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AAW 014 Howell.plain_doc.docx

April 20, 2022

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 the people with disabilities. I’m Jonathan Hermus.
And I’m Albert Rizzi, and this is AccessAbility Works.
Our guest today is Bruce Howell.
Who is the Accessibility Service Manager at the Carroll Center for the Blind.
In Massachusetts.
In Massachusetts, yes. And they’ve been doing some great work around the State of Massachusetts and around the country. So looking forward to hearing what Bruce has to say about programs that they’re offering, one of which is an accessibility training program for people who happen to have a disability, namely people with blindness and visual impairments, and how to guide them in using screen readers to test and retest platforms for usability, functionality, and accessibility to comply with the WCAG 2.1 AA standards. That’s a mouthful.
But before we get to the interview, is there any news we want to talk about?
For anybody who hasn’t heard through social media, our friend, colleague, mentor, and accessibility champion for inclusion, Debra Ruh’s husband, Ed, passed. So if you would keep the Ruh family, Debra, Kevin, and Sara, in your prayers and thoughts as they mourn the passing and loss of their patriarch, Ed, that would be wonderful. Debra was on a podcast episode back where she spoke about Ed’s condition, and we want you to join all of us at My Blind Spot in keeping her and the family in your prayers.
Also, in breaking news, New York State has its first Chief Disability Officer in one Kimberly Hill, which is exciting. A little long overdue in my opinion, but this has been a string of firsts. The first female governor in the State of New York, Kathy Hochul. And now, the first Chief Disability Officer, Kimberly Hill.
And spoiler alert, I have a meeting with her at the airing of this episode. I will have met with her and will have hopefully great news to report back about how Kimberly and I spoke about authentic inclusion, digital equity, and the importance of creating barrier-free access for the 4.5 million people who happen to have a disability living here in New York State. Jonathan, is there anything else you’d like to discuss before we get to it?
Why, yes, Albert. As a matter of fact, that blog we just did, the one about should characters with disabilities only be played by actors with those disabilities?
Oh, that’s right.
We just put that one up a week ago?
It basically focuses in on authentic representation of disabilities in film. And since the blog has come out, we had the Oscars and the Academy Awards and the second person to win an Oscar who also happened to be deaf. Troy Kotsur has won the Academy Award for his portrayal of a deaf person in the movie CODA.
CODA. It’s an acronym–
Yes. It’s an acronym for “children of deaf adults.” It was also a shocker. It won the best film of the year as well, so there’s a lot of good things happening in awareness around people with disabilities. And just for those of you out there, all you talent scouts, Albert Rizzi is ready for his close-up if you need a blind actor who happens to be charismatic and hands-down gorgeous.
And you can find the blog post at
And don’t forget to download AccessAbility Works at any of your favorite podcast stores or sites.
Go tell your friends.
Tell your friends to do that.
Tell your friends to do that, too.
Because clearly, you’re already here.
Tell your parents. Tell your children. Tell everybody. It’s on Spotify, Apple. And you can also as, Jon mentioned with the blog, go to our website, And without further ado, let’s get to talking to Bruce Howell.
How you doing today, Bruce?
I’m great, Al. Thanks for having me.
Jon, do you want to start off with your typical questions? Or can I just muddy through it, and then you can clear up what I meant?
You know my first question.
I know, but I usually say it so long-windedly.
I know.
So Jon’s first question is?
Who is Bruce Howell?
He’s got to read his script. He can’t even get that out of his mouth. So, Bruce, tell us a little bit about who you are, how you got here, and what drew you to accessibility and authentic inclusion of people with disabilities in all that we do around the world.
OK. Thanks. I do not have a script to read, so let me do my best here.
So for full disclosure, I am blind. I’ve gradually been losing my vision all my life due to a retinal eye disease called “RP,” retinitis pigmentosa. So when you’re young and you’re diagnosed with something like that, you don’t really believe that it’s going to be a big factor. And I could see pretty well when I was young, so I didn’t think a whole lot about it. But sure enough, as things went along, I could tell that my vision was declining.
So after college, I went to Colgate University, and then I decided to start a career in banking and progressed from originally being a teller up to eventually being a senior vice president for a community bank where I was responsible for managing branches. But lo and behold, at one point in my career, we had a kind of financial collapse when commercial real estate tanked.
2008? No.
Actually, it was–
I’m older than that, Al. It was actually the one that was in 19–
’90, yeah.
Yeah. Yeah. I remember. I remember. OK. You and I are the same age.
What a great year. That’s the year I was born.
That’s the year he was born.
Oh, there you go.
He caused the market crash.
It’s only been bad since then. Right? But at that point, I lost my job in banking. And that’s really when my vision was starting to become seriously impaired. Eventually, in 1991, I was actually declared legally blind. So it took me a while to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I did a number of sort of not fully-employed kind of things for quite a while. But eventually, I found my way to a rehabilitation center here in Massachusetts called the “Carroll Center for the Blind,” where I did some independent living training.
And then later, I went back and did some job preparedness training and that really got me back into the competitive workforce. I ended up doing an internship in downtown Boston for a while that really enabled me to use my skills for travel safely as an individual who was blind, worked in an environment of about 110 employees where I was the only one that was blind. And that was really important, because it gave me the confidence that I could do this. It allowed me to learn how I needed to advocate for what I needed.
But it also showed me what some of those challenges are when you try to use software, whether it’s things on your computer when you’re using screen readers like Job Access For Speech, JAWS, or trying to do internet research and you find websites that just really weren’t very accessible. So after being there for three years, I actually went back and spoke to the then president of the Carroll Center and said, hey, you trained me. I’ve shown you that I’ve got some more skills. What can I do for the Carroll Center to give back a little? That’s when our accessibility services business started, back in 2012.
Coming up on 10 years. Huh?
I don’t think I ever knew that, in addition to being an advocate working at the Carroll Center, that you were a member of the club. I don’t think that ever came up in conversation.
Oh, that’s really interesting.
No, it is. I’m like, wait. You’re blind?
But isn’t the way we all think about each other and we won’t want our blindness to be the first thing that people know about us? We want to be people first and then our challenge–
It’s basically an afterthought.
No, but that’s the thing, too, is like Jonathan just said. It’s an afterthought. I don’t think, when I’m talking to colleagues in the industry, that asking them if they are a member of the club comes to mind as much as I always ask, how many degrees of separation are you from somebody with a print disability?
It’s not a question you think about.
No, I really don’t think about–
You think about, are you qualified to do the work?
Exactly. I don’t think about people’s ability. I just assume they come to the table with it. I don’t want to dislabel it. I don’t want to get my mind bogged down. Oh, great. I’m dealing with a blind person or I’m dealing with a deaf person. It never crossed my mind. So again, our podcast always educates me on something.
Well, that’s great. And I love your labeled term there, too. Because I still find myself guilty of using the “disability” word instead of talking about being differently-abled or just–
Dude, I don’t–
Well, go ahead, Jon. I can go second.
Well, I have a learning disability and I don’t really like labels or making a big deal out of labels. If someone called me “retarded,” I would just agree with them because I learn slower.
That’s what that means, it’s slower.
It’s not a derogatory comment.
It’s a fact of life in this house. And he’s dyslexic and we don’t– like labels are for cans. And I forget who said that.
Labels are for cans, man.
But it’s interesting how people outside of our community– people in general, I think it’s humanity to want to label people and put us in a category that makes it easier for them to process who we are or who we aren’t. And I am happy to say that I just look at people at their face value, what their spirit’s like, where their minds are, where their hearts are, and what kind of contributions they’re making to the world to leave it a little better than I found it or they found it. And I’m happy to be working with you, Bruce.
So you ended up at the Carroll Center. And that’s another thing, too, that caught me off-guard. I got my rehabilitation– and I love using the word “rehabilitation” when I don’t have track marks in my arm or have a alcohol problem. We’re being rehabilitated. It sounds like we’re addicts or people who are less than. And I don’t understand how we rehabilitate people who are born that way, so it’s an oxymoron or moronic, if you ask me.
So I went to VISIONS Services for the Blind here in New York to get my mobility training and my computer training and have tried to work with them to promote awareness around inclusion and to open up doors of opportunity for my fellow members who are also blind or visually impaired. It’s nice to see that, not only did they give you the opportunity to thrive and survive, but you’re giving back to people in the community to show them what is actually achievable and doable if you stick to it.
Yeah, I think that’s true. I sort of serve as a model of what one hopes a rehabilitation center will be able to achieve. So much of a rehab agency these days, for better or for worse, is focused on employment outcomes, because that’s where most of the federal dollars go when they’re supporting people who are blind or visually impaired. And in fact, individuals with other types of disabilities as well, it’s to society’s benefit and the community’s benefit to have these folks working if possible.
So a lot of the dollars that come to a place like the Carroll Center for the Blind are all through the state blindness agency, the Mass Commission for the Blind. But they start with the federal government, and they say, hey, we want the majority of the things that you’re doing to help people who are blind or visually impaired to be able to find their way back into the competitive workforce or to retain their job. So I kind of modeled that experience. I obviously had worked in banking, so I had work experience but had not been employed for a number of years and knew that that’s what I wanted to be able to achieve again.
That’s exactly how we came to know one another. At My Blind Spot, we want to inspire accessibility for people of all abilities but mainly creating avenues to employment with upward mobility. And the government would be well-served in taking some of those dollars and making their websites and their internets accessible and usable since at least 80% of them are still not compliant with the same laws they’re holding us to follow.
So it’s important for people to understand that the simple programmatic codes that go into a digital platform to make it usable and functional for people reliant on assistive devices or who happen to have a disability that limits their mobility or capabilities of seeing a screen will allow us to move away from being taxing dependents reliant on public assistance or Social Security Disability payments and instead, through a simple code, click of a mouse, couple keyboard strokes, allow us to become independent taxpayers, which is a win-win for the economy, win-win for mental health. And it allows people with a disability to take their rightful place in our society as taxpayers. They want equality. Pay your taxes.
Yeah, I totally agree. I know that sounds strange.
I know.
One of the biggest fears that people have when they’re disabled in any way and they’re relying on SSDI or Social Security–
SSI. Yeah.
SSI, yeah, any of those programs, is, ah, but I’m so afraid of losing those benefits if I go back to work. And unfortunately, there are disincentives in a lot of those programs that really discourage people from even trying. So we, as a nation, really need to figure out ways to make that happen more easily, to encourage people, to give them the safety nets that they need but really to get them working again. Because it’s so important for their sense of self-worth and self–
Oh, it is.
I just want to ask, so, Bruce, could you tell us about the Carroll Center and its history?
Yeah. Thanks. It’s a unique blindness rehabilitation agency. It actually was started back in 1936, was originally begun by a Jesuit Catholic priest called “Father Carroll.” And it was designed to address the needs of veterans who were returning from World War II who had been blinded during their military action, and the federal government really had no idea what you do with these individuals.
What do you do when they come back? How do you help them live, survive, and possibly become contributing members of their communities again? So Father Carroll was really innovative. He actually was instrumental in developing the use of the long, white mobility cane that you see so many people who are blind use these days.
That was developed during World War II, the 1940s?
Yes. At least, it was not commonly used in this country at that point.
People were probably using canes or sticks of some kind.
Well, if you take a look at some of the Charles Dickens’s characters and storylines that have the illustrations, there’s pictures. I think it goes back to the 1800s in Europe, where they had a man walking with a dog and a crooked cane. And at the same time, I think in the ’30s, around again World War I or II is when this country, our country, the United States of America, was introduced to guide dogs as well.
Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t even realize that that paralleled the timing of this. So that’s fascinating.
Jesuits were some of the original settlers in America from Europe.
Well, so it took off from there. The Carroll Center is no longer affiliated any way with the Catholic Church. It’s a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization now. And obviously, as trends have changed over the years, the things that we’ve taught, the people that we’ve served have evolved. We now are not affiliated in any way with veterans, per se. But we help people of all ages and all stages of vision loss, so they can be very young children that are getting supports from the Carroll Center.
We do community outreach, and we also provide teachers of the vision impaired to many of the school systems in Massachusetts. And then we work with folks, obviously kids, we have a number of summer programs. Because so often, children who are mainstreamed in public schools may be the only child with a vision impairment attending the school that they’re in. So they just don’t have any other interaction or contact with people that are, quote/unquote, “like them.” So we offer summer programs where they can–
A community.
–be around other– exactly.
They offer community.
Exactly. And they network and they support each other. And those are some of the most fascinating programs, because seeing the difference in what the kids are like when they arrive at the beginning of the summer and what they’re like at the end is just stunning. And it’s really emotional when we talk to the parents. And literally, they’re in tears at times because they just had no idea that their child was capable of doing the things that they learned to be able to do, so that’s always fun.
And then working from there with kids that are a little older, that are ready to transition into college. As well as the schools do in teaching them and providing a teacher for the vision impaired and orientation mobility instructor, the school systems provide a lot to the kids. So they’re not necessarily very good at advocating for themselves when they–
–the K through 12 system, head off to college. It’s like night and day in terms of what they need to be able to do and get for information. How are they going to get accessible materials, like the textbooks that their sighted peers can so easily download and read? They end up with PDFs that are inaccessible or they just–
Dated. Sometimes, the information is not current.
Exactly. And even the courses, the online courses, whether they’re blended or fully online, how do you deal with that learning management system? How do you deal with the syllabus that the instructor or professor has created but not done in an accessible way? So those become challenges for them.
And then obviously, folks that are older are just trying to deal with their own living situations within their family, being productive and contributing there, all the way up to maintaining or doing some pretty amazing careers. So the Carroll Center supports people wherever they are in terms of their stage of life and their vision. We work with people with minor vision issues all the way up to people that are totally blind, either from birth or due to health or trauma along the way.
Yeah. So that’s one of the things I did prior, and it really lent itself to my reflection on the community I am now a member of. As an educator and a principal and as a student going back to elementary school through college, I rarely if ever saw anybody with a disability, let alone a blind person. And it seems as though, in order for our community, our collective community of people with a disability– and before, you were talking about the right terminology.
I am P-I-C, politically incorrect. I do buy into people labeling me in a manner that subjugates me or marginalizes me, but I’m comfortable with being a person who happens to have a disability and a person who is blind. I’m not visually impaired. I am totally blind. However, that’s a characteristic of who I am. It’s not a defining factor of who I am. I don’t discuss my sexuality. I am an Italian-Irish mutt, but the only thing I’m comfortable being is an American. Everything else is something that people need to label me in order to feel comfortable.
And I think that, in order for us to rise above that labeling system, our society, our global society needs to start being more inclusive in our academic institutions, in our early childhood education systems. And it’s been happening slowly, allowing students of ability into the general population. So that way, when we see them in school, we expect to see people of ability in college. And when we see them in college, by default we expect to see them in our workforce. And that is still something that needs to happen, in my opinion.
Yeah, I agree with you, Al. There’s so much tension these days on diversity, equity, and inclusion. All too often, I don’t think disabilities get factored into–
You don’t have to think that. They do not get–
No. No.
And again, this is the thing we discussed and I think we’ve touched on it many times, Bruce. People with disabilities are at the intersectionality of all other, quote/unquote, “minority groups.” If you are a person of a race, a gender orientation, religion, age, you can be born into or you will be joining the community of people who have a disability and you are only at this juncture temporarily able.
You will become a member of this community through no choice of your own, so we’re all inclusive. We’re all accepting. The one thing our society and the general public needs to understand is this is not a bunch of people whining for entitlement, protections, and handouts. We want a hand up, and we want you to understand disabilities impact all of us.
Yeah, I agree. I just coincidentally have been reading a book called Born A Crime, which is about a guy who grew up in South Africa in the Apartheid era and just the things that went on there. And one of the points that he makes, one of many points he makes, is how the disadvantaged Blacks that were living there, people talked to them like, you need to figure things out for yourself and have the drive to succeed.
But one of the points that he makes is, I have to drive to succeed, but I don’t have all the tools to succeed because I wasn’t given education. I don’t have a particular cash reserve that I can buy something that I might need to start a new business. And I think we run into that with people with disabilities as well, that people have both a conscious bias and an unconscious bias about people with disabilities. And the conscious bias is somewhat addressed by things like the ADA, where we’re told the laws exist. This is what you must do to address some of these things. But everybody has an unconscious bias, too, where they just–
Oh, yes.
–have a perception about what somebody is capable or incapable of doing. And that’s oftentimes based on some of the early experiences that they’ve had with individuals. So if you saw somebody years ago who was blind and they didn’t seem particularly competent and you felt like they were struggling and just couldn’t figure things out for themselves, that unfortunately becomes your perception of what people who are blind are capable of doing.
I’ve never heard someone describe it like that and I really like the way you described that, the conscious versus the unconscious.
It’s interesting. We’ve discussed this or I’ve theorized about it so many different times. And the mantra at My Blind Spot is access to the right tools promotes ability and restores infinite possibilities in our lives.
So is that what we’re doing, we’re trying to change people’s subconscious?
Well, we’re trying to show people– no. It’s like, again, the Forrest Gump story. How many times do I tell that story? Forrest Gump is the epitome of having access to the right tools. He had physical adversity. He had mental adversity, socioeconomic adversity. But his mother put the tools in front of him and he took those tools and he found his own ability that created all the infinite possibilities that this man went through. Movie character or not, it’s a great concept to aspire to and consider as a possibility.
And again, there’s a fear factor and guilt factor in holding back people with a disability, fear from the people around us on– something as simple as how do we talk to a person with a disability? Well, I don’t know. Gayle King said it pretty well. Hello. How are you? My name is Gayle. What’s yours? Fear we’re going to catch it. Fear they’re going to hurt themselves. And then guilt, guilt from the loved ones in our lives because they couldn’t protect us from acquiring this or advancing into or being born with.
And somehow, those emotions, in my opinion, have been the deterrent to our full assimilation for thousands of years, going back to biblical times where people with disabilities were just not worthy of God’s affections and love or were passed by clergymen and rich people, poor people and in some places around the world were actually put out in the elements left to die and their families were punished for having brought that abomination into the world. We’ve grown so much, but there’s still so much more we could do.
Yeah, I agree. I’ve heard anecdotally that there have been studies done where people have greater fear of being blind than they have of having HIV or cancer and things like that, which that tells such a story. Because I’m blind. My health is otherwise good. I would far rather be blind than have one of those diseases that was–
Amen, brother. No, I was just–
We can learn. We can do things now. Right? Are they challenging? Of course. Do we want to be blind? No.
Being blind is not the end of the world.
No, it’s not. We can learn to be so productive and independent in the world and take us as far as we let it take us. But we do need some supports.
We need to understand what they need to do to make their websites, their mobile applications, their software applications, their digital documents able to be read and interpreted and interacted with by people who have to do it a little differently.
How do you feel– and I know people roll their eyes at me when I say, look, the pandemic has been a blessing in a lot of ways. This COVID thing, I have seen a dramatic improvement in remote access tools, even the concept of remote access employment. Prior to the pandemic, only 3% of the workforce was remote work-from-home opportunities. Now, we’ve analyzed it. At least 50% of those jobs could be done from home.
And that is something I think you and I can attest to understanding and appreciating, how counselors and centers like the Carroll Center were arguing how important remote work-from-home opportunities were for people who had disability who, by default, also had a mobility issue moving from point A to point B. We’re denied that, because it wasn’t a reasonable accommodation.
I agree. I mean, we could probably fill an entire podcast about–
Just on that.
–education and the challenges. But just briefly, I’ll say, when I mentioned that I finished my second training program at the Carroll Center and I wanted to get back in the workforce, so I got an internship. And it’s in downtown Boston. I live in a suburb of Boston, so my daily routine to get there was I used a bus. It was about a block away from my house. I took that over to another town, had to walk down and across tracks to get to a subway line.
And then I took the subway line right into downtown Boston, the heart of the city, and got off there, had to cross a pretty major street, walk a couple of blocks, find my way into a building. This company actually was two combined buildings. There was no uniformity to it. There were two different staircases, two different elevators. And being able just to travel from my home to get there and start my work, it was exhausting before I even got–
That’s a full day job.
It does sound exhausting.
Physically. But it’s emotionally and just stressful, just getting there to start the day. So if we can now have an environment where, you know what? We don’t have to do that. You start your day in your living room or in your office. That’s huge. And I don’t know if people really understand it. And by the way, I had to do the same kind of thing coming home. So twice a day every day.
I think people are starting to understand that.
And I have to level with you, man, commuting, like you said, sounds rough where you are. But it sounds like it’s doable. Because here, on Long Island, if you need to commute by a bus, it’s just not going to work, man. I looked into it when I was– I was working about 20 minutes away from where I live. And my truck was broken, so I was like, OK, let’s see if the bus schedule would work. I would have had to got up at midnight to catch a bus at 1:00 AM to get to work at 7:00 AM.
20-minute car ride.
Jon, I’m glad you said that. Because I live in the Boston metro area, where there is a lot of transportation. And I don’t mean to make it– I’m sitting here complaining about what I had to go through. At least I had that option.
In so many parts of this country, that is an even greater issue for people–
The further you get away from the city, the less–
–the less public transportation there is.
And what’s sad is we live in Suffolk County, one of the most populous counties in the State of New York, one of the most affluent counties in the State of New York. And I think the three are Nassau County, Long Island; Suffolk County, Long Island–
All they really need to do–
–and Westchester. We don’t have a public transportation system.
All they really need to do is put like a monorail or a train that goes–
Oh, yeah.
Listen, just listen to me.
Go ahead.
Just listen to me. A subway. I don’t care.
I know.
Just some kind of public transportation system that goes down–
The Long Island Expressway.
–the Long Island Expressway that isn’t a bus, because the traffic is atrocious.
But do you understand this is something they’ve been talking about since the ’70s?
I know and it’s never going to get done.
No, it’s never going to happen.
It’s not going to get done.
No. Right now, they’re building a whole hotel complex around the Ronkonkoma train station to attach it to the Long Island MacArthur Airport, which used to be a little airport that I would used to go to Boston to visit people.
The city is slowly encroaching into the air.
Yeah. So it’ll change but not in time for us to get a job tomorrow before I drop dead or find myself in a wheelchair with Depends undergarments at 97.
[CHUCKLING] That was dramatic.
I’m not dramatic.
Oh, he is dramatic.
I’m a drama queen.
Let me get back a little bit, if I could–
Go ahead.
— to the whole idea of remote working, because part of the reason I wanted to be able to speak with you guys today was to talk about–
–we’ve created a program that we think is unique and we’re calling it– it’s not even a great acronym. There is no acronym, but it’s the Screen Reader User Tester Training Program. This is a program that’s designed to enable people who are blind and who are primarily screen reader users, and we can talk about what those are if your audience doesn’t already know, to be able to enter into a meaningful career path. It’s a six-week training program in-person.
These folks, when they’re finished, are going to be really competent with their computers. And I know that might sound funny, but there’s a lot to understanding how your computer works, how files are managed, how you get around in it. You make changes to settings in your system. They’re going to be really good in their communication skills. They’re mastering all of the Microsoft Office applications of Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel. They are being exposed to multiple screen readers.
Because quite often, people that are blind will use one screen reader and that’s all they use. But we want them to be able to use multiple ones. They are going to use multiple web browsers, because the experience that people have when they’re browsing the web and doing commercial transactions, whatever on the web, can be really different depending on which browser they’re using. And we know that people can’t just rely on one. They’ve got to be more versatile, diverse, and able to switch when they’re having an experience with one to see if they can get a better experience than the other.
And on top of that, we’re teaching them all about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, what those talk about, how those provide guidance through a number of what are called “success criteria” to help those who design and develop websites and mobile applications to be able to do it with accessibility.
So by the time these folks are finished with the six-week course, we believe they’re going to have openings for beginning a career either with a place like My Blind Spot or others that are in this field or even directly for companies that are creating a lot of digital content who are finally waking up and realizing we need actual, real users of our products to be able to tell us what they run into; what difficulties they see; and even better, some ideas that they have for how we can make these more accessible and user-friendly–
–right from the start. So we’re really excited about this program, and we’re really excited that you, Albert, and My Blind Spot have been a great partner in getting this launched with us.
This is a dream come true. Because as I’ve told you many times and as our listeners understand, My Blind Spot is an affiliate of the New York State Preferred Source Program for the blind. And it’s for the blind, because, as a Preferred Source Program for everybody else with another disability. Why? I don’t know. Segregation, we even do it within our own community. Figure that out. But we’re supposed to employ people who are blind to assist us in assessing the viability, usability, and functionality of digital offerings and communications.
And I can honestly say that the only other organization that I believe made an effort to educate and inform individuals across the ability spectrum and even the temporarily-able individuals was the International Association of Accessibility Professionals, the IAAP, of which we were founding members. And when I found out through mutual acquaintances of ours, guarantors and funders of our organizations, that you are considering this, at first, I was like, never going to work.
And I thought, wait a second. I’m actually seeing now– hearing job postings that are specifically looking for accessibility professionals proficient in testing, like you said, using a variety of assistive devices. And I said, hmm, let me get on board. And I am excited about the potential that lies ahead for our community to give them the skills they need to become the stakeholders in the outcomes who are going to be more insightful and more telling and able to contribute in a meaningful way information to IT professionals who don’t have a clue about how to code properly.
Allowing us to be involved in– like “nothing about us without us” is screaming in my head through the program that we’re working on together. So I’d like you to talk a little bit more about where we’re collecting candidates from, what some of the criteria are that we’re looking for, and what we hope to achieve in this ground-breaking program that’s coming out of the Carroll Center, the Screen Reader Accessibility Tester Program that doesn’t have an acronym.
Thank you. No, you’re right. We got to work on that, because it’s a mouthful to even say the name of that program. But we’re really excited. Obviously, you mentioned that part of creating a promo, this is expensive. You’ve got to dedicate a lot of time and resources to creating it, figuring out what you’re going to teach, how you’re going to teach it. Do you have the skilled trainers to do the teaching?
Fortunately, at the Carroll Center, because of our history of providing training to people who are blind and visually impaired, we have great internal staff to do this. So we had that in-house. But still, this is an entirely different curriculum. We’ve never done it before. This is the pilot program. We’re actually halfway today through our first six-week offering. It’s a six-week course.
Yep. But that’s what I want to for here. For people who don’t understand, a pilot program is a program, a first of its kind. The guarantors and the funders and the people are going to be watching what happens, what comes out of the Carroll Center. So again, this is ground-breaking.
Exactly. Thank you. And thanks for explaining that. We use these terminologies that I–
Flippantly, yeah, I know.
–shouldn’t assume that everybody understands. When it’s a pilot program, that means it’s not perfect. We’re getting a lot of feedback. We’re doing a lot of interviewing of our participants after we hold sessions. We want to get reaction from them. Was it helpful? Was it useful? What could we have done differently? The external speaker that we brought in, was he or she or they helpful?
I know I wasn’t. Those people helped me more. I’m telling you, Bruce. I got off that phone and I said, why did they ask me to do this? I learned more from the four people who have been blind their whole life and identified with the other two who lost their eyesights late in life. But what a collection of people there. They have such– oh, my God. I am looking forward to seeing the success stories that come out of this program for the first cohort very much.
Thank you. And I know that was your initial question to me. How are we finding these people, and what are we doing to source them? So let me go back to that a little bit, too.
We typically work with vocational rehabilitation agencies, particularly those focusing either individually or as a part of their collective purpose, for helping people who are blind or visually impaired. We have a network of contacts across the country, and the Carroll Center serves people from any state of the country and, in fact, even internationally at times. So we put out the word that we’re creating this program. We did secure some grant funding.
But obviously, because we want this to be a really successful pilot so that we can continue to recruit participants and seek out new funders and, most importantly of all, continue to grow the employer contacts who might be interested in hiring these folks, we’re very selective in who we’re allowing to participate in this program. So for the first time ever at the Carroll Center, we actually created an interview, which was a skills assessment test, that each of the people interested in participating had to go through. It’s an hour long.
We conduct it through Zoom, a video platform that’s very accessible. And they literally have to demonstrate their skills for creating a Word document, modifying it, making sure that it’s spelled and formatted correctly, moving the file around in their computer, creating a new folder to put it in, changing the name of that file. Because again, so much of what we’re going to do when we’re doing testing has to be communicated effectively to people who are not blind and visually impaired.
So we need to make sure that they can do the written communications effectively as well as the verbal communications about what they’re doing and what they’re finding. So we really concentrate a lot on making sure the individuals have those abilities reasonably well to start with. We’re going to improve them through the program. They also have to have had at least three years’ experience using a screen reader like JAWS, because it is a complex software that you can learn.
But only through practice do you become fluid with it so that it becomes what we call “your memory,” where you don’t have to constantly stop and think, now what’s the shortcut I need to use to make something happen? How do I bold a word in my document? How do I move from heading to heading on a website? All those little things that individually don’t seem very complicated are a ton to learn, and people really need some experience in order to keep up in this program and to do it effectively.
So they need three years of screen reader experience. They need decent communication skills. And then we also ran them through some website navigation. We want to see, what do you understand about websites? Do you know how regions or landmarks are established on a website? Do you know how to read within a table to make sure that you understand and how to find and locate the information that you need? So we ran everybody through this test, if you will. And that enabled us to select the six people that we thought were the most prequalified for this program to help ensure that we–
Its success–
–get a great outcome.
What were you going to say, Jonathan?
I was going to say, if I could provide some insight on learning new computer programs, I grew up in a very interesting time, in my opinion, that they were just starting to introduce computers into schools when I was growing up. So they didn’t really have any lesson plans on how to learn anything on computers. They just said, here’s a computer.
Figure it out.
Jon, it’s interesting you say that. And this is really elemental, and I probably should have even said this. One of the things that you need, as a person who is blind in particular, you’ve got to have good typing skills, keyboarding skills. Because it is so essential, because that slows down everything you do or it makes it inaccurate if you can’t type well.
I’m going to be honest with you. If I lost my eyesight tomorrow–
You’d be screwed.
I would have to learn how to type.
Oh, you would have to.
I did actually sit in a class in high school or middle school or something, where they sat me down in front of a keyboard and they did the thing where they–
Tried to get you to use all your fingers.
They put the keyboard up on the blackboard and said, OK, don’t look at your hands. And I’m like, I can’t do that. I have to look at the buttons in order to press the buttons.
It’s funny, again, to that point. I want to take that test just to see what skills I’ve acquired or perfected since losing my eyesight. I’ve become a better keyboarder. And you start saying these things, and I’m like, oh, there’s no way I’d pass this test. I’m like, I know how to bold. I know how to do this.
But that, to me, when I hear that rehabilitation centers talk about job readiness, most of them just say, OK, here’s Microsoft Word. Turn it on. It works. Here Excel. Turn it on. It works. This goes beyond.
But that means that you have to have a background in knowing how to use that program. And what I’m saying here is no one really ever taught me–
Taught you.
–how to work computer programs. I had to find them or learn them on my own most of the time. 99% of the time, when I found a new computer program, I had to learn it myself and just by playing around with it. And a lot of people try and make it– what’s the word that Apple uses?
Intuitive, usable. And you open the program and you know how to use it, just like that. So there’s like a standard of how websites work and everything, but–
Just by– sorry.
Go ahead. I’m rambling.
Just by what you’re saying, I know this is so important. Because what we find in the world is that many of the people who are designing and developing websites and mobile applications, they are self-taught.
They lack that kind of intuitive knowledge about how anybody else–
–needs to master the use of their computer or smartphone in order to do things, because they do it the way they know how to do it and it doesn’t occur to them that people may have to do this thing differently and use different techniques. When you sit and look at your laptop, because you have the advantage of vision, you look at all the keys that are out there. Literally, if you can’t see, you have to know where every single–
Yes. Oh, my God.
–are and what it does.
And not all keyboards are built the same.
No. Every time, it’s a new computer. And now, I don’t know if you’ve had to go through this yet, but it’s an entire learning process. We use some tactile markings to sort of give us landmarks. But you’re right, every keyboard is different. You got the same QWERTY layout, the A through Z keys.
But nothing else around it is very consistent.
The same. It’s interesting. When I had to perfect my keyboarding skills, I started to panic. And I’m like, I do not remember the letters. And I’m like, wait a second. And people are like, how did you learn how to use a keyboard? I’m like, well, remember, I had vision before. And the keyboard itself and the keys on a typewriter have not changed in ever.
So they’re all in the same exact place, but the ancillary buttons– like the F keys. What I was happy to find is all those years I never knew what the hell they did. But, boy, they have function. The concept and the practicality of keystrokes is still built into the programs that we use every day and were put into the mouse and the mouse has now been determined it slows us down because we have to take our hands off the keyboard. So we, as blind professionals, move through programs a lot faster than our sighted colleagues who are using mouse clicks. Not sometimes– I will do a test with you any time. I will beat you.
Done. Keyboard Challenge 101.
And you said they have a function?
Which is funny, because all the F keys, F1 through 12, the F stands for “function.”
Function, yeah.
Function 1 and function 2.
Yeah. So it’s interesting.
Sometimes, they have multiple functions. You can modify what they do.
Like the second key at the same time. And the interesting thing for people to know, too, is that many of the shortcuts that a screen reader uses who’s blind are Windows shortcuts. Right?
So they’re the same shortcuts that are available to any user. But on top of that, we also have to learn a whole series of additional shortcut keystrokes that are built into the screen reader program itself. So you’re using a combination of what Windows provides to you or Mac, if it’s an Apple device, in addition to modifier keys, if you will, that let us do multiplicative of other things that someone who is sighted would typically use their mouse to perform.
So I just want to go back to what I was saying before, is that–
You want to ramble on some more?
I’m trying not to ramble.
As I was saying, I grew up and they didn’t know how to teach us computer programs. And then as technology has advanced, I’m– and I know a lot of these programs were around probably even longer than I am. The one class that sticks out in my mind because I’m taking it right now is AutoCAD. And the vastness of AutoCAD is ridiculous. Like it almost requires you to take a class to learn how to use it. It’s just a completely different beast than anything else that you could use on a computer. The way I learned AutoCAD was I download the student version for free and played with it on my own for– I don’t know, I would say a few months altogether.
And then the past few years.
And then now I’m taking an actual–
Now taking a course.
–college course in it. And I’m learning so much more, but I was so prepared for the course just by having played around with it first.
You’re so good. Self-learning and being exposed to stuff. Bruce, you lost your eyesight late in life gradually. I lost my eyesight abruptly and late in life. But our brothers and sisters within the community are very rarely exposed to anything like CAD or anything where they can have experiences in internships, in employment opportunities.
And they always just have to theorize or think about that. What do you think we can do to give people exposure, similar to what Jon experiences as a sighted person, in spite of all the barriers we have to give our youth, youth today, on either side of the ability spectrum are wanting to be more inclusive, more embracive? They want people of all abilities, all races, all genders, all orientations, all religions to be a community of one.
Well, no. It’s just fellow men. We don’t have the human kindness in our society anymore. It’s all about, do it to them before they do it to you. Kill or be killed. And I’m just curious about, how do we overcome the important exposure to corporate language or corporate office environments when very few people in our world even see the value in giving people like us an opportunity?
It’s a huge challenge, and I think there are a variety of different ways of tackling it sort of piece-by-piece from the different directions. First of all, you made an interesting comment there and I want to go back to that a little bit, is that people who are visually impaired and blind oftentimes don’t have the work experience that their sighted counterparts do. When you think about it, if they’ve been substantially visually impaired as a youngster, they don’t get those babysitting jobs. They don’t get those lawn mowing jobs. They haven’t delivered newspapers.
So they don’t have those early opportunities to begin to see what responsibilities are necessary in order to hold down a job. You’ve got to be on time. You’ve got to communicate effectively. You need to be responsible. You need to plan your day out so that you can do all this. So unfortunately, oftentimes, by the time they have finished high school and even if they’ve gone on to college, when they’re now ready to find a job, go to work, they don’t have the soft skills that people who’ve had prior experiences would have.
So part of what we have to do is we have to teach those. If somebody’s been born blind, they don’t even understand facial expressions. When is it appropriate to smile? How important is it to be looking, quote/unquote, “at the interviewer” so that you’re making that eye contact that they expect. So if they don’t have that and they don’t understand that posture matters, we have to teach that to them.
There’s a lot that goes into this.
I’ve run into that in two funny little stories. One, Isabella Rossellini is a friend and also helped raise my first guide dog. And when we were in a group of individuals during a cohort where we were getting our guide dogs, she took me aside on the way home. Albert, I don’t understand. You have all the facial expressions. You alive. Everybody else– and I just saw her put a hand over her face like she was pulling down a curtain. Nothing. They have no facial expressions.
I’m like, well, that’s because they’ve been blind their whole life. And she’s like, well, next time I play a character who’s blind, I’m going to have to ask them, how long have I been blind? And they’re just things we’re not exposed to, things we’re aware of. And then again, you could be blind and Italian like me and your hands are going all over the place. You got to learn how not to talk so expressively.
No, I agree. I’ll tell you a little funny story that I think helps demonstrate this. When I was receiving training at the Carroll Center the first time I was there, so this was now 13 years ago, there was a young woman there from Florida who was blind from birth. And we were just talking at one point about grocery shopping, what challenges that presents when you’re blind.
And especially if you’ve never seen before, you don’t even really– it’s hard to even envision how the store is laid out and what’s there. And we were talking about buying chicken. And it became obvious at one point that she had no idea that, when you buy a chicken, it comes plucked. She was led to believe it had feathers and that you would have to deal with all that yourself.
No. Not to sound– this is going to be very left-field. Was she Hispanic, Latino?
I don’t think so, no.
Because I notice a lot of my Latin friends in New York would go out and they have this place where they’d buy these chickens live and they would have them killed fresh and that’s what they did. I would have never thought that feathers would have been included on my chicken in the store.
Yeah, exactly. But these are the things that sighted people–
You don’t think about.
–you know these things, because you’ve seen it and you’re aware of it and your mom brought it home or your dad brought it home or you went shopping. But if it’s sheltered, you haven’t been shopping, and you’re not allowed to touch certain things, you just have no idea. So conceptually, this is why it’s difficult when they go to apply for jobs. Because if they’ve never been exposed to these kind of environments, how could you possibly expect them to behave and act in the way that a hiring manager is used to seeing when they’re interviewing somebody?
As somebody who transitioned into the community and as somebody who has worked with– what do they call it? There’s been this terminology, not “long-haulers.” There’s people who have been born their whole life, there was a terminology I heard the other day that I’m going to have to remember.
But lifers, I guess. And as educators, because I think you’re an educator now with all the things that you’re doing. What would we want to say to parents of our young up-and-coming children who are blind or have a disability as it relates to coddling them and protecting them in a bubble versus letting them fall down, skin their knee, and try to have as, quote/unquote, “a normal life” as possible?
Well, I’m fortunate because I’ve been so exposed to the Carroll Center and seen those transformations in the kids that I mentioned earlier that hopefully demonstrates to each one of their parents what their child is capable of doing when you allow them to have the skills and the interactions that they need to have to do that. I also, as an individual who is blind, learns as an adult how to sail for the first time in my life.
Oh, really?
Oh, my God.
It’s actually a pretty cool program that I participated in several years. And it was actually competitive sailing, so I started out as a recreational sailing–
What kind of boat?
Yeah. You just got to stop right there for one moment, because we grew up in a port town, Jon likes to say. Belport. And Jon–
I’ve sailed all kinds of boats. Optimist, 420s, Sunfish.
And his family did competitions and things like that.
Oh, there you.
So you two need to go.
I owned a catamaran for a while. I sailed–
I’ve sailed up to 40-foot boats.
Wow. Well, we typically sailed in J/22s and J/24s, and we did this is a team sport. I don’t want to get way off the track here, but there is actually a message here. And what it requires, in addition to learning everything by touch because, of course, I can’t see, so you can’t–
Right. Well, you don’t–
–there’s the bow, there are the lines, there are the jib lines. So you’ve got to be able to get all over that boat, to crawl all over it, and literally feel it, where things are. Because it can be a really painful sport if you don’t know where things are.
I’m sorry. I’m so excited.
So like you said, it’s a team sport. So you just need one person on the boat who knows where to go and the one person who’s navigating has the tiller in their hands. And pretty much everyone else can be nearly blind and just be like, all right. You’re on that line, you’re on the jib, and you’re on the main sail.
But it is a ballet.
Yeah. Yeah.
There’s a learning process to it. You’re right. Typically, we sailed with at least one sighted guide, but that person’s role was just to tell us where the other boats were, where the marks were that we had round, describe things that are happening on the water so we’d know when a breeze was coming. But the rest of us had to learn to coordinate our activities and be able to be verbal about it so that everybody was moving in concert. So when we were coming about, which just means turning the boat, letting that boom swing back across the boat, everybody would to get their heads down so they didn’t get whacked in the head.
That’s why they don’t–
And if you’re dealing with the jib, you’d know when to move from one side of the boat to the other so that you’re pulling in at the right time. So it’s a huge coordination. And I think what it taught me and what it should help people understand is that you’re never too old to stop learning new things.
But there is this interdependence of people who have any kind of a challenge or disability, they can do a lot on their own. But there still are times when it’s important that you’re working in concert with someone who can fill in those gaps for you, if you will, and help you to learn to do things differently.
Very true.
And I think that’s what parents need to understand when they’re dealing with kids, that, by sheltering them, they’re not getting these cool experiences that may be some of the most exciting things a child can learn to do an experience in their life by assuming that, I have to protect them. I can’t let them try something like this.
See, that reminds me, too. I’ve known Jonathan and his family for over 11 years now. And one of the things that has become crystal clear, since he and I have been living together, is he challenges my limits. He doesn’t limit my challenges. And that’s something I live by every day now. I want people to challenge my limits. Don’t limit my challenges. Let me be exposed to as much as I can, as much as I desire, so I can learn how to navigate, on a cliche with the conversation we’re having.
And I think that’s absolutely great. And to bring it back to the digital world, why shouldn’t you be able to have the interactions and get the information you need from your health providers? Why shouldn’t you be able to do all of your financial transactions independently so Jon or somebody else isn’t looking over your shoulder and saying, Albert, you have only that much money left in your checking?
Oh, I know.
Where’s your money going?
Well, when you call these customer service– well, don’t you have somebody on the house who could see?
I’m like, I’m 57 years old. I don’t need to have anybody helping me.
Exactly. Or they tell you just hit that Submit button. But, hey, it wasn’t coded as a button. It was quoted as a link, so I can’t find the button because my computer doesn’t tell me that there’s a button there.
Oh, my God. Jon has taken away all the baseball bats that I used to have in the house. Because even though I know it was a coding problem, it became a computer problem and I was smashing them every time I got upset.
But this is the world we live in. And it’s why, if you want us to be a part of it, people need to take the needs of everyone into–
Into consideration.
–the way they design and develop online content.
And one of the things I think you will wholeheartedly agree and that I drive home to clients like American Express and American Airlines and if we’re really listening to it, when we incorporate the proper coding to improve the usability and functionality of a platform for a person who happens to be disabled or a person who happens to have a disability, we improve the usability and functionality by 10% for people who are temporarily able.
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. There’s rarely ever anything that’s done for accessibility that doesn’t have a broader positive impact. You take it out in the world, if you think about curb cuts, they were originally designed and implemented for people using wheelchairs. But who benefits them now? It might be a courier who is using a delivery cart to do it. It might be a mom or a dad using a carriage. Right. Exactly.
Or an older person using a–
Literally anything with wheels.
Yeah. And it’s the same in the digital world.
The things that we recommend for accessibility are almost always going to provide a better user experience for everyone.
In that vein, one of the things– and I’m just going to drop this thought and let it germinate as best it can. I avoid using the word “accessibility” anymore when we talk about improving usability and functionality for one reason. Back in the ’70s when the Rehab Act was passed and we were working to make buildings more accessible and vehicles more accessible, the cost involved in restructuring buildings and infrastructures or redesigning buses was a huge lift and extremely costly.
And with regard to the Rehab Act and I believe the ADA, 15 years in some instances, 20 years were incorporated into allowing corporations and people or companies to ramp up to be inclusive. I like “usability” and “functionality,” because it’s not as costly as it used to be to rebuild a building as it is to incorporate awareness and education around the proper coding.
If we bake into the design and development process for authentic inclusion and digital equity, there is no cost involved. You just benefit from opening up your services, your offerings to a contingent of people that are 1.4 billion larger than the entire country of China. And there are 2.3 billion friends and family with $8 trillion of discretionary spending power.
Yeah, I agree with you 100%, Albert. It’s so much more of an effective messaging to help companies, colleges, universities, government agencies to understand that’s the impact that they’ll have by building this into their whole process from the beginning rather than the threat of there could be a lawsuit coming your way for having an inaccessible website. All too often, that’s what we get. That’s what we hear. That’s what the press likes to–
Talk about.
–promote. And what happens? You get a backlash. The Congress wants to start changing the laws so people can’t bring a lawsuit as easily. And instead, the message should be exactly as you’ve expressed it, that it opens up a wider market. And further, we need to make sure that the colleges and universities that are teaching computer science courses are getting that message and incorporating it in, too. Then we wouldn’t have as great a need for user testers, because people came with that knowledge. They understood it. They understood how assistive technologies interacted with what they are developing and designing. A lot of that need would go away.
That’s a conversation we have. So Brian Digman and Karen Geduldig at SUNY, if you’re listening, State University of New York, they’re really good friends and supporters and advocates for inclusion. We really do need to incorporate into course load and course offerings concepts around digital equity; true inclusion; accessible, usable, functional digital offerings and platforms. That’s what’s going to allow us to then shift away from advocating for digital equity and move it more toward intentional conversations about employment and career-oriented growth for people who use technologies.
Agreed. There’s even a crossover there, that colleges oftentimes have work-study opportunities for–
Oh, absolutely.
Why not bring in someone who’s visually impaired and using a screen reader or using screen magnifiers or any of the other technologies that some of the students might need to use and incorporate them into that process?
I had some part-time work opportunities where they can help screen and look at–
–some of those courses.
You and I went to college probably around the same times, give or take. And we had the work-study programs on campus. And in the CUNY system, the City of New York, there are over 9,000 individuals, students who identify as having a disability. And prior to the advent of your training program, I was always hoping to find people within the disability community who were versed in and proficient in their tools, their technologies to take on an internship and work with us. But it was hard.
And I think that therein lies another opportunity for advancement in career goals and soft skill trainings and awareness for our students who happen to have a disability working on campus and contributing to the campus’s inclusion programs and appreciation for digital equity. Unbelievable. Simple, simple solutions, people. Let’s make it happen today. So, Bruce, what’s on the horizon for Carroll Center in the future? And what’s on the horizon for Bruce Howell?
Well, thanks, Albert. Those are interesting questions. I am approaching retirement, so I’ll answer that question first. I probably will not continue my full-time role with the Carroll Center beyond sometime in 2022. But our president tells me that he’s not going to let me leave entirely, so I’m sure I’ll still have some either consulting role or volunteer role there to make sure that we’re still providing what people with vision impairment and blindness really need to be successful in life.
I’ll always remain committed to that mission, as will the Carroll Center. So we are constantly looking at, what’s going on out there? How do we bring these horrible unemployment numbers for people who are blind and visually impaired down? So we are constantly reviewing, keeping tabs on what’s going on in the industry to figure out ways of creating even more programs that can result in meaningful employment paths. And when I say “meaningful employment paths,” we understand that people have to start somewhere. But we don’t want them to just qualify to be a receptionist for a company or a customer service person where there’s no chance for advancement in their career.
No upward mobility. I mean, who wants to work on a manufacturing line? Now, that the jobs are great, excuse me. The job opportunities need to be expanded. I’m not pooh-poohing anything about manufacturing jobs or line jobs on a conveyor belt, but that’s not the only opportunity we should afford to people across the ability spectrum. We should allow them to grow in the careers of their choosing and not just hit a ceiling, so to speak, when we get to a point where the technologies don’t support our level of capability, intelligence, and value.
I agree 100% with that. So while some of the programs, including the Screen Reader User Testing Program, it’s a base. It’s giving people a base knowledge where they can go out and find a job, but we’re encouraging them to consider this as a starting point only. There are still plenty of things that they can learn beyond this, many directions they can go depending on whether they want to become a developer so they can actually implement the changes that we’re talking about to remediate or improve the design of things.
They can work in UX or QA, user experience, quality assurance areas. They could be project managers who understand accessibility and know everything that goes into the entire process, the entire flow for the way sprints take place in web development. So we think, yes, they can become user testers immediately upon graduation. But we want them to understand that that’s a starting point. That’s all you want to do? Great. Do that, because there is a need for it. But if you want to grow and become even more of a professional, consider some of the IAAP certification programs. There’s also a Trusted Tester Program through the Department of Homeland Security.
So there are other options and things out there, so we don’t mean this to be an end all. In any program that we offer at the Carroll Center, we want people to get a variety of skills that prepare them to start in a career but the learning should never end.
And to that point, one of the things I have envisioned and dreamt of, one is a pre-K program where we have children of ability, whether they are temporarily able or not. So we can expose each of our students and our childrens and our future leaders to inclusive environments. But a fellowship program, similar to the White House fellowship, where you have a bunch of different individuals primarily blind in our particular instance or people across the spectrum who are going to work with mentors and become mentees and corporations to allow for the kind of work that is happening at the Carroll Center today to progress and continue to grow. And we then can introduce our aspiring hopefuls who want to be changing the world because of their professional acuity who just happen to have a disability or happen to be blind be the navigators of the open sea of corporate 101.
Yeah, I agree with you, Albert. And this collaboration between the Carroll Center and My Blind Spot to create this program has been essential. And the other collaborations that we’ve been creating with some of the other corporations out there that see a similar need for these individuals, that’s very encouraging to me. And I think that kind of collaboration, networking, relationship-building with the corporate world and probably the academic world as well are really what’s going to drive this. Because as those other entities understand more and more about accessibility and about the value of the individuals that we can bring to them, because these are people that have professional training now but they have lived experiences–
–very different from the typical individuals working at these companies or within these colleges that just grows their whole exposure and sense of what’s possible for them.
Well, I’m inspired by the partnership we’re developing, because it’s put a newfound wind in my sail. I’m finding all the ways to draw it back to sailing, because Jon is going to love that. In understanding that the partnerships that we’re developing, specifically with the corporations and as advocates for digital equity, the Carroll Center and My Blind Spot could sit down with these corporations, which I think heretofore has been lacking and– seriously, it just sucked planning those.
Have not talked to the corporations where we placed individuals to appreciate and understand how to be disability-ready and disability-friendly and inclusive in their work environments and in what they procure for software. There is a wave happening. Again, analogy. I love it. Wave happening that is going to go all across this country like a tidal wave that’s going to open people’s eyes to the importance of digital equity.
And the Carroll Center is staging a coup, if you will, to allow blind people to take their rightful place in society. And I am all about that. And would you mind telling our listeners where they can go, how they can access this program, what the website is, and who to reach out to at the Carroll Center in case anybody here is inspired to join the next cohort?
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for that opportunity. So the main URL for the Carroll Center website is www.carroll, and that’s spelled C-A-R-R-O-L-L. So two R’s and two L’s. .org, O-R-G. So it’s The admissions director for the Carroll Center’s name is Kathy Felt, and that is K-A-T-H-Y, dot, F-E-L-T,
And that’s F as in “Frank” for “Felt”?
Yes, Felt like the fabric. So it’s–
Got it.
K-A-T-H-Y F-E-L-T. So She would be the best person to reach out to. The phone number for the Carroll Center is area code 617-969-6200. And I guess I really should provide my own.
You’ve got to include your email, so we can say congratulations on the retirement. So what is your email address?
Well, thank you. Thank you. So my name is Bruce Howell, so B-R-U-C-E, dot, H as in “happy,” O-W-E-L-L. And again, Carroll is C-A-R-R-O-L-L. Anybody who has any interest in either the program or any of the kind of accessibility services that we are providing should feel free to reach out to me, too.
That was Bruce Howell, the Accessibility Service Manager at the Carroll Center for the Blind. And I just had to say I didn’t know Bruce was blind. You knew? I mean, when he pointed that out, it’s just interesting. When I talked to colleagues of mine, I mentioned it in the podcast, I usually say, how many degrees of separation are you from a person with a disability? I don’t make any assumptions. I was certainly blindsided by that one, for sure. Ba-dum-dum.
The cohort that we were working with has completed, and everybody graduated or was certified with flying colors. It was a tremendous honor to meet and work with these people, and the next cohort has started. And we have word that Bruce will be formally retiring in some capacity later this month, in April, at the end of April.
Congratulations. And I’m sure he will be relied on, called on, and will be involved in so many ways that retirement will seem like it never happened. But we wish him well on all of his endeavors and thank Bruce for including us in the training program at the Carroll Center for the Blind. I also am really looking forward to doing that sailing program that he spoke of.
Oh, yeah.
That’s really exciting. I can’t wait for your dad to let me join one of the Hermes sailing competitions.
We’re not allowed to sail anymore. We won too much.
We won too much. He’ll probably throw me overboard anyway.
As we close for today, feel free to reach out to us at our website,, and email us directly at podcast at And we also have all the social medias, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. What else, Albert?
What else do we have coming up next? Oh.
The next episode, we have Brian McCourt with ABLE Channel. He is the founder of the ABLE Channel, and we are going to be speaking with him about his trials and tribulations and successes running that organization. And I don’t know what else I want to say at the moment.
Wash your hands.
Wash your hands. Yeah. We’re still dealing with the pandemic. Wear yours masks.
Especially on the way out.
Yeah. Well, I’m hearing things differently now. I’m hearing this news that’s been coming down the pike, but it’s going to be forever. That’s AccessAbility Works podcast.
A podcast about the possibilities of accessibility for people with disabilities. I’m Jonathan Hermus.
And I’m Albert Rizzi, and this has been the AccessAbility Works podcast.
Thanks for listening.
OK. 3, 2, 1. What did I say?
I don’t know. Welcome to AccessAbilities Work.
See? You see? And smile when you do it.
Slow hurts.
I know. 3, 2, 1.
Yes, Albert. The– blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blog.
Put that in the outro. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blog.
Blah, blah, blah, blah.
Pretend you’re a clown jumping up and down and trying to scare a bunch–
I am a sad clown.
No. You got to be a sad happy clown.
Talk about what the Carroll Center is–
Its history.
–and how it does? I think it’s a Catholic– or was a–
It was based on Catholic Guild. Yeah, the Catholic Guild has worked all over the country, maybe the world. I don’t know. But I know we worked with the Catholic Guild early on here in New York. The Catholic Guild has different locations all over the country but is–
The Catholic Guild.
I’m just jumping in. Could you let Bruce tell the story?
Yeah. Oh. You know what, Bruce? You see what I deal with? High school pains in the ass and clowns coming out of the closet. So 3, 2, 1. Bruce, why don’t you tell us what the Carroll Center is all about and where it got its start?

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