ALF (Accessible Life Form) waiting to perform The White House Old Executive Office Building.

ALF Goes to the White House

Telepresence Robot Supports Disability in the Media Event

ALF, or Accessible Life Form, is a telepresence robot that resides at the USDA TARGET Center. The TARGET Center evaluates, demonstrates, and recommends accessible technology that improves the employment experience of individuals with disabilities. ALF was added to the devices in the TARGET Center to increase access to USDA employees that live outside of the National Capital Region. The below picture shows ALF inside Department of Agriculture, that’s Independence Ave behind him.

Picture of ALF inside its home, the USDA TARGET Center in Washington, DC

ALF took his first trip in November and we wanted to share his remarkable story.

Prelude

ALF doesn’t get out much. The TARGET Center’s remote presence robot usually stays inside the USDA Headquarters in Washington, DC. However, when the National Disability Mentoring Coalition needed a way to beam in filmmakers and actors from across the country to participate in the Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 Disability in Media Summit at the White House, ALF answered the call.

Before the big day, ALF proved its worth — and ease of use — to Hollywood luminaries who would be joining the event remotely due to last minute production schedule changes, or an inability to travel. Participants connected to ALF using a laptop, web browser, and video camera and were “driving” around the TARGET Center as confident users within minutes. With these successful test results, ALF was approved for its first visit to the Old Executive Office Building for White House Forum on Disability Narratives in Media.

The Journey to Pennsylvania Avenue

ALF waiting outside of USDA Headquarters with Paul Lloyd

As a resident of the District of Columbia, ALF has several options to travel to the White House. Would Metro Safetrack be reliable? Would Uber have an accessible vehicle? Luckily for ALF, Derek from the National Disability Mentoring Coalition was willing to provide door-to-door service. ALF and Paul (the TARGET Center’s Education Program Manager) ‘hopped’ into Derek’s car and headed to a parking garage near the Old Executive Office Building. Paul and Derek knew that it would be an interesting day as soon as they left the garage as already ALF was getting noticed by pedestrians. “What is that … is that a robot?” Derek and Paul decided to introduce ALF to a time-honored tradition, pre-event coffee at Starbucks. ALF prepped for his big day, checked emails and generated a lot of discussion among other coffee (or robot) enthusiasts.

ALF at Starbucks before the event.

The team headed over a few blocks to the Old Executive Office Building where they met the rest of the event organizers who were excited for ALF’s participation. Just like everyone else, the Robot had to go through security and be scanned before gaining admittance. We now know what a robot looks like in an X-Ray. Even the Secret Service agent was impressed: “Never seen one those before.”

Inside the Old Executive Office Building, the sleek, modern robot was quite the contrast with the marble wall panels and tiled floors. ALF patiently waited outside the meeting room for its time.

Showtime

Once given access to the Summit room and the WiFi, ALF was ready for its close-up. Danny Woodburn, an actor, comedian, co-chair of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) Committee of Performers with Disabilities, and co-author of the Ruderman Foundation White Paper on Disability in Television, was thrilled to be the first telepresence speaker during the opening panel, Disability Narrative Imperative: Images & Employment in Front of the Camera. After connecting on the side of the room, Danny was able to drive the height-adjustable robot and join the moderator, Anita Hollander, the Performers with Disabilities Committee National Chair, SAG-AFTRA, and Jd Michels, Executive Vice President of Diversity & Creative Engineering, BBDO New York, a disability-savy global advertising agency. Watch and listen to a short video of Anita’s introduction of Danny!

Danny Woodburn, via ALF.

Danny opened by sharing that it was “my first time in the White House and I am not wearing any pants.” His voice, humor, and video of his facial expressions came through clearly to the audience. Laughter erupted, and the event was underway.

ALF was able to be the vehicle for Danny to deliver a remote but very important message on behalf of the Ruderman Family Foundation. As a member of the Ruderman International Council on Disability and Co-Author of the 2016 Ruderman White Paper on Employment of actors with disabilities in television, Danny emphasized that 95% of television characters with disabilities are portrayed by non-disabled actors. He called for change in the underrepresentation of people with disabilities in all front of and behind the camera.

“According to the Ruderman Foundation White Paper, 95% of television characters with disabilities are portrayed by non-disabled actors.”
Scott Silveri, via ALF.

Later, Scott Silveri, Creator and Executive Producer of ABC’s ground-breaking sitcom Speechless, joined the event from his Los Angeles office and enjoyed a face-to-face encounter with Sandra, a fan and aspiring media professional. Talking to Scott through ALF, she asked how he came up with the idea for the show. Scott responded that he grew up with a brother with Cerebral Palsy, and he wanted to share a story about how his family — all families in fact — sometimes get things right and sometimes get things wrong. Sandra, who has mild Cerebral Palsy, was elated she has the opportunity to ask Scott a question and attend the Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 Cal-to-Action Summit.

Already a superstar by this point, ALF was not done yet. The robot would facilitate communication between Anita and Scott discussing his history with disability and the importance of inclusion in his own show. A unique experience for all involved, ALF was clearly a vehicle for remote participation that made the event come to life.

Afterwards, Scott shared his thoughts on ALF:

“Thanks so much. It was a blast — thank you for allowing me to participate with the use of future magic!”

Finally, ALF concluded its day by allowing Dominick Evans, Film Director, Co-Lead of DiBeat’s Media Portrayls Content Network, and host of the #FilmDis Twitter Chat, to participate in one-on-one mentoring sessions.

(L to R) Tari Hartman Squire, EIN SOF Communications and Producer of Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0, Dominick Evans (via ALF), Film Director, DisBeat, and #FIlmDis Twitter Chat Leader, and Beth Haller, Graduate Director of the Communication Management Master’s Program at Towson University

As and individual with a disability, Dominick was unable to travel to the event so ALF was his accommodation. By providing access for Dominick to the event, the aspiring media professionals with disabilities were able to meet with him for resume reviews, speed interviews and flash mentoring.

(L to R) Maria Town, Disability Community Liaison for the Office of Public Engagement at the White House, ALF and Paul Lloyd, USDA TARGET Center Education Program Manager.

Finally, as the event was coming to a close, ALF had his great moment and posed for a picture with Maria Town, the Disability Community Liaison from White House Office of Public Engagement. ALF thanked Maria for her outstanding and tireless work to increase opportunities and inclusion for people with disabilities in media and in the community in general.

Postlude

ALF was such a rock star at the event, it was invited back to The White House for the next Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 Disability in Media Summit on December 12, 2016. Stay tuned for more adventures from ALF and friends!

Featured Technology: Double Robotics — Double 2 Telepresence Robot. As ALF’s parents @DoubleRobotics put it: “Telepresence robots takes everything you love about video calls and put that on a mobile base that puts the remote worker in control. Your robot is always on, ready to take you anywhere you need to go.” This device is extremely portable and works with your existing iPad.


About ALF and the USDA TARGET Center: Want to follow ALF on more adventures with the USDA TARGET Center? Subscribe to the USDA TARGET Center YouTube Channel and follow @usdatarget on Twitter. USDA established the TARGET Center in 1992 to improve accessibility and contribute to the complete employment experience of individuals with disabilities. Today, the TARGET Center is an integrative center for disability-related activities that enhances the Department’s employer of choice capability for individuals with disabilities.


About Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 (LCA2.0): The LCA2.0 Initiative has three objectives: 1) Increase employment of professionals with disabilities in front of and behind the camera (and keyboard) in TV, film, advertising, news, theatre and interactive delivery platforms; 2) improve disability portrayals; and 3) enhance access to media with captions and audio descriptions. LCA2.0 is creating co-branded internships, scholarships and apprenticeships to support the next generation of media professionals with disabilities

LCA2.0 Partners include EIN SOF Communications, Loreen Arbus Foundation, NY Women in Film and Television, National Disability Mentoring Coalition, PolicyWorks, DisBeat, Deaf Film Camp, Inclusion Film Camp, SIGNmation, City University of NY, CUNY LEADS, Gallaudet University, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and Westside Center for Independent Living. For more information, visit www.EINSOFcommunications.com and follow @EINSOFcomm #LCA2 on Twitter.


The mission of the National Disability Mentoring Coalition (NDMC) is to increase the awareness, quality, and impact of mentoring for individuals with disabilities across the nation.

Member organizations share core values and align with the Coalition’s initiatives to streamline communication, standardize and systematize data collection, reduce duplication of efforts, increase mentoring opportunities, and improve outcomes for youth and adults with disabilities.

The Coalition integrates mentoring into its own operational model to transfer historical knowledge, incorporate reverse mentoring to generate innovation, and develop new opportunities for individuals with disabilities across their lifespan.

Learn more about the National Disability Mentoring Coalition and our nearly 40 Members working together to provide more mentoring experiences for youth and adults with disabilities across the nation.


About the Authors: Derek Shields and Paul Lloyd are disability and accessibility services consultants. Derek is Co-Chair of the National Disability Mentoring Coalition (among other things) and Paul Lloyd is the USDA TARGET Center Education Program Manager and ALF’s guardian (among other things). Follow Derek Shields and Paul Lloyd on Twitter.


This #DisabilityMentors publication is a space for individuals to share stories and testimonials to elevate the importance of establishing a national disability mentoring policy and increase funding to enable more mentors to raise expectations, build confidence and positively impact youth and adults with disabilities.