Make big impacts by doing “small things.” Insights from a deaf UX designer

“There’s a lot of platitudes that you hear in this area, but this discussion has blown me away,” said Fawn Annan, chief executive officer and chief marketing officer at IT World Canada, who moderated an evening sponsored by Amazon and Technation on the future of work and the role that inclusion plays. The event was billed as “Raising the Bar on Tech Accessibility and Inclusion,” and it certainly fulfilled that promise. One (but only one) of the many highlights of the night was a discussion with Brendan Gramer, a senior user experience (UX) designer with Amazon.

Gramer, who is deaf, led off the evening with a candid and riveting talk about his struggles and triumphs in his career, his work with Amazon, and how organizations can build a “culture of inclusion.”

“Accommodation is not enough,” he said, noting that we all need to ask ourselves tough questions such as “What does it mean to be a deaf person?” From there, the job of inclusion is not just to remove obstacles, which is important, but also, in his words, to “Bring people in, make them feel we are valued.”

Gramer gave insights into some of the challenges we might not think about. For example, for many deaf people, “wearing masks was a challenge.” Why? The answer is something that the average person might not realize but, according to Gramer, sign language isn’t just hand movements but it depends a lot of facial expression.

He discussed the issue of the large number of hidden or undisclosed disabilities. “When you look at them, you don’t see them,” he noted, adding that “40 per cent of the workforce has a disability. Only 3.3 per cent ‘self-disclosed’.”

Gramer offered some practical examples of how technology can facilitate accommodation. Amazon has hired sign language interpreters, but in such a large company with multiple locations, they’ve made these available everywhere with mobile Amazon interpreting stations.

During the Q&A, host Annan asked, “where do the ideas come from?” Gramer’s answer was simple and powerful. “You work backwards from the customer.”

While this is advice that any UX designer should take to heart, Gramer noted that it has a particular impact on those with disabilities. His question in this case is, “what about this product will be impactful for a person with disabilities?” That question leads to small but powerful moments: Gramer gave the example of a “quadraplegic who can watch T.V. without assistance from a family member.”

Those of us in the audience saw this example in an earlier video shown at the event, but the real poignancy hit us all when Gramer pointed out what we all could see, but might not have truly appreciated.

This led us all to the best advice that we could all take to heart, if we want to build a culture of inclusion that includes both the seen and unseen disabilities of our employees and customers.

Gramer stated it simply and powerfully: “Be kind. Be open. Do small things.”

This is the second of three of these events; the next will be in June of 2023. For those who are interested in hearing more about the future of work, Fawn Annan is headlining an online event on October 27, 2022, from 12:00 to 1:30 ET. You can register using this link.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jim Love
Jim Love
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO and Chief Digital Officer of IT World Canada - Canada's leader in ICT publishing and digital marketing.

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