Ep 220 – Finding Accessible Workplace Technology

There is so much more to accessibility when it comes to technology selection and there are so many moving parts which is why having the right technology resources and familiarity in those systems and platforms important. We take for granted simple things like placement of apps, special shortcuts that we use on our phones and computers, and how to ensure our user experience is uniquely designed and customized for everyone but for individuals at the same time. 

Episode 220: How to Find and Select Accessible Workplace Technology with Gregg Vanderheiden (@RaisingTheFloor)

This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of our Future of Work series powered by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology. In honor of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act this July, we’re investigating what the next 30 years will look like for people with disabilities at work, and the potential of emerging technologies to make workplaces more inclusive and accessible. Today, I’m joined by Gregg Vanderheiden. 

Gregg Vanderheiden directs the Trace R&D Center at the University of Maryland and co-directs Raising the Floor, part of an international consortium of over 50 companies and organizations building the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII) with the goal of making all digital interfaces accessible. Gregg is recognized as a pioneer in computer access for people with disabilities and has worked in the field of technology and disability for just shy of 50 years. Many of the initial digital accessibility features for both Windows and MacOS came from his work with Apple and Microsoft. 

His work can be seen in a wide range of products including computers, phones, Automated Postal Stations, Amtrak ticket machines, and airport communication terminals. He has worked with over 50 companies and numerous government advisory & planning committees including FCC, NSF, NIH, GSA, NCD, Access Board and White House.

What is Assistive Technology and How Is It Used at Work?

Gregg walks us through some basics when it comes to important terms to help us set the stage. He explains that assistive technology is generally any technology that helps people who have disabilities overcome a barrier or something that’s holding them back because of their disability they’re experiencing. So much of Gregg’s work is tied to this area and I’m fascinated with how much his work and his team have influenced how we use technology today. For example, smartphone voice technology started as assistive technology, however, it’s something that you are using now and will continue to use more as your own comfort levels grows. I know that’s true for me.

Gregg provides us with a handful of other assistive technologies currently in the workplace including screen readers. He says that each person has a technology quotient. It’s TQ is a person’s natural ability with technology. Not everyone’s TQ is the same, and Gregg says that a person’s low TQ is keeping them from job opportunities not to mention excelling in their job right now. His work is focused on making technology accessible for everyone allowing them to create an experience that is customized to their unique needs and standardized across the technology they use every single day. He and his team are developing a technology to do just that called Morphic. Morphic is an extension of a computer’s operating system. It allows you the option if you need to use assistive technologies the set up is easy on any computer, and it’s a set up that allows you to take the same set up and experience to any computer completely customized to you.

I love this work because one of the challenges I think that we all experience regardless of our TQ is how foreign a new computer or similar technology can be making it easier and less stressful to use a computer and its features.

Gregg says that having technology like this makes it easier for employees of all levels and experiences including people with disabilities to use computers and technology everywhere including the workplace. Stress levels for employees are lower, productivity is greater, and they are able to hit the ground running quickly as a contributing member of the company and team.

The world is going to look so different than now. We've seen an escalation and an acceleration happening at the same time around, technologies and information technologies. - @raisingthefloor #podcast #accessibility #ada30 Click To Tweet


Providing employees a consistent system and technology platform is important. Employees need to feel comfortable with being able to access technology of all levels. I love the work that Gregg is doing and how he is thinking about accessibility for everyone. His background is impressive. I know that his work and his peers with Apple is one of the reasons that I love the ease of use and consistent experience I receive across apple products. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. My dashboard is consistent across devices as are my settings. I can’t wait to follow up with Gregg and hear how his work has continued to influence and change the future application and development of technology. As far as getting technology embedded in my head, this is a bold prediction. I’m trying to be open but I keep thinking it’s a sci-fi novel I’ve read somewhere. 

The future of work series in partnership with PEAT is one of my favorites. Thank you to PEAT as well as our podcast sponsor Workology.

Connect with Gregg Vanderheinen on LinkedIn.



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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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