Learning from the Deaf Community at #TechInclusion16

This last week, I helped to run Tech Inclusion, a conference focused on diversity and inclusion in tech. I’ve been to a lot of conferences/events /meetings about diversity in tech, and this one blew all of those out of the water. Most diversity in tech events focus on gender, and some engage with race. So, I was surprised and pretty stoked to see the programming and inclusion of the Deaf community.

My senior (okay, 5th year) at Stanford, I decided to take American Sign Language (ASL). When I told people, I got a few weird looks. “When are you even going to use that?” or “Can’t all deaf people lip read, anyways?” Learning ASL isn’t seen as useful as say, learning CSS or Chinese.

[Fun fact, reading lips takes A LOT of concentration, and puts the onus of interacting with hearing people on the shoulders of Deaf people — which isn’t very inclusive. Around 1 million Americans are deaf, but estimating the the number of Deaf people in the USA is difficult, as people who are hard of hearing, parents/children of those who are Deaf, etc use ASL to communicate daily.]

Programming

“Deaf in Tech” was a panel held on the first day of #TechInclusion16, and offered insight on what it’s like to be Deaf in tech AND how to be an ally to Deaf folks in tech. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole panel (duty called), but I heard great things about it.

The takeaways?

  1. The use of the #A11y hashtag. People use this hashtag on twitter when talking about accessibility (in all spaces, not just tech). Reading through the tweets on this hashtag is a great way to educate yourself.

2. There is no “one way” to be deaf and work in tech. There aren’t blanket rules or statements when it comes to being an a11y to a Deaf coworker. Because of this, companies and team members should be sure to ask the best way to work with a Deaf team member — and then actually do those things.

3. Design for accessibility. A lot of the times, products are released without being accessible to Deaf or hard of hearing users. Be sure to incorporate accessibility in the beginning stages of a design process — it shouldn’t be an afterthought.

4. Follow thought leaders. The panel was lead by KR Liu, Director, Accessibility & Advocacy- Doppler Labs. You should follow her on twitter, read her articles and also check out the work of the other panelists.

Startup Showcase

I arrived on Tuesday to help prepare the folks pitching in the startup showcase, and I was greeted with a group of people rapidly signing to one another. The group was from Veditz, a platform offering video chat tutoring for Deaf and hard of hearing students (as well as those wanting to learn sign language).

C/O Veditz

We’ve all seen press on how VC’s are slow to fund edtech, but Veditz was able to show its value proposition clearly.

Arlene Garcia Gunderson, Co-Founder and President, pitched in ASL, with her teammate Danny Gong translating.

Closed Captioning and ASL Interpreters

The Change Catalyst team also made sure to have closed captionning and ASL interpreters at every stage — going above and beyond ADA standards.