52.05] Oh, sure. So the obvious ones are somebody who’s blind and they need to use a computer and they use a screen reader. But there’s other ones. There are programs that help with grammar and writing, so people who have dyslexia and who can be extremely creative, but they have trouble writing or writing accurately, can use software that can help them so that their output is professional. If you have dyslexia or something like this, it may be very hard to write a letter without having typos and things in it that you can’t see and recognize because you have a hard time seeing and recognizing even regular text and reading easily. So things like a spell checker, which we all have and you don’t think of as AT, may be the thing that allows them to be able to represent themselves professionally and get a job, hold a job, be advanced in the workplace, etc. So it can go all the way from, you know, features, as I said, through to assistive technologies. There’s also something more recent that we’ve discovered, and that is things that help people who have trouble with technology. So I have something I call TQ,Technology Quotient. It’s kind of like IQ, but it’s completely different because I know people that are blazingly brighter than I am who can’t use their technology, but I can. That doesn’t make me smarter than them, any more than somebody who can really draw and I can’t draw very well or people who can sing or play musical instruments. And I’m not very good at that. That doesn’t make them smarter. And it just is a talent they have.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:11:34.22] Some people are naturally musical. Some people are naturally good writers. Some people are naturally good at sports. And some people are naturally good with technology. The problem is, we do not say, well, if you can’t, if you’re not good at sports, you can’t get employed or if you’re not good at graphics art or at singing, you can’t get employed. But we are saying that if you can’t use technology well, you don’t get employed. And if you are really bad at technology, even though you’re really good at sales or something else like this, there’s almost no job that you don’t have to use technology for. And there’s almost no job that you don’t have to use technology in order to learn or to master. You could be a cracker jack lawyer, but everything’s online.  if you can’t master and use the technology and stuff. You can be. So there’s lots of different places. And so if you have somebody who’s, you know, average intelligence, average technology and they’re having trouble, but then what about the bottom 20 percent? What about the bottom 10 percent of people who just plain can’t use technology very well? So if we do write something that 90 percent of the people can use, we think we’re doing great, except that’s one in ten people can’t use it.  And if you can’t go to school without it, you can’t get a job without it. And so we have been looking more recently at what I would call complexity-induced disability. All of our technologies are being designed by people who are very bright and very technical. And what they design is such that even those of us who think of ourselves as being quite technical, we wrestle with our technology all the time. And if we wrestle with it, what about the people at the other end of the scale? So we are now looking at a whole group of people who just plain are failing to thrive, failing to succeed, because on top of whatever else they’re facing, they’re having to do it through technology. They’re having to use technologies in the schools. We had somebody who was reporting, they were talking to us about kids who are failing out of English class because they couldn’t use the computers well enough to actually get their work done. And when they switched over to paper, it wasn’t a problem. And things like this. So we need to look at this and we need to begin thinking about how we can design on-ramps and simpler interfaces and how we can rethink our technologies. And some people say, oh, yeah, I know my grandparents and stuff or my parents have a lot of trouble with technology, but it’s not just older people, although that’s a huge population that we’re quickly marginalizing. But there are people of all ages who have trouble with technology. We need to start recognizing that and focusing on that. And sometimes it’s easy to address it for some people, if we even recognize what’s going on, and don’t mistake the fact that they’re having trouble with something, the task, and we think it’s the task they’re having trouble with, but It’s actually the technology they need to use to do the task.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:53.31] You know, you’re talking about technology here. And I think one of the many challenges that exist in the HR space and I think exists in the consumer space too is just the growing number of technologies available. There are thousands upon thousands of different pieces of technology that do different things. It’s growing every day, and I wonder how we ensure accessibility for all these different technologies. Can you talk to us about the work you’re doing to make this process simpler and easier for not just employees, employers, but everyone in the market?

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:15:30.64] Well, one of the things we’ve been working on is something called Morphic. It’s an extension of the operating system and it does several things. One of them is if you do need to use assistive technologies and you set up your computer at home or your clinic or at school or something, that’s usually not the only computer you’d need to use. So if you have one set up at school, it doesn’t do any good. If you go home, if you live someplace where you don’t have Internet or where you don’t have your own computer, then you need to do all your homework or even your work that you do at home at a different place, community center. Your AT needs to be there, too, or you want to get tutoring, but it’s not on the tutor’s or you’re going in for a job evaluation and the job evaluation computer doesn’t have your AT on it.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:16:23.95] So how are you going to use it? So one thing that Morphic does, makes it so that as you go up to different computers, Morphic will allow you to take your settings with you, so that you can sit down to any computer and that computer will be set up like your computer. We even have something called “installation on demand” so that instead of when you go to the library, there is a computer on the third floor in the resource room, if it’s open, that has a computer that you can use, you would be able to sit down at any computer. Including the computer down in the first floor where they’re doing a special class. And you want to go to the class, but you have to use the computers in the class. You can sit down to any computer and the AT that you need would show up on that computer, be installed, configured exactly like your home computer. And then when you get up, it all disappears. So that for the first time, somebody with a disability can use any computer at a library, in any room, in any special class. At a school, they would be able to use any computer in any classroom, in any lab, the library, etc. And it would automatically set up, and install and configure for them. So that’s one of the things that Morphic does, it allows people who need to use assistive technologies to really be able to have them show up on the computer that they have to use for whatever reason, at school, at work, at home.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:18:00.61] Another thing that Morphic does is there’s an awful lot of features built right into Windows. People who have trouble seeing because everything’s too small, you can actually change the screen scaling so that everything on the screen gets larger. And it’s not like a magnifying glass where it gets larger because it gets pushed off screen and then you’ve got to scan left and scan right. It literally just changes the resolution of the screen so everything stays on the same screen. But everything is larger. It’s in there. All you have to do is to know the secret path to get into the control panels and then go in and find it. And then it’s under, you know, scaling. And people don’t know what that means. And what we do is, we pull it out and we have a little bar. You can just click on an icon. A little bar shows up in the bottom of the screen and it lets you change the screen scaling so that you can, if you forgot your glasses today, you can make everything larger and then tomorrow it can be smaller. You can change the contrast. You can actually change the language of the computer. Takes about three seconds. You click it one, two, three. And the computer is now all running with all the menus and everything in your native language. We have it so that you can, if you have trouble using the mouse, you can adjust the mouse.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:19:17.02] It even will take Microsoft Word, which has 11 menus and over 200 little icons and,with a click, it’ll just give you a very simple menu with about twelve basic icons that you need for using it. Or there’s another one that gives you one ribbon that has all of the items that you use from all of the different menus just on one menu. So instead of having to always jump around between the menus as you’re trying to use the different features, they’re all right there and they’re all stable. And when Microsoft updates the software, they can reorganize their menus. But this one will stay the same. So things like this that do help to make the computer easier. They take things that are in the computer and they make them so that they’re really easy to find. They take other features that are complicated, like redoing your menus and it gives them to you in a simple couple of clicks. There is even one, and this was kind of interesting. It surprised us. We went to the library and we said to the librarians, what’s the biggest thing that you end up being called over for, to help people with? And they say, well, there’s two things they said. The first one is somebody will come in with a USB and they will plug it into their computer with their resumé on it. And then they’ll get up, wander around the library looking for a librarian and say, could you help me with the computer and the librarian will  come back and they’ll go down to the floor, into the computer, wherever it is that they are having trouble. And then they say, what’s the problem? And he says well I plug my thing in here and I don’t know how to find my resumé. And of course, it’s easy. All you do is you hit the windows key and then you type file explorer and then you scroll down to where it says this PC. And then you go over, and the thing that looks like, in my computer, it looks like a little toaster oven or a bread maker is actually a USB. It doesn’t look like a USB. It doesn’t have a name like a USB. The USB says Tom’s Trucking. And this one says something else, but that’s it. So we created a button on the strip that you, it says “open USB”. So you just click on it and it finds any USBs that are installed. And it just opens it up. And there it is right in front of you with your resumé and you just double click on it. It opens up and you can edit it. The key here is not that they don’t need to someday, if they can master windows and things like this, but if they don’t know how to, is it possible to give them some on ramps?

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:21:54.25] Is there some ways to give them a way so that they can be using the computer productively without having to learn the complicated file structures and the way to use it? We actually had even youngsters who come up and eat, sleep and breathe on their mobile computers. They get into community college or something where they’re supposed to be learning computers so they can go get a job and they end up with Windows or even the Mac OS. If you’ve lived on mobile, think about it, your mobile phone, Windows doesn’t operate anything like your mobile phone. It’s completely different and befuddling and there’s file systems and architectures. And it’s a whole different interface that they have to master. And if they’re not technically adept, it just can be overwhelming. So one of the things we try to do is to find some of the things that are most complicated and to be able to do them. The other thing the librarian says is that they come up and they always ask him for the same things. Where do I find tax forms, where do I find immigration forms or where do I find public assistance kinds of things or assistance with newborns, things like this. And so we just made a simple button that you push and it pops up all the questions that everybody always asks them. And so now they can find that stuff much more easily than having to go talk to a librarian. And also, what the librarians would find is they would come in asking for it, the next day, they’re coming and asking for it again because the librarian would know the URL or something. And they don’t really understand all that stuff. This way, once they’re shown, they know how to find it for themselves and they can use it and solve the problems they’re trying to solve. So this is the kind of thing that we’re looking at. And it has to do with both making it easier to use AT and also being able to make the computer just generally easier for people who have trouble using it. One of the other things that it can, Morphic can do, is it can be used to set up a computer. So one of the things that people know is that internships are really critical for people who have disabilities when they’re trying to get a job.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:24:15.61] Often employers are unsure, especially if people use AT, can they do the job? And the ability for someone with a disability to get an internship and really strut their stuff and really show what they can do and to give the confidence to the employer to hire them on, it is really important. But too often they show up for the internship along with some other people taking the internship. And it can be weeks before they ever get the computer set up so that they can use it. They can’t use their own. They have to use the company computer. The company has to get the AT. They have to set up purchase arrangements with the company that sells the AT. It’s kind of a funny thing, but purchasing requires that you have one. Then they have to get it and then it’s got to be screened. It’s got to be this and that. And very often we hear reports of people that are so far behind, weeks behind in their internship, before they actually get on the computer they need to do the internship, that basically it’s blown, their ability to hit the ground and run and impress is lost. Sometimes they’re so far behind their peers. So one of the things with Morphic and the install on demand is that they can come in with their preference set, you know, the AT and the settings they need, go to a clean company computer, you connect it with a set of clean, sterile AT. Morphic would take their preferences and which AT and how it should be set up. And in minutes, they can have the company computer setup with all of their AT exactly as they need to have it, so they can actually hit the ground running and then have the computer ready for them before they get back from their first orientation lecture. So, you know, this can be, it seems like a little thing, but it can be just a major thing in terms of somebody trying to either do an internship or even getting a new job and trying to hit the ground running or somebody who’s on the job and their computer fails and somebody comes and swaps in a new one. And now they have to start all over and set it up again. So that’s another key kind of thing we’re worried about.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:26:29.38] In terms of productivity, that can be really damaging and, I mean, you might not remember exactly how you set it up in the first place. So something like Morphic sounds like a really great, not just for people with disabilities or maybe not so tech-savvy folks, like even somebody who’s highly tech savvy, like they want to create a kind of standard system. I would love, I mean, I’m a Mac person, so generally my computers all talk together. I would love that kind of experience for Microsoft users and beyond.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:27:01.51] Well, Microsoft is also making it so things move between. But when your computer goes down, setting it up to work like your mobile phone works only for things like e-mail and stuff like that. The rest of the way you have it setup is quite different. So yeah. So even on the Mac as well, and Morphic is being done for the PC and for the Mac.

Break: [00:27:23.34] Awesome. Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrill and you are listening to the Workology podcast. Today, we’re talking with Gregg Vanderheiden about accessible technology selection, how to make technology accessible and applications accessible for all. This 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: [00:27:49.64] 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.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:18.8] Most of our podcast listeners work in HR and they’re familiar with reasonable accommodations, so we’re talking about assistive technology and thinking about reasonable accommodation, with the process where employee requests for that reasonable accommodation for themselves. Can you talk about some of the challenges that employees might have had in your experience when it comes to these requests that they’re making for assistive technology?

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:28:48.37] Well, again, one of the keys is this. Somebody comes in, says, well, the AT that I use is “X.” The company goes oh, you know,  we have these 3 ATs. Is this what you mean, is it one of these? And we go, no, it’s something different. They say, oh, OK. So now we have to go and set up a new arrangement, you know, for purchasing this. And so one of the things we’re trying to do through Morphic is to make it that the company could have an arrangement and all of the AT would be available. Not only can someone use it, but if that’s not working well in this environment, they can switch to another one. And it’s just seamless, like switching from one website to another or something. You don’t have to go through a great big, huge ordeal in order to get a different AT or to get the particular AT that you need. Or if a new AT comes out that would be better for you, you don’t have to go back and create a whole bunch of work in paperwork, or even to try something new and then say, oh, that didn’t work. So if we can make it so that accommodation is easier for HR, it’s easier to do. It’s just like, oh, that’s what you need. Fine. You know, you can use that and it’ll be there. And it will work with our system. And we don’t have to worry about, you know, doing screening on it because this stuff is pre-screened, etc.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:30:14.14] So it can be very helpful there. Another thing that HR gets involved with is onboarding people. Of course, we talked about that. But evaluating individuals for being able to use a job. So this is someone who’s just coming in to try stuff out. Are you trying to see how they would work out? Can you make it so that the system will work for them? We had vocation people who do job evaluation and they do job evaluation screening of individuals and the people come in. And the thing they’re supposed to do is on the company’s computer, but all of their AT is on their other computer, or the set up, the way they need to have it, is on the other computer and being able to bring that together so that you can transfer, without transferring, you know, all sorts of foreign software onto the company computer, which you don’t want to have, you can have it clean copies, show up, set up on the company’s computer and then disappear again. So it helps with onboarding and screening and evaluation and things like that from the HR standpoint, as well as saying, well, if that’s what you need here, you just push a button here, here and here and there you got it, rather than having to go through a great big acquisition process.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:31:26.65] Perfect.One of the things that we talked about and I was absolutely fascinated about this on our prep call, was about so many innovations that were created for people with disabilities. Can you talk to us about some of these?

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:31:39.43] Oh, things that we all use, not just people with disabilities. Yeah. Well, everyone knows about the curb cuts which were created for wheelchairs. But, you know, if you tried to take them away right now, it wouldn’t just be wheelchair users that would be complaining. The typewriter.  People don’t know that the original typewriter was created for a blind countess who couldn’t handwrite. And so that was created so that she had a way of writing. And of course, we all use that today. Carbon paper, which was actually used in the first typewriters, they didn’t have ribbons, was also invented for people who are blind. If you think about it, back then, you were writing with a quill pen and you’d dip it in and you would write until it stopped writing and then you’d dip it again and imagine trying to do that if you can’t see when the quill is writing and you had to hold it, just right or it wouldn’t wouldn’t write, and things like this. So instead what they would do is they would take a stylus, put down a piece of paper that had carbon on the back over another piece, and then they would write with just a wooden dowel, if you will, on the top of the paper. And the carbon paper would allow the image to go onto the next page. Of course, you could couple the carbon paper with the typewriter and that powered our information society for a long time before we got electronic.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:33:06.94] There are other examples over time of things that have been developed that some of them, you know, were and some of them weren’t. But the early, long playing records that were used by the Library of Congress for digital talking book. We didn’t invent records, but the long playing record is attributed to the talking books and then was picked up and used in other environments and things like that. Today, even speech recognition. Now, it was not invented for people with disabilities. It was done, you know, just research and research projects. But for a long time, it was so poor that the only people who really bought it were people who, that was their only way of writing was speech recognition. So in this case, it was the disability mark that really kept it alive in its early years when it wasn’t very good. And of course, as it got better and better and better, now, you know, we all use it all the time. Many, many of us use it all the time, and it’s gotten to the point now where you can actually dictate whole long sequences and it’ll just go back and clean up the parts that are wrong. I mean, even this podcast, you could feed into one and you’d get a transcript that would be pretty readable and you just have to go through and clean up some of the different areas. It’s quite amazing how good it’s gotten even in the last two years.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:34:33.2] Yeah we use an AI technology that does that for the podcast transcript and it’s, it’s pretty accurate. I mean, it definitely beats having to dictate or transcribe manually. As we look towards the next 30 years of work, this year is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I wanted to ask you about emerging workplace trends or technologies that you think are going to have the biggest impact on people with disabilities over the next 30 years. What are your thoughts?

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:35:07.95] Wow. You went 30 years out. In 30 years the world is going to look so different than now. We’ve seen an escalation and an acceleration happening at the same time around technologies and information technologies. You will have direct brain implants and you go, oh, yeah, well, some people will, but I wouldn’t want to do that. And my comment would be, would you do that to your children? You know, have them so they had direct implants to couple between them and their computers. And you’d say, oh, I would never do that. And then you’d say, what about the first time your son or daughter comes home and says, you know, it’s really hard for me, mom, because, you know, all the other kids are now getting direct implants between, with their computers and their, and it’s so much faster for them to use them. You know, can I have one, too? Or why can’t I have one? And we think of it like oh it’s surgery. You have to cut open the head and stick things in. But it won’t necessarily be like that. It could be, and I don’t know if we’ll hit this in 30 years, but the ability to just get an injection and the little nanites would go up and they would go up and they would find a way up and implant themselves in the cortex all around in the places, and then they would transmit information out. So you’d literally have a direct brain implant without actually invading the brain or the skull, but just by injecting and having things go up.  And we already inject all sorts of things and we have computers in our bodies and we have implants in our bodies.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:36:47.8] And so none of this stuff is really foreign. It’s just that it seems foreign until it becomes less so. If, you know, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago, somebody had said everybody is going to have a computer and they’re going to have it in their hands and they’re going to spend all day looking at it and staring at it, working with it, you’d say, oh, that sounds dystopian and and science fiction. Take a look. Imagine somebody going to school today. And you said, well, I just don’t believe in this technology stuff. I don’t want you to use the Web and your computers and stuff. And you’d say, well, I can’t go to school. You know I, matter of fact, I don’t even know how to look up information. Ask somebody today who’s younger. Ask him a question and ask him to go find the answer and tell him they can’t use a search engine and they will look at you like, you’re asking me to go to the store but not go outside? It’s like, how on earth am I going to get information without using the Internet? And it stops a lot of people because they just can’t conceive of it. As we do this, we’re going to be seeing that there’s, accessibility, as we know it today, won’t work. It’s going to start failing. We are going to have to really rethink how we do technology. We’re going to have to think about assistive technology quite differently. And I really think we’re going to have to actually have an entirely different approach to doing accessibility. And we don’t have really time to dive into it now.

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:38:22.12] But there is going to be such a difference in how we do everything that we can, we need to really stop and look and try to think about where we’re going to be at that time, what the technologies are going to be at that time, what we will have as tools and what we will have as new barriers. We’re actually launching a project now to look at that and try to start laying a roadmap out, because we’re going to find that we are there before we actually are ready to. And it’s not just going to be technology. It’s policy and everything else that we’re going to have to be looking at. It could be very exciting. It does require that we do things completely differently. But if we do, there’s a potential for us to have much greater accessibility. Right now, there’s like 3, 5, 6 percent of the web is really accessible and we could be up at 99, 98 percent if we take an approach where we stop trying to make the world accessible and instead, we try to give people the tools that they can use the web as it is. So that’s the big change is instead of running around trying to make everything work for everybody, we try to figure out how to create an intermediary that can take whatever it is and and represent it to people with disabilities in a form that matches their abilities, and that’s the, that’s what I think is going to be the big challenge in the way we need to really go in order to really address this.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:39:56.94] Well, Gregg. Thank you. You’re the first one in any of our PEAT series that has mentioned brain implants. So I do think it’s a possibility and I appreciate you fast forwarding us to the future. So we’re gonna be thinking about that as we finish out our day today. But thank you again. And where can people go to learn more about Morphic? And then you, where should they go to connect with you?

Gregg Vanderheiden: [00:40:24.51] Well, the Trace Center is Trace.umd.edu, the University of Maryland. So Trace.umd.edu. Morphic, you can just go to Morphic, Morphic.org and you’ll find more information about it  there. Right now we’re still in pilot testing. So you’ll find just sort of surface information. Come back this summer and we will be having it in general distribution and you’ll find a lot more information there, including the ability to download it and things like that.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:41:00.86] Awesome. Let’s maybe, we catch up after it comes out of the pilot program and we can hear what’s new with Morphic and you.

Gregg Vanderheiden: Very good.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:41:36.31] Providing employees with a consistent system and technology platform is important. Employees need to feel comfortable with being able to access technology at all levels. I love the work that Gregg is doing and how he’s thinking about accessibility for everyone and has for nearly 50 years. His background is impressive. I know that his work with his peers with Apple in Windows is one of the reasons that I love the ease of use for Mac products in particular, and the consistent experience I receive from Apple products across the board. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel with technology that works across devices the same. My dashboard is consistent, as are my settings, and I can’t wait to follow up with Gregg to hear how his work continues to influence and change the future application of technology development and also our user experience. As far as getting technology embedded in my head, when he mentioned, I’m not sure about this just yet. This is definitely a bold prediction, trying to wrap my own head around it, but I feel like I’m in a sci fi novel that I’ve read somewhere before. This Future of Work series is in partnership with PEAT and it is one of my favorite series. I love working with them. Thank you to PEAT as well as our podcast sponsor Workology. I love working with them too, because it’s my organization and I am so passionate about helping HR leaders do their best work together.