People with disabilities are the largest minority group (more than 50 million people) in the United States, but it is the only one where anyone can become a member of it at any given time.
Considering the physical and mental challenges that those with disabilities face, thinking about other challenges life throws at them could seem insurmountable.
One of those challenges is technology, and a company called Accessibility Partners, LLC, is on a mission to help.
Founded by Dana Marlowe and two other partners, Accessibility Partners helps federal agencies and Fortune 500 companies make their hardware, software, websites and telecom products accessible for everyone.
TR: How did you get into this line of business?
Marlowe: Despite not having a family member or friend with disabilities, I’ve always had a passion for working with people that had disabilities. I’ve wanted to bridge the cultures between those that don’t have disabilities with those that do. I also have a love for technology and the two were a perfect match.
It’s very rewarding as we are able to hire with disabilities to assess the usability of products, because who better to know if a product is accessible than people with disabilities? I can go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning totally revved up and energized as I love what I do.
TR: What have you learned about yourself personally and professional throughout this journey?
Marlowe: Doing what I do really gives one a worldly view. I’ve learned professionally that there are attitudinal barriers that exist in the work place that continue to be a challenge for everyone — hiring managers, CIOs, product managers and everyone in between. People are still not as comfortable hiring and working with people that have disabilities. There are no laws to change people’s attitudes about people with disabilities, however, technology does level the playing field, with laws like Section 508. This is a key reason as to why we hire people with disabilities and we have a virtual office despite being ‘headquartered’ in Washington, D.C.
On a personal level, I’ve learned that you need patience. People without disabilities take everything for granted. For example, someone in a wheel chair goes through great lengths to fly to a destination. Those with disabilities just have more patience, mostly because of the challenges they face, and we can learn from that.
TR: What advice would you give other entrepreneurs based on your key learnings?
Marlowe: Be prepared to work long hours to follow your dream. Be willing to meet those end objectives. You have to put in the sweat equity and you have to realize that success does not come over night.
It also helps to network like a crazy person. You never know who you are going to meet. This is why social networking is a good tool to use. Additionally, use smart business practices. You need close family and friends to chat with and build a support group around. You need people to bounce ideas off of; point you in the right direction.