Telework: The Accommodation that Opens New Doors to People with Disabilities

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Organizations around the world are employing remote workers for services such as customer support, software development, writing, design and media. But there still remains a stigma for people with office jobs who request the option to work from home.

Today’s news of telework features headlines about men utilizing the privilege more than women, questions about telework practices at the USPTO, and tactics on how to convince your boss that it’s a good idea. These articles tend to focus on workers and managers who have choices about exactly where and when they can get to an office. But they overlook a potentially valuable source of labor – people with disabilities – who can use new technologies to communicate, attend meetings and interact within office settings. While these people may find their conditions restrict their physical movement, technologies can connect them to professional settings, freeing them to contribute.

Technology’s Role in Advancing the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990 to grant people with disabilities “the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in mainstream American life – to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.” This year marks the ADA’s 25th anniversary, an occasion that included an event at The White House in July 2015.

Even as the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities to work effectively, many people with severe physical limitations cannot enjoy the fulfillment that work provides. There have been many advances, from motorized wheelchairs to speech generating apps that help people move and communicate. What if technology could push those boundaries even further, to open up even more possibilities?

The examples of two remarkable people, Henry Evans and Kavita Krishnaswamy, demonstrate the power of technology to lower barriers, cultivate connections and bring to life the potential of people whose intelligence illuminates what they can do, rather than what they cannot.

Seeing and Hearing Henry as an Equal

Henry Evans of Los Altos, Calif., is a Stanford MBA with experience working at Silicon Valley tech companies until a stroke-like event struck him at forty years old. Henry is now mute, quadriplegic, and is cared for by his family at home. He often explains that, for an important percentage of the disabled population, leaving home and traveling (even to an ADA compliant building) is often unsafe, inconvenient, or impossible. To extend his own personal experiences beyond his home, Henry started a program called Robots4Humanity to test new technologies and raise awareness about their potential to bring new capabilities to the disabled community. In his TEDx talk, which Henry presented using a Beam Smart Presence System from Suitable Technologies, he describes his elation to feel equal with his friends once again:

“The primary reason Smart Presence is so important for disabled people is that, if you can speak, no one has to know you are disabled and they don’t have a chance to treat you differently (even subconsciously). This is even more so the case when a lot of able-bodied people also use Smart Presence devices. These devices, which show only your head, create for the first time a truly level playing field for people with physical disabilities.”Henry Evans

Henry hopes the technologies that enable telework, like telepresence, give employers additional tools to maximize the productivity of a person with a disability – as well as the incentive to find tasks suitable for those individuals. They provide both parties – worker and organization – the opportunity to optimize a person’s net contribution. In Henry’s view, this can only encourage employers to proactively target people with disabilities for employment. And he’s not alone in his belief, gained through experience, that these technologies can make a life-changing – and work-enabling – impact.

A Catalyst for Kavita’s Doctoral Thesis

Kavita Krishnaswamy, who lives with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), has never walked or crawled. Though she relies on 24/7 care in her Maryland home, Kavita is a Computer Science doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and her research goals include increasing independence for people with disabilities using machine learning, artificial intelligence, brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), telepresence, speech recognition, and other robotic technologies to improve quality of life.

Kavita requires physical assistance from her mother, Pushpa Krishnaswamy, and other caregivers. She was able to physically go to campus in her undergraduate years, with her mother in attendance for each class, but at home her mother cares for the whole family and struggles to both fund and find reliable caregivers who can work around the clock. Kavita has been unable to leave her home in recent days, leaving her only with a laptop computer as means to participate in her world.

Despite these difficult circumstances, and with her mother’s help and dedication, Kavita has managed to work at IBM, Silver Hill Technology, Knexus Research, and the Quality of Life Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. The key accommodations that helped her to effectively fulfill her responsibilities were the ability to telecommute, have a flexible schedule, and utilize highly collaborative tools such as video calling, distributed revision control systems, chat messengers, and email.

Recently, Kavita has been using Beam Smart Presence on the UMBC campus to attend class and defend her thesis. The Beam provides her the face-to-face interaction and ambulation needed to attend events talks, seminars, and conferences in cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Barcelona. (She has even attended museum exhibits.) The telepresence capability empowers her to contribute her skills and experience to a variety of organizations:

“The Beam gives me independence to be visible in the community to explore and expand technological boundaries from my home; to exchange ideas with high-achieving entrepreneurs, innovative researchers, and industry leaders to make progress in my research. The Beam bridges the physical gaps between my home and any other location in the world in an immersive real-time experience to meet, learn, and network with professionals all over the world. I can best contribute to the human capacity to achieve the highest potential in the field of computing with assistive technologies society to develop robotic technologies to make life better and inclusive for all. Together, we can change the world with increased accessibility.”Kavita Krishnaswamy

A Life-Changing Impact

By deploying collaborative technology and telepresence, Henry and Kavita are realizing opportunities to act upon their passions. Both bestow the hope that everyone with a disability can contribute their knowledge and skills to more employers.

As Internet-based technologies continue to redefine where work happens, Kavita and Henry will continue to encourage people who live with disability to use technology for expanding their interactions with the world, so that new doors may open to them, and so they can achieve career advancement with meaningful employment and independence.

Contributors:
Henry Evans (Robots4Humanity)
Kavita Krishnaswamy (UMBC Computer Science)
Erin Rapacki (Director of Marketing, Suitable Technologies, Inc.)

Suitable Technologies Launches Cultural Arts Partnership Program

After a year of successful pilot programs utilizing the Beam® Smart Presence System (SPS) at several US museums and cultural sites, including the de Young Museum and Detroit Institute of Arts, Suitable Technologies is pleased to announce the launch of the Museum Partnership Program. Participating museums and cultural sites will receive a BeamPro™ SPS to grant visitor access to people who are physically unable to travel. From anywhere in the world, a user may “beam” into participating museums to view galleries and experience museums firsthand from the comfort of his or her home computer.

Museums who participate in the partnership program will receive BeamPro SPS with assisted driving, charging dock, unlimited software licenses, and an annual service package that includes ongoing maintenance and program support for remote visitors who are physically unable to visit the site. A Beam user, the person who utilizes the BeamPro SPS to visit the museum remotely, downloads the Beam application onto his or her webcam-enabled personal computer at no additional cost.

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“With the Beam, I gain freedom and physical motion that provides me real-time interactivity in the world” shared Beam user Kavita Krishnaswamy. “Although I am unable to visit many museums in-person due to my severe physical disability, the opportunity to attend and interact remotely is an incredible experience.”

As highlighted in the July/August 2015 issue of Museum Magazine, the BeamPro SPS is one of the exciting new technologies being implemented by museums and cultural sites to provide better access to visitors with physical disabilities. BeamPro embodies the user with an authentic presence and immerses the user with reliable low latency audio and video for natural communication and control. BeamPro can be used by anyone, in any ADA compliant environment, through use of a valid WiFi connection.

To find out more about this new outreach program and schedule a BeamPro test drive, please contact:

Christa Cliver
Director of Education & Museum
+1.206.369.7786
ccliver@suitabletech.com

About Suitable Technologies™
Suitable Technologies grants shared experiences between friends, students, teams and guests by transporting a person’s presence to any place of interest. The Beam™ SPS (Smart Presence System), which includes products BeamPro and Beam+, is a telepresence solution that combines mobility and video conferencing for an immersive communication experience everywhere conversations take place. Beam enables people to be there, and to interact naturally by seeing and being seen, hearing and being heard, and the freedom to move about, from anywhere in the world. Founded in 2011, Suitable Technologies products are designed and manufactured at its headquarters in Palo Alto, CA. Follow @suitabletech, like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, or elevate your communication at https://www.suitabletech.com.

All trademarks contained herein are the property of their respective owners.

SUITABLE TECHNOLOGIES CONTACT
Erin Rapacki                                                             Brianna Lempesis
Director of Marketing                                              Media Manager
+1.650.687.7193                                                      +1.925.336.4826
erin@suitabletech.com                                            blempesis@suitabletech.com

President Obama greets Alice Wong via Beam during the ADA’s 25th Anniversary

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President Barack Obama greets Alice Wong, Disability Visibility Project Founder and Project Coordinator via BeamPro during the Americans with Disabilities Act 25th Anniversary reception in the Blue Room of the White House, July 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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From Storify: #ADA25 at the @WhiteHouse
“On July 20, 2015, President Obama spoke in the East Room of the White House about the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many members of the disability community attended the event including Alice Wong, Founder and Project Coordinator of the Disability Visibility Project. Alice attended the event remotely using BeamPro, a telepresence robot that allows a person to stream live with a webcam and move around simply by clicking the arrows on a laptop’s keyboard. Apparently, Alice was the first person to use this type of device in the White House.” – Alice Wong

VIDEO: President Obama Celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the ADA

Museums Adopt Technology to Give Guests with Physical Disabilities the Opportunity to Tour Art Exhibits with BeamPro

In the first program of its kind, Suitable Technologies has partnered with various museums to bring self-guided tours to individuals who are physically unable to travel to various museum across the country. From anywhere in the world, users can “beam in” to participating museums thanks to Suitable Technologies’ BeamPro: a technology that combines mobility and video conferencing to enable users to move about, speak, see and interact with friends and family – regardless of their location. Visitors will be immersed in a self-guided exploration of the exhibits, allowing them to view galleries and experience the museums firsthand from the comfort of their desktop or laptop.

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Watch CBS Sunday Morning “Robots open up the world of art”

Self-guided, remote access museum experiences open a world of possibilities. Individuals with physical disabilities and seniors who are limited in their ability to explore can now visit their favorite works of art, artists and museum collections. This is not the first time Suitable Technologies has been recognized helping the disabled community. Click here to see Henry Evans, a mute quadriplegic, use the Beam to visit the de Young Museum in San Francisco and here to see Kavita Krishnaswamy present her thesis on robotic aids using BeamPro.

Museums in the Beam accessibility pilot project include the Fine Arts of San Francisco, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Computer History Museum and the Seattle Art Museum and the National Music Museum.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (http://www.famsf.org/) is comprised of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and theLegion of Honor in Lincoln Park; it is the largest public arts institution in the City of San Francisco and one of the largest art museums in the United States. Request Beam access and sign up online.

The Detroit Institute of Arts (http://www.dia.org/), beam in to experience Diego Rivera’s fresco style mural titled Detroit Industry, considered the finest example of Mexican mural art in the United States, and the artist thought it the best work of his career.

The Computer History Museum (http://www.computerhistory.org/), beam in to explore the history of computing and its ongoing impact on society. The Computer History Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computer history and is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world.

The Seattle Art Museum (http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/) has been the center for world-class visual arts in the Pacific Northwest since 1933. Beam into the Northwest Coast Gallery to view paintings, sculpture and works on paper from artists of the Pacific Northwest.

The National Music Museum (http://orgs.usd.edu/nmm/) is one of the great institutions of its kind in the world. Its renowned collections, which include more than 15,000 American, European, and non-Western instruments from virtually all cultures and historical periods.

“Suitable Technologies is delighted to offer people with disabilities the opportunity to experience museums and cultural sites that were previously inaccessible,” said Scott Hassan, CEO of Suitable Technologies. “Not only does this program allow us to support our mission to give people all over the world broader access to technology, it also solidifies our commitment to furthering tele-tourism both locally and globally.”

The program received short-term testing at CES 2015 this January, where attendees were invited to beam into the museums from the conference show floor.
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BeamPro embodies the user with an authentic presence and immerses the user with reliable low-latency audio and video for natural communication and control. BeamPro can be used by anyone, anywhere, so long as there is a Wi-Fi connection. Inquiries for BeamPro can be made by contacting Suitable Technologies.

If you would like to schedule a time to visit the Museum or participate in a Beam guided tour, please contact one of the following contacts:

MEDIA CONTACTS//
Amanda Taggart Hughes
Mercury Global Partners for Suitable Technologies
amanda@mercuryglobalpartners.com
+1-310.980.9587

SUITABLE TECHNOLOGY CONTACT//
Christa Cliver
Director of Museum Business Development
ccliver@suitabletech.com
+1-206-369-7786

SXSW Session: With Beam, People with Disabilities Can “Be There” Too

You voted and we made the cut. On March 16th, we’ll be presenting at SXSW and we’d love for you to join us.

Join Erin Rapacki (of Suitable Technologies), Henry Evans and Kavita Krishnaswamy as they answer the question “How can the digital world help people with disabilities lead more fulfilling lives?” Henry and Kavita will beam in from their respective homes in California and Maryland to present their case for assistive technologies. Read on to find out more.

Who is Henry Evans?
Henry Evans, a home-bound and mute quadriplegic, uses the company’s BeamPro to “walk again.” Henry is a huge proponent of #assistivetechnologies and was recently featured on CBS Sunday Morning News using the #BeamPro to tour museums around the US. Watch it here.

Who is Kavita Krishnaswamy?
Kavita uses BeamPro to reduce the physical limits of her spinal muscular atrophy. Kavita has been beaming into conferences and events – most recently having used the technology to beam in at Mobile World Congress and the CES Lifelong Tech Summit. Watch here as she defends her thesis at the University of Maryland via Beam.


What are the details?

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Session: People with Disabilities Can “Be There” Too
Monday, March 16
11:00AM – 12:00PM
Austin Convention Center
Room 12AB