AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat Podcast with Meryl Evans, author, professional speaker, and accessibility marketing consultant who was born profoundly deaf.

June 24, 2022 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken talk with Meryl Evans
AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat Podcast with Meryl Evans, author, professional speaker, and accessibility marketing consultant who was born profoundly deaf.
Show Notes Transcript

 Meryl Evans, CPACC (she / her / deaf) is an author, professional speaker, and accessibility marketing consultant with over 20 years of experience who happens to be born hearing-free aka profoundly deaf. She’s an accessibility marketing consultant who helps her clients in different industries with their projects to achieve their marketing and accessibility goals.


Meryl is a highly sought and regarded speaker on accessibility and inclusion with a focus on people with disabilities and accessible communication. She has spoken at TEDx, AccessU, ID24, Content Marketing World, axe-con, PCMA Convening Leaders, and many companies’ internal events. She’s a member of the core research team at XR Access and a group member of the W3C Immersive Captions Community. She’s also the co-host of A11yNYC and A11yVR, meetups that explore different aspects of accessibility. You can follow her on social media for content related to accessibility. 

This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. It is not a commercial transcript and will need to be checked if you wish to publish it. Hello and welcome to Axschat. No Antonio today. He is in the air and making his way back from another conference, but we have got Debra and we have got Meryl Evans and Meryl, it's great to have you with us and we see you all over social media. You have been part of our online community for a long time and also we share someone in common because your husband works for the same company. Thank you. And he has chosen to be an accessibility champion so we will leave him be for now but, Meryl, tell us or tell our audience about yourself and how you came to be working in accessibility and doing your advocacy work.

MERYL:

Sure. This is Meryl speaking. So, I have Corey here and I am wearing glasses that are reflecting the screens in front of me because there is just no messing with things to hide the screen. And I am wearing a black shirt, you can't see what it says but it says "progress over perfection" with the O having the accessibility icon that is my mantra these days. So, many people say, Oh nothing when it comes to accessibility, so this should this message is about getting started, small steps celebrating every step, rather than trying to go through everything when you try to tell people to do everything they get analysis paralysis, they freeze so like I don't know where to start. So that's why progress over perfection is so important. I am an accessibility consultant and professional speaker; I often speak about diversity and equity and inclusion with the focus on people with disabilities and accessibility. Because so many DEI programmes overlook people with disabilities, they mostly focus on visual equity and I support that wholeheartedly and some do have LGBT Q + and I support that as well of course, but a lot of them don't think about people with disabilities and we need to change that. Because there are so many people out there that have so much talent and a lot to offer companies that they need to bring them in and make them part of the processes. And I have been speaking at a lot of events. Most recently I did a Ted X talk and the video is not available yet but hopefully soon.

NEIL:

Yes, and you have been doing online marketing just generally, as online marketer and you've turned those online marketing skills towards disability advocacy and now you work with one of our former accessibility multiple time guests Thomas Logan. So I know you have been doing work with Thomas, erm, you know, so he's very well known, has been doing a lot of good work. So, how did you decide to make the switch from doing online marketing to utilising those skills to decide this is what I want to do, I want to make a difference and make it my job?

MERYL:

It goes back to 2019. That was the tipping point. So in 2018/2019 I started, this is Meryl speaking by the way, I started making videos about captioning, about high quality accessible captioning, how to do it and how to do it well. And those videos caught the attention of Nobility(?), which is a nonprofit accessibility organisation in my home State of Texas, and I am from Fresno Texas by the way, and Nobility, which is awesome about 3 and a half hours from where I am and by the way you can drive in Texas for ten hours and still be in Texas. That's how big it is!

DEBRA:

Wow!

MERYL:

Anyway, so they invited me to do a presentation on captions and that was my and it's an accessibility conference so it was my very first accessibility conference and while I was there I met a few people and I was amazed I felt at home, I felt like I found the people and I was like, I wanted to do this I want to be in accessibility somehow and I am not sure how but I want to be in it. So, I went home and I just kept it in the back of my mind while I kept on looking, doing online marketing, as you said Neil, and then I got invited to speak at another event because someone found me at nobility conference and I kept getting more and more invitations; it was a domino effect and you mentioned Thomas Logan and he has been on LinkedIn, he saw my posts on LinkedIn and started paying attention and it was because of writing that he brought me on board so I was, like, this works perfectly and I am using my marketing skills and I am using it in the accessibility company and that was perfect, it was the perfect merge from marketing into accessibility. And so Thomas and I have been working for a while and then another accessibility related company also brought me on, technically I am a freelancer, so I am not fulltime with anyone. That's why multiple companies but I am not competitor, I always make sure of that so I kept writing and I kept on speaking and I got amazing speaking engagements and I did 24, content marketing work and able to bring the accessibility message to a nonaccessibility related conference a few of them and I am trying to reach people in conferences that are not related to accessibility because they need to hear the message more than anybody else. Anyway, so, eventually I decided I wanted to study for the IWAP qualification, don't ask me to figure out what that stands for. Always it's quite a mouthful but the certification I got is DPACC, basically I am certified in professional accessibility.... so the reason I did that is because first of all I am passionate about it. I am not just passionate about accessibility for deaf people, I am passionate about accessibility for everybody and, besides, accessibility is for everyone. Not just people with disabilities, because there are so many situations and opportunities that cause someone who may not have a disability to end up using something for accessibility. So, I am looking at my phone I step outside, all of a sudden I can't see anything on my phone. It's black. And I need to adjust the lighting to be able to see it. So little things like that happen every single day. All of us are affected by cognitive impairment, a lot of us get hit, it's not just for people with disabilities but also things that cause those impairments; for example, when I went traveling to California recently I slept 2, 3, 4 hours two nights, which is unlike me. You can bet my cognitive function was not at its best. So, the last thing I need to be doing is reading complicated articles and papers because I would not be able to comprehend it. So, cognitive impairment happens every day when you don't sleep well when you are stressed out and when you don't eat or take care of yourself. So, it can happen to anyone, which is why our content should be written in plain English. Even the most educated people want content in plain English and a study that shows the more educated someone is, the more the greater for plain English so not just for people with cognitive disabilities. It's for everyone.

DEBRA:

Meryl, I met you a long time before 2019 and you have been coming in and out of the Axschat conversations and really I loved what you just said about plain language because that's really what you were focused on and I know that you were going back and forth and so even though you weren't in the field, it felt like you were part of the field. So I am really glad that you really stepped into the field and we of course do know nobility; we have had them on Axschat multiple times and we love them and we have been doing Axschat I think 11 years, is it 11 years? I did get it right?

NEIL:

No, no, but we have been going we are in we have done.

DEBRA:

Yes, before you correct me, make sure I am

NEIL:

Yes, no, I remember it was when I moved to the south coast we started, so we are in our 8th year.

DEBRA:

8th year, boy! I have been saying that wrong. I have got us at 50 years we have been going, sorry.

NEIL:

Yes, I might have aged that much in that time!

DEBRA:

Well, as Meryl says, we all have cognitive issues. Right now, get Meryl asked me how I was doing with, you know, my husband passing in March and it is definitely affecting me cognitively still, definitely. And I try so hard for it not to. But it's definitely still affecting me cognitively and my children, you know, so, it's interesting; I agree and I was just having this conversation about we are working on this project in the background and somebody said, well, you should split disability inclusion from accessibility; yes, but understand you can't let me say why now, I know. With disability inclusion you can't have disability inclusion if you don't have accessibility. Period. You cannot include Meryl if you are not going to bother to make sure that she can participate with captions but at the same time as you also said, and you will agree with this Neil, accessibility is not just for people with disabilities. It's actually for all human beings that want to use technology. And yes, we have to have it as a community of people with disabilities but we all need accessibility and people just don't realise how bad they need accessibility. So, I just said for this one project we are doing you can be, you can focus on accessibility and not always think it's just for the community of people with disabilities because it's not. It's for all of us humans. But you can't really have disability inclusion if you don't have accessibility because we are too reliant on technology and information and communication. So that's where I am going with it, Neil.

NEIL:

Oh I will raise my eyebrows now.

DEBRA:

Thank you, because yeah it's, just on this and you will understand later when the other project comes out but it's, I just think it's so important for the community to join the conversations and so, yesterday I was speaking to, wow, I don't know if will know Dan dame of Microsoft in Canada.

NEIL:

Yes.

DEBRA:

My gosh this man is brilliant, wow! So he has cerebral palsy but he was always working in Agile. He didn't want to work in the accessibility people because that's where people with disabilities work and I said to him just think about that statement? Well, that's where people with disabilities are working now in accessibility, yeah, at least they are not only working behind the scenes doing dishes and Walmart greeters. So that's, yae, but at the same time accessibility is for everybody, but this is the question we are finally get to Meryl but he was hesitant to go into accessibility and when Microsoft came courting him and others he was hesitant because he didn't want to be labelled, which was fascinating and the position he holds he has hundreds and hundreds of people that report to him. And one day he asked them how it felt to be reporting to a man with disabilities? And I was like, gosh I love these conversations... so we see leaders like you, Meryl, that has been doing you say 2019, I disagree with her, you have been adding value in this conversation for a long time. But you hesitated to come in, is there, is there something, because it's funny. Jen sin had the same conversation with me years ago at triple E and he was like, you know, of course they want me to go into accessibility but I want to be known for more than that. Thank God he came into accessibility. So, I just that's something that I am seeing but I am curious about that Meryl. If you are understanding, you know, and should you join, I think you should but at the same time we can do more than accessibility. So, anyway....

MERYL:

Yep, I agree Debra. This is Meryl speaking. Yeah, I tell people all the time I am just I am an accessibility supporter who don't have accessibility and they will make statements like, erm, no I don't have a disability and I worry about working in accessibility because it should be for people, it should be for people with disabilities to be taking charge of but guess what? Not everybody with a disability wants to do that. They might want to be engineers they might want to to be scientists or lawyers. I mean just because we have a disability doesn't mean we should go into it. But you're right I am grateful that people like Jen sin are in accessibility. But if he didn't want to be in it that would have been OK too because we have talents that could be used everywhere.

DEBRA:

I agree.

MERYL:

What's important is the for companies to hire people with disabilities so they have an internal brain trust they can always go to and any time to talk about their products. I mean they can do the wiggle jobs whether it's programmer or something else. But they are also there as consultants to their own company, this is not working this is not working with my screen reader or whatever. So, you want to have multiple people with disabilities. It's so important. One person cannot represent an entire disability. If a company comes in and pays me to do the user testing or whatever, if they just had me in and nobody else, their product is in trouble because I cannot represent the entire deaf and hard of hearing community. Far from it. You have ten deaf people who are deaf, ask a question you would probably get five different answers.

DEBRA:

At least.

MERYL:

The spectrum of disability is huge. So, of course you can't begin to and few hundreds and hundreds of people if you get five to ten people that should hope but make sure that for example, you don't want to bring deaf people who speak and don't know sign language that wouldn't be a good idea, you would want to have sign you want some who do both, you want to mix it up, you want those who are born deaf and became deaf later. So I've worked on some recent projects where we've brought in 50 to a hundred people with different disabilities and I always make sure that there is a variety. And my clients will say, why don't you contact so and so organisation and get some people a bit of variety to come in and I said the problem with that organisation is they will focus on different things. So for example our deaf organisations that are many people you won't find sinos in that organisation for example. And then there might be another one that will focus on sinos, so a lot of time when people join an organisation they tend to have too much in common. And you want to ensure you are getting a variety. So that's really important.

DEBRA:

Yep.

NEIL:

So I agree there's huge diversity even within disability; I think that every organisation ought to be hiring more people with disabilities anyway. Where I do have a note of caution around using your employees as your testers is actually compensate them. Or give them time off because you're putting an extra load on people that are probably already working harder than the average employee just to be able to do their day job; so if you expect your employee resource group to be your unpaid testing tool for your products, you are taking advantage of them.

DEBRA:

And they are going to quit.

NEIL:

Yep.

DEBRA:

And we have seen that happen.

NEIL:

Yes, so I think it's great that you are, that to have an E R G that can give really honest feedback and, you know, I actually quite enjoy the roasting that I get from some of my colleagues about how we could improve things because that's their role. But at the same time we can't expect them to be doing what is our responsibility which is to organise testing and product development and everything else. That's the responsibility of the product development teams and the project managers and so on. My responsibility to hopefully create the environment and the policies and the, you know, the culture in which that happens.

MERYL:

I agree Neil. This is Meryl. So of course, I don't mean just using them for testing they need to be very compensated and if they are part of the work then it needs to be balanced. I would say it shouldn't be on top of stuff already on the schedule, so there are a lot of things, no perfect way. Just like there's no one person way to implement accessibility into an organisation and you have to think about the organisational structures and I had a very interesting conversation with {Inaudible} most amazing accessibility influencer leader and one of the questions I asked him was, have you, you've worked for multiple companies in accessibility; have you noticed that a specific organisational chart or structure works better than another and he said "No" and I agree with him because I interviewed multiple organisations about accessibility and they all do it differently and they are all successful. So, there's no magic formula in how you do your work structure, but what is key is that you are training employees and that you are Oh, my brain is freezing, of course now in the wrong time and I share 3 things that I have seen in most successful companies and my brain is freaking out on me!

NEIL:

Well don't worry, because that's a perfect example of us having cognitive impairments and my shortterm memory is atrocious, so, yes.

DEBRA:

Yep.

NEIL:

And it's recall, word recall and I don't know what it is but whenever my wife forgets something, I forget the word too. And so she's like, what is the thing and ... hahaha the thing? The, erm, the thingy thing? And then as soon as she's gone away, the word just pops back in my head.

MERYL:

Yes, yes.

NEIL:

There you go.

MERYL:

And I am sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt.

NEIL:

Go for it.

MERYL:

I don't know the answer to that question. So the 3 things the most successful companies have in common first of all leadership champion accessibility and people with disability are a critical component of a company's DEI. Second, they consider accessibility everyone's responsibility. And we influence that with training and so accessibility is in the company culture so always thinking about it. I mean, there are they make sure the job application is accessible, they make sure that the candidates have choices in how they want to communicate. I mean, for example I wrote multiple stories about people who have autism and they struggle, not all of them, I never say all but a few of them have said they struggle with job interviews. Yes, they are brilliant at what they do. So, the interview process has to change. They have been getting brilliant minds into your company and not everyone is good at interviewing and I and I was on a team and we participated in the job interview and one guy was amazing. He gave a great interview. He was a terrible employee. So reverse happens, but you can have a bad interview and one of your best employees ever and I wrote a story about a deaf man, okay first of all, looking for a job is way hard; it can make you lower your selfesteem and it's worse if you don't even have a job in the first place. So those, so just job hunting is hard. But a deaf man has problem, he said he kept running into job applications requiring the phone number field. He did not have a phone number. Now, I have a phone number. I am deaf. I cannot talk on the phone, I can't hear to talk on the phone. So, yes, I have a phone number. I use it for texting. I use it to check my e.mails. You know, I have a range of options and I have other phone numbers that I dial free as part of the captioning service, a relay service, that kind of thing, but that's beside the point of him whether he should have a number or not. The onus should not be on him. They should be that's my second tag line. My second mission is to encourage everybody to always, always have a second way to communicate or contact people. So, an airline did this. When I went to fill out my form for my next flight it had a required field for contact, but guess what? They gave me a choice of calling, texting or Emailing and 3 options. So I want to encourage all applications, all forms all communication to be always have at least two methods because fax machines don't count any more and neither do mailing addresses.

DEBRA:

T T Y?

MERYL:

Yes, yes, I thought my T T Y a long time ago because I use my phone I use the Internet I use my caption phone, whatever, so and then this should happen in person too. So I saw a beautiful scene in a TV show recently, they have a character who's deaf and a character who is speaking who is not deaf. They were sitting in a bar. It was very loud. Nobody could hear anybody. They were texting each other and they were sitting right next to each other. So they communicated through texting, through gestures and through mouthing, just speaking with voice. It was beautiful because it was not awkward. You know everybody has been texting, no big deal, but when you say texting and you're sitting by each other, that's weird. But it shouldn't be. We need to make things, we need to expand our way of thinking when it comes to communication and not defaulting to audio or speaking every time. Because not everyone wants to speak and not everyone wants to type on a phone. So we have to think every day, every day is how to communicate. Just like this is a story I would like to tell. So when I first had I had to get Covid testing for the first time ever and this was 18 months after Covid first came out. So, the kind of testing I needed required me to go in the drive through. So I live by the pharmacy for 20 plus years, I have never used their drive through and you can figure out why... so, I got a text message from the pharmacy with a caption video explaining the testing process, I said wonderful, no problem. I know what to do, I am going to go and I've got it covered; no problem. Then my spouse says, I am going with you. I said, why? I have got the captions video I know what to do, I will be fine. I am going with you.... so, fine! And so we went and I was in the driving seat because I was going to do the test. And we drove up to the window and it was reflecting, so I couldn't just like my glasses are reflecting my screen. You can't see my eyes. Was the same thing. I couldn't see inside. All I could see was the reflection. So I couldn't see whoever was inside. She had a mask on and she talked to me through a speaker and it was very inaccessible to me. So, I got eventually I got the test and I was sitting there, my husband was talking to her about picking up the medication. And I am sitting there, I always took the test but I was sitting where the key test and the vial in my hand and it was not work to do and I was getting exasperated, they were talking I am sitting here holding a used test. I was like, come on! And then finally I looked I was able to see her and she gestured what to do. I finished the test and so, it would have been so much easier if they had a second way of communication; it could have been text messaging or any other option but guess what? That same process was inaccessible to two other people with two different disabilities, neither one of them was deaf. One of them was blind. He could not make his appointment online without help and that's a violation to have to ask somebody to help him and the other person had a mobility disability. The pharmacy told her she needed to come inside. She wanted the opposite; she wanted to go in the drive through. I didn't. So, one process is inaccessible 2/3 different people with 3 different disabilities. And we have to think about multiple ways of communicating and input.

NEIL:

Yep, yep.

DEBRA:

Yeah. You know you bring up just some really good points but it you know, it's like we don't understand each other; right? And not only do we expect our pharmacies to be fully accessible. And here in the United States if you are not fully accessible we are going to sue you, we are happily going to sue you and other countries don't have that as much. But we would really rather you just make things accessible because it really is going to benefit all of us but at the same time, Meryl, I also think we, as the community, have a real obligation to also continue to change and build and teach like what you are doing. For example, I am not going to name names because some people know this, but I know a woman that is deaf, she has cochlear implants and she is a lip reader; she does not sign and she's done some really powerful things in her career.

MERYL:

DEBRA: You always I know, wonderful MERYL: I don't sign.

DEBRA:

And she doesn't sign, but what happened was she was doing something really really helpful for the community and so, one day one of her friends was in a big cafeteria and a couple of women were signing at another table. The problem with signing is that if you can read signing, you can't necessarily have a private conversation because people can see it. So, this woman could see this conversation and she was reading the conversation inappropriately, erm, snooping on somebody else's conversation, yeah, like we've I've done that a few times in a restaurant but regardless she heard them saying "did you hear about this woman and what she's doing and it's really good for us" and the other woman signed back and said, "yeah, but she doesn't sign so I just can't support her. I just can't support her because she doesn't sign". Now, when we hear conversations like that, it freaks everybody out because it's like, what? What do you mean? So what? So... so I think our community also has to be more thoughtful about that. Why would you not support a woman that is also deaf that just communicates differently from you for goodness sake... but so I just want to sort of call a little BS on our community as well, because we also have an obligation to support each other. And I don't think we are doing a good job with it. I think we are back biting, we are siloing and jumping on each other and I am not just talking about the Deaf Community. I am talking about the entire community and then also something else you said when in my response to this really talented individuals, like you and Jenny son and Dan hesitating to not wanting to be labelled into something, you know, I want to add value but I do not want just to be known because I have a disability, thank goodness you say no, no, obviously I need to add value here. But at the same time you made a comment of people saying, well, I mean I don't have a disability, but... so it's almost like everybody is apologising for being in the community. I am not good enough because I don't have a disability or no no no, I have a disability because I am neuro diverse, I am ADHD. So I just wondering if you might want to comment on some of that ridiculous messiness?

MERYL:

Amazing timing with that, Debra, this is Meryl. So, I happened to write a post on this yesterday kind of along those lines; I have I have been watching {Inaudible} long time ago so that's at home one of the most famous universities for the deaf and so I met a lot of deaf people and I also went to what you are describing; being shunned because I speak or wear a now not everybody does it, I want to note that. I have some friends I am so grateful for who are sinos and don't speak and we accept each other for who we are in our communication choices. We don't judge each other for that. And it's always surprising me that people will judge others based on their communication choices and whether they have a hearing aid or a cochlear implant. That's almost equivalent to judging someone for the colour of their skin.

DEBRA:

Like MERYL: Even though communication tools can be changed, you know, I think today tomorrow I am not going to speak, I am going to sign and finally join the Deaf Community. But we should be looking to people for what's in our hearts, so personalities, not what is on the exterior. And I have been working really hard to break that and we have so much to give. We have vision within our own groups just to be fair. And yesterday's post was about an article I read by Andrew, an excellent writer. And he was talking about disability activism is home and once the reading is because we have too many agendas and too many missions for people. My mission could be spread captions all around the world. And that person's mission might be sign language into our schools and yes, we are both deaf. But we have different goals. So, that's just two examples. I can give many more examples of how deaf people can be focused on different missions and so health care advocacy, advocating for an affordable health care and accessible health care. So that's another one. So, all kind of things that we could be advocating for and we all tend to be focused on one or two things. So, accessibility on captions I don't focus on just captions, I focus on all accessibility. But I recently saw a petition to police identifying to have captions in them but I also want them to make it easy to photo for reading for photo for other accessibility related things. But costs more with captions. I was afraid if I asked for everything nothing will get done, it would not get signed. So I so we have many people from the accessibility world speaking at congress and also those who spoke this week and I know somebody else who spoke a couple of months ago and people with disabilities because they talk about very different things.

NEIL:

Of course, and we have too many silos. We have, Meryl, we have run out of time and I don't want to stop you full flow but, erm, I agree with you, we have way too many silos and what we tend to do is focus on single issues rather than the community. Why we set up access chat, we are a pan disability community, we will always be that way. And absolutely progress over perfection. Look forward to you joining us for the Twitter chat. It has been great talking with you. We need to thank MyClearText for the captioning all of our videos but been providing the live captions to make this interview possible. So thank you MyClearText, thank you Meryl. See you online. Page | 2