Watching Vint Cerf at Google Cloud Nextthis week discuss the impact of technology on the more than 1 billion people with disabilities was inspiring and reassuring. He talked about why building accessible products matters to him on a personal level, which reminded me of why I joined Google seven years ago, and why I’m still here today.
I have two siblings with schizophrenia, a half-brother with autism spectrum disorder and my wife teaches adapted physical education to kids with special needs. I am also a cancer survivor. In summary, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a frequent dinner topic in my family!
People with disabilities are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes such as less education, poorer health outcomes, lower levels of employment, and higher poverty rates. And post-COVID the picture gets worse. Technology can help improve lives and offer support during a crisis, but only if accessibility and inclusion are core to product design from the outset. To push forward in these areas, it’s important to have leaders who champion DEI and do the work to change structures and systems in the workplace that don’t work for everyone. Vint Cerf is a leader who’s paving the way.
Dr. Cerf, whose official title is VP & Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, is best known for his pioneering work developing TCP/IP, earning him the title “Father of the Internet.” But, characteristically humble, Dr. Cerf resists talking about these achievements and is much more inclined to focus on his advocacy work around accessibility for Google products and services.
Vint Cerf (right) with Jon Postel and Steve Crocker in 1994. The three were part of the team working on the ARPAnet, which eventually became today’s Internet.
In an inspiring conversation with Jim Hogan, a leader of Google’s Disability Alliance and a neurodiversity advocate, the two discussed what it took for each of them to be persuaded to take a stand and advocate for others with disabilities. Hogan, who is autistic, was bullied for decades of his career before joining Google and finding a culture that he said embraced who he was. Dr. Cerf said it wasn’t until he got into more senior positions and felt more comfortable with his disability (he has been hearing impaired since childhood) that he felt able to discuss it openly. He was persuaded to take a stand by others, he said, stressing the importance of allyship.
They also shared the importance of considering accessibility early in the product design process. Hogan said it can be the simplest things in product design that make all the difference. He finds the “raise hand” feature in Google Meet really helpful for chiming in during a busy meeting with a lot of people; and he loves the suggested text feature in Gmail, which gives ideal greetings and responses. “That kind of innovation is a life-changer for people with disabilities,” he said. Dr. Cerf has worn hearing implants from the age of thirteen and said his need for clear communication was part of what drove him to help create email.
Diversity, equity and inclusion sessions at Google Cloud Next 2021
I was fired up to see a number of DEI sessions on the schedule at Google Cloud Next because they help build awareness. Awareness leads to acceptance, acceptance leads to inclusion and inclusion leads to a sense of belonging, which is something we all need as human beings. Here’s the lineup:
Developing for accessibility, a conversation with Vint Cerf, VP & Chief Internet Evangelist at Google and Jim Hogan, the Principal Innovation Strategist, Healthcare & Life Sciences, a leader of Google’s Disability Alliance community, and a neurodiversity advocate.
Democratizing STEM access, a conversation with Melanie Parker, VP & Chief Diversity Officer at Google, on the critical role of allyship.
Building spaces for belonging for the LGBTQ community, a conversation with Alex Owens VP, Global Head of People Data Centres (PDC’s) & Chair of Unilever’s LGBTQ+ network, and Susan Betts, Head of Brand Strategy at Google, who share their learnings and experiences about how to accelerate inclusion for the LGBTQ community in the workplace.
Building a diverse workforce, a session in which Accenture leaders share how they build psychological safety into their organizations, bringing out the best in people.
All of this content is available on-demand to watch when it suits your schedule. I am grateful that Google allowed me to contribute and be part of this important work, and I’m excited to see what we can achieve next.
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