Marisol Villena manages inclusion, accessibility and equitable product and program development across Accenture’s enterprise metaverse, the Nth floor — enabling experiences that allow all employees to participate and thrive.
Prior to that, Marisol spent the last two decades working in various roles across the company’s global IT team. Marisol has proven expertise in working in diverse, complex environments, helping teams unleash their potential to achieve desired outcomes.
Marisol is originally from Peru; moving to Spain early in her career, she now has two children and a husband and calls it her home. She loves volunteering at schools, teaching students about technology and coding.
Connect with Marisol on LinkedIn to learn more.
Follow axschat on social media
This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. It is not a commercial transcript. AXSCHAT Marisol VillenaNEIL:
Hello and welcome to Axschat. I'm delighted to be joined today by Marisol Villena, who is the product manager for the inclusive metaverse at Accenture for their internal metaverse. Marisol and I were on a panel together at M Enabling and when I heard about what she was doing I thought a great topic for Axschat. So, welcome Marisol, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be, firstly working on accessibility and inclusion and then secondly, how that work transitioned into doing it in the metaverse?MARISOL:
Sure. Thank you very much for inviting me. I'm happy and excited to be here with all of you, especially during the official celebrations of the International Day of People with disabilities during this early December. My name is Marisol Villena, I am the product manager, as Neil has mentioned in the inclusive metaverse product in our internal implementation of Accenture, XR called the Nth floor. First of all, I would like to introduce myself. I'm a Latina woman, dressing informally to this presentation. I am wearing a fox hair coloured shirt and attending from my office home. I'm based in Spain and I've curly grey hair and I feel proud of it as it empowers me to feel proud of who I am and make it visible to everyone. Just for your information, it has not been easy for me to be here with you, comfortable with it. So, the team that I was representing today is inclusive metaverse and is a team that has been created with a goal of ensuring that accessibility, equitable and inclusive experiences, are at the core of what we deliver in the enterprise metaverse. Now that we have started to build for enterprise at scale. But I know Neil that you have first asked me about some of my background.NEIL:
So, let me get started with how I got started in the accessibility industry here at Accenture. Okay? So, I started by curiosity honestly, okay? I've been here in Accenture for 22 years now. It's easy for me to do that calculation because we are in the year 2022, so I started on the year 2000. So, just to give you some background Accenture is a consulting company, with just shy of a 100k employees across the globe. I belong to the global IT team, and we are like the incubators of what we do here for what we are going to be able to share with our clients, okay? So, those success stories are the ones that then are being referenced as part of the some of the clients’ conversations. So, in my previous experience here in Accenture I've executed different roles on some of these implementations that I have just mentioned. Some of them for some of the platform that we have available in the market and accessibility in different roles. The thing that we have probably all in common is that they are very large implementation similar with enterprise at scale. In some of the areas like finance or HR. So, and I am coming from the accessibility centre of excellence. It was created seven years ago here as Accenture with the goal of defining the processes that need to be followed in order that our internal IT can be used by everyone at Accenture and creating a lasting culture of digital inclusion. But before it was created there were some initial white papers on how to build the Accessibility Centre of Excellence and I was part of some of the meetings where these white papers were shared and that's the reason why I say that I got a curiosity because I was curious to understand a little bit more about it as part of the work that we'll be doing during a global IT. But then when I start to learn and understand the impact of what we were able to achieve and what we were not able to achieve if we don't do accessibility in the work that we do. This was like something that makes me think about that this is part of the career goal that I would like to continue to grow and this is how I got started even before the accessibility centre got started but then when this centre got started and was created, I was super happy to be part of it because we were able to create a broader impact, right, so instead of only impacting the role that I was exhibiting on that time on giving some accessibility guidelines, I was able to expand the role to have a broader impact and do it, not only at the global IT level, which is the team I am coming from but also even broader because as you know accessibility is just more than IT related stuff. It's like change of behaviour that impacts the whole company and organisation. So, we are also talking with HR and marketing faults in how we are incorporating accessibility practices in the work that they do. So, that's the reason why I feel super proud of coming from the accessibility centre of excellence which gave me all this background that help me be where I am today which is the enterprise metaverse, building the inclusive metaverse. Now that is getting it started. Right, so the metaverse technology is very new to all of us and I need to admit that even if it's new to all of us, we have the gamers community who has been able to achieve a lot on accessibility practices that we have been able to learn and adapt to the work that we are now doing to the metaverse in order for us to be able to create an accessible metaverse that everyone can be part of it and we don't leave anyone behind.DEBRA:
Marisol, welcome to the programme and I'm going to do the same thing you did just because we are celebrating International Day of Persons with disabilities. So, I'm going to do a visual description. I'm a mature woman that has grey and purple hair and I'm wearing brown glasses today and grey and blue and welcome to the programme. First of all, I have a quick question and then I have a harder question, a longer question. My first question would be, first of all, we appreciate the efforts that accessibility have done throughout the world supporting our community but when you talked about what you're doing from the digital perspective and you mentioned the cultural and organisational aspects that are so important, I was curious of also that accessibility centre was considering the built barriers because accessibility as you said, it's a big word. So, we need to make sure that it considered as well and not only digital. But it might be that's done at a different place, and this is more of a digital group. So, I just wanted you that and then I have another question .MARISOL:
Sure, yes, the way we are approaching accessibility as a whole because I agree with you, accessibility is probably just one word that encapsulates a lot of different things. We are talking about digital aspects, we have also and in the digital aspects we have the software and the hardware which are two different things right? And we are also having internal teams who are managing that work because we have a specialist in accessibility software. We have a specialist in accessibility hardware. We have a specialist on accessibility accommodation, right? Which are the people that ensure that also we provide solutions that are tailored for everyone's needs depending on the combination or the experience that they may fall on the combination of a physical space, how we are going to adapt that physical space in order to be able to achieve what we need for that specific person. And not only the physical space but also the combination of software, hardware and in the software side, not only the creation of application but also how we are tailoring the content and on the content side, not only we are making the content but also how we are writing the content. Right? So, I agree with you that one word accessibility covers a lot of different things.DEBRA:
And I know you're covering it all and I just wanted you to say that. But I also want to say, I've been involved in the metaverse as well and we've been working on a project and trying to make it accessible. And I know that a lot of people are saying the metaverse is new, but I just don't agree with that is new. I think the metaverse is a continuation of the internet and I really agree with what you're saying. The gamers have figured out how to include people. They have figured out how to make these things accessible. So, I also agree with you, we learn the most right now from the gamers. I still think it's a continuation of the internet, people are getting freaked out that it's something new, well, we are packaging that, in my opinion, I think the world is packaging that it's new. But I believe it's a continuation of the internet and I had somebody asking me on a, I did an event yesterday and somebody was saying, well, what about these digital twins and it's like okay, we are talking about avatars and it's okay, calm down. So, I just want to say that some people are freaked out that this is all brand new, and we are going to completely redo, and I think it's a continuation. So, I say it often just to calm people down. But I so agree with you about the gaming aspect of it because those people have really figured out how to do this in a virtual world. So, that's why we had Ian Hamilton on a couple of weeks ago because we are just so impressed with him. But what are you finding, are you finding that your customers are freaked out about the metaverse like so many people are and can you all, yeah, how do you navigate these intense times?MARISOL:
Yeah, I need to admit that probably the things that are considered more new is how we use these virtual spaces in an enterprise way.DEBRA:
So, that is probably the aspect that I feel that sometimes the people is like being a little bit more like shocked right, by the fact like, am I going to be in a meeting now with my avatar? Yes, or if you feel comfortable you can, if you don't feel comfortable you do not need to do so. Right, so you need to leverage what the companies is having available for you that can allow you to express yourself in the best way that you would like to be expressed and because the objective of you being here with us and collaborating in then environment is we want to, I am not sure how to say this in English, my apologies because I always make a reference, we need to make you show for what you have really inside your inner soul right in a meeting and be the best version that you have and if that best version is in the way of an avatar, let's go for that. If for you, it's not in the same way, let's use the traditional one because we know that also the facilities about giving options to the people. Also, we want to give options to the people to express themselves in the way that they'll be able to thrive.ANTONIO:
And, reflecting somehow also in some of the words that have been said and to what is new and what is old, in 2009, there was a paper that said that estimated, this is a document from 2009, that estimated by 2012, 80% of the active internet users, including Fortune 500, would have a second life in the form of 3D world environment. Obviously, it didn't happen. So, what can we learn from this implementations and to prospects in the future to make sure that we are actually able to create the environments and build solutions in the metaverse that people really want and not just distracting them or creating boring places that nobody sees any reason to be there?MARISOL:
Yeah, I need to admit that also we are having some reference about what are probably the things we need to consider for a metaverse environment. Right, so we've seen that an immersive learning experience, it has a better way to really accept the consent or learn about what is going because you learn only by reading it or in the traditional learning spaces we do here, we do a lot of learning by reading or by being in a meeting. So, this is more like about active training, right, how to learn to build something is really if you're building it, I think that has more powerful advantage of how, we should be using the metaverse more like, for example a place we are going to be learning, we are going to collaborate in a different way, instead of being here, all of us in our different locations which is good. But instead of being, like far away from each other. Being closer right? In this case, in this earn environment where we'll be able to collaborate together. So, it's more like in environments we'll be able to collaborate and also learn in a more effective way.DEBRA:
And also, I'm jumping in here real quick. But you also are allowing more people to participate as well. So, that drives inclusion. Sorry Antonio I just wanted to point out that out too.NEIL:
So, one of the things with second life and I know it didn't ever reach the volume of participants that were projected at the time and lots of technology goes through hype cycles but one of the things that did happen was that there were people that built real businesses and economies within that platform and in fact, even today, there are$600 million worth of transactions going on, in that environment, a couple of decades on. So, that tells you that there is real value that can be created in virtual environments. At the same time, we can see that a lot of people don't want to spend the entirety of their time emersed in virtual words. So, like you said Marisol, it really depends on how you're going to extract value from it. I have some concerns about the cognitive load that some of these avatars are going to place on people because having experienced it and watched where the avatars are almost good enough to be realistic and what is happening is that they have got facial recognition going on and gesture recognition going on and the avatars are mimicking the user but they are not quite there yet. You're getting to this zone of uncanny valley where your brain is trying to work out what the signals mean and trying to determine whether or not the avatar is happy or sad and the person behind it is really annoyed with you or whether there's just some kind of lack and I experienced this actually with Antonio, was playing around with it 18 months ago and after about five minutes, my brain just went into a funk and I couldn't do anything more. I had to tell him to turn it off because I was not able to sort of process anything. Literally my brain shut down.MARISOL:
I agree with you.NEIL:
How can we, what are the sort of things that you're looking at to counter that because you know, the last thing we want is a new platform that renders us infective?MARISOL:
Yeah, what we have learned, first of all I need to thank also the gaming community because we have learning a lot about gaming accessibility standards, there is some public information available about guidelines in XR, that they are following for games that of course, they are super applicable for what is happening here in the metaverse and some guidance applies to what you have just mentioned about the cognitive overload, right the way we are presenting information, the way we are simplifying how we are presenting information, right, in some case, you need to be very tailored experience on how the settings are going to be used right so, then you can have a super complex world or map to a person that probably accepts that type of experience and you can also simplify that view for a person that probably prefers a setting where only the most important things that they are related to what I'm supposed to be doing there are going to be presented. So, they wouldn't present more than what a person can process. So, there are very good reference to the guidelines that we have, as I mentioned before, in the gaming experience that are super helpful in order for us to determine how we are going to adapt this for a metaverse experience where we can, as I mentioned before in the case of the cognitive overload, we can simplify the views and settings and this also can be applicable to other areas like for example the use of sounds, right? We know that in the gaming experience we can have multiple sounds happening, all around, right and that can be the case with some sounds you may have for example, hearing some background and things like that and also the platforms that we are using here should be able to also leverage those settings, in order for us to have like simplified views that be adjusted in the case of the cognitive or the sounds or even in the case of the visual things that we have all over these environments. So, then the person can adjust their settings depending on their needs.NEIL:
Excellent. So, thank you for that and I think that the, giving the user choice of how they consume that information is as important as giving the individual the choice of representation. I know that Microsoft, amongst others, have done some work on creating representative avatars. Is that also an area that you're looking at in terms of allowing people to, you know choose and create Avatars and representations of themselves that not only reflect their curly grey hair but maybe their disability as well or, and are there for example, corporate guidelines because obviously corporate world is different from gaming world, you know, second life you can end up with wings and a tail. You know, are you going to turn up for meetings you know in Roman armour, like, you know, like Elon Musk at the moment on his avatar on Twitter, or are avatars constrained to a certain extent to be a little bit more professional?MARISOL:
Yeah. Thank you very much for that question because yes, I know that the avatar creation and the possibility that we have in avatar creation is also a very huge topic that we normally discuss about because again, going back to the reference about accessibility being a place where we are offering options to the people. We must need to be able to give option to a person want to represent themself like they see themselves in the real life. So, that's an option we need to give to everyone. If you, in your real life, want to be represented as a person who is in a wheelchair, do it, let's go for that. But if you're a person that wants to be represented in this environment, without that chair or in a different way with a different colour of the skin, I did some testing by being a blue avatar. I just wanted to see how it feels to be blue for a moment, right and that is also an option that we would like to give. At this stage, we are more in the assessment stage. I need to admit that also we are wronging here very strongly with our ERGs, employee resource groups, right? This is the same model that we've been following where I'm coming back from the accessibility centre of excellence, where we need to also use the most effective ways to connect the really audience on co creating solutions, so in this case, co creating the feedback or the information that we may need to give in order for us to providing real feedback on how we consider that avatar should be created. In this case, we are leveraging our ERG connections our employee resource group, to understand not only from the disability communities but also from every community that we may have here at Accenture, every ERG is given the voice of how they feel they need to be represented in the environment, so, in this case the metaverse, so we can work with our partners on giving that feedback back to them. So, we can also work on the background on providing those solutions and going back to the ERGs for previewing and getting additional feedback from them.DEBRA:
Marisol, I love that you’re working with your ERGs, your employee resource groups that's wonderful and very smart of you all to do that. Also, to me these conversations really are digging into identity and belonging. So, I remember we had a guest on a couple of months, his name is Bruno, he is a person that has Cerebral Palsy, and he also is building the metaverse and avatars in Portugal. And I was worried, I deal a lot with identity with Billion Strong, our non-profit that we have, and I was worried a little bit about identity, and I thought well maybe people with lived experiences with disabilities, especially younger people they will always choose avatars that maybe won't represent that they have disability. So, I was questioning him as a gamer and I was just curious what he thought about that and he told me that when he was a young man, 13 or 14 years old he did not want his avatar to be in a wheelchair. He didn't. He wanted to be able to do what everyone else is doing. As he grew older, he still is very young but as he started to get into his late teens and early 20's, he started feeling like he really wanted to be in the wheelchair because he wanted to show who he really was. And so, he was counselling me as a young gamer to remember to let people have, to do what they want to do. So, what you're doing which I like is you're giving them all these options and then as they figure out who their identity is, and their belonging and it shifts and changes I think it can do so much more. But I was just curious are you all having those identity conversations as your figuring it out?MARISOL:
Yeah, yeah. As we were connected with the ERG communities and we related more with inclusion and diversity in general, right, I feel that these are the conversations that normally appear in which we have a group of people that probably is very visible in what they are aiming to achieve here. Right, aiming to achieve also being very visible in how they feel about their disability right? And we have received tonnes of feed back of people that is interested in having if there were a cochlear implant avatar, I would like to have it with my cochlear in my avatar because I would like to make it visible that I use a cochlear implant or a wheelchair because I'm in a wheelchair. But also, we have other cases, as I mentioned before, I am talking in general here in the inclusion and diversity spectrum, in which I would like to choose something different and also, we need to be able to give that option. So, I need to admit that we have seen both cases and probably similar what in what we have in other places. We have similar choices to give, and we need to allow them to be what they want.ANTONIO:
So, considering that we are moving in the direction that people can feel represented by their avatars where somehow the avatars are able to represent their own selves, how can we use this technology to educate, to mentor and to somehow make people more aware of others, who might have a disability and their needs. How can we somehow make this a way that we can do more advocacy in terms of inclusion at the workplace?MARISOL:
That's a very good question also. And this is not a new question either, right? In the terms of we have been working with having role models, right? In order for us to be not afraid to show you in the way you are. In some cases, there is a gap on representation, right and sometimes that is causing us to not have enough representation and not being able to have the people preventing that from the stigma that might be associated with the fact that if I show myself in the way that I am today, right? So, there is an effort that we are working within this day with our HR partners, here with Accenture with our inclusion and diversity partners in order for us to, and also with the GRD's I need to admit, to make more visible about the diversity of the role models we have here at Accenture and allow the people to know about the diversity they have in this place, then the people can feel more comfortable on disclosing their real situation that will help them, as I mentioned before. Having better more open conversations right because in some cases but this is more like a run, more like a marathon, right because as I mentioned before it's something that we need to work in more faces, in order to ensure that this conversations are happening and eventually, as time comes, with the help of the ERGs, with the work that we are doing with them, also we can start having seeing some efforts and progress on that area.ANTONIO:
Following on that, do you see that then there will be a process of co creation between the designers and the individuals with disability so make sure there is a match and that the person is really, really represented and is not just a designer that does something that they need feel oh, this will represent a hearing impaired person, without asking the hearing impaired person if that avatar really represents the person.MARISOL:
Yeah, I mean there was some comments of an International Day of People with disability that is probably a theme that probably was two years or so, I need to go back to the internet because I don't remember it very much which was the theme,'Nothing for us, without us.' Right, so I still make that theme very new, very now, right, because it's still what we are doing here, right? I don't want to create for someone, I want to create with someone. Right so in this case, we need to also allow our teams to be diverse. So, in the work that we are doing for this inclusive metaverse, as well as all of the things we do here at Accenture, not only we have the channels of communication with the ERGs but also that we have diversity inside our own teams, right? In order to ensure that our conceptualisations and all the things we do here, even before we go to the ERGs are included in that diverse perspective, that diverse point of view, that is also going to be able to provide us with better solutions that are beneficial to everyone.DEBRA:
Marisol, can I ask a quick question, and first of all, you're amazing. You’re just letting us shoot you with questions and you're doing such a fabulous job. So, I wanted to say that. Also, I love what you're doing it's fabulous, I give you nothing but praise and kudos, I do have a couple of questions though about, I think it's wonderful that you are using your ERGs but what I would worry about with that, is there are certain parts of our community that aren't going to be working for Accenture, just the real list, for example my daughter with Down Syndrome, you probably are not. So, I would worry that in doing that and please do all of that that you might accidentally be leaving out some groups that they are not working in our workforce for a lot of different reasons. People, with you know, anyway, I think you understand what I'm saying, now, I think you can capture some of that with your ERGs because you, I am sure have parents that are going to be able to provide you with lived experiences. But I was just curious, how are you making sure that you hear the voice of, I guess I should say, the more severe disabilities or the people that have multiple disabilities. How do you make sure they are heard? Because we often find that they are completely excluded and not by Accenture, once again, we are praising you all for everything you're doing, I know we are throwing a lot of hard questions at you, but you're doing a great job answering them.MARISOL:
No, but thank you very much for that question because I'm also going back to the research approach that we are taking here, okay? Because we are also doing some type of research because I agree with you, probably we have the feedback of the people that is super active on giving feedback. But what about the feedback from the people that are not super active on giving feedback. What about the feedback of people that is not in metaverse, how are we going to capture the feedback? I call it the haters. I don't know if that's the correct word to use here, right? But we also need to know what is happening with the people that is inside. What is happening to the people that is outside. But also as you have said, we also are having the spectrum here of Accenture, but also we have the spectrum of outside Accenture, not only for the people that is currently in the workforce today and not in Accenture but also for the people that is not yet in the workforce because they are probably younger, right and they are going to be in the workforce but in some years, right? So, we also have to open our research approach in order to ensure that we don't only include the easy component of it, which is ERGs, people who are vocal and active but also , why are you not in the metaverse? What are the barriers you may have that may prevent you being in the metaverse, in some cases, some type of education, okay. So, then okay, let me work on my education programme in order to ensure that we don't see that the meta worse is super complex for a person or let me simplify my learning assets in order to give that, I'm just giving that example here right, giving an opportunity for everyone to learn also to be in metaverse and the metaverse is not something you might feel super heavy and complex to learn. But also, as you have said, we also need to open our research approach in order not only to capture, who is in the workforce but also who is outside the workforce, because our idea is not only to have the same people coming to Accenture. We also want to be able to make Accenture an attractive place to work for everyone.DEBRA:
Wow. You're amazing, Accenture is lucky to have you.NEIL:
Thank you so much. I think that just, reflecting back on the things you said about representation, super important. Absolutely, the questions Debra raised about consultation outside, so that you can bring more people in is pertinent to us all. I just remember thinking back to a project I did a few years ago, where we were doing an avatar for a chatbot for the Paralympics and we were working with the IPC and someone created had the avatar and they'd created the wheelchair and the feedback from the real wheelchair users, from the International Paralympic Committee, we hate that wheelchair, it's what we call a hospital chopper and that sort of that real engagement with people about how they wish to be represented is super important. So, kudos to you for you doing that. I need to thank you for participating. And also, at that thank you to My Clear Text for supporting us with captions and keeping us accessible. And we really look forward to continuing the discussion about this on Twitter. Thank you, Marisol.MARISOL:
Thank you very much for inviting me and I am super happy to be able to talk to you about our journey, also have some feedback about also an external point of view, super important to have. So, I have also been lucky to learn from you and thank you very much for having me here and being able to learn from you too.