Saturday, February 23, 2019

Neil’s WID Conference Speech – Oct. 2014

Neil’s WID Conference Speech – Oct. 2014


I firmly believe that all people must work — even those with disabilities like me. Work brings meaning to life, provides essential social connections and allows people to provide economically for themselves and their families. I was fortunate to have had the values of hard work and independence instilled in me as a young child growing up with cerebral palsy. My parents taught me that I was capable of working despite my disability and achieving personal reliance. As a result, for nearly 30 years I built a career at Wells Fargo, rising to senior vice president of information technology. Also, I helped create the World Institute on Disability’s Center on Economic Growth in 2011. Work gave me a purpose. Work made me proud. Work allowed me to gain economic independence and build a secure financial future.

Unfortunately, our nation has set very low expectations for people with disabilities in terms of employment. This low expectation starts with the government’s definition of disability as the “inability to work.” Under current Supplemental Security Income (SSI) rules, an individual with a disability must prove they cannot work to be eligible for benefits, including health care and other independent living supports. Individuals with disabilities exploring work must balance the need for financial assistance, health care, personal attendant care, and accommodations while overcoming low cultural expectations, lack of employment experience, a challenging job market and employer discrimination.  On top of that, the complexity of the system and disincentives resulting from reliance on vital health care resources and the inability to retain earned assets and remain SSI eligible often prove to be too challenging.

Our current system is written for another time, when we assumed people with disabilities would be dependent on their whole lives on the support and help of the government and others. The Federal government literally called these programs “Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled.” These days, new technology, medical breakthroughs, and a recognition that people with disabilities want to work has destroyed this outdated thinking. We need to change with the times. It is time to modernize the traditional SSI program.


This is why WID partnered up with the National Council on Independent Living and Policyworks to design CareerACCESS. CareerACCESS offers an alternative for SSI eligible young adults to escape poverty and dependence. The CareerACCESS goal is to make it easy to work. A young adult working with a Career Coach would develop an Individualized Career Plan to achieve personal and professional goals. CareerACCESS rules would allow increased earnings and remove asset limits to enable the participants to gain financial independence.

For this initiative to get implemented, young adults with disabilities across the US need to take charge of CareerACCESS for change to happen. We need to work together to implement a system that will offer real hope for people with disabilities to fully participate in the nation’s economic growth and achieve their own career goals and independence. Young adults are the voice of the future and represent the change that can take place.



WEB Accessibility Professional Certification Program (WAPCP)

WEB Accessibility Professional Certification Program (WAPCP)

(This was written in January, 2010. It was not funded. A Disabled Owned Business Enterprise should run with the idea!)
 

 The Computer Technologies Program (CTP) and Abilicorp are seeking $65K in funding to develop, pilot and establish a WEB Accessibility Professional Certification Program (WAPCP). This program will train people with disabilities to analyze and ensure websites meet accessibility standards set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative. Graduates of this program can expect to be employed by Abilicorp and other firms whose business it is to ensure that companies and government agencies websites meet accessibility standards. Once established, WAPCP is expected to be self-sustaining through tuition reimbursement and profit-sharing.

As the internet nears ubiquity in everyone’s life, the need to ensure website accessibility becomes paramount. While the internet can literally open the entire world to people who can access its websites, the internet can also shut out the world to people who cannot access them. Studies have shown that 94% of all sites do not meet accessibility standards and therefore are unusable by up to 18% of the population. This is even though laws including the ADA clearly mandates that websites be accessible. Several large companies, including Target, have recently lost lawsuits claiming their sites to be accessible.

Who better to be WEB Accessibility Professionals than people with disabilities? Who better to implement the Website Accessibility Adherence Program than agencies focused on employment for people with disabilities?

CTP has been successfully recruiting, assessing, training and placing people with disabilities in computer-related fields since 1975. Abilicorp is a disability-focused employment company that does staffing and placement. Abilicorp also provides on-going support services such as mentoring, benefits counseling and adaptive technology assessment and sales. Abilicorp is the first Disabled Owned Business Enterprise certified by the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN).

Abilicorp started doing business in November. In an era of high unemployment and a downsized economy, competing for positions against people who, for the most part, have much more actual work experience proved to be very challenging. It became evident that specialized training that would distinguish Abilicorp “Associates” from the masses is a way to mitigate this problem. Jobs need to be found or created for which people with disabilities are or can be uniquely qualified. Testing and modifying websites, so they meet accessibility standards is an example of an emerging field that people with disabilities can and can be trained to do well. Filling these jobs would give people with disabilities the work experience they need to compete for traditional employment, and would provide Abilicorp the exposure it needs to place other people with disabilities in traditional positions. Neil Jacobson, the Founder, and CEO of Abilicorp, was a co-founder of CTP. It seems natural now to combine efforts through a formal collaboration. WAPCP is their 1st joint venture.

Disability-related soft skills training have always been CTP’s distinguishing forte. These soft skills include being able to comfortably talk about one's disability, knowing how to ask for accommodations and managing Personal Assistant Services at work. Being able to teach this remotely will greatly enhance CTP’s ability to reach many more people with disabilities than the on-site model. Combine this with teaching a unique emerging technology such as WEB accessibility, and you have a course many people will want to take. Combine this with actual careers assisting companies, and government agencies in bringing their websites into ADA mandated accessibility, and you have a program that is sustainable and profitable.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need more information. We look forward to partnering with you on this important and exciting project.

People with Disabilities - An Untapped Resource

 People with Disabilities - An Untapped Resource

(This was published in the URJ 'Torah at the Center' - Oct.2009)
I am often asked, “how can my Temple be more welcoming to people with disabilities?’ I say, get us involved. Help us understand how we can contribute to the synagogue. Help us feel needed. Help us feel wanted.

I am a Board member of Temple Sinai in Oakland and the Chair of its Access Committee. After 29 years of working at Wells Fargo, I retired last year as a Senior Vice President to be the CEO of a nationwide staffing and placement company. I have a significant disability caused by Cerebral Palsy which results in my having very slurred speech, requires me to use a powered wheelchair and necessitates that I do activities of daily living in creative ways.

My wife, Denise, who has a similar disability to mine, started the Access Committee many years ago. The Committee worked hard to get common accessibility issues resolved. Temples need to be wheelchair accessible with wheelchair seating throughout. The Arc and Bima must be accessible. The table where the Torah is read from must be accessible. There need to be Braille prayer books and hearing devices. There need to be tables at Oneg’s and Temple events where people can talk. Drinking straws at these events are also required. Temple meetings need to be held at accessible locations, etc. However, all of these things put the person with a disability on the receiving side of assistance. To feel included, it is vital to be on the giving side as well.

The time I felt the most accepted was when our son, David, was a baby. Since Denise had him all day while I worked, I had night duty. When David woke up hungry at 2am, he didn’t ask if I was able to get up and warm a bottle for him. He didn’t ask if I was too tired. He didn’t ask how I was going to do it. He made no assumptions as to what I could or could not do. He cried and demanded his bottle. I was thrilled. I was needed! (By the way, he’s 22 now and still demanding things – but that’s another Article)

One of our Rabbis, Rabbi Berlin, relates how as a child, her family found a welcoming Temple. Her family, which included a brother with a developmental disability, did not feel welcomed at their old Temple. The Rabbi at the new Temple immediately asked her brother to please turn the lights off before Havdallah and turn the lights back on at the end of the service. The boy was thrilled! From then on he had his job. He knew he was needed. He and his family knew they were wanted! The Rabbi had created an environment where everyone felt valued.

Unemployment rate for people with disabilities still hovers around 70%. This is the same as it was when I grew up in the 1950s. That was before we had all the wonderful laws we have now such as the ADA, 504 and IDEA. This lack of progress is not due to a lack of skills, or education or motivation, but more often lack experience. Children with disabilities rarely are given chores to do. Teens with disabilities are allowed not to participate in school, or sports or religious school. Adults with disabilities are permitted not to work. What better place to get real work experience than in one’s own synagogue

With all the work that goes on in and around Temples, the opportunities to get people involved, including people with disabilities is enormous. While I know that congregations and synagogues will continue to find ways to support people with disabilities, please also consider people with disabilities as an untapped resource. As you find jobs and tasks around your Temple, or Community, or Home or where you work, consider using this untapped resource. People need and want to feel they are part of a community and to be part of Tikun Olam. Become a welcoming community by providing opportunities for everyone to do so.

Temple Sinai Mission Statement

Temple Sinai Mission Statement


In March, the Board of Trustees added the phrase, ‘to make all aspects of Jewish life accessible,’ to the Temple Sinai Mission Statement. This simple phrase has a great meaning to it. It is the Temple’s commitment to working with the congregation in finding ways for each of us to participate in Jewish life to any extent we choose. It is a recognition that accessibility is more than a ramp or a Braille prayer book. It is often a journey many of us make to feel part of our community. Regardless of physical, mental, emotional or spiritual disability and regardless of race, age, sex, sexual orientation or economic status, making Jewish life accessible is a path worth finding. It is also important to remember that while making something accessible may change a group’s habits, it should not change a group’s values.

In support of this addition to the mission statement, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution saying that any Temple Sinai event that will be attended by a person with a disability shall be held at an accessible venue. The Board also added a policy that every two years, a committee of the Board shall be appointed to collaborate with the Access Committee to determine how to take accessibility to the next level.

, As an indication of our commitment to this mission, I am delighted to report that Temple Sinai has integrated seating. There are now eight spaces located in different parts of our sanctuary that people using wheelchairs can comfortably use to be with their friends-and-family.

I am very proud to be a member of a Temple that genuinely wants to be a welcoming community.

Social Capital

Social Capital


Social capital has been defined as the connections and relationships that develop around the community and the value these relationships hold for the members. It includes feelings of gratitude, reciprocity, respect, and friendship. It is an asset that resides in an individual’s relationships and consists of the goodwill flowing from friends, colleagues, and other general contacts.
(1) To what extent has social capital been vital in achieving your life goals (employment, independent living, etc.)?
(2) What have you done to increase your social capital? (Provide examples.)
(3) What have others done to improve your social capital? (Provide examples.)



Social capital is the ability to be liked. It is by far the most crucial asset anyone has in both professional and personal lives. All other assets and attributes can be acquired or compensated for if a person knows how to be liked, knows how to engage with people, knows how to appear to be alive, engaging, excited about life, etc.

I am a 63-year-old retired Wells Fargo Sr. Vice President. My wife and I have been married for 33 years. We have a 29-year-old son. I've always been very active in the Disability Movement. I have Cerebral Palsy. I use a powered wheelchair, I have a significant speech impairment, and I need 10 hours a day of personal assistant services to help me with my activities of daily living. I know first hand the importance of social capital.

At Wells Fargo, my area was a highly skilled technical area. We did information technology for the Bank. Often, when I attended meetings with people I didn't know, I observed their eyes grow wide, and their body grow tense as they looked at me not knowing what to make of this odd looking guy in a wheelchair. I always took on the responsibility of making them feel at ease. I'd crack a joke about my 'New York' accent, or engage them in chit chat. I knew that unless they felt comfortable with me, our work could not proceed.

When I interview candidates, for the Bank or to be attendants or whatever, I focus on their personality. Can we get along? Can my teamwork with them 8+ hours a day? Are they excited about being there? Are they excited about being alive? Are they engaged with the conversation? I know that all the technical stuff can be learned if social capital is there. Conversely, without social capital, technical skills are often useless.

Similarly, social capital is critically important in my home life. Working with attendants is always more comfortable and much more pleasant when social capital exists. Both parties are responsible for creating a good rapport with each other and to enjoy each other's company.

Here is an example of what I've done to increase my social capital. When I first worked at Wells Fargo, my team members always went to a bar Friday afternoons. I hate the taste of liquor. I quickly learned the importance of joining them at the bar – that was where many decisions were made. My drink – rum and coke without rum. I've often said that one of my most significant handicaps working for a Bank was my dislike for wine and sports. Many company dinners were preceded by hours of wine tasting. Many company meetings were held right before sports events. I attended every party, dinner, and function that I could, and I enjoyed them too!

An excellent example of how a colleague helped me increase my social capital happened several years after I started working at the Bank. I complained that at many of the Bank's functions, everyone stood and chatted with each other/ From my wheelchair, all I could see were butts and … No one could hear me above the din. My colleague suggested that before each function I contact people I wanted to meet and arrange times they could fit me in the hallway, sit down, and chat with me for a few minutes. It worked! I met many people that way, and it was fun!

There are always ways to increase one's social capital. It's fun, and it's well worth the investment!

Go! Go! Go!

Responsibility Is A Good Thing

Responsibility Is A Good Thing

Imagine going into your 9-month old son's room to find him sitting atop his 5.5 feet tall dresser adjacent to his crib. Imagine you and your wife sitting in your wheelchairs staring up at this smiling boy knowing there's no way either of you is able to reach your son to get him down from there. What do you do? Well, after gasping for air, my wife, Denise, looked at me and said, “Well, if David was able to get up there by himself, he should be able to get down by himself.” Sure enough, with just a little coaxing from us, he went on his stomach and slid safely back into his crib. The look of success on David's face was precious!

A few years later, when David was 4, we had a friend of his over for lunch. The friend was the same age as David. We had a snack that day. As was usual in our house, David got the cookies from the cabinet and the milk from the fridge. David proceeded to pour the milk into glasses for all of us. His friend was wide-eyed. “Wow,” he said, “Your parents let you pour milk! That is so cool!” Little did the friend realize that with our disabilities, neither Denise or I could pour very well and that David had been doing so since he was about 2. The look of pride and success on David's face when he heard his friend praise him was unforgettable.

As years go by, it seems that children have less and fewer responsibilities. This seems especially right for youth with disabilities. More often than not, they learn how to accept assistance, but rarely how they are needed and what their responsibilities may be.
I was fortunate to have the values of hard work and independence instilled in my life from an early age. As a child with cerebral palsy, my parents did all they could to foster my self-reliance. My mother woke me each morning and would insist I dress, even though it took two hours to do so. At night, I’d get two dinners. One dinner I had to feed myself; the other I was provided assistance to ensure I got enough to eat.

These approaches may sound extreme, and today I know that a key to independent living is knowing when and how to get help. But for my parents, work was, quite literally, a life and death matter. As Holocaust survivors, they had seen how those who could not work were considered worthless and were the first to perish in ghettos and concentration camps. They showed me that determination and perseverance are the key to achievement and that I had a responsibility to do well.

For me, the payoffs have been enormous. Despite my visible disability — I can’t sit upright, I have involuntary movements and my speech impairment is significant — for nearly 30 years I built a career at Wells Fargo, rising to senior vice president of information technology. Work gave me purpose. Work made me proud. Work allowed me to gain economic independence and build a secure financial future.

I believe that it is essential for us to instill the values of determination and perseverance in our children and set the example that they too can gain economic independence whether or not they have disabilities. In my retirement, I am working on reforming Social Security policies to encourage youth with disabilities to enter the workforce and gain independence despite the challenges they may face. The current Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program has many work disincentives that make it difficult for youth with disabilities to go to work and still receive services they need. The proposed program, CareerACCESS, will be created by changes in federal policy aimed at significantly increasing the employment rate of people with disabilities. The program expects young adults with disabilities ages 18 through 30 to work. CareerACCESS will provide required support and services recognizing that disability benefits are offsets to the high cost of disability rather than subsidies for the inability to work.

As we go about our ever-increasingly busy life, let's not shy away from giving our children the responsibilities they need and deserve. Responsibility is a good thing!

Research Needs

Research Needs

The Disability Community is a very well-researched community. https://researchondisability.org/ is the site I use most often. The FDIC Read 2015 Full isanother example. All studies show that most people with disabilities live in poverty. Despite wonderful laws and millions of dollars spent annually promoting employment for people with disabilities, the unemployment rate remains above 70%, the same as it was in the 1950's. Poverty breeds poverty.

Money phobia is a big problem in the Disability Community. There are several reasons why people with disabilities have money phobia. Perhaps the biggest reason is that people with disabilities often rely on government benefits to get services they need to survive. These services are only available to people who are poor. People with disabilities are taught that if they earn more than a minimal amount of money or if they save and build assets they will not receive services they desperately need. These services are too often viewed as charitable tasks allowing people to survive rather than important jobs that enable people to truly live and thrive. There are many great programs available that enable people with disabilities to work and still receive sthe ervices they need. However, these programs often are complex and very difficult to understand.

Using myself as an example, when I first went to work full-time in the 1970's, it took more than 5 years to earn what I was receiving from disability benefits. Although I've always stayed well connected with the disability advocacy community, I was 62 years old before realizing I could receive personal assistant services paid for through the California Regional Centers because I have a developmental disability- Cerebral Palsy. I'm saving well over $50,000 annually.

Research is needed to understand the economic value of Disability Related Financial Management. It should be on par with Retirement Planning. Disability benefits financial advisors are needed.

Research is needed to understand the economic benefits of providing long-term medical expenses including personal assistant services, durable medical equipment, long term therapies, and maintenance drugs to everyone. How many more people would be employed if they received sthe ervices they need? How many people would need to be employed for this to be economically feasible?

Research is needed to understand fthe inancial needs of caregivers/personal assistants. Are they contributing to Social Security, savings, investments, etc?. Are they getting healthcare? Are their economic value recognized? Can technologies, such as webcams, reduce cost by enabling remote assistance?

Research and investments are needed to determine how assistive technology can be used by the general public. People who are deaf or hard-of-hearing have been texting for many decades. People with visual disabilities have been using speech recognition for decades too. It has only been since these technologies have been used by the general public that the cost has been lowered to a reasonable rate.

Research is needed to determine how Disabled Owned Business Enterprises can best be supported. How do these businesses compare to other minority owned businesses? Are there financial and managerial support available?

Re-Assessing My Work - May 2017

Re-Assessing My Work - May 2017

With all that is going on in Washington DC, and as my progressing disability seems to be requiring more and more of my attention, I've re-prioritized the work Abilicorp, and I will be focusing on.

Wells Fargo and the Disability Financial Management App
In the current political environment, I don't see Social Security changing their definition of disability and thus eliminating work disincentives for people with disabilities any time soon. There is a need for easily accessible software that can guide people with disabilities and their family and friends through the labyrinth of agencies, rules, regulations and financial instruments that is required to adequately manage and maximize one's finances. I am thrilled to be working part-time with a team at Wells Fargo. This summer, we will be evaluating the effort required to build, promote and maintain the Disability Financial Management App

The Community Independent Living Fund
Eliminating federally regulated work disincentives for people with disabilities remains a high priority for me. Believing there's always a way to achieve one's goal, I've been thinking of ways to ensure workers with disabilities can receive services they need, cut healthcare costs for everyone and leave Social Security as a safety net for people who indeed cannot work. Please read the Community Independent Living Fund and give me feedback.

I-Love-Fresh-Food
Ensuring my son's new mobile food service business continues to grow has become a priority. David Jacobson is an excellent chef. He cooks fresh organic food in a wood oven stove that he brings to events and parties throughout the San Francisco / Bay Area. Check out I-Love-Fresh-Food

CareerACCESS
The World Institute on Disability continues to work diligently finding states willing and able to pilot CareerACCESS. Piloting an employment services program that ensures each participant, working with a career coach, will receive the services, training, and encouragement they need to build and continually grow their careers. Showing pilots successes should convince Congress and Social Security to change their old definition of disability. CareerACCESS has been the main focus of my work for the last four years. It is exhilarating to know there are great people at WID and in states throughout the U.S. who will now take CareerACCESS to its next level.

Living with Cerebral Palsy, Go! Go! Go!
One of my best friend and a great theologian, Ched Myers, always tells me we are here to tell our story. Recognizing that Denise Jacobson is undeniably the writer in our family, I nevertheless feel the urge to document the unbelievably exciting wonderful life I have. If not now, when?

Please let me know if you have any questions or advice about any of these projects.

Go! Go! Go!

Neil

Office of Disability Employment Policy(ODEP) July 2011

Office of Disability Employment Policy(ODEP) July 2011


Before I give my talk, you should be aware that for a few minutes you’re probably not going to understand what the hell I’m saying. I grew up in New York. Between my NY accent and my Cerebral Palsy slurring, I don’t even understand myself.

Undoubtedly, you have heard a great deal about reasonable accommodations and assistive technology. I want to point out that one of the most essential assistive technologies I use was actually developed by the financial sector. Does anyone know what this is? (wait for my cue) It is the credit card! Where ever I go, people may or may not understand my speech, but when I take out my credit card, they always know what I want!

I recently retired from Wells Fargo after 29 years. I started my career at Wells Fargo as a
COBOL / Assembler language programmer. I worked my way up the corporate semi-accessible ladder. I ended my career there as a Senior Vice President in their IT area where I had hundreds of people in my area in 5 states as well as India. I spent at least 7 hours every day in meetings. I truly felt listened to. I must admit, throughout my career at the Bank, I enjoyed going to large meetings where few people knew me. It was great seeing the tension in the room rise as people looked at me. They squirmed in their seats avoiding looking at me. As we began talking about the topic of the meeting or the problem of the day, it was fun watching the tension go away. There was always someone in the room who I could watch and gauge how well I was being understood by their expression. More often than not, they would automatically and naturally say, ‘Neil, did you say…’ My point here is that people will listen and understand if you give them the reason and the opportunity to do so.

Another example of this is being on call. Working in IT for a Bank is a 24/7 commitment. When a computer system crashes in the middle of the night, and the Bank is losing literally thousands of dollars per minute, you would be amazed at how quickly computer personnel learns to listen and adapt. For me, they quickly learned to give yes and no and multiple choice questions when they called me at odd hours.

Working for the Bank was genuinely wonderful. I really got that if you work hard and do a good job, it really didn’t matter what you look like, where you’re from or what you sound like. Focusing on the bottom line is a great equalizer! The same is true when it comes to reasonable accommodations. Managing IT developers, you quickly learn that every IT developer always wants the latest and greatest gadget or software or access to a website, etc. As a manager, you decide who gets what by how much more productive that person will be if they had that new tool. Same with reasonable accommodations – they are productivity tools.

So, where’s the problem? Why is the unemployment rate for people with disabilities so dramatically high? In the financial sector, it’s because people don’t believe that people with disabilities have money.

As a manager at Wells Fargo, and a member of the Diversity Committee, every quarter I would carefully review the Human Capital Report. I knew how many people of each diverse segment of the population I had in my area and the Group. How many were hired, how many were promoted, how many were in management, etc. Part of my annual bonus was based on how well I did on my ‘diversity MBOs’ (management by objectives). We understood how important it was that our staff reflected the makeup of our customers. We learned how each diverse segment contributed to the Bank’s bottom line. To my dismay, people with disabilities were never in any of these reports. When asked why I was told the numbers were so low as not to be significant. When I asked why the numbers were so small, the answer was that many people have invisible disabilities and many do not want to disclose.

Let’s look at that. Members of other diverse segments are often ‘invisible’ meaning that self-disclosure is required. In the past, many members of diverse segments also did not want to disclose. So what is the difference? For one thing, businesses often make it difficult for people with disabilities to disclose. For sex, we have a male or female box to check. For race and ethnicity, we have 5 to 10 categories to choose from. For GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgender) we have 4 choices or sometimes a simpler yes or no box to check. However, for disability, the question is usually something like, ‘Do you have a physical or mental disability that may affect your ability to perform your work.’ Heck, even I have trouble saying ‘yes’ to that!

More importantly, members of other diverse segments have come to be proud of being members of their community. They have come to realize that businesses, including financial institutions, actually like their money; Businesses will often target market to them. Companies will do what it takes to earn their trust, including hiring people from diverse segments and ensuring their success. It is a common business sense that the more successful your customers are, the more successful you will be. For too long, people with disabilities have been seen more like a charity than as a market. For too long, the focus has been ‘hire people with disabilities because it is the right thing to do.’ Now is the time to realize that people with disabilities do have money and represents a real market. When you factor in their extended community of friends and family, it becomes clear how huge this market truly is. Now is the time to change the question to be ‘what can we do to ensure that the diverse segment of people with disabilities continue to prosper so that our company’s prosperity grows with them?’

I am pleased to tell you that in the past few months, Wells Fargo has added a marketing team for people with disabilities to their Diverse Segment Group. They promoted a person with a disability who was in a Wells Fargo intern program 5 years ago to be a member of that team! I sincerely hope this is the beginning of a trend and that the direction virally grows. After all, I still have stock options in that Bank!

Thank you!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Money Phobia

Money Phobia

Money phobia is the fear of money. It is one of the most significant barriers faced by many people with disabilities. It is a barrier that blocks people with disabilities from seeking employment and advancements. Money phobia breeds poverty and poverty breeds more poverty.

There are several reasons why people with disabilities have money phobia. Perhaps the biggest reason is that people with disabilities often rely on government benefits to get services they need to survive. These services are only available to people who are poor. People with disabilities are taught that if they earn more than a minimal amount of money or if they save and build assets they will not receive services they desperately need. These services are too often viewed as charitable tasks allowing people to survive rather than important jobs that enable people to truly live and thrive. There are many great programs available that will allow people with disabilities to work and still receive the services they need. However, these programs often are complex and very difficult to understand.

Using myself as an example, when I first went to work full-time in the 1970s, it took more than 5 years to earn what I was receiving from disability benefits. Although I've always stayed well connected with the disability advocacy community, I was 62 years old before realizing I could receive personal assistant services paid for through the California Regional Centers because I have a developmental disability- Cerebral Palsy. I'm saving well over $50,000 annually.

Another cause of money phobia is that people with disabilities too often just interact with government and non-profit agencies that are required to run on a zero-sum business model. Income must equal expenses. An increase in ost in one area requires a decrease in ost in another area. Every expenditure is viewed as an expense. Few, if any, are regarded as investments. Too many people with disabilities view profit-making motives skeptically believing profits diverts funds that should be used to provide more and better services we need. However, when done correctly, profit motives can give the incentive agencies need to offer excellent services.

I want to urge my Disability Community to fight against money phobia as hard as we struggle against architectural barriers and attitudinal barriers. There are always ways to get the services we need. There are many programs and methods to get these services while earning good wages and building assets. These programs and methods are often hard to find and can be terribly convoluted and confusing, but they do exist. As an example, I, who think of myself as being well connected with the Disability Community, was 62 years old before I realized that the California Regional Center pays for personal assistant services for people with developmental disabilities regardless of income or assets. Tom Foley has a great book called EQUITY: Asset-Building Strategies for People with Disabilities: A Guide to Financial Empowerment. The National Disability Institute (NDI) focuses on the financial well-being of people with disabilities. There are websites such as WID's DB101 and NDI Resources that can guide people to financial security.

The Disability Movement has shown that to change society's attitudes, we must first change our own attitudes of ourselves. Just as we don't want society to look at us as invalids incapable of living productive, independent lives, so too must we change the perception that we are poor. This requires us to see ourselves as financially solvent regardless of our actual financial status. This is especially true in this current political environment where the power to change the government's processes and procedures lies with people and groups that have or are perceived to have wealth.


Memorial Websites

Memorial Websites

Imagine going to Friday night service at Temple Sinai. As you go through Stern Hall, the names of people whose Yahrzeit’s are remembered that week are prominently displayed on a touch-screen monitor. During the service, the Rabbi might read one or 2 short bios of people being remembered. The Cantor might sing one of 2 favorite songs of people being remembered. Family members might read original writings of their beloved. When you return to Stern Hall for the Oneg, you click on one or two names to view their online-scrapbooks where all of the above-mentioned artifacts are found. From the comfort of your home, you can always see the entire scrapbook of the deceased and learn and remember their stories. You can also add your memories of them to their online-guestbook.

Temple Sinai, and Judaism can and should modernize the way we remember the deceased. As it becomes increasingly difficult to visit grave sites, many people yearn for new ways to remember their beloved. Many people also yearn for structured ways for how they want to be remembered. As the internet becomes ubiquitous, it offers us a way to help people do both.

Congregants and members of the community should be encouraged to subscribe to the Temple Sinai Memorial Website. They should be encouraged to build and maintain their online-scrapbook. Their online-scrapbook could contain such things as short bios, long bios, photos, videos, original poems, songs, visual art, essays, etc. While alive, they can designate who may view their online-scrapbook and who may update it. Temple Sinai scrapbooking experts could assist. When they die, the Temple Sinai Memorial Website Custodian would make the online-scrapbook available to the public, schedule Yahrzeit’s and make online-guestbook available for people to add their memories of the deceased.

New revenue for Temple Sinai should be recognized from fees associated with online scrapbooking, hiring scrapbooking experts through the Temple, and paying for eternal care. This project should also attract new members to Temple Sinai. Also, since scrapbooking is a relatively new profession, people with disabilities should be strongly encouraged to be scrapbooking experts.

The Temple Sinai Memorial Website should be a model pilot for other temples, synagogues and other religious institutions.

I suggest the next step is to engage an entrepreneur who can complete tasks including;
  1. Fully develop and document the Temple Sinai Memorial Website concept
  2. Perform market research to desirability, competition, pricing, etc.
  3. Design website mock-ups
  4. Design a marketing campaign
  5. Develop a business plan
  6. Obtain board approval
  7. Seek funding – if needed

I look forward to assisting with this project.

References:

3 Requests of Kaiser

3 Requests of Kaiser

As the premier healthcare provider in the U.S., I'd appreciate feedback from Kaiser re 3 areas of advocacy I have been trying to influence.

As background, after 29 years of working at Wells Fargo, I retired as a Sr. Vice President to start a disability-focused employment company that specializes in consulting on staffing and placement issues. Throughout my career, I've stayed active with the Disability Movement. I co-founded Computer Technologies Program (CTP) and founded the Association of Rehabilitation Programs in Computer Technologies (ARPCT). I was on the founding board of The World Institute on Disability and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). I was also co-chair of the President's Committee on Employment for People with Disabilities under Clinton's administration. PCEPD became the Office of Disability Employment Policy(ODEP) as a result of our work.
First, can Kaiser help determine the advisability and feasibility of our government ensuring long-term medical expenses for all workers? In my lifetime, I have been thrilled to see how well laws such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Americans with Disability Act have positively affected the lives of people with disabilities. The physical environment is much more accessible. There are many more educational and social opportunities available. Employment, however, remains dismally unchanged. Despite millions of dollars spent annually trying to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities, more than 70% of us are unemployed – the same as it was in the 1950's when I grew up. I believe a big factor for this lack of progress is the fear of losing services; many people with disabilities need to survive. Under current law, Medicare/Medicaid provides long-term medical expenses including personal assistant services, durable medical equipment, long term therapies, and maintenance drugs for people receiving SSI and/or SSDI. SSI/SSDI requires beneficiaries to be unemployed or earning meager wages. Recognizing that private insurers do not and cannot afford to provide these long-term medical expenses, many people with disabilities are forced to stay unemployed or underemployed. The Disability Community has been working diligently to change this. Having a highly regarded healthcare provider engage with us in this advocacy would undoubtedly be very helpful.

Secondly, can Kaiser consider becoming a personal assistant services/home healthcare provider? My wife and I have Cerebral Palsy. In our 34+ years of marriage, we've been able to be pretty independent, requiring only about 10 hrs/week of personal assistant services – a bit more when our son was a baby. I now need 12 to 15hrs/day of personal assistant services to help me with all my activities of daily living. Hiring and managing attendants can be daunting. There are small agencies that work hard to provide good services. Too often, however, they do not have the volume and therefore the ability required to get the funding and expertise they, their staff and their clients need. As the U.S. population ages, the need for good personal assistant services including Remote Assistance Services will increase dramatically. A large corporation, such as Kaiser, is needed to properly implement an effective and sustainable business and operational model for personal assistant services.

Third, can Kaiser partner with the  MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab in their development of an autonomous wheelchair? With all the loss of function,
 I have faced in the last 7 years, losing my ability to drive my powered wheelchair independently has been the most frustrating. Here again, effective and sustainable business and operational model for developing and implementing assistive technology such as autonomous wheelchairs are needed. Kaiser is probably one of the few corporations that can do this.

I look forward to your questions and learning how these efforts can mutually benefit Kaiser and the Disability Community.

Judaism Is More Than Conversations

Judaism Is More Than Conversations

Listening to Rabbi Hoffman's sermon defining Judaism as conversations was very upsetting. I love good conversations. I thrive on them. Good conversations are often the highlights of my life. There are many people who have autism, or intellectual disabilities, or Alzheimer, etc., who may be unable to have conversations. To equate Judaism to conversations degrades many people and negates their contributions.

I tried hard to consider that the Rabbi's definition of conversation was more than an intellectual, verbal exchange. However, his long lecture made it very clear how important the verbalization of thoughts and feelings are to him.

Ironically, shortly before the service, Julia Klein came to say hello to me. Julia recently returned to the Bay Area after finishing her undergraduate degree in New York. I hadn't seen her for years. Her eyes sparkled. Her whole self radiated joy. We had a small, what Rabbi Hofmann would call, non-conversation. Yet it made me feel so good. I actually felt high. I remember thinking that this wonderful feeling this young woman gave me is the kind of feeling I hope everyone has on the Sabbath.

Judaism is so much more than conversations. It is a way of living, a way of appreciating the wonders of life, a way of making the world better and a way of reminding all of us how critical we all are to the world. Temple Sinai asked Rabbi Hoffman to join us this weekend to help us further define how we want our community to flourish. While I know that enabling members to have meaningful conversations will be a significant part of our future, there must be more.

I look forward to when every member knows or feels or somehow experiences the sense of being loved, needed and belonging to our community.

Shabbat Shalom!

Judaism in the Information Age

Judaism in the Information Age

I've always identified as a Jew. I'm an active member of Temple Sinai in Oakland, California. I'm on its Board of Trustees. Denise and I attend services somewhat regularly. I've presented at several Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) conferences and at its college in New York.

I'm Jewish primarily for 2 reasons. First is to honor my parents who survived the Holocaust. Second is that I greatly appreciate that it is a religion that values questions more than answers. Judaism has been a moral compass for me. My favorite part of services has always been sermons that brings the wisdom of the ages to help understand today's problems. I've always appreciated that Judaism provided a framework to think about why we are alive and what's important about being alive.

The last few years, I've been increasingly disappointed that Judaism, or any religion I know, is not helping us better prepare for tomorrow. Judaism and our mores are not keeping up with the ever-increasing pace that our scientists and technologists are moving.

We are rapidly moving out of the Industrial Age and into the Information Age. In this new age, artificial intelligence, (AI) will enable robots to perform tasks much more effectively and efficiently than humans. Gene manipulation will allow many diseases to be eliminated. We will be able to prolong life and perhaps eliminate death. We will undoubtedly be able to create life – a life that probably has thousands of times the intelligence of any humans to date. Scientists predict this could all happen within the next 50 years. Scientists also predict that as these superhuman beings, aka homodeus, become omnipresent, our species, homo sapiens, will go extinct.

While I have no reason to doubt that superhumans will soon be among us, I find it strange to think that we might go extinct. When human beings evolved, plants and animals did not go extinct. More importantly, Judaism and most religions have always proposed that there is a superhuman known as God, or Higher Power, or Nature, etc. If homodeus have some of the characteristics we attribute to God, how might our relationship to God change? How might prayers change? Would what we pray for change? Do we really want to cure all diseases? Do we really want to live forever? Do we want and can we still have free will? What implications do any of these questions have on the way we live today? Are there regulations and/or conversations we should be having that might better prepare us for tomorrow? Can we affect how we evolve?

These are the types of questions Judaism, and other religions should be tackling. Scientific and technological advances are inevitable. They will happen with ever-increasing speed. They need a moral compass guiding them.

Interview for Two-Thirds of the Planet


Your name Neil Jacobson

What’s your connection with the disability?

I have always had Cerebral Palsy. I also consider myself part of the
disability community as well as an advocate for people with
disabilities

Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek

If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go?

I've been to many countries including England, Germany, Denmark,
Switzerland, Norway, Japan, Israel, Canada, and Mexico. In my golden
years I wouldn't want to live anywhere but the USA!

What dish would you bring to our community picnic potluck?

Cookies and fruit pies

Now That We've Been Introduced...

What do you do:


As you know, after 29 years of working at Wells Fargo, I retired to start a disability-focused employment company that specializes in consulting on staffing and placement issues. I quickly realized that there are systemic problems that intrinsically inhibit people with disabilities from working and being productive. Our society holds very low expectations for individuals with disabilities. Defining disability as the “inability to work” in order to receive disability benefits is an inherent disincentive. I am dedicating the rest of my retirement to see that these old policies are changed. I am doing so by working with The World Institute on Disability where leading an initiative called CareerACCESS. I am attaching a brief description of CareerACCESS. To learn more about it, please see http://www.careeraccess.org.

So now I am trying

a) run Abilicorp,
b) lead the CareerACCESS initiative

c) be a good board member on 3 non-profit agencies,

d) be a good husband and father and friend and

e) deal with a progressing disability - not necessarily in that order!

How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed?

You can find my oral history at
bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/drilm/collection/items/jacobson.html.
I also suggest reading The Question of David, by Denise Sherer Jacobson.

Basically, I owe a lot to my Mom who, being a Holocaust survivor,
believed I HAD to succeed, to my special education teachers and
classmates who thought I COULD Anyone, to my high school and college environments that showed me how to succeed, to the disability
community that encouraged me to succeed, to jobs including CTP and
Wells Fargo that ENABLED me to succeed and of course Denise and David who made me feel loved.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?

5 years from now I hope to be completing my Ph.D., advising the
implementation of Social Security reform that enables people with
disabilities to work via CareerACCESS, writing a book on disability and money,  spoiling a grandchild, and enjoying mocha with friends

Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you
when you’ve gone?

'He was a good guy. He did a good job, Go! Go! Go!'

Who or what inspires you?

Judy Heumann, who I have been close with since I was 4 years old and
who has tirelessly worked for the Disability Movement. My father who
was a simple, down-to-earth guy who knew what he wanted (which was to see his 3 kids grow up and be OK)

About Disability

If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you
that was really struggling with something related to disability – what
would you tell?

Use Personal Assistant Services! Use time and energy for important
things. There are wonderful people available, ready and able to
assist. To be independent, you need to know how to be dependent

What do you like about your particular disability?

Because my disability is so visible, I've had the great opportunity of
observing the world from a 'different' viewpoint. Because I couldn't
do things the 'normal way' I had to create 'my way' of doing things.
It was (is) great to know there's always a way to do what you really
I want to do.

Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability?

We are indeed people first. Some of us are nice, some not-so-nice,
some funny, some warm, some cold, some bright, some boring, etc. We all have good days and bad days. Enjoy what you like and forgive the rest.

What single piece of technology makes your life easier?

My powered wheelchair! Before high school, I never used a wheelchair.
In high school and undergrad college, I only had a manual wheelchair.
The day I arrived in Berkeley (8-23-1974), Ed Roberts convinced me to
use a powered wheelchair. Since then, you could take away my car and
my home and my belongings but don't take away my powered wheelchair!

Connect with Neil through:

Abilicorp

CareerACCESS

LinkedIn

Read his story: Bancroft Library Oral History Project

Hometown Heroes

Hometown Heroes

Since I only have 5 minutes to give this speech, and since it takes my Cerebral Palsy / New York accent longer than 5 minutes just to say ‘thank you,’ I’ve asked Antoinette Bobbitt, the Operation Manager of Abilicorp, to read it for me.

I want to thank Comcast and the Bay Area News Group for having this great event. I am very proud that after a wonderful 29-year career at Wells Fargo, I retired to start Abilicorp. Abilicorp is an employment agency that focuses on employing people with disabilities. Today, however, I want to promote The World Institute on Disability (WID).

WID is an internationally recognized public policy center started in 1983 by leaders of the Independent Living Movement. I was on the founding board, and I am proud to be back on the board. In its early years, WID had tremendous success assisting governments as well as the private sector, implement laws and policies that protected the civil rights of people with disabilities, both domestically and internationally. WID, for example, played a significant role in the passage and implementation of the Americans with Disability Act.

WID stands for the belief that there is no social inclusion without economic equity and economic inclusion. Disability policy experts and people with disabilities agree that even as the ADA has leveled the playing field in areas such as voting, education, and activities of daily living, the rate of employment and economic participation of people with disabilities has not budged in over four decades. Over 70% of the 54 million Americans with disabilities are unemployed or under-employed. What a waste of talent and human potential. Being a member of both the disability community and the corporate community, I know firsthand the importance of fully participating in work and the thrill that goes along with doing so. Sadly, most societies, including ours, still equates disability with an inability to work rather than a challenge to figure out how to work. We too often reward people for not working rather than determining how they can work.
This paradigm has to change! The way we think about employment for people with disabilities, disability benefits, and economic independence has to change. By bringing together people with disabilities with government leaders, business leaders, economists, technologists, teachers, etc., I firmly believe that the work WID is performing will lead the way to break through this barrier to economic independence.

I urge all of you to find out more about the great work that goes on at The World Institute on Disability and support their efforts. WID is a partner of The Ed Roberts Campus (ERC). The ERC is aptly named after the Father of the Disability Movement and houses several agencies; their sole purpose, to ensure that people with disabilities can live independently and without discrimination. The grand opening of this beautiful building, on April 9th, would be an excellent opportunity to learn more about WID.

Thank you!

Hoffi

Hoffi

On Wednesday, June 28, 2017, one of my very dearest friend, Hoffi, (Stephen Hofmann), whom I've known since I was 4 years old, passed. He has been in Hospice for close to a year. He was quite ill for several years before that. When I answered the phone and heard his daughter's voice, I knew he had passed. I was actually expecting to be on a conference call at the very moment. For a second I was confused as to what to do. As soon as I heard the words, “Hoffi passed” tears began flowing. I cried louder than I've cried in many many years. Regardless of how comfortable one may be with death, and regardless of how much one knows that a friend's death is inevitable, hearing the words the loved one has passed is unbelievably painful.

I met Hoffi when I was in kindergarten along with Michael Ward and Judy Heumann. The 4 of us have remained very close friends. Michael, Hoffi and I have very similar disabilities. We all have significant speech impairments. We walked, CP style, as kids and use powered wheelchairs as adults. We all have been able to do most activities of daily living very independently until recently. At camp, we were called 'The Three Sisters.'

Among the many things, I've learned from Hoffi, learning to travel the New York Subway System independently was probably the most significant. In the late '60s and early '70s, none of the subway stations were wheelchair accessible. Hoffi and I would get ourselves and our manual wheelchairs to a station by propelling the wheelchairs with our feet. At the station, we would park the wheelchair near the staircase, sit ourselves down on the step, and bounce ourselves down or up the stairs. Many people went passed us. Most people gave us strange looks. Inevitably someone would stop us and ask if we needed assistance. We would point to our wheelchairs, and they would go bring the wheelchairs to the platform we were headed to. Quite often, police appeared, telling us that what we were doing was illegal and asking for ids. Occasionally they would call the universities we attended to confirm our student status. What was the most important lesson learned from all this was that there is always a way to get to where you want to go and do what you want to do. It also taught me that if hundreds of people pass you by and only 1 person stops to help, that 1 person is enough to help you succeed.

The greatest gift Hoffi gave to the world is his daughter. Emily, like her Dad, is the kindest, sweetest, fun-filled, life-loving person you can imagine. Hoffi lived in the San Francisco / Bay Area where Emily was born and raised. Hoffi left the Bay Area to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois. When Emily had difficulties, she allowed me to be the 'uncle' I always wanted to be. We shared good times and hard times. I visited her in Idaho and Southern California. Little did I know that in a few more years the table would be reversed and Emily would give me the support I needed. Starting in 2011, my ability to function independently declined rapidly. Hoffi had lost his ability to do most of his activities of daily living independently a few years earlier. Emily was one of my first attendants. She got me up 5 mornings a week for more than a year and often helped me to bed at night. Perhaps more importantly, she helped me remember I was still the same guy I've always been. Emily moved back east when Hoffi entered hospice to be with Hoffi.

Denise and I saw Hoffi for the last time when we were in New York in December 2016. I was able to have time alone with him. I asked him if he was ready to go. He said 'no.' He said he wanted to see a grandchild. It made me feel good knowing he still had goals to strive for. While this goal was not met, it renews my belief that trying and failing to reach a goal is always better than not having a goal.

At my memorial, instead of having people go on and on as I just did, I hope one person will say “he was a good guy, Go! Go! Go!” Hoffi, you are a great guy. Go! Go! Go!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Expanded Role of Religious Institutions

Expanded Role of Religious Institutions

 We are living in swiftly changing times. Automation and robotics are performing many jobs that people used to do. More and more people work independently, setting their own work schedules, working from their own homes and vehicles and paying their taxes and healthcare expenses by themselves. Advances in science and technologies are enabling the creation of new forms of life, new medicines, new ways to communicate, travel and much more. People are living longer. Social media and the internet have brought the entire world to our fingertips.

With all these great advances' comes perils. An increasing number of people feel isolated. They find themselves alone in front of a computer or smartphones. They have lots of online friends but few people to talk with. They have to create their own daily structures. With no training or experience, they are expected to do things such as pay taxes, save for retirement, pay for healthcare, save for sick days and vacation days. Social media enables people to hear and read only what they want to hear. We are creating new life forms without knowing what the new life forms should be or do. Should we be eliminating all disabilities and diseases? Should we forget about diversity? What should be the role for people when robots, artificial intelligence, and bio and genetically engineered forms of life are commonplace? We are seeing how people surrender their morality and civility in hopes of reinstating some semblance of the past.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need religious leaders and institutions to help guide us to the future. We need new customs that help us see more than one side of an issue. We need new practices on how to engage in real conversations. We need new principles that will help steer scientists and technologists. New traditions for celebrating life-cycle events, including death, are required. We need a vision of how we want the next evolution of life to be and what the role of people should be.
Religious leaders and institutions should encourage the vitality of committees that reflect the passion of community members. Many religious institutions already have great committees that do a whole slew of activities including social action, ritual, sustainable urban farming, sports, caring for the ill, caring for mourners, community volunteering and many more. I suggest every religious institution have a Conversations Committee that encourages every member of a religious institution as well as members of the larger community to participate in periodic facilitated conversations where all sides of an issue can be freely discussed.

Religious institutions should also consider promoting and investing in community-based small businesses. They may want to hold a minority interest in these businesses, Clergy and lay leaders serving on Boards can ensure the enterprise operates with compassion, morality, and civility. These small community businesses can provide such things as:
  1. Personal assistant services for people with disabilities and aging
  2. Housing services for the homeless
  3. Financial services including budget management, saving, business, disability and retirement planning, and healthcare coverage
  4. Legacy services including preparing wills and ethical wills, planning memorial services, building and maintaining memorial websites
  5. Daycare and after-school programs
  6. Administrative services and/or workspace for people working independently
  7. Mentoring services
  8. Job placement services including finding civil service internships for all young adults
  9. Event opportunities and work spaces for artists, performers, caterers, and others
The list of possible committees and small businesses is endless. None of the ideas are new. They all need to be shepherded with guidance that religious institutions may be in the best position to offer. The future is as bright as we will make it! Let's focus on making it so!



Workplace Accommodation


Workplace Accommodation

      As a disability advocate, I am often asked about the workplace and reasonable accommodations. As an IT manager at Wells Fargo for more than 29 years, I was frequently asked about assistive technology and what people with disabilities need. I found both conversations somewhat amusing and confusing.
      In the 1980s, I was the architect responsible for designing the first 7 by 24 banking system in the U.S. My last assignment at the Bank was to manage the design and implementation of mobile banking. I love IT! Especially software. Software proves that there is always a way to accomplish what you want to achieve. At the Bank, I often drove my development staff crazy. I would insist that any feature the user wanted to put into our application, there was always a way to do so, and indeed there was. I must admit, I live my life as a person with a disability in a similar fashion. Whatever I really want to do, there's always a way!

      My experience at Wells Fargo leads me to believe that corporations are more ready for people with disabilities than we are for them. Focusing on making a profit can be a very equalizing activity. Concentrating on doing a great job rather than focusing on one's disability can be liberating. At the Bank, I found that if you did a good job and added to the Bank's bottom line, it didn't matter what color you were or what religion you practiced or what disability you had. Focusing on the bottom line also leads to creativity. There were many nights when there were system problems. Support personnel from the Bank's computer centers would call me and inevitably find a way to understand what I was saying – because they needed to! One of my favorite stories happened near the beginning of my career before there was online computing, The system crashed at 1AM. My van was in the shop, Trains in the Bay Area don’t run all night. Wells Fargo sent an armored van to transport me, and my 300 -pound powered wheelchair to the data center.
      Assistive technology has always been an amusing concept for me. My own disability, Cerebral Palsy, is quite significant. I cannot drink without a straw, but are drinking straws considered assistive technology? I also have very limited use of my hands and use a word expansion application to help me type faster. Many people with disabilities I know use a speech recognition system to verbally navigate their computer and the Internet and create documents. These applications have been called assistive technology, but when people without disabilities use them, they are just seen as mainstream conveniences and aids to productivity. Would anyone call Siri an assistive technology? What about speakerphones? Gadgets and applications seem to be classified as assistive technology only when they are used by people with disabilities—and just until the general public realizes how universal that gadget or app can be. When people ask me what assistive technology I like the best, I answer it is my Wells Fargo Visa Card. It's surprising how much easier it is for people to understand me after they see that card!
      So is it assistive technology, or a mainstream technology product that has accessibility features? The technologies themselves have no such categories, and the differences only seem to arise regarding who is using them in what context. Most, if not all, developers and companies I know, want to build accessible technologies. Who wouldn't people want their product to be usable by as many potential customers as possible?
 
      Universal Design is a 2-way obligation. I encourage assistive technology designers who are designing products and services for people with disabilities to consider how their inventions can be used by the. Not long ago, a small hardware firm sent a designer to my house to find out what kind of hardware might better enable me to use my smartphone or tablet from my wheelchair. I applauded them for considering the needs of people with disabilities. I explained how I'd really like a stand mounted on the wheelchair that would hold the IPAD steady and that could recharge the IPAD using solar energy. I urge them to design the stand for bicyclists and people pushing strollers. Producing for the general-public usually leads to a better product at a lower price. Marketing to the general-public helps ensure that people with disabilities are aware of the product and removes the stigma often associated with using assistive technologies. Marketing to the general public is also more lucrative, ensuring companies will be around to build the next great product.
      I urge all companies to follow standards set forth by agencies including Access Board Standards and Guidelines and the Web Accessibility Standards. They are not perfect. They do not and cannot fulfill everyone's needs. Companies must be open to meeting the needs of all staff members including those with disabilities. People with disabilities should be very clear about their needs and be able to explain how satisfying the needs will enable them to be more productive.

      Now is the time to go forward. Now is the time to expect people with disabilities to take full advantage of the progress made to date and to be active and productive people.

Go! Go! Go!