Posted on Leave a comment

Embracing Language Through Touch | Sam Latif

Cover image is described in the body of the post.

WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Editor’s Note:

Bold Blind Beauty is thrilled to present Sam Latif, Accessibility Leader at Procter & Gamble as our September Woman On The Move. If Sam’s name sounds familiar to you it’s probably because she was responsible for bringing to life the tactile features on the bottles of Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner. Below the audio interview is the transcript of Sam’s interview with Bold Blind Beauty’s Nasreen Bhutta. Enjoy!

I want a new language of touch. Touch is a sense, just like sight is a sense, so why can’t we introduce a language for everything that we do so that blind people don’t need to put braille labels on. We don’t need to put sticky tape or bump dots or things to help us identify
one product from another.

Sam Latif

Nasreen Bhutta:

Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty, home of Beyond Sight Magazine, an online community where real beauty transcends barriers. Our Women on the Move segment focused on monthly profiles of inspirational women, their capabilities, achievement, and journeys, as they navigate through the course of sight loss and blindness. I’m your host Nasreen. For our September 2020 segment of Women on the Move, our featured guest is the lovely Sam Latif. She’s an accessibility leader and a consultant for inclusive design and a parent of three, passionate, positive, and a change maker, always championing inclusion. Let’s all give a warm welcome to Sam. Hi, Sam. Good afternoon.

Sam Latif:

Hey. Good afternoon Nasreen. Hello to everybody listening.

Nasreen Bhutta:

You have quite an incredible journey. So you were diagnosed with RP [retinitis pigmentosa] while still in high school. Can you tell us a little bit about that journey and the support systems that you had at that time?

Sam Latif:

Yeah, sure. So I was diagnosed at the age of four and I couldn’t read very well ever. I didn’t really realize at the time that I couldn’t see, I was just a very slow reader I thought. But when it came to high school and when I was about 16 years old, I just suddenly lost the ability to read overnight. I lost the ability to read completely and write. I almost lost my ability to learn, because schoolwork was no longer accessible. And the advice at the time was to stop my education both at school, and then later at university. And when I was at school, the head teacher decided that maybe I needed a couple of years out to come to terms with my new normal, blindness, but I didn’t really want to do that. I wanted to do what other kids were doing. I didn’t want to be any different. So I tried to come up with ideas for myself to make life a little easier.

One of the ideas I came up with was to record information onto the old fashioned cassette tape. You probably, I don’t know if you’re of that generation, but it’s to record the information on tape and I didn’t know any better. I would try and listen to chapters here and there and I would fall asleep because I couldn’t find, if I had to go to page 56, I couldn’t find that on the tape. I used to rewind, fast forward, rewind and then fall asleep. But anyway, that’s how I managed school. And then when I went to university. At first, the university said that they didn’t take on blind people. They didn’t want to fail me. It wasn’t something that they knew how to handle. I got declined from university, but then I wrote to them and said, “Hey guys, you’ve not done this before, I’ve not done this before, but how about we learn together and if I mess up, it’s okay. You’ve got nothing to lose and if I succeed, then we might be opening the doors to other people with disabilities.” So they agreed.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Well today, you are part of a huge company. To get there as you’re losing your sight and the changes of lifestyle and the new norm as you mentioned, that must have been overwhelming and very difficult.

Sam Latif:

I think I figured out some hacks. Well, you can call them hacks now, back then I didn’t know. But one of the things I started doing was just to cut the crap and give me the data, give me the information, the decision. You don’t need to read lengthy books and you don’t need to read every single chapter and you don’t even need to read the book. You can ask 10 people if they’ve read the book and then you kind of summarize what they’ve read and then make your own judgment. And that’s how I used to actually, when I got to university, that’s how I started to do my assignments. I would socialize, talk to people, understand their opinions and then form my own from that.

I started letting go of always being concerned about getting the latest book on tape. Because, if you could think about it by the time you got your book list at university, getting someone to record it on tape would take you two or three months if you wanted the entire book. So I started just paying students to read a chapter here or a couple of chapters there then just to say, that I would socialize and do the best I could. I honestly don’t know how I got through it. It’s not the way people do it, but in real life and the real world, you don’t have time to read every single report. It’s all about communication, talking to people, understanding and using your initiative or common sense to come up to an agreement. So, I’m not the academic type.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So Sam, finding employment for anyone with a disability can be difficult. How did you manage to overcome any struggles that you might have faced in this area?

Sam Latif:

I always wanted to work. I had this thing that I didn’t want to be financially dependent on anybody. And I remember as a student, I started looking for jobs, but I couldn’t do your typical jobs like working a bar or a restaurant. Somehow back in the day, telesales was something new. I found myself in a tele sales job. I thought, well, that’s the only thing I can use, is a phone. So I started selling kitchens, cars, windows, doors, and even wells on the phone. Just imagine-

Nasreen Bhutta:

Wells?

Sam Latif:

Wills, my accent. Yeah. Will, something that you put together in the event that you die. So this was my lane Nasreen, right? I used to say “hello Mr. Smith, have you ever thought about dying? Don’t worry, invest in a will and you’ll live happily ever after.” But to do this job, I needed to be able to read telephone numbers because in those days it wasn’t on the internet. It was on this thing called the yellow pages, a big thick book with everybody’s names and the telephone numbers. So I used to get paid five pounds an hour at my job. And I used to pay someone else five pounds an hour to record as many telephone numbers on tape for me so that I could then do my job. One hour of them recording would last me like three or four hours of work.

And that was my first experience of working. I also, whilst I was at university, I was trying to find a graduate job. And I went to multiple interviews and assessment centers and I used to do well in them. But ultimately, there was so much open discrimination. I mean, imagine being told “Yeah, we really liked you, you passed the test, but we feel uncomfortable because we don’t think a blind person can do the job.” And I would get feedback like that. And it was like, it was so direct. And I didn’t realize that that was actually discrimination and it hurt. But one day, I was at this assessment center. I don’t know where I met this guy. He’s a billionaire and he was Scotland’s largest car retailer. So he sold, he had like a hundred showrooms of new and used cars and I happened to bump into him and I was chatting away.

And then I said, I was here to look for a job. And he said, “Oh, I’ll give you a job. How about coming to work for Arnold Clark?” I was like, “Oh wow, that’s amazing. And so what’s your name?” And he said, “My name is Arnold Clark. I own the company and you can come and work for me any day.” So actually, I had a job before I even graduated from university, just because of this billionaire guy who wants to give me a try. So I started working there. It was really great. I had to design my own job and he didn’t have any nervousness about employing a blind person, because he was a billionaire, he had nothing to lose. And he asked his staff to be kind and helpful to me and they were. So I was working there for a year and a half.

Then my next big break came with Procter & Gamble. There was a parent of a disabled child who was a director at Procter & Gamble and he wanted to recruit people with disabilities into P&G. He then reached out to an agency to ask them to help recruit people with disabilities, into Procter & Gamble and that’s how I initially came to P&G about 20 years ago. One thing that’s been consistent, in my experience, when I’ve either wanted a job or even progress inside the company is, somehow people who discriminate against you are the ones that are unsure, uncomfortable about working with a disabled person and they’re too scared to make a mistake and them looking bad. The people who have given me a break, are people who don’t really care. They’ve made it, they’ve got nothing to lose and they’re happy to take the risk and they’re happy to do something good.

And again, it’s one of those things, it’s a good thing for society, but it’s a good thing for their business as well. Because, I’ve not, never let anyone down so far. So, it’s a win-win. One of the good things is that large companies are beginning to realize the value of people with disabilities, because there are about 1.8 billion people in the world with a disability, and companies like P&G, we do want to reflect the diversity of our consumers, the diversity of the people that use our products. We want to reflect that inside the company. We’re not there yet. Obviously, everyone has a lot more work to do, but we’re recognizing that it’s really helpful to have people on with disabilities. And so, we’ve got dedicated programs now. We really encourage people with disabilities to apply.

We’re partnering with Gallaudet University and one of our deaf colleagues, Scott Van Nice, he’s brought in many deaf interns to P&G and full time hires. We’ve brought in people from the autism spectrum, neurodiverse people into the company. And what we do is we use the experience of real people with disabilities at P&G to bring more of those people inside the company. It’s really refreshing to see that the needle is moving in the right direction. Obviously not fast enough, but that’s to people like if I meet people with disabilities, I’m always encouraging them. Definitely yes, do apply and let me know when you’re applying and sometimes they may be successful and sometimes they may not be, but at least there’s someone that can help them within the company. And there’s so much more we can do, to be honest, but I really see that lots of companies are trying to change.

Nasreen Bhutta:

As someone who is a successful businesswoman, you are P&G’s, accessibly leader, why so passionate about changing the status quo when it comes to making everyday products more inclusive?

Sam Latif:

I think, I mean, for people who don’t know Procter & Gamble, we’re one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world. So we do brands like Pantene, Herbal Essences, Olay, Tide, Pampers, Gillette, and many, many more products that we do. We are in 180 plus countries. Really, we want the maximum number of people to enjoy our products and enjoy our advertising and we want to improve the lives of the world’s consumers, as we say. And that includes consumers with disabilities. That includes blind consumers. I fundamentally believe that every human has the right to access our products and our services. For that to really be true, we need to be accessible for our consumers and customers and that comes through making our products inclusive. That comes through making advertising inclusive as well. We are a company that is committed to being a force for good, doing good in the world, and a force for growth. So we’re growing our business as we’re doing that.

P&G we, I don’t know if your viewers are aware of the tactile work that we’re implementing on our shampoos and conditioners, so the big vision is that every single shampoo and every single conditioner will have tactile markings on them to differentiate between shampoo and conditioner. This is a new language that we’re trying to introduce that people will be able to read that language through touch. It won’t be braille, but it will be something a little easier than braille. And we’ve got four stripes to say, shampoo. S for stripes and S for shampoo. I’ve got eight circles to say conditioner. 

Maybe two years ago, we launched these tactile symbols on our Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner products. The idea is that, you know like on your keyboard, the letter F and the letter G has a tactile on there to help you orientate your hands on the keyboard when you go to an ATM, the five has a dot on that digit, or when you go into a store to pay for stuff, there’s a dot on the number five? Similarly, I wanted language for people to be able to know what’s shampoo, what’s conditioner, and then what’s body wash, just through touch.

The idea is that, yes, we’ve got these on Herbal Essences bottles in North America, but we want these on every shampoo and conditioner bottle. Just like the word shampoo and conditioner is in print for the sighted world, we want tactile stripes for shampoo and tactile circles for conditioner for people who can’t read print for one reason or another.

I think every human being has the right to use our products, to access our products and there are people with different needs in the world. There’s 1.85 billion people with a disability. Some of them have got learning difficulties, some of them have vision, mobility, dexterity challenges and we really need to take that into account as we’re developing our products, as we’re researching on how consumers are using our products. We need to understand some of the barriers that people are experiencing on a daily basis using our products and we need to design better and we need to address their needs. And I believe that by designing to address some of the challenges that people with disabilities experience when it comes to using our products, we can actually create superior products that delight everybody. And I really think that the better it is for people with disabilities, the more delightful it is for the rest of the consumers as well. And it’s a fundamental, basic human right, ultimately. That’s what drives me.

I encourage every shampoo company in the world to copy it, reapply it, so that it becomes a language for touch that will help us with the shampoo and conditioner. And my vision is broader than that. I want everything to have a language so that we have, like I said, sighted world has a hundred percent of that real estate. We have 0%. All I’m asking for the manufacturers in the world is to say, give us a little bit. Gives a 10th of that space and put some tactile marking that’s a common language in the industry for that category, and it will make our lives simpler. We are paying consumers, we have money to spend, we don’t want the daily tension of knowing, oh what’s in this, what’s this again?

Nasreen Bhutta:

So you’re a successful business woman, leader and a role model in our community, what advice do you have for future aspiring women leaders?

Sam Latif:

I think as women or as people working together, it’s really important to make friends with people that you interact with on a daily basis. From school, from the blind community, having a variety of groups of people that you can turn to and talk about your ideas is really, really helpful. So making friends and learning from them is one thing and then perseverance is really important, I believe. I think you can get through by persevering. You can really get what you’re really looking for. I really wanted these tactile stripes. I had no idea… I believed in it so strongly that I kept going even if there was lots of barriers in the way.

But the thing is, sometimes it’s going to be legitimate, real barriers, but many times people put invisible barriers that don’t really exist and that stops you from achieving your dreams. Those invisible barriers that are just in your head, they only exist in your head. So, like I said, meeting other blind people, meeting other people from different walks of life, I’ve just found that having a good set of friends to talk to, to bounce ideas, is the best advice I can give.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Thank you so much. I think that’ll really help a lot of people. Who is your biggest influencer, Sam?

Sam Latif:

I think Apple as a company are my biggest influencer. I love the fact that they make everything out of the box almost fully accessible. Obviously, there’s so much more they can do as well. They really inspire me to make my product successful in my company. Who would have thought a flat screen phone would be completely accessible out of the box. Quirky things that they do, like putting a screen curtain on, so other sighted folk can’t see my stuff, I just think is really cool. And then they’ve used blind people to develop new cool, funky ideas, like unlocking your phone with a thumbprint was inspired by a blind employee at Apple. So yeah, so they’re probably my biggest influence in terms of a company.

Nasreen Bhutta:

On a personal, anybody?

Sam Latif:

I like seeing young influencers out there. I think you guys are doing a great job with Bold Blind Beauty. I was really impressed with this platform. It’s nice and it’s a great name, but it’s also a great topic that you’re covering. I think it’s amazing for us blind women who like to become beautiful. And also, people like Molly Burke and the likes of all these young influencer girls who are not shy to talk about some of the challenges that they experience and showing that they can live their life to their fullest, I think is amazing because it really helps the able-bodied world realize that we are also very capable of doing stuff. But if they made their products more accessible, life would be a lot easier as well.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Oh, thank you so much. The fact that you have persevered with purpose and passion is just incredible. So you’re playing the piano these days. How’s it going for you?

Sam Latif:

Yeah, I’m playing Fur Elise. It’s going good. I’ve almost finished it. I’ve still got a bit left. I don’t read music. I’m not very good at braille and I like the shortcuts, so I get my piano teacher to tell me where to move my finger, how many keys, is it up three or two keys? And I just learn the rhythm of where my fingers need to go. But it’s really good. It’s something very different to other things that I do. And it’s really relaxing and good fun and it’s a new skill that I’m really enjoying. So yeah, it’s good.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So Sam, how can we reach you?

Sam Latif:

You can just drop me an email anytime. Give me a call. I’m very approachable.

Nasreen Bhutta:

How about your social handles? Want to share those?

Sam Latif:

Sure. SamLatif7 on Twitter. On Facebook, I’m Sam Latif. My email is Latif.s@pg.com. So that’s L-A-T-I-F, Lima alpha, tango and then foxtrot, dot S for Sam at pg, putt-putt golf, dot com.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Thank you so much, Sam, for being here this afternoon. You’ll be able to find Sam’s story in the onsite magazine under Women on the Move for September, 2020 at http://www.boldblindbeauty.com. Thanks for listening.

Connecting With Sam:

Bio:

Sam Latif is P&G’s first Company Accessibility Leader and is leading the P&G’s thought leadership and commitment to making products, packaging, and advertising accessible for the growing aging population and 1.7 billion people around the world with a disability.  

Winning with 50+/PwD consumers is critical for P&G to grow. By 2030 we will have more >50 consumers to serve vs under 50 and 36% of 50+ consumers will experience a disability. We estimate today we are losing 1BN dollars per annum across our Categories not serving this segment. P&G has an opportunity to reach more consumers with more accessible and irresistible products and packaging for all.  

Sam Latif was born in the UK and is a first-generation Scottish Pakistani. She is blind and the passion for what she is doing at P&G has been inspired by the personal access challenges she has experienced as both a consumer and an employee. Sam studied Marketing and Business Law at the University of Stirling in Scotland and began her career at P&G in IT. She has led IT transformations across multiple worldwide businesses (including Fragrances, Pampers, Olay, and Gillette).  

In 2015 Sam switched focus from running IT businesses to figuring what it would take to make P&G become the most accessible company for the consumers we are serving and was appointed as the company’s first Special Consultant for Inclusive Design. During this time, Sam worked with the Herbal Essences business to explore how we could make it easier to help people tell the difference between shampoo and conditioner, especially in the shower when people are not wearing their corrective eyewear. It’s estimated that 79% of the population in the west wear corrective eyewear and so its quite hard for people to tell by sight alone our shampoo and conditioner bottles apart. 

In February 2019, Sam was promoted to Associate Director and became P&G’s first Company Accessibility Leader and is responsible for making P&G workplace, products, and packaging and communications fully accessible to everyone.

Sam is married and has 3 kids, boy and girl twins aged 7 and a 10-year-old boy. Sam is enjoying the challenge of learning to play the piano and working out at the gym.  

Image Description:

  • Beyond Sight Magazine Cover. Sam’s headshot is featured on the cover and she’s wearing a gray hijab. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 3 lines of white text that say “Auditioning for Bold, Blind, and Beautiful.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby rollerblading. She has on a black crop tank top complete with her logo on the front with black shorts, and gray & teal roller blades. And of course, Abby wouldn’t be Abby without her signature explosive hairstyle, and “Women On The Move” is yellow text under the circle.
CREDITS:
Posted on 1 Comment

Seeing The Spectrum | Petr Kucheryavyy

Cover Image is described in the body of the post

CANE ENABLED | AUDIO INTERVIEW

Editor’s Note:

“Born Accessible,” the first time I heard this term was during the recording of today’s interview with Petr Kucheryavyy of Spectrum Access. Without giving too much away, the term essentially means that this company is wholeheartedly focused on inclusion. From the corporate culture to the products and services they provide their approach really “Sees” the broad spectrum of their customers. Along with the YouTube interview we’ve also provided the transcript for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Interview Transcript:

Nasreen Bhutta:

Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty, the home of Beyond Sight Magazine, and this month’s August 2020 Cane EnAbled segment. In addition to celebrating all things related to the white cane including safety and usage personalization, this monthly series also shares broad perspectives from those in the field including parents of blind and visually impaired children, advocates, exciting news on the technology front. Cane EnAbled is published on the fourth Monday of each month. Petr Kucheryavyy is a Senior Manager in the Accessibility Division of Charter Communications. He’s here to share more on the Spectrum Access app. This is when Charter launched Spectrum Access app, which it helps to enhance entertainment options for people with vision impairments or hearing impairments. The focus here is placed on the audio description and close captioning. So with a warm welcoming, here is Petr to tell us more. Hello, Petr.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Hi Nasreen.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Nice to meet you. Welcome.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Nice to meet you as well. Thank you.

Nasreen Bhutta:

You have an incredible journey, Petr, which started with being born in the Ukraine during the Chernobyl explosion, which is a disastrous nuclear accident, which many of us remember from that time and era. This took place in 1986. Can you share your journey with us about that, you growing up? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Sure, absolutely. So I was born just two months prior to the April ’86 nuclear power plant explosion in Chernobyl, Ukraine. I wasn’t far from that area at the time as a toddler, and it was a really panicky moment because there was really a disconnection between people and politicians, certainly in Soviet Russia at the time. And so, people were afraid that they weren’t getting the full information, and certainly now, with a retrospective eye looking backward, they were right. There wasn’t all the information that they needed and a lot of people were exposed to radioactive dust that was in the air for quite a while following the accident, inhaling radioactive dust and getting closer to the disaster site. And so naturally, my parents panicked as well.

They had me evaluated and it turned out that I got a clean bill of health. Of course, about nine years down the road, it was becoming more and more difficult for me to hide the fact that something was going on with my eyesight and it was actually an American woman… We had moved to the states shortly before then. It was an American woman that volunteered to take me to a clinic and have my eyes evaluated after noticing some changes. And it was determined that I was then officially legally blind and I had the prospect of potentially losing the entirety of my sight over the course of some unknown period of time. This threw a major wrench in the way that I was educated or not educated. And I quickly, by the age of 10, I’d lost so much sight that I was not able to read printed text or even enlarged text because I was losing that central vision first, which we use to read text with.

And so, it became more and more challenging to even use things like magnification, and between age 10 and 15, I maintained my post in school, but I was effectively illiterate if you will, without access to alternative reading materials like braille and so on. I didn’t know my rights. My parents didn’t speak English, so they weren’t strong advocates within the system either. And unfortunately at age 15, I managed to pull myself out of school, and I went into construction work, which seems like a bizarre alternative to this conundrum I was in, but it’s where a lot of immigrants ended up. And if I hid my vision problems well enough, then I would be okay. And I would do things like stay overnight studying the construction site and showing up extra early to really get a scope of the area so I can navigate it somewhat confidently. Now, the good news is that eventually I discovered my resources and rights and groups that were available to assist with training, and I did get an education and go back to college and began a more sustainable career journey from there.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So why the interest for Charter? Why did they feel like they need to develop an inclusive line of services for users that are hearing impaired or visually impaired?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Yeah, absolutely. So, my journey after college really took me into the healthcare world, wellness coaching and practice, and I worked in hospice care for a while, but I sort of accidentally stumbled into a role with the Colorado Center for the Blind out here in Colorado, where I am now. And I ended up staying there for several different positions and employment and outreach for seniors who are losing their sight. And during that final role there working with seniors, I found myself teaching a lot of technology, technology access, non-visual access to things like mobile devices and so on. And that got me some visibility in Charter whose product and accessibility offices are here in Denver, and they reached out and asked if I’d be willing to join the team to work on a new rollout of a new product called Spectrum Mobile, which went live in 2018.

And so, we were working on the accessibility of that product line, making sure that it was what we call born accessible. And so, Spectrum Mobile, when it launched, what born accessible means is that the design and features were all built considering accessibility from the start. And so that was a really powerful thing to think about bringing to a company and helping a company do. And so, I was attracted to that opportunity and eventually got into other parts of accessibility as well.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So every product in the quote unquote born accessible line right out of the box, it was very user friendly, would you say?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

That’s correct. So, many companies have not considered accessibility at all for many, many years, and so, Charter was wanting to not only remediate or rebuild some of the products they already had to be accessible, but we wanted to make sure that anything that we launched to our Spectrum customers was completely accessible from the start if it’s a new product, and Spectrum Mobile was an opportunity to look at that, from ideation to production, accessibility would be a part of the journey. And so that meant that when a customer gets the product, on day one, or sign up for Spectrum Mobile service, let’s say in this case, when they launched the account management app, they would be able to navigate the entire application, either using Zoom or voiceover or whatever accessibility features on their devices they were using and have not only an accessible experience, but a truly usable one.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So, when it came to the mobile devices that Spectrum launched in the born accessible line, were these mostly smartphones or did you also have the flip phone? Did you start with a flip phone, then graduate to a smartphone or were they always smartphones?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

We focused on the devices that we would be launching with, which were indeed all smartphones. So we were focusing on the Android and iOS devices that would be launching in our stores and compatible with the service. And so, because all of those were smart devices, that’s what we focused on.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So, how does the Spectrum app help to enhance television experience for folks with disabilities?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Yeah, absolutely. So, Spectrum Access. I mentioned born accessible being a new concept that we introduced to any new product coming on board, but Spectrum Access really fell into its own category as an innovation product. It was really a way for us to address an industry wide gap in delivery of audio description, especially audio description to customers. The app also includes close captioning, which probably, I would say has less of a gap in terms of delivery as compared to audio description, but it still offers a really convenient way to access both of those features. So Spectrum Access was a partnership really initially with active view, which was an application launched to deliver audio description and closed captioning to the market, on demand if you will. And eventually though, it was determined that the best way to partner was actually to acquire the app, rebrand it and use our leverage with the studios that we have partnerships with to get approval for additional audio description content to be added into the application.

So we’ve been able to add, I think we’re well over 400 now, if not more, and counting by the hundreds in terms of the amount of content that we have in the application. And what it does is, it allows a user to… Let’s say, if you wish to watch a movie, I recently decided to watch Ray, the documentary about Ray Charles, and on iTunes there was no audio description available for the movie. So, I found the movie in the Spectrum Access library. I rented and then launched the movie on iTunes and then hit sync on my device after downloading the audio description track, and what it did is it identified where I was in that movie within several milliseconds of the spot and paired the audio description to that point, and I just threw on an earbud and I was ready to go. So I was listening to audio description in my ear bud and the sound of the movie was still playing in my living room. And so, that’s what it does, is allows you to take audio description and close captioning on the go wherever you are. If it’s in the Spectrum Access library, you can pair it with a movie or show on any platform.

Nasreen Bhutta:

That’s seamless, it’s easy for anybody to do. And like you just said, it’s just pairing it, pressing the sync button and off you go with a pair of headphones. I think that’s innovative and very user friendly. How do you decide what type of content goes into the Spectrum Access library, and do you know the volume of content that’s in there now?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Yeah, all great questions. So, while the app is available to everyone, regardless of whether or not you’re a customer for free, the way the content is largely determined, not solely, but largely determined is by the content available in our on-demand library, Spectrum’s on-demand library. So for our customers who have on-demand, we really wanted to bring additional access to that on-demand library through Spectrum Access. And so, as we review the movie and show lineup that we have there, that’s really what we aim for. We start to pull for that content first and along with it comes, sometimes handfuls of other movies and shows that maybe aren’t in the on-demand library, but if we can get access to them, we add them in as well. And so, the last time I checked, I think we had a little over 400 movies, but we’ve also started to add some episodic content, so some shows, and additional movies. I think we’re set to add a few hundred more assets into the app, so I think we’ll be getting close to probably a thousand maybe by the end of this year, hopefully.

Our customers get to enjoy the application with their on demand library content, or whatever platform they’re really using, as well as those who are not our customers. So let’s say you live outside the Spectrum area and you are not a customer, you can still download the application and use it just as anyone else would, absolutely free. So this was our gift to the community, really helping to solve a broader access issue in the industry.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Oh, I absolutely love that. I love the fact when you said it’s a gift from us to the community. I think that, that’s even an incredible more initiative and really social impactable initiative that you all set up there at Charter and Spectrum Mobile. I think it’s fantastic. Can this app, just out of curiosity, the Spectrum Access app, people are always trying different things out there and would somebody be able to perhaps use your app over, maybe something they’re watching in Netflix, for example?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Right. So the platform doesn’t matter in this particular case. So, we’re even looking to expand the application to… Once COVID is over and people are going back to the movie theaters, we’re looking ahead to theatrical support so that the application can also be used at a movie theater, for instance. So, this is a really bold move because we focus so much on all of our other products and making sure that they’re accessible. So for instance, guide narrations, Spectrum Guide with guide narration, allows a user to navigate their set-top box entirely non-visually with the aid of a speech to text software, that’s running on the box. And like I mentioned, some of the applications that we built work with the devices accessibility features and all of this is very conscious effort to make sure that our product lineup is accessible, but this really goes above and beyond any usability and compliance efforts. It’s a way to get creative and solving real problems and focusing on the issues that the blind, visually impaired, and deaf and hearing impaired communities have been facing.

Nasreen Bhutta:

I think that is really excellent and commendable, you guys, to have one of those digital boxes that is just ready, programmable and audible out of the gate, because once you… You’re right, you’re setting up your system, you have no voiceover to help you, no audible cues at all. So it’s very frustrating, especially even if let’s say you press the wrong button later and it just shuts down or it does a restart, you didn’t notice. I’m assuming all of the cues even in a situation like that are still audible.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Right, so everything that we work on, we want to make sure that it delivers full independence to the customer or the user in the case of Spectrum Access from the start. Independence is very important and we’re constantly solving for these issues as we see them in every aspect of our market or our product lineup. So, we’re exploring new relationships, new partnerships and collaborative efforts when necessary or solving for the problems directly through our development and design teams internally, and our accessibility team. Our team is made up, probably about half of us are people with disabilities, very largely representing the blind and visually impaired communities because that’s where a lot of the gaps were. And so, there was a lot of passion internally to solve for these issues and make sure that there’s independence from end to end.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Yeah, I think that’s a big, big thing. When you have people in a team that represent some of the problems that then can put their heads together and find the solutions to those problems. I think that makes a big difference at the end product result, if people can identify with the problems to begin with.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Right.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Excellent work by Spectrum. Hats off to you guys and hats off to the Spectrum Access app itself. Do you know if you have a large disability following?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

We’ve got a growing community of people who are getting excited about what we’re doing, both in terms of the Spectrum Access app and all of our products, and the new accessibility feature that they’re discovering sometimes by surprise, and while that’s exciting, I don’t want anything to be a surprise. My role as the outreach lead for our team is to be in the community and communicate with the community about what it is that we’re doing. So, when applications like Spectrum Access are launched, or we’ve got new features, like the rollout of Spectrum Guide with guide narration to our full market. When things like that happen, we want to make sure that people know about it. And so, to your point, whether or not we have a large following, I think that if this summer has proven anything, it’s that the following of enthusiasts, if you will, for what we’re doing is really growing.

The comments have been really generous and there’s a lot of gratitude where people are saying things like, “This really opens up my ability to have the access to entertainment, television that I didn’t have before,” and “Thank you for being a leader in the industry. Thank you for delivering products, not just because you’re making money off of it, but because you care.” And these are the things that are great for us to hear because we think that if we establish a good relationship with the disability community, then it’s not only the right thing to do to build products that are accessible and to make those connections, but it is good for our bottom line, even if it’s not immediately evident. We can’t negate the economic power of joining forces with the disability community because that’s, by some accounts, as many as one out of five people in the United States. So it’s really important that we make those connections and build that following, as you called it.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Absolutely. And I love the fact, you said, “A company that cares,” because I think what the community sometimes lacks is companies that do care, that customer service, geared to their needs and what their wants are and needs are in specifications. So it’s really great when we have an organization out there looking out for the little people, people who need those extra services. So, that’s hats off to you guys at Spectrum and the Spectrum Access app. I think that’s fantastic.

Moving back to yourself, Petr, I can hear the passion in you about what you’re doing and where you’ve come from in this journey with disability, as you’re talking earlier in our interview about your upbringing and then transitioning to the U.S. and then what you went through with sight loss and sight change and lifestyle changes, and so, I need to ask, what do you feel is your sense of purpose today?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

I really am a big fan of the art of storytelling and I feel like my purpose, my contribution is really to allow people, or to create spaces within which people can share their story, and bring their full selves to the table. I think that when that happens, not only do people feel more comfortable, employees, customers feel more comfortable, but also it allows us to understand how to build better products and services to cater to the differences. We’re hearing so much about that today on the news and what’s happening socially in terms of injustice and such. I think that it’s really important for us to see the diversity, the differences in all people and cater to those differences. Meaning, you can’t just build one product fits all. It has to have various facets that represent the people for whom it’s built. And I think storytelling or providing the environment in which people can share those stories really fosters that kind of growth in our community and that kind of growth in our products. So, I think that perhaps my purpose is to build that bridge to where people can open up and be their authentic selves.

Nasreen Bhutta:

I love that, authentic selves. I think that’s what you are. I love that. And describe yourself in one word, what would that be?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

As if the limitations of language weren’t enough, we have to limit it to one word.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Yes.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

It’s a bit audacious to put forth a word myself that would represent me. So, I’ll pull from what I’ve heard other people… the word that other people would use to describe me, and that would be charismatic. I think I bring charisma to the areas that I’m passionate about, so I would go with charismatic.

Nasreen Bhutta:

I totally agree. I can see that. Thank you so much for sharing of yourself and your journey and talking about the Spectrum Access app. How can we reach you?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Well, for customers wanting to learn more about accessibility features offered for Spectrum’s products today, I would recommend that you call our customer service line that’s dedicated for customers with disabilities. And that phone number is 1-844-762-1301. Now, if you’ve got some feedback on the designs of our products or have suggestions, or maybe some concerns that that team wasn’t able to handle regarding accessibility, you can reach out to us directly at accessibility@charter.com. And if you’ve got Spectrum Access specific related feedback or questions, you can email us at spectrumaccess@charter.com. And I would also let people know that we’ve got accessibility resources online that you can check out, if you go to spectrum.net. I believe the URL would be spectrum.net/page/accessibility. You get more information about our accessibility offerings.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Brilliant. Thanks, Petr.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Thank you.

Nasreen Bhutta:

To find this feature and many other articles and innovative information, visit the Cane EnAbled page in Beyond Sight Online Community at boldblindbeauty.com. Thanks for listening.

Image Description:

Featured image is the Beyond Sight Magazine cover. A waist-up shot of Petr is on the cover, wearing a yellow v-neck sweater over an olive green shirt. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 3 lines of text that say “Petr Kucheryavyy | The Amazing Spectrum Access App.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby Bold Blind Beauty’s fashion icon who is walking with her white cane in one hand and handbag in the other. She is wearing heels and a stylish dress made of panels resembling overlapping banana leaves. The dress panels gently curve from her nipped-in waist to just above the knee. She’s also sporting her signature explosive hairstyle and yellow text Cane EnAbled” is under the circle.

CREDITS:

Posted on 7 Comments

Celebrate #ADA30 July 26, 2020

Header image is described in the body of the post

BLOG BIZ | ADVOCACY

Editor’s Note:

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. Every year at this time I recommend a moving PBS documentary about the Disability Rights Movement called “Lives Worth Living.” This year I’m adding Crip Camp, another film that highlights the disability revolution.

Americans With Disability Act Turns 30 Today

While I am not a sociologist I am an empathic person who respects humanity and believes in doing the right thing. Being born into a couple of marginalized groups allowed me to become uncomfortably familiar with discrimination and exclusion. Even so, because I value human life and deeply appreciate diversity, I refused to allow my circumstances to define who I am. Then later in life, I acquired a disability.

Living with a disability is a life-altering uniquely personalized situation that’s been physically and emotionally draining. Adding to this heaviness, confronting an additional layer of discrimination makes day to day life even more uncertain. Losing my independence has been frustrating and enlightening.

Because of my background, I’ve always known that the world we live in isn’t fair or equitable for everyone. As complex as we are as humans, no one can possibly understand what it’s like to live in the body of another person. Even so, our need to classify everything including people, makes it more difficult for us to see our commonalities. The further we drill down these classifications the lesser the value of those belonging to certain groups like, for instance, people with disabilities.

An Ugly History

Here in the United States, it was against the law to be in public spaces if you were “diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object.” As unbelievable as it might seem “The Ugly Laws” as they came to be known in 1975, were enacted in the late 1860s. These ‘laws‘ encompassed the “poor, the homeless, vagrants, and those with visible disabilities.”

Eugenics, also known as a movement to improve the human race, was a process where people who met certain criteria were sterilized to prevent them from reproducing. The laws were put in place by our government and/or the people who thought they were superior to everyone else.

The Fight For Disability Rights Continues

I think the difference between those who fight for social justice and those who are against it is our view on humanity. People who respect differences and are open to accepting others as they are with empathy understand that “life,” no matter who it belongs to, matters. Even the elitists have no more or less value than those whom they deem less than.

“Around 15 percent of the world’s population, or estimated 1 billion people, live with disabilities. They are the world’s largest minority.”* The thing that sets our community apart from other minority groups is we are wholly inclusive. Anyone at any age, social status, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc. can become a member at any point in their lives. What’s sad is some of us take the stance that disability rights are ‘not our problem,’ that is until we become disabled. However, being ‘temporarily-abled’ as the majority of us are, makes it our problem.

People with disabilities share many of the same characteristics of our temporarily-abled counterparts, we simply do things a little differently. We’ve come a long way since the ADA became law however the fight for Accessibility, Inclusion, and Representation continues.

*Resource: Fact Sheet on Persons with Disabilities

Disability Rights Are Human Rights

So what can you do to become part of the movement?

  • Empathize: I think the most important thing any of us can do, is to check our assumptions at the door. It’s wrong to assume people with disabilities have no value or worse yet, no skills or aspirations.
  • Educate: Increase your understanding of the wide range of disabilities and become more culturally aware and sensitive to the needs of the community. Not every disability is hidden and each person’s story is unique.
  • Embrace: Opening your world to include people with disabilities by volunteering for organizations that support the disability community is a win-win. The organization and the people it supports will benefit from the gift of your time. You will increase your knowledge and build relationships with people who will expand your heart.
  • Respect: No one, wants to be reduced. It’s hard enough being human, so let’s eliminate this idea that disability equals deficit. Learning to appreciate differences and accepting people where they are is at the heart of humanity. If you subscribe to the idea that humanity is imperfect, respecting differences can begin with embracing our own flaws. After all, we are all human.

Let’s continue to strive for inclusivity in all areas of life. Hopefully, there will come a time when we fully embrace our differences without condescension. Until then, celebrate Celebrate #ADA30 with me. What other ways can you think of to impact the disability movement?

Image Description:

Graffiti: the word “ACT” is vertical colored letters that spell out “Action Changes Things” on a black brick wall.

Posted on Leave a comment

Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2020!

Image is described in the body of the post.

BEAUTY BUZZ & BLOG BIZ | ACCESSIBILITY

Did you know…

that 70% of the web is inaccessible to people who are blind or visually impaired?

“Accessibility allows us to tap into everyone’s potential.”

~Debra Ruh, Ruh Global Impact

Today May 21st, 2020 marks the 9th annual celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). GAAD started with a single blog post written by a Los Angeles-based web developer, Joe Devon, and Jennison Asuncion, an accessibility professional from Toronto. This accessibility holiday is a global event that helps drive awareness for those who are new to accessibility.*

*Source:

Deque Systems

Description:

Black text on a teal square superimposed on a white background.