CSUN — This is Your Future


Brand new to ABILITY Jobs, I was honored and excited—okay shaken—to be invited to my first California State University, Northridge (CSUN) Conference in San Diego. It was also my first major crowd scene since my sensorineural hearing loss about seven years ago.

With a scant two days’ notice, I got pulled into the deep end of the assistive technology pool by ABILITY. Wide-eyed and a bit red-eyed from my flight from Washington, DC, to San Diego, I walked gingerly into the 28th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, commonly called CSUN. There, I found an abundance of inspiration.

Diverse groups of people with a range of abilities and disabilities teamed with excitement. We came from around the world, using whatever we needed, from service dogs, to assistive devices, to canes and electronics, in order to stay at the top of our game. We shared our experiences and visions for advancement.

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Corporate accessibility leaders from such companies such as Adobe, Comcast, Oracle and State Farm, demonstrated their latest innovations throughout the weeklong event. We were all invited to the groundbreaking of a new association dedicated to enhancing the accessibility profession; it aims to provide an international structure of support, which also includes collaboration and education. Ultimately, the aim is to increase opportunities for people with disabilities.

From the presenters, to the participants, to the person just breezing by—everyone had a story that was their gift to share.

Lily Bandak, a captivating woman who presented her vibrant view of the Arab world through photography, left a lasting impression. She captured the cultural essence, architecture and landscape from Bahrain to Egypt. She snaps her pictures as she rolls along in her wheelchair, doing what she loves and besting the effects of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Attendee Ray Grott, director of Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Project at San Francisco State University, has been attending CSUN for more than 20 years. His passions include developing assistive technologies to help people with disabilities adapt to work and life environments. He spoke movingly of his clients, including some with Usher syndrome, a disorder that affects both hearing and vision.

Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, IBM and Bank of America, to name a few, told similar corporate narratives about their commitment to employing people with disabilities.

Microsoft, for example, actively searches for talent for entry-level Internet technology (IT) positions as well as to test new technologies, says Cynthia Shelly, senior technology strategist. Kurt Mattes, a vice president at JP Morgan Chase, and Phill Jenkins, a representative on IBM’s US Access Board, were clearly driven to encourage people with disabilities to enter and grow in the field of IT.

Mattes pointed out that one of his top Web programmers “who can build a mobile app from the programming language code up” is blind. So is IBM’s Matt King, an IT engineer who beamed about his passion as a champion tandem cyclist, and how some people get nervous when he gets close to the edge of the track.

ABILITY Awareness brought international flavor to CSUN by displaying samplings of its future art exhibit, “From China, With Love.” The delicate poetry, painting and photography illustrate the immense talents of Chinese artists with various disabilities. The main 85-piece exhibition and auction will take place, for the first time in the US, later this year. This historic creative exchange will extend into 2014 when an exhibition featuring US artists with disabilities presents in China.

On a personal note, Mitchell Levy’s presentation for Hamilton CapTel (Captioned Telephone) was most memorable and useful to me. I was so enthralled to learn about this cell-phone captioning technology that I didn’t notice Levy had a sign-language interpreter assisting him until the Q&A session. CapTel technology was developed by Raketu Communications to create an easier phone experience by captioning complete phone conversations, both incoming and outgoing voices, on CapTel-equipped phones, computers and many smartphones. Devices and free services are also available through Sprint CapTel.

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I’m eager to use these services as I take ABILITY Jobs to the next level, connecting abundant talent with fantastic companies.

After CSUN, I couldn’t be more excited to help job seekers with disabilities move to their highest professional opportunities, while supporting companies as they meet their goals to employ the wealth of qualified individuals within this arena.

by Marge Plasmier

Articles in the Amy Brenneman Issue; Geri Jewell — Spring Into Action; Ashley Fiolek — Making the Move; Humor — A Tail of Two Kitties: CSUN — This is Your Future: Long Haul Paul — Riding the MS Trail: Tony Spineto — You Say Club Foot, I Say Marathon: DRLC — Federal Wellness Programs: Kendall Hollinger — Allergies on Ice: Charles Limb, MD — Jazzology & Your Brain: China — A Family’s Story of Strength: Scotty Enyart — PhD the Hard Way: Amy Brenneman — Chiming In: HE Fahed Bin Al Shaikh — Autism in the UAE: Caroline McGraw — Finding the Gifts in Everyonet; ABILITY’s Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences… subscribe

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