Modeling Inclusion

Modeling Inclusion

This company hires people with disabilities, and helps others do the same.

This company hires people with disabilities, and helps others do the same.

Accessibility Partners, a consulting service that works with government agencies, nonprofits and Fortune 500 companies, practices what they preach. Since its founding in 2009, the company has hired a team of employees and consultants with a range of disabilities including blindness, low vision, deafness, difficulty hearing and psychological disabilities. Some have multiple disabilities.

A critical piece of Accessibility Partners’ success is the way that the company models both the value of hiring people with disabilities and the use of technology to support those employees.

“Through our hiring practices, we’ve translated our success to our clients,” said CEO Dana Marlowe, who co-founded the company with Travis Roth. Because Accessibility Partners’ engineers use assistive technology themselves, they approach the technology that they evaluate with first-hand experience.

“Technology has the potential to be an equalizer for the 50 million people in the United States who are living with disabilities,” she said.

For example, nonvisual desktop access programs — which enable a computer to read text on a screen out loud or convert it into braille on a “braille display” device — offer people who are blind or have low vision a chance to search for and apply to jobs online, just like anyone else. Screen captioning programs allow people who are deaf or hard of hearing to participate along with their co-workers in corporate trainings and seminars.

“Accessibility Partners is a unique office with unique employees with disabilities. With an unconventional model of bringing my own tech to work, I make a workplace solution that works for me. And I have their support every step of the way,” Ryan Praeuner said.

Marlowe emphasizes that her company’s success in integrating employees who have disabilities is in creating supports — something that she encourages the companies she consults with to put in place. And supports for employees with disabilities don’t have to be expensive. For example, one of the most effective accommodations that Accessibility Partners has is a liberal telework policy that allows employees who struggle with transportation issues to be most productive. They also have a “bring your own device” policy that reimburses employees and consultants for purchasing the tablet, computer, or phone that works best with other supportive devices they need.

“It’s unfair and impractical to assume a one-size-fits-all mentality with technology,” she said. “Our staff knows their abilities and situation better than anyone. Plus, money isn’t wasted buying a one-size technology that won’t work for them in the first place.”

Ultimately, Accessibility Partners focuses on the unique abilities, not the challenges, of the people they hire. Of their team of 12 employees and consultants, 10 identify as having a disability.

Marlowe acknowledges both the exceptional talents and the exceptional loyalty of the people she works with.

“Every day, I know that Accessibility Partners values my contributions. They’ve enabled a workplace that fits my situation and my schedule and my life. After a few years with Accessibility Partners, I know that my hard work fits into their unique business model,” employee Sharon Rosenblatt said.