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As somebody who wears more hats than a milliner could ever produce, Dana Marlowe is the President of Accessibility Partners, but can really add business development, public relations, marketing, subject matter expert, and advocate to her vast headwear collection. Created in 2003 and expanded to an LLC partnership in 2009, Accessibility Partners has successfully completed projects for both industry and government clients and has worked extensively as an exclusive accessibility partner providing top level consulting and services. They help organizations improve their accessibility posture by providing distinctive and powerful solutions for their stakeholders.
She has served on numerous committees and performed national speaking engagements with agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission, Departments of Defense and Labor, Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase Advisory Board, National Organization of Disability, and Department of Homeland Security, as well as many other US federal agencies.
With over seventeen years dedicated in the accessibility industry, Dana is known for her stewardship in advocating for all aspects of disability rights.
Dana has also written several articles that have appeared in such diverse publications as CNN, ABC Good Money, CBS News, FOX News, The Chicago Tribune, Women’s Day Magazine, WebMD Magazine, Self Magazine, Glamour, Parents Magazine, American Baby Magazine, NFIB Magazine, Washington Technology Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine, and Professional Woman´s Magazine.
MO: What inspired you to base a company around providing access to technology for people with disabilities? Where does your passion for advocacy come from?
Dana: When I became a sign language interpreter in college, I saw the inequalities that individuals who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing had to face on a daily basis. At a university like the Rochester Institute of Technology, I knew there had to be some way to merge my sign language knowledge with modern technology. The equal rights for technology are so necessary in today’s business world but often neglected in mention in the media. Based on my experience in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, I saw that it is not always achievable.
When I learned that one in five people in the United States have a disability, I was shocked. Those numbers make people with disabilities the largest minority in our country. I think the fact that this is a minority group that anyone could join at any time really made me want to help. I wanted to level the playing field. My passion has placed me at the nexus where “disability advocacy converges with technology. It is my belief that people with disabilities should have full and equal access to all technology. Accessible IT leads to economic independence, educational advancement, access to hope, and full participation in society. That’s why I do what I do.
MO: Can you share with our readers the unusual way you get relief from the grind of delivering major proposals?
Dana: I have guilty pleasures just like everyone else. Sometimes, to shake off the rigorous requirements of proposals and business development, I have to branch out into something that is significantly less structured. I’ll catch up on trashy celebrity news from “Entertainment Weekly” to deprogram my brain from thinking “12 point, Times New Roman, single space”. One thing that is great about conducting business in the Washington D.C. area is the amazing restaurants. I’ll buy one of those online coupons for a new restaurant I’ve never tried, and enjoy an adventurous and always fun lunch.
Additionally, I’ll have moments of YouTube levity. I love discovering new Indie music videos during the week. I’ll search around on sites for new artists and songs that no one seems to have heard of. I pride myself on introducing new songs to my co-workers before they become popular on radio stations.
MO: What have been some of the challenges of breaking down the accessibility barrier? Do you get the impression that disability advocacy is starting to become more mainstream?
Dana: I’ve encountered a lot of attitudinal barriers regarding people with disabilities. Many of these stereotypes are unintentional, but they can still be hurtful. Often, people don’t know how to interact with someone who is Deaf or Blind, and as a result, will ignore them entirely. It saddens me when people with disabilities are thought of as less capable. The truth is, people with disabilities want to be treated like everyone else. Unfair assumptions, whether someone is overly helpful or purposefully unaccommodating, don’t help break that accessibility barrier.
Yet, I am optimistic about improved disability advocacy. The numbers that I quoted above don’t lie. Even though it’s not commonly thought of as a disability, age related impairments make up a huge portion of the disability demographic. It’s difficult for people to accept that they’re getting older. It’s even more difficult for people to accept that they have a disability. With the large population flux of baby boomers, I think everyone is going to have to be more tolerant and educated, whether they want to be or not. Disability advocacy is going to be more commonplace, but it is unfortunately going to be reactionary, instead of proactive.
MO: Can you share some innovative solutions that you’ve implemented in workplaces to make them more accessible and user friendly for employees with disabilities?
Dana: Like I said before about equal access for all technology users, that’s primarily what we do in workplaces. One of the biggest issues in office today is that people with disabilities are not able to use technology that is necessary for their jobs. Our company has tested hundreds of software, hardware, and web applications for accessibility. We try to make sure these products are compatible with items called assistive technology. Typically, these are screen readers, speech to text recognition software, ergonomic mice, and color contrast changers.
We’ve worked on levels from huge enterprise software applications to smaller websites. For instance, we audited a client’s job application website. Due to our efforts, people with disabilities were able to access the site and gain 100% of the information that a person without a disability would access. This means that people with disabilities now can apply for jobs they might not have been able to view before.
Also, we’ve provided disability training for some clients. It’s not one of our big service offerings, but I knowing that I’ve contributed to reshaping perceptions about people with disabilities in the workforce. It’s all about awareness for me, and equal access.
MO: What does your ideal client look like?
Dana: Attitude is everything. Often, when clients aren’t aware of the mandates for accessible technology, they get frustrated. I understand that it might seem onerous and expensive. My ideal client is a medium to large corporation or a state/federal government agency. They would be one that is willing to learn about the process and implement changes. It doesn’t have to be immediate but I do like enthusiasm. My ideal client is one that becomes proactive when they learn about accessibility. It’s not about 100% compliance right away, but the willingness to make an effort to always improve. They’d understand the importance of including people with disabilities as key users of their product or service, mar market to them. Also, this client would work with us to create a roadmap of future accessibility procedures. This way, thoughts become actions, and actions become standard operating procedures! That’s when I feel like I’ve done a good job with a receptive client.
MO: Can you share the advice that you heard from your step-father many years ago, that has served as the foundation for your business philosophy?
Dana: I feel like everyone has that special moment in life that they always remember. It serves as a point of inspiration. For me, I like to go back to advice I heard from my step-father many years ago. As he says, it’s simple, just two words, but can be applied to so many of the business decisions that were occurring at the beginning and still today. His words to me were never forget that “Everything counts.” It’s general advice that I can now remember when dealing with large new prospective clients or my co-workers. Each person carries a value that can’t be ignored to the success of the company. Needless to say, my step-father’s advice has helped and continues to help me out a ton.
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