August 4, 2021
Transcription is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.
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>> Welcome to AccessAbility Works. A podcast about the possibilities of accessibility for people with disabilities. I’m Jonathan Hermus.
>> I’m Albert Rizzi and this is the AccessAbility Works podcast.
>> Today we’re talking or interviewing Mike Paciello.
>> Yeah, Mike Paciello is a force to be reckoned with. He’s been a driving force in the direction I’ve taken my professional career and actually my advocacy work, as well. Mike, in my opinion, is one of the founding fathers of accessibility for people with disabilities. But we have agreed to label him as my godfather. Mike has impacted so many areas within the digital equity community and inclusion for people of abilities since the late ’80s from what we’ve been able to find out. I did not realize Mike —
>> Over 30 years.
>> And you wouldn’t even know from looking at him. He looks younger than me. So that’s going to be a great opportunity to learn more about what Mike is about, what Mike has done. And all of the ways he’s impacted not just inclusion and digital equity. But the formation of the internet and the information that gets disseminated throughout the world today.
>> That was me leaning on the table. My bad. So Mike Paciello, he wrote the book on digital accessibility. Like literally. It’s a book called “Web Accessibility for People With Disabilities.” Which is kind of a mouthful but that’s his book. He has WebABLE.tv.
>> Fantastic programming there.
>> And WebABLE is also a digital marketing platform.
>> Yeah, it’s a new venture. He’s just launched and that will be exciting to hear him tell about. What else do we have there?
>> We have some news.
>> Oh, news.
>> It’s Olympic season. Summer Olympics.
>> We are recording this during the Olympics. So depending on when you hear this, we have either swept all of the categories in gold or we are waiting for that to happen at the Paralympics, which is directly after the Olympics in Tokyo.
>> As long as we beat China, we’re good.
>> I think right now, we were talking about this yesterday, the category of medals, I think we’re in 3rd Place behind China at the moment.
>> That was the last time I checked.
>> That was the last time you checked. And a lot of the great competitions are still ahead of us but there have been some issues that we have become aware of with regard to the paralympians and the pandemic and the complications that come along with these new regulations that have never been in front of us before. And the challenges that many of our Olympians, who are also members of the Disability Community, and we’ll be covering some of those issues that are faced by people with disabilities as paralympians and/or members of the general community as it relates to integrating ourselves into society. And into recreational activities that give our paralympians the skills they need to go for the gold.
Watch for our blog, which is about paralympians and people with disabilities in general overcoming hurdles. And not just the ones on the track and field course. And you can read that blog on our website. Myblindspot.org. Or watch for it throughout our social media on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
>> Uh-huh. And speaking of Olympians and the Olympics, the Paralympics is happening in a few weeks. A few days after the general Olympics. And there’s going to be a fantastic program. Hosted by Mallory Weggemann, paralympian, Gold Medalist, swimmer extraordinaire. And she’s hosting the Able Channel is presenting Together We Are Able. And yours truly happens to be one of the individuals highlighted in this program. Also in the program will be Deborah, who will be joining us down the road on a person as AccessAbility Works podcast. Deborah has worked in accessibility and inclusion for decades thanks to her daughter, Sarah, who is a person from the Down syndrome community.
And a fantastic personality. So don’t forget to set your DVR or tune in on August 22nd, 5 p.m. Eastern. And check for your local listings about what channel NBC will be airing the Able Channel’s premier of Together We Are Able.
>> And wishing Mallory and all of the other paralympians the best of luck as they go for the gold.
>> But more importantly have fun.
>> Have fun and go USA. Anyways, so without further ado, let’s bring in Mike Paciello.
>> Hey, Mike, how are you?
>> Thanks for having me, Albert, Jonathan. Yeah, I’m doing great. Good to be with you guys today.
>> Happy to hear it.
>> It’s so good to have you here. Like I said, you have helped guide and structured the direction I’ve personally taken as a professional in this industry and how My Blind Spot has grown to be a driving force, as best as I like it to be, in digital equity and authentic inclusion. So I think I would like to start out with you speaking to who is Mike Paciello? How did you start working in the accessibility industry? I mean, you’ve been here for a couple decades.
If you wouldn’t mind giving us a crash course in who Mike is and how he got here.
>> Take the spotlight, Mike.
>> Yeah, sure, so it’s actually three decades. It’s more than three decades.
>> It’s longer than I really want to admit to. But if anything, it’s more than half my life now and certainly almost all of my professional life since the mid ’80s, 1984 I think someone told me ’83. I think really it was ’84. But it was in that area when I first got started. really quite randomly started.
I was working at a company that no longer exists today but at the time was the second largest computer company in the world, Digital Equipment Corporation. They were based in Maynard, Massachusetts. I was working in their software engineering building or facility up in Ashland, New Hampshire. And I was working as a technical writer at the time. Literally just learning what at that particular time was called gen code. Later became SGML or Standard Generalized Markup Language, which ultimately became the predecessor to HTML or gliders to the left, right.
>> So that nerd stuff translates to code, right? It’s coding?
>> It does but from a technical writers standpoint. But at that particular time we were trying to move documentation and publishing to an electronic document format which is what SGML did but a markup language. So if you can imagine at that time when you were an editor of a publication or a newspaper, generally speaking, you got a draft. Maybe on a typewriter. A particular article that a writer would write. And then what you would do is set it up for a publisher for the prereads. So to do that you mark things with this is a paragraph. This is a header. This is a bulleted list. Do the indentations.
So there’s all kinds of literal markup. Usually it’s in red ink. By editors on a page.
>> So they just took that metaphor and turned it — converted it into something we could do electronically. So I was just learning that at that particular time at Digital. As a technical writer. And one of my managers, a guy by the name of Bobby Rasca [phonetic], a good friend of mine, asked me if I could take on a special project that he no longer had time to work on but was something near and dear to him. And as it turned out, that was delivering digital computer documentation to the National Braille Press in Boston.
It’s volunteer. They only ask us once or twice a year to bring down some of our computer docs. And would you do it? I said, yeah. I was in the middle of a release between books. I was involved in writing at a particular time at Digital. I said sure, it seemed like a cool thing.
I did have a background in sign language for the deaf. I had a friend of mine that ended up — we ended up rooming together. He was deaf. So I picked up sign language there. And I did a little bit of translation signing back, again, in early ’80s.
>> As part of my church. So I had a little bit of perdition you might say to disabilities.
>> That’s kind of interesting.
>> That’s a small push.
>> Yes, a different kind of entrance for myself is when I was in high school, I worked at a deli instead of McDonald’s or Burger King like everybody else. And we were not too far from the Cleary School for the Deaf. And the people I worked with had such tremendous issues figuring out to give people who are deaf a pen and paper to write down what they wanted that I looked at very intentionally not complicating my ability to communicate with anyone and everyone.
So I took up sign language in college under the tutelage of my Professor Charlotte Goldblatt. We called her Jippy. Who was asked by Eleanor Roosevelt back in the day to focus in —
>> Oh, no, it was crazy, to focus in on creating an educational program for deaf and blind people in Connecticut where she lived. She lived in a beautiful area in Stanford. So I learned sign language and then transitioned to learning Braille. And at that time of course I wasn’t blind.
And she would always chastise me for reading Braille with my eyes. And I would say to her, Mrs. Goldblatt, I am never going to be blind so what does it matter how I read Braille? Here I am today, I can read Braille with my fingers.
>> Wow, that’s amazing. That’s amazing.
>> But it’s interesting how you — that sort of sparked my interest, as always, being prepared for where I am today. There was a higher power just guiding me in this direction. I wasn’t listening back then. But I am now.
>> Yeah; yeah. So I took that opportunity. I went down to — I just figured I got a request literally the week that he asked me, took down a few volumes of our computer documentation to National Braille Press. And while I was there, they gave me a tour. And at that point I watched the painstaking process that they were taking to produce Braille from a printed book.
>> I thought to myself, oh, my goodness, this is — how long is it going to take you to produce this book? And they thought up to a year.
>> That’s how long it took to write most books back in the day because they were all written by hand.
>> Well, yeah, and then to convert that into Braille. Braille translation software was around. But was in its infantile state.
>> Infancy, yeah.
>> Joe Sullivan’s company was around at that particular time. It probably was. But I can’t remember. I’ll tell you what happened. I went there. And I said, I’m going to come back. And I thought, wow, we’re taking documents now and making electronic documents. If we could convert — and this is what we were doing. If we could convert our electronic documents to various printer types, which is what we’re really outputting to different printer types, including postscript, which is the predecessor of PDF. And I’m thinking about this outloud to myself.
Why can’t we take this and convert it to Braille? Convert it to large text. And convert it to voice.
And that led to the ultimate formation of me going out, contacting people in this space that I didn’t know. Particularly George Kerscher, who was on his own at that particular time. I think he had a small company called Computerized Books for the Blind. And he was basically doing the same thing on little diskettes.
>> Yeah, floppies.
>> Right. On floppies. I was actually going to say three and a half but they weren’t three and a half. They were five and a quarter back then. So long story short, we connected and we formed the International Committee for Accessible Document Design or ICADD.
>> And that led to the creation of the first HTML Document Type Definition or DTD that was adopted by the American Association of Publishers for producing Braille, large text and voice-ready files from electronic files.
>> I really am correct in asserting and saying that you are the forefather of digital accessibility and equity. Wow.
>> That’s crazy.
>> That really is.
>> I don’t like —
>> I know. Go ahead and say you don’t like it.
>> I have a lot of friends and colleagues that were equally involved and ultimately we all came together. But I don’t want to be that old.
>> So if you’re not going to be the founding father you’ll be my godfather, okay, Mikey.
>> Yeah, that fits a little more with my capability, right.
>> So it’s interesting. You happened into this through no personal connection to anybody with a disability. And you parlayed this into not only organizations but a persona that really proceeds itself before you walk into the room. And people hear Mike Paciello is coming in, ears perk up.
>> Well, I mean that’s a compliment. I always appreciate it. I’m very humbled by all of it.
>> So where did you go after that? How did you take all of that, perfected it obviously, because here we are today with electronic documents that are more accessible and usable than ever. We have easy conversions of printed matter into Braille. Braille displays. And the like. So how did you take that and morph it into the next phase of your life?
>> Yeah, so there were a number of different transitions that took place throughout that whole period of time. I started Digital in 1992. I left in 1996. And between those years we first started with ICADD and created document-type definitions so we could build electronic documentation. Then we — as you know, we went through a phase where PDF had just — was starting to get some traction at Adobe. So we were dealing with the notion of pictures of words and how to do that. The U.S. Government at that particular time was looking at possibly adopting PDF as an EDI standard, electronic document interchange standard. And myself, George, Yuri Rubinsky and several other colleagues did our best to fight it and were successful in doing that. Because we knew it would prevent the blind and low vision folks and anyone basically with a print impairment from being able to use files that were basically pictures of words. So you had that going on.
And of course the CD/DVD times came around. So that was the next big transition in terms of the digital documentation, digital economy, so to speak.
So I then created at that time at Digital Equipment, I moved and converted all of our documentation for all of Digital’s computer systems onto a CD that became a product at Digital and was distributed without a reader.
Usually back then IBM and Digital would ship their documentation on CD-ROMs. And they would ship them with a proprietary reader. And the only way you could read those files was with those readers. But I was able to get all of these files into an accessible format using the ICADD DTD. And some good friends at Digital, who were blind devs, to help me clean up those files and make sure they were screen reader friendly and user friendly for large text and Braille. Joe Sullivan was a good friend of mine. David Holladay was at Raised Dot Computing. So we made sure their Braille translators were very able to very easily interpret those files and push them out to refreshable Braille screens. But we did that off of these CD-ROMs. And distributed them as what was called VILD or Vision Impaired Online Documentation. It sold like hot cakes.
>> I mean, we sold thousands of these in just a few weeks. I was blown away. I couldn’t believe it. It turned out, to be perfectly transparent, it wasn’t just the blind or low vision or print impaired community who were buying them. It was every company that had a subscription — not every. But a lot of companies that had subscriptions to these con dis, consolidated distribution, with the proprietary readers, now they found they could get the documentation without a proprietary reader and run them through their own viewers that they were creating.
>> Yeah. You know, there’s something you said that you sort of just glossed over very I would say intentionally. But for the listening audience, you inspired me and drove me to consider the print impaired or the print disabled community as a totality.
From a marketing perspective, doing anything for one community of people was, at best, a heavy lift. But when we step outside the confines of a blind person having a problem reading print, which is obvious to the most casual observer, we start looking at people with print disabilities. And that includes people with any sensory loss, mobility issues, cognitive delays, learning disability or the aging community.
And that’s what has helped My Blind Spot distinguish itself amongst some of our industry peers because we work across the abilities spectrum. And we advocate for authentic inclusion of people from the print disability community. And I think in that instance, you were progressive in that sense of looking not just at blind people. But anyone and everyone that would benefit from accessible, usable electronic documentation and platforms.
And I espouse that every day.
>> Thank you, Albert. And again, I think it’s important to know, and that is an excellent learning. I agree with you. I didn’t even pick up on the amount of lives that were being touched by the activity that we were involved in with ICADD at that particular time. Until I actually went to Washington D.C. And started to meet at the Access Board. Met with Judge Leonard Smohanick [phonetic], who was actually kind of the judge that got the whole 508 discussions and committees going in the very beginning. And met with several employees of the Federal Government who themselves had various disabilities. Many of which — you know, the others — one that always comes into play are individuals who have missing limbs like hands and arms and things like that.
>> So they can’t type. And I can’t remember if — yeah, well the mouse — Doug Engelbart had invented the mouse.
>> Yeah, the mouse basically came out in the late ’80s. I remember when that was introduced with even the computer because I was still using an electric typewriter or some Smith & Wesson or whatever typewriter. Smith & Wesson. I’m just loyal. I know —
>> What was it?
>> It wasn’t. Whatever, I’m making it up. But we do happen to come across during these travels in DC, John Kemp, speaking of people —
>> I did. I know John very well. Now, I knew of John but I don’t think I met him until a little bit later on maybe in the ’90s. But since then he and I have become good friends and great colleagues in terms of work together.
>> He’s another person, aside from you, that really helps drive my direction and a sense of both humility with what we do and a vision for all things possible.
When you mentioned stuff like people who can’t use the keyboard or mouse because of mobility issues, he always comes to mind right away.
>> Yeah; yeah, absolutely. John is just a wonderful person with great, great heart. And great love for people with disabilities. And giving back. Yeah, agree.
>> Our listeners might remember who John Kemp is because we aired a piece a few month ago.
>> So we’re so lucky to have you and him. To be honest I’m sitting here blushing to have the people who helped shape my direction and you just humble me all the time, Mike. So DC, then what?
>> So let’s see. The ’80s, into the ’90s, so ultimately what happened was the web was invented, ’92, ’93, Tim Berners-Lee took on the web. Digital Equipment, the company I was working for at the time, was very, very much involved with it. We were closely aligned with MIT. MIT did a lot of hosting for the W3C and also became the home for the World Wide Web Consortium. And I got brought in to help with what then we were talking about accessibility for the web.
I started working as a volunteer to work on just creating resources. At that time, Trace Research, led by Greg Vanderheiden and WGBH — I’m not even sure the National Center for Accessible Media, NCAM, it was something else at that time. Larry Goldberg was the director there. A lot of guidelines were starting to evolve at that particular time about how to make websites and the web accessible.
Well, back then it was fairly simple because most of it was words. We didn’t do anything with —
>> Images or graphics.
>> Yeah. The Mosaic browser was invented and that was released in like ’95, around ’94, ’95. I was at — let me look at my — do I have it, 1994? Because I’m looking at my bookshelf.
>> And I have it right here from the second World Wide Web Conference, which was in Chicago that year. And I was an invited speaker and the folks at NCSA who included Joe Harden, who was a professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which should be familiar to you if you know John Gunderson because that’s where John is.
>> Joe Harden had a group of kids. I call them kids because even then I was in my late 20s and they were still, you know, in college. Who created the Mosaic browser that included Marc Andreesen and Chris Wilson and Tim Koskov [phonetic], who all went off to launch their own companies and careers and have become famous in and of themselves. But what was great was Joe, who was the director of the — of NCSA at that particular time, was very much on board with accessibility. And so they hosted that second conference. Mosaic browser was launched. Graphics came into it. Jacob Nielsen was talking about usability in graphics. It was really kind of an exciting time. It was odd to be there. I met Tim Berners-Lee and all of the stuff started to come out. But the most important thing was we had a platform now.
We had a place in the World Wide Web Consortium. We got Greg. We got Larry. We got other people. George Kerscher. Some good friends from Europe that were there at this meeting. We started to build basically a new working group.
>> That’s absolutely wild.
>> That working group, we worked on those standards that people today call the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
>> Now, hold that thought for one minute. Because as you’re sitting here talking about the infancy —
>> Forming of the internet, you just being there watching it happen.
>> Isn’t that awesome?
>> That’s wild, man.
>> But what I’m curious about, John, wild, absolutely, no doubt. But as we’re sitting here today, listening to the Eleventh Circuit Court argue how the digital forms of the 21st Century are not protected under the ADA, was there any thought given to even consider the internet as a public forum? Or was that just an assumption? I’m kind of confused how they had gotten that far based upon the direction we took when the ADA was signed into law and what you’re talking about happening in ’94.
What was the mindset? Did you even see the horizon and the confusion around the description or the definition of a public forum as it relates to digital environments?
>> I did not. We were living in separate worlds. The brick and mortar world, the architectural barrier world. I knew of ADA. I clearly knew about ADA. I wasn’t involved in any of the early — I wish I had been. Because I since have made some very close friends with folks that were instrumental in getting the ADA —
>> Tom Harkin for one. I know you’ve had him on WebABLE.
>> Yeah, but in either case, it was kind of separate worlds. The technology world we were off in one place and brick and mortar, architectural barriers — I say brick and mortar. That’s not really a kind way of putting it. But the architectural barriers side of it were two different things. I don’t recall. Now, remember, telecommunications comes into play with all of this, too.
>> So —
>> Everything was in its infancy back then and as we reflect back I’m curious about what the mindset was. I’m sensing — I’m listening to you talk — that there was just this basic underlying assumption that this was going to be something the general public would benefit from.
>> Well there had to be, right? Because Vint Cerf who was instrumental in creating the actual internet protocol, he was one of three or four, one of his motivations was to communicate with his wife because I think either both of them or just one was Deaf and hard of hearing.
>> So they had to think — I mean, Vint is certainly a visionary beyond my imagination. And he had to be thinking, okay, here is something that we can do that maybe one day will enhance the needs of the Deaf Community. And ultimately it has.
You know, the web is a layer that sits on top of the internet. Right? I mean that’s really the best way to look at it.
>> Well, that’s why when I read this story about Vint and his rationale for including people with sensory loss, I’ve always come to appreciate it. And the first question I ask anybody who is in the industry, what was your personal connection to this? Because it does seem that most of us sort of thrive under the kind of advocacy work we do when we have that personal connection, that empathetic, motivational, compassionate push. Because somebody we care about is being marginalized.
>> Yeah, I think that’s very true. But you know, I think the other thing, Albert, and Jonathan, that’s also true, as we well know and I’m sure you’ve been down this path on this show before, historically, if you look at all of the great inventions of the world and the ones that are out there today, there’s always, always, always a connection to disabilities. To making some —
>> Making someone’s life better.
>> Whether incremental or monumental. Whether it’s Alexander Graham Bell with what fundamentally became the telephone system telecommunications of the world. Or whether it’s Tim Berners-Lee whose goal was to make sure that everyone had access to information on the web. I don’t think — I mean, if you asked him, he will tell you that he wasn’t thinking about people with disabilities. He was just thinking about people in general.
>> Right? Sharing data. Sharing content. Sharing information.
>> Well, I don’t know where I heard it. I heard this saying that to make an invention, you find a need that needs to be fulfilled for people and then you fulfill it and what greater need do people have than to help with their disability, right?
>> One of the things that I find, and this is my lived experience, I find that when we make things work better for the general public, by accident, we find an application for people with disabilities. Take remote control for televisions for instance. Back in the ’70s, I would get a smack in the head, hey, go change the channel for your father. Okay, I was his remote control. And the tools we have today to make hands free easier I think were borne out of a sense of —
>> Yeah, laziness. Or I just don’t want to —
>> Some things seemed that way.
>> Sure. And by accident it worked for people with disabilities. And I think if we take the 21st Century and reverse that, if we design things universally to ensure that somebody can use it with their eyes closed, we address the needs for the Disability Community as well as the general population of people by 90%. And then we just have to fine tune 10% that’s left over.
>> Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question about that. That’s the whole notion of inclusive design, universal design, whatever phrase you want to use. I would only challenge that thought from this perspective, and it’s really the one that I’m trying to promote. Just, you know, right here. Is that actually I think the inverse is more true than not. I think that the greatest inventions in the world that we can think of, we think of, especially technological advances, were borne out of a need and a challenge that was presented as a result of addressing a particular user need in the context of disability.
>> And those things led to some of the greatest and largest infrastructures that we have that exist today.
>> Yeah. And I totally agree with you on that. And I would hope you agree, taking a look at this pandemic, a significant focus has been thrust upon the digital environments, electronic communications, that has been a silver lining for our community. I have seen conference platforms like Zoom improve tremendously where I’m able to know who is there, see whose hand is up, who is in attendance. It’s remarkable how this unfortunate circumstance that hit the world did have fantastic outspurts of hope and opportunity for our community.
>> Before we get too far, and Zoom is actually a good segue to loop back, you said something earlier that you glossed over real fast but it made something click in my head that I had never thought about. You said that a web is like a layer —
>> An overlay.
>> Over the top of the internet. Can you expand what you mean a little bit by that?
>> Yeah the web for all intents and purposes is an application that sits on top of the internet. The internet is what makes everything community. It’s the IP protocol. The internet protocol. That people use much like we use telephones. Telephones work over telecommunication, telephone wires. And thread over that. The internet is infrastructure that is the underlying foundation for the web. The web sits right on top of that. And now we build web pages and websites. But that all sits on the foundation of the internet. The internet was first, the web was second.
>> It hurts to think about it, it’s so good.
>> It’s strange how it works because you said the one sits on top of the other but the other sits on top of the other and it’s all intertangled. It’s really hard to think about.
>> It’s a tangled web.
>> They call it a web.
>> Then you have browsers. It acts as kind of an interpreter or renderer for users of the web content which runs under the internet. So there’s lots of layers. Lots of things that are going on all at the same time. Yeah, it can hurt very much to think about it.
>> I don’t think normal people think about that too much.
>> But I will tell you this, when you realize it, when you understand the complexity of the technologies that have become second nature for us.
>> We’re in a digital society today, when you realize how complex they are, you become — and I know I have become more empathic to two sides of that coin. One is the accessibility side. Right? Which is how complex, how difficult it is for users with disabilities. Not just the blind. Not just the deaf. Individuals with cognition disabilities. Individuals with various sensory disabilities. Individuals with physical disabilities.
>> And aging, don’t forget aging.
>> Exactly. And aging, as well. When you put them on one side. And you realize the complexities and the challenges they have to deal with. The same kind of challenges, if not greater, certainly more widespread, are also and equally true for the technologists for the world when they are trying to accommodate and build something that’s usable and accessible to people with disabilities. Because their gear is to get it to a wider and broader population. Just like the internet does. A much wider worldwide audience. The drawback to that is, generally speaking, no one is thinking about people with disabilities when they design and develop it from the outset.
>> Well, that’s where you and I agree. We need to — and we do this with all of our clients. Some of whom I would like to introduce you to to promote some of the things you’re doing and help me advocate better. But we always talk about baking inclusion into the DNA of the corporate culture, into their design and development plans, rather than retrofitting it after the fact.
>> Exactly. We’ve been talking about that for as long as I’ve been here. I hate to tell you.
>> We’re in the ’90s now, ’94, ’95, you were at this conference speaking. The birth of the World Wide Web Consortium. Go.
>> Now we’re getting towards 1996, 1997, which are instrumental years where web accessibility is concerned. So in ’96, to make a very long story short, I left Digital and ultimately became the Executive Director of the Yuri Rubinsky and Insight Foundation. Yuri Rubinsky was the founder of SoftQuad. They were the promulgators of some of the initial SGML editors that people used to create SGML documents. But also the very first web publishing tool called HoTMetal. Yuri died in 1996. We were very close friends. And again he was a big part of what we were doing at the web and trying to get accessibility built into the HTML specification at the World Wide Web Consortium. He died. We built a foundation. And I’m with you know some of these icons in the industry. And they decide, I’m going to be — they want me to be the director of this foundation. And I’ve got no clue about what to do.
I thought, okay, this is my way out. I was — it would give me more time to work with the W3C at MIT. So why not. Let’s go out and see what we can do with the foundation.
Some time in 1996 Tim Berners-Lee, Jim Miller, Danny O’Dugeya [phonetic] came in contact — they were contacted by the White House and ultimately that led to an idea. And the idea was built on the principle of can we create some sort of initiative to — or program at the W3C that the U.S. Government through the National Science Foundation in the Department of Education would help fund to make the web accessible to people with disabilities. And they were primarily focusing on the blind at that time. So that’s one of the reasons why the web and web accessibility has that kind of slate to it. Never mind [inaudible] and everything else.
So Tim and Jim and Daniel contacted me and said, hey, what do you think about doing this? We’ll do it if you’ll help us write the business plan and create it. I said, are kidding me? Yeah, without a doubt, I’m in.
So I spent most of 1996 working with Jim and Daniel, writing the business plan for what would be called the Web Accessibility Initiative. The White House wanted us to announce it. I’m not sure how many people have heard this but at this point they are all old or over the hill anyway. They wanted us to announce that program at the White House in 1996.
We decided, Tim, myself, Jim and Daniel said, no, we don’t want to do it there. Because we want this initiative to be an international initiative. Besides, we also now had funding from Europe that was coming in from the Tide Initiative. So we wanted to make sure this thing was a global initiative. We said, no, we’re not going to do that.
Plus there were some problems going on with the release of the HTML 3.2 specification. I think it was 3.2. There was a little infighting going on about whether or not to integrate accessibility into the HTML specification at that time. We really wanted it. But certain organizations did not. So that led to me meeting with Tom Kaleel [phonetic], who was a Special Advisor to Vice President Gore and ultimately wrote the foreword for my book. And Tom said, hey, Mike, if you want, let’s set up a meeting at the White House.
>> Remind the listeners about the title of your book, please.
>> Web accessibility for people with disabilities.
>> Pretty straightforward.
>> It was first ever.
>> I wrote that after we launched the WAI, that was my next big thing to do. But anyway, it’s more exciting to talk about.
So we decided, the W3C had this arrangement where the only way a specification could be passed and approved was that I think you had to have 100% approval by all of the members at that time. And at that time there were maybe — there were less than 200 members. Smaller than it is now.
One of those companies was Netscape. Who owned basically the browser world besides Mosaic. And they did not want to see the accessibility built into that location. They were pro accessibility. But they didn’t want to see that in that specification. So they voted against it. Tim said, what are we going to do? I said, hey, I’ve got this bluebird. Let me call the White House and Tom Kaleel and see if we can set up a meeting. So we did. I said here is what we’ll do, we’ll send the invite only to those organizations who are willing to support the implementation — the creation of the Web Accessibility Initiative, which would happen in the spring and the integration of accessibility into the HTML specification. You can only come to this meeting, the special meeting at the White House. Long story short, the first company to respond was Netscape.
>> I guess that swayed their interests.
>> Yeah; yeah. So we had this great meeting at the White House in December of 1996. And that ultimately led to its approval. Everybody was on board. Netscape, Mosaic, all of the companies that were involved. Microsoft and Netscape were the big shakers — movers and shakers at that particular time. So we had this great meeting. Everybody was on board. And that led to the very successful launch of Web Accessibility Initiative at the World Wide Web Conference, I think it was the 6th annual webconference at Stanford University. In Santa Clara, California. 1997.
>> Yep, so we launched it. Tim gave — I actually played the video. I have a digitized version of that video, of Tim’s congratulating the launch of the initiative. And so we launched it. And a little later on, Judy Brewer was hired as the first director of the Web Accessibility Initiative.
>> And we went from there.
>> I didn’t even begin to fathom how long Judy has been there. I didn’t realize it was since its inception.
>> Been there from the start.
>> She’s the first and only director of the Web Accessibility Initiative.
>> She’s such a fantastic woman.
>> I got it up and got it launched. I helped work on and write the initial WCAG Version 1, V1 specification. Which again, to remind everybody if you don’t know, most of those guidelines were already rooted in guidelines that had been developed at Trace Research at the University of Wisconsin at Madison under — so people like Mark Novac were there. Wendy was there. Under Larry Goldberg. The folks there had already created guidelines that were kind of published on the internet, the web, then. And we brought them altogether and then used those as the foundation for creating it.
>> Larry is at Yahoo now, right?
>> Larry — they don’t call it Yahoo anymore. What do they call it?
>> I don’t know.
>> The — he works for Verizon. I mean, Yahoo is still a site. But I forget what they call his office.
>> So now Verizon is at Yahoo. Got it.
>> If you want to talk about fathers in terms of the internet and digital technology, especially where captioning and descriptive video is concerned, Larry is definitely the person to talk to.
>> I’m just blown away with all of the information you’re just spewing forth here. It’s remarkable.
>> It’s crazy.
>> It’s crazy. So now we have the World Wide Web Consortium. You’re involved in that. We have the launch of the WCAG. Judy, Brewer. All of that.
>> The launch of the Web Accessibility Initiative. That went into play. Which gave birth to WCAG.
>> Just unbelievable. Now reflecting back to the ’80s, I guess you’ll have a different perspective on the types of advancements that we have realized. I would like you to touch on that as we continue. As well as work that still needs to be done. Again, I know that with the different interviews that I’ve listened to from some of the senators and Congresspeople that were involved in getting the ADA passed, they had certain aspirations as it relates back to employment that hasn’t really been realized.
And I think that’s — the success of that concept is definitely rooted in all the foundations that you have laid with other founding fathers and founding mothers of our disability movement and our inclusion movement. And tie that back into how important digital equity is for the advancement of our employment opportunities that allows people with disabilities to move away from being taxing dependent and being independent taxpayers.
I know, that’s a whole other show.
>> What has happened in, what, the 35 years since then is we have gone from a society at the time that was very hardware centric. The PCs were just barely out. Individual users, users without disabilities, were just being introduced to technology in a mainstream sort of way. To where we are today. The fact of the matter is is that we have learned as a global society that there’s an awful lot that can be done and measured as a result of advancements where accessibility is concerned.
And certainly technology has taken a backseat to no one. It has been an uphill battle. But it has not been without cause. And without leadership. And without champions that further the message. That we have all known. And that quite simply is when you design something, it should be inclusive. It should take into consideration the user needs of all individuals. Whether they are a person with a disability. Whether they are a person with a different language. Whether they are a person with a different nationality. It doesn’t matter what their technology is. Whether it’s mobile. Whether it’s enterprise —
>> Website, yeah.
>> It doesn’t matter. All of these things need to go into the thinking at the conceptual stage to ensure accessibility. And we have definitely seen advances. Ten years ago if you said 508, probably some people knew what it was. Today everybody knows what it is. And I think that that’s true in a much broader spectrum when we talk about disability rights and technology for people with disabilities.
>> Mike, to drive that point home, just so you can rest assured that what you’re speaking is the truth, some of our clients — most of our clients, but specifically American Express and another company called Proctorio, are dedicated. And I just can’t wait for you to speak with the people that we are working with there to hear it from their mouths. American Express in their Mobile Division has committed to have no accessibility debt for 2021. So they are going to be building it into the structure. And there will be reasons for us to invite you to come and share your knowledge and expertise with them.
But this is a trend. I am seeing more and more people becoming aware of, as you said, 508. But we like to talk about moving away from the antiquated perception that accessibility is costly and a heavy lift because of the 1973 Rehab Act and physical barriers and physical structures having to be rebuilt and torn down and adapted, so to speak. And talk about the usability and functionality and the digital equity of platforms and maximizing the use of technologies. Which is a verbiage that I think the C-Suite understands. And the people holding the purse understand. They want to make things equitable and maximum the investment they have made in their technologies.
>> Yeah, I think it comes down to a mindset, Albert.
>> Yes, I agree.
>> I used to have a website. I actually sold it to another colleague so they could use it as a platform. But the website was based on something I used to talk about a lot. I still do. When I travel and when I speak. And that is the think accessibility mindset. You have to think inclusively. You have to think about the broader spectrum of users and users’ needs. That’s why when we did the last version of Section 508, one of the key themes of the release of that version of 508, which is the current version now, was usability.
They are not one and the same. Usability and accessibility are not one and the same.
>> But they are very complementary and one doesn’t work without the other.
>> Correct. And something can be usable but not necessarily accessible. And if I can use it, I’m not going to be as an end user concerned about how accessible it is. But if we look at accessibility and accessibility doesn’t ensure it’s usable, we have a disconnect.
>> Exactly. And I actually think that’s a greater problem today.
>> I think a lot of the things are accessible but they are not usable.
>> So the old notion of, okay, let’s put alternative text on every image, right? Which now we know, first of all, not every image needs alternative text on it. It just creates more latency problems and confuses users more than anything. And we also learned it has to be the right kind of text. It has to be meaningful.
>> Very descriptive.
>> That’s what usability is all about. The tools have to work hand in hand. And I think the 508 Committee, who really — that was a big message that came out. I can’t even remember when it was reached. I know I started working on the committee in 2006. We finished it in 2008. And it was released in 20- —
>> No, it was several years later before it was actually released, the latest Version of 508.
>> I believe I picked the best time to go blind. There are more opportunities to celebrate than there are to complain about. And as long as we celebrate the successes, as you evidenced in the White House conversation when Netscape changed their tune, I think by positively pointing out who is doing what right, we can embarrass those corporations that are still on the fence about committing to digital equity. And they can join the rest of us.
>> Boy, do I agree with that, Albert. I absolutely agree with that. In fact, I’ve been watching, and I’m sure you have, too, Microsoft in their activity over the last four or five years.
>> When Jenny Lay-Flurrie took over as the CAO and I remember having a conversation with her a few years ago, probably three or four years ago now in Washington D.C. We sat down and she was telling me about their vision and what they are going to do. And I — I said, Jenny, don’t take this the wrong way. But I was on one of — at Microsoft when Bill Gates had his own Accessibility Advisory Board and I was on that. And I’ve heard this theme. And I’ve heard this story before. Not just Microsoft. I’ve heard it from Amazon and Google and Apple.
>> Yeah, lip service, lip service, lip service.
>> I said, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way. I’m behind you 100% of the way. But I just have to sit back and wait. Well, four or five years have passed in fairness to Microsoft, to her, to Microsoft’s CEO, to everybody who works there right now, they are on board.
They have established a new high watermark for everybody to reach. It’s definitely affecting. It’s having its effect.
>> To that point too, Microsoft we partner with them every once in a while on certain projects we work very close with Megan Lawrence, who is — her husband happens to be a Rizzi so I always talk to her about being my cousin. His family comes from the same part of Italy my family comes from. But Microsoft has been engaging with one of our clients, Proctorio, about promoting usability and functionality. It’s interesting to see the changes. Like you, I was suspect. Like you, I was waiting for the proof in the pudding. And I’ve seen the advancements. I’ve seen the technologies improving. I’ve seen the commitment to digital equity. And it is so uplifting.
>> Yeah, 100%. I totally agree. Megan was at that same meeting because Megan was right there with me when I was talking with Jenny about it at that time. So was David Zumbach. Yeah, they are all in. Let me tell you something, they have established the leadership role. They have established themselves as the champion in the high tech field. And others are following. So what you’re experiencing there at EMX, I had a great conversation with the new lead at Twitter. They are following that lead. They are going to build a culture in adopting that same kind of mindset and culture in Twitter. It has come down from corporate.
So this I think is the next big push kind of I call it the hat over the wall kind of notion. And everybody is going for it. Right? So the barrier is there. You touch your hat over the wall. You do everything and anything you can to get to it. And that’s what these companies are doing.
>> Sounds like I need to buy another stock. I tend to buy stocks that are thinking about my community. And I try to work with them. So if Twitter is going to be embracing our community as intently as it seems you are excited about, John, we’re getting stock in Twitter.
>> So there are so many directions we can go. I want to get into a couple of things. I would like to talk about definitely the new ventures you’re looking at. The history and the foundation that you were a part of in laying the groundwork for even conversation of this magnitude or even discussions around 508, usability, accessibility, are just unbelievable.
And to that point, because of people like you, you’re definitely in the top like 3 if not the 1 My Blind Spot and I work very closely with New York State, their ITS department. And rewrote a digital accessibility policy that has been considered the most comprehensive by GSA. And the Access Board. And includes 508, 504, 503 sections of the Rehab Act. ADA Titles I, II and III, as well as the WCAG standards for a level of compliance with digital equity. And one of the things I’m most proud of having included in that, you know that caveat that we always see in governmental projects where they have a waiver if they don’t have the money to make things comply with the law?
>> I asked them to take that out and they said, we can’t do that. But we can do one better. Not only does it include that verbiage. But it will hold the head of the agency and their Legal Department responsible for doing a basic test to share the status of the current compliance level or lack thereof. And an explanation of why they can’t afford it. And then if that is justified, they would also then be legally responsible for any lawsuits brought against the state for non-compliance.
>> Good. Yeah, puts a lot of the —
>> I’m doing my work, Mike. I’m trying to make you proud of me, brother.
>> It puts the brunt of the responsibility on their shoulders, which is where it needs to be.
So I came to meet you while you were — I remember the very first time I met you. It was at the members founding meeting for the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. You were sitting to my right. More or less.
>> And I remember being taken by you. There was an air about you that was no BS. I won’t say a superiority. But definitely an air of knowledge that I was gravitating toward. And as we were talking to the Board, I couldn’t understand the differences of opinions on how to lay a foundation for an organization that was attesting to be the International Association of Accessibility Professionals and still wrangling over what was or was not important.
And you were then the CEO and founder of the Paciello Group or TPG.
Let’s talk about that for a bit. Because there’s so many things that you have done since I joined the community under that banner, like WebABLE.tv. And new ventures that are coming forward.
So let’s talk a little bit about TPG. And what you did there.
>> Yeah, sure, great. I’ll also touch a little bit on IAAP as well.
>> Where that’s in there. Because it would be good to come back. I remember us sitting together there and talking about that. So TPG was really the result of two things. One was I had created a company called webABLE.com and when the web was invented — I think. I can’t verify this. But I think it was the first website dedicated to accessibility on the web. If it wasn’t, it had to be one of the early —
>> One of the top two or three.
>> At any rate at that particular time I had a company. I had some venture funding that was about to get approved. And I had a partner who went rogue on me to say the least. I won’t go down that path. But what it really created was I had to set aside WebABLE.com as a business. It was WebABLE Inc. And come up with a new entity. That new entity led to the creation of TPG. Because the only thing I had going for me was my name.
I love three-letter acronyms. So if you follow me and you look at my career, you’ll see that’s how a lot of them came out. That’s how WAI came about.
>> We’ll get into the power of three.
>> Yeah, the Web Accessibility Initiative was initially called the Web Accessibility Project, WAP. I said, there’s no way in the world I’m going to do this. So I spent a couple of nights and came up with WAI. And Daniel and Jim and Tim loved it. And that’s how that came about.
>> It is the way.
>> The TPG was simply just taking my name in a group and just calling it TPG. But using my name as a way to carry on business. So people knew who I was in the industry. And that would help us generate business.
But I was still in the professional services business. Right?
The other very, very important feature of TPG was I had always had a vision and this went back years before even with WebABLE of creating a company that employed the greatest people, technologists, accessibility and disability technologists, in the world. That was always my vision. So TPG with this reboot, restart, gave me the opportunity to do that.
And so very early on I made connections with some of the — you know, I had great connections with a lot of people. A lot of friends and colleagues. But it led to bringing in people like Steve Faulkner. And Jess Lemon [phonetic]. And Hans Hilon [phonetic]. Ian Pouncey, Leonie Watson and Carl [inaudible].
>> Love her.
>> All of these folks came in. So TPG became TPG, not the Paciello Group. I wanted to get my name out of it so that we could focus on the brand of TPG. And by bringing in all of these great folks — I mean, we literally — we literally had I felt the greatest team in the world with all due respect to my colleagues and friends at Deque and SSB Bart and Level Access and some of the other companies out there. They have great people. Without a doubt they do. But I don’t think anyone had a team and a company that had the working ethics and the principle-centered services that we had with that team. And we were international.
>> That’s the thing, too, Mike, that I have always strived to be like you in a way. One, team. At My Blind Spot, TEAM is an acronym. It stands for Together Everyone Achieves More. And TPG embodied that every step of the way.
>> Yeah, we really did. And really, the company became what it was because of them. Because of all of them. Eddie Swan. Like I said, I could just go, you know, Sarah Harten [phonetic], David Sloan. It was just like we just had a who’s who of everybody around the world. And I remember having a conversation break fast with Gareth Ford Williams at CSUN one year. I think it was the year I had hired Henny and Ian from the BBC. And one thing I also didn’t do, I did not allow any of our team to go out and poach and make an offer to any other company. I forbade it. If anyone came to us, it was because they came on their own. And they asked us about work.
>> I used to own restaurants back in the day in the ’90s. And we didn’t do any advertising. Everything was word of mouth and referral.
>> And Mike, again, I am modeling that same work ethic here.
>> That’s what we did.
>> Here at My Blind Spot. Most if not all of our clients are people who reach out to us and/or are referred to us. And it makes it a much better way to build the trust and the — I’m going to use the word authority — that we have as an organization that are based in the fact that stakeholders and the outcomes, people with disabilities, are the ones driving our business.
>> I don’t think there’s any greater thing than to be able to go to work and work with friends.
>> There’s so much value in everything that you’ve just said.
>> To this day we’re all friends. To this day we all talk all the time. We’re all friends.
>> That’s one of the things that we intentionally became a nonprofit versus a for-profit. Because it makes it easier for My Blind Spot to collaborate with what would have been perceived as competitors as opposed to industry peers advancing a mission and vision. And one of the things I’ve always noticed about TPG and its work is you’re not selling a widget. You really are a mission-driven for-profit corporation that was authentically promoting equity and inclusion.
>> Yep. Yeah, that’s what we were. That’s what we were. I want to be clear on that. That’s what we were.
>> Listening to him speak, he was there at the conception of the internet and he felt it should be accessible to everyone. Which I agree with.
>> Exactly. It’s a follow-through on that vision and to bring the right people in to make that happen.
>> So that’s what TPG was.
>> What are they now?
>> Now they are TPGi. That’s the rebranding of the company. It sounds like it’s taking off. Hopefully they will do really well with that. It is a very different company. I do get asked this. Why did you sell the company? What all of my team knows is that — and this becomes a little hard for me. But my wife was dying. And she had brain cancer. Terminal brain cancer. She had had it for many years. It had been in remission. I started seeing signs in 2016, 2017, that it was coming back.
So to make it a long story short that becomes very emotional very quickly, it was the right time for me to sell. So that I could stay home and take care of her.
>> Be with her.
>> So the brand — we had a very, very strong brand.
>> Very strong brand.
>> We had the best team. And what I saw in this acquisition was the potential — and Albert, I think you alluded to this earlier when we were talking before the show. What I saw in what is now Vispero, at that time was VFO, was an opportunity to bring in the leading screen reader company, Freedom Scientific with JAWS in the world, 80% of the market, with the leading screen magnifier company.
>> Zoom, right, exactly.
>> Ai Squared, right. With the leading CCTV company in the world, which is Optelec which a lot of people don’t know about but they are. And now with the leading professional services group. This looked like a can’t-lose situation. Because now — and this is what we talked about in the early discussions. Now we could go and we could sell, if you will, a holistic package to everyone. We don’t just sell services. We don’t just sell products. We sell products and services and we support both the entire accessibility maturity continuum attached end-to-end. We could do it all. And that was a value proposition. There’s just no way in the world I could deny.
>> No. It was a holistic solution. A one-stop shop concept. And that’s something that I, again, took to heart.
>> Who has that? No one has that. To this day no one has that.
>> One of the things we did with My Blind Spot, we consulted with colleague and friend, Frances west. We consulted and discussed with Mark Balsano. He single handedly created the whole Accessibility Division from boardroom to mail room in the CAO position at AT & T.
>> He created this talking point for C-Suite executives about the consortium of like-minded individuals, for-profit nonprofit, executives, evangelists, accessibility professionals and stakeholders in the outcome to create a focused approach to how to infuse authentically digital equity and inclusion. And you saw that in this opportunity. And I saw it as — I was concerned in the beginning because it was — I perceived it as a monopoly and that the price was going to be passed onto people in the Disability Community. But from a business perspective, it made tremendous sense to me, too.
>> Yeah, I mean, and again, my thinking has always been, what can we give? How can we make this a better value proposition? I’ve always worked in for-profit. Except for that couple years with the Yuri Rubinsky Insight Foundation, I’ve always worked in a for-profit environment. I still am. It’s the only way I know how to work. But yeah, it was with a vision of creating an entity that had industry-wide and global-wide persuasion because we knew that there were a lot of conglomerates out there. Especially in the high tech field. But across the various verticals. Who just weren’t getting it.
They weren’t enhancing their digital, you know, properties. And making them usable and accessible for people with disabilities.
So what do you do? You create something that is as big or very close to being as big as them. Has a very big name. And can start to influence the direction and the path that it should have been. That was my big vision for what I thought Vispero could be. You know, things have changed. They have gone through a number of changes in the three years since I sold it in 2017. I think they are trying to do that and market themselves that way. But it’s up to Tom Tiernan a great CEO, a great guy. They have some great people there who are working in that company to make things happen. Matt Ater is a wonderful friend and colleague. Real good connection to the Blind Community. My hope is that they will be that successful. But that had always been my vision. And why it made it easier for me to sell.
You just also I think alluded to something I think was in the works at the same time. Or at least a year prior to that. And that was the creation and the launch of the IAAP.
>> Which was the birth child out of ATIA. So I was involved in both the — both of those organizations.
>> And ATIA is the accessibility technology industry association headed up by David Victor and my favorite woman in the whole world Caroline Van Howe.
>> Almost. Assistive Technology Industry Association.
>> Assistive. I apologize. Those organizations, the ATIA and the IAAP, we’re very close to both here at MBS. Obviously we’re a founding member organization.
>> So talk about the IAAP. What it’s hopes were as you got involved with all of the things that you had to bring to that table. And where you see it today.
>> I think today is a much better story than where it was when it started.
>> I agree.
>> And I think a lot of that has to do with Axel Leblois and the G3ICT. His taking it over as leadership and now it’s headed in the right collection. What the original concept with IAAP was without question spot on. The original mission as it sounded was spot on.
>> Spot on, yeah.
>> The problem was the execution and the deliverance was not. And that became a real problem for me.
So TPG was an original founding member. And supporter. We paid for that. Going in.
Our mindset was that this was going to be a growing educational organization to support actual professionals in the field. What it was turning into was a venue for some organizations, who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent.
>> To basically further their cause and their business. And TPG wasn’t in it for that reason. You know, we really saw the need to do everything that we could to help enhance and create relevancy around the notion of an accessibility professional. Whatever secular deployment you had a part in, that was supposed to be — it would be like paying dues to an organization that helps you support your profession. And this wasn’t — the mission was right. Like I said, the mission was right. The execution, as I saw it — and I want to make sure I say that. My perception. But that was a perception that I shared with many other friends and colleagues.
>> Was that this was becoming an organization that was going to feed the mouths of other companies as opposed to feeding the mouths of the actual professionals.
>> One of the things I saw as a value add for the IAAP, which stands for the International Association of Accessibility Professionals, was that it was qualifying accessibility professionals. It was giving us avenues — the intention was to give us avenues for educational enrichment and understanding about how to include coding and digital equity into programs. Because options for education in that arena weren’t found in your typical academic institutions at the time.
And it kind of goes back again to Jippy Goldblatt, my professor at Manhattanville College. That it wasn’t what people walked out with in their hands as a degree that counted. It’s what they were carrying around in their heads and their hearts, that lived experience that we needed to certify and qualify as a value add versus somebody who is just no pun intended blindly going about telling people they can make it work.
>> Exactly. And again, like I said, it’s rooted in all of the right principles. It’s just it was being executed and led at that particular time — it just didn’t wash well with me and a few of my other colleagues. So we dropped out because we felt like we couldn’t support it. But we watched it very closely because we saw the potential of what we thought it could be. Ironically that led to me helping launch another initiative, which I see very, very successful, if not equally successful, very closely following the footsteps of IAAP. And that’s the Teach Access initiative.
>> That group is fantastic.
>> So I helped start that up with Larry Goldberg and a few other people that were involved in it, Apple and Yahoo and TPG to get that going. So now that focuses again on the same thing of within the educational — particularly postsecondary and university education. Start teaching accessibility as a part of the their software engineering and computer and I.T. degree programs.
So I feel very good about where that’s going.
>> Well, we’re partnering with SUNY, State University of New York, on a few different projects. And that’s something I keep pushing with the CIO and his No. 2, Brian Digman and Karen Geduldig. And I might want to loop you into that conversation. Because I know what I know. And I know what I don’t know. And I don’t know that I could do that alone. But I think introducing concepts and ideas around classes or coursework that includes what Teach Access and what IAAP are trying to do is fundamental. And I take my hats off, too, to Princeton University, what they have been doing because Mary Albert over there, and there are a few others who are no longer there, really have positioned Princeton University as the one academic institution with a ridiculous number of people — I think they had like almost 200 different certified professionals in digital equity and inclusion that are just fantastic.
>> That’s great. That’s good news. I did lecture at Princeton, too, way back when. So very, very good to hear that.
>> So I know anyone who knows you knows you have had a few tumultuous years. Lots of good and some bad. And now you’re here with a new direction. And I’m curious about what the next steps are for you. And would like, if you would indulge me, you had introduced me to the team at JW.org, Janet specifically. And I want to take my hats off to their website and their digital offerings and how usable and functional they are. And how people of faith are able to access information about the Word as they see it. And I just want to — you sort of — I think you were a sounding board for them. And everything like that. And I just want to say thanks for that. And see if you had any updates on what they had been doing so we could speak to Janet about maybe coming on after we interview you.
>> Sure, yeah, Janet is very proactive in terms of accessible material and content for people with disabilities. But she is particularly strong as I am as Jehovah’s Witnesses are worldwide in promoting of the Bible and reading of the Bible and the functional purpose of the JW.org website is to increase awareness and teaching around the Bible and the message of the Bible.
So they have as an organization been very proactive for a number of years now. In terms of working — when I first went there, down in Brooklyn, where they had had headquarters then —
>> The Watchtower.
>> Yeah, the Watchtower then. I went there actually to learn how to read Braille and learn Braille translation software and that’s where I learned it. They are a big producer of Braille, as well.
>> Yeah, and I remember crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and always seeing the Watchtower when I lived in the city. I’m not sure I ever shared this with you or John for that matter. But when I was battling for my life when I had the meningitis, one of the visions I had that may have been endorsed by my hour power or morphine, yay, morphine, there was a quasi Baptist revival meeting outside the window of where I was restrained to what felt like a chair. I was really restrained in real life. But in my mind I was restrained. And looking out this window seeing this Sunday Baptist barbecue revival meeting happening. There was the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. And the Watchtower going on and off and on and off like a neon sign. And here I am meeting Janet and understanding what JW.org has been doing and it just gives me chills so I’m looking forward to having her here to talk with John and I and thanks for helping them get that important information out to people.
>> What you’ll see there now, too, just to give an idea of some of the efforts going forth to make the Bible and Bible material and Bible publications which of course are all free to the blind, they are free to everyone from that standpoint, is you’ll see they have made the website accessible, usable. They followed a lot of guidelines that are coming out of the WCAG guidelines. They have recently announced and put together a Help Desk just for the blind. So that people can call and get literal technical help for how to use the website or to get publications along those lines. All of the conventions that they do right now have both caption and audio description built into them. All of this is part of the growing effort to try to increase the accessibility of Bible-related materials to the blind and individuals with other visual disabilities.
>> That’s fantastic.
>> So next on the horizon, as it were, there’s stuff that you’re doing with WebABLE.tv and I know that organization very well. We have done interviews with Dave Gardy. Tell us a little bit about the exciting new opportunity and new ventures that you have going there. And I think John has something else he wants to ask about.
>> There was a website called thinkaccessibility.com.
>> Yeah, so take it away, Mike.
>> I’ll take that one first.
>> That’s an easy one. So thinkaccessibility.com was a domain I owned that I was using primarily setting it up as a domain. I sold that to Leonie Watson and TetraLogical so she owns it now. And I assume TetraLogical is going to do something with it because they wanted it. So that gives you the short story.
>> That means we have to find out what she’s doing so we can have Leonie on and talk.
>> I would do that. She would be a great person to have on.
>> I agree.
>> I highly advocate for that. WebABLE.tv and WebABLE. First of all, as you noted, Dave Gardy and I have been partners together with accessibility internet TV channel webcasting for I think it’s going on 20 years now. It’s going to be very close to that.
>> We have had a number of versions of what is called WebABLE.tv today up there and running over the years. And most of it has been a lot around webcasting events like conventions. You know, CSUN. M-Enabling. We have gone to Europe and done a few conventions there. ATIA. We used to do closing the gap. So we have done a number of those kind of things. More recently, though, WebABLE.tv has really become exactly what I hoped it would become which is more of an internet TV channel that people can turn to and get news and what’s up to date in terms of disability technology, assistive technology, and accessibility as a whole.
It is rooted in the brand that I own called WebABLE. It had always been my vision that I would build something bigger than just WebABLE.tv. So that’s exactly what I’m doing right now.
I’m building a new entity. A new business. I’m bootstrapping it myself. Around the brand of WebABLE. Or I will be launching the new entity, the new company, if you will, around the brand of WebABLE. It will be WebABLE.com, a digital marketing solution that will embed WebABLE.tv as part of that solution so this is all about digital marketing, outbound marketing, for the assistive and accessibility industry. Period.
>> Will it touch on bringing awareness to corporations about the value of and how to reach out to the community to discuss their journey on inclusion?
>> The frontend is a news aggregate. And right now it’s built on IBM Watson. It’s current turning out — we’re currently turning out 3,000 unique, different news links a day. And those will be published on the site. So you’ll have access to them. It’s resources. It will be so that, like I said, the frontend of WebABLE will be a news aggregate. It will have a built-in accessible ad server so if you are a company that is selling your services or selling your products, you’ll be able to do ads and these ads are all 100% accessible or usable. It will provide a community calendar so all of the events that are going on, you’ll be able to enter the events, it goes to the community calendar. That will all be available. It is functionally a digital marketing site.
>> I’m going to commit to introducing you and this new digital marketing solution to our clients who have committed to incorporation accessibility and usability as well as supporting and courting the Disability Community when you are ready.
>> Sounds good. I would be glad to do it.
>> So John, what other questions do we have for Mike today?
>> So Mike, aside from WebABLE.tv, what do you have planned for the future?
>> Well, you know, I’m newly married. So I’m going to enjoy my COVID lockdown wedding for however many more months.
>> Oh, boy.
>> I’m — you know, I’m functionally retired right now. So building a company — I have a — I’m looking at my whiteboard right now. Literally looking at my whiteboard. And I have at least two more other project ideas that I want to get off the ground. I have four. Two of them will go into WebABLE. The other two are two completely separate entities. And I will look at launching those. So I will go down swinging with accessibility on my breath.
>> Nice. And what is your wife’s name.
>> Karen. Okay. I wanted to make sure I understood that. Well, well wishes to you and Karen as you start your new phase of life together. And again, we wish you nothing about continued success with all your light bulb dreams and get-to tasks. And again, Mike, personally thank you so much for being a driving force behind what I do as an advocate and evangelist for inclusion. You have helped shape the foundation and the pillars of what we do at My Blind Spot.
>> That was our interview with Mike Paciello, an inspiration of mine. But I have been gushing on and on about Mike. He’s like — we have a little bromance going on because of all of the things he’s done for me.
>> Uh-huh, I think Mike is an incredible person. But more importantly, I was blown away that people were working on digital accessibility as computers were being plugged into the internet. Like that’s crazy.
>> I really enjoyed that piece where he was talking about how he finagled Netscape to get on board with the rest of the corporations around the world and the meeting he had with Vice President Al Gore.
>> My brain is still spinning when he described how the web works. It’s just layers and layers and layers.
>> My brain will spin forever. I will never grasp that. You’re better at it than I am. But Mike is an impressive individual. And we wish him all the best in his future endeavors. And in his new-found marriage with Karen. We are really look forward to seeing Mike at the M-Enabling Summit in October. And I hope you all enjoyed listening to Mike.
And coming up next, John.
>> I was going to say feel free to reach out to us at our website MyBlindSpot.org/accessibilityworks or you can email us directly at podcast@MyBlindSpot.org or hit us up on any of the social medias, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, anything else.
>> Yeah, look for us and download our podcast AccessAbility Works on any of your favorite platforms, Spotify, Apple or like we say you can go straight to the My Blind Spot website and listen there.
>> And don’t forget to tell your friends about the podcast because that’s how podcasts work.
>> And as we wrap up, I just want to remind you once again to tune into NBC. Check your local listings for times and channels. To watch the premier of the Able Channel’s presentation of Together We Are Able. A program about dynamic individuals who happen to have a disability. Who are able to do just about anything. And that includes yours truly. And other friends and colleagues from the Disability Community. So please tune in. And see if we can shift your perspective on ability versus dislabeling us.
>> And not to beat a dead horse to death but please stay safe and health. Please wash your hands. If you haven’t gotten your vaccination yet, please do your research. Talk to doctors you trust. Talk to health clinicians you trust. And really do your due diligence about getting the vaccine. There is a new strain out, the Delta strain, that it is really causing complications for our reaching herd immunity in a very healthy and safe way. So wash your hands. Wear your masks, if you’re not vaccinated. And please, please, go out and get the vaccination. We want you to be with us for a long, long time.
This has been the AccessAbility Works podcast.
>> A podcast about the possibility of accessibility for people with disabilities. I’m John Hermus.
>> I’m Albert Rizzi.
>> Thanks for listening.
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