Transformation & Change108

Accessible Agility

Building for your Future Customers

Accessible Agility - Building for Your Future Customers

June 14, 2023


Every business wants to attract as many customers as possible. We all want to expand market share, increase profitability, and grow customer satisfaction. Amid the pursuit of these goals, there are many unpredictable things. But one thing we know for sure is that we’re all going to be disabled someday. We are all just at different points on the ability lifecycle.

We’ve all seen the benefit of what cross-functional teams can do in Agile, but what about when we include diverse team members who reflect the customers who will ultimately buy your product? Can we use the power of agility to accelerate rapid learning to meet more of our customers’ needs?

In this talk we will explore what happens when you design for the edges. By designing for that one person, can you create more value for everyone in between? From audiobooks to closed captioning to remote vacuums –designing for accessibility brings benefits to everyone today. And tomorrow.

About Dave

Director of Accessibility, Microsoft

In his role as Director of Accessibility at Microsoft, Dave Dame is leading the accessibility portfolio for Surface Products aligning with Windows and product innovation roadmaps to empower users of all abilities.

Dave is a leadership coach, enterprise agile product leader and trainer with over 20 years of experience, which he leverages to drive large-scale transformation in complex organizations. Focusing on building high performing teams, he has trained over 600 professionals in product management, leadership and agile delivery practices. Dave has worked with technology companies such as OpenText, PTC, and MCAP; in many cases improving delivery times by over 150%.

Photo of Dave Dame
Presentation Slides
Video Transcript

When I was born in 1971, my parents were told, Dave may not live past 12 years old. Dave may never speak clearly, if at all. Even if he does, don't expect much because there's not much that someone like Dave can do in this world. They actually advised my parents to put me in an institution, that way I wouldn't be a burden to them.

Now, before we judge that, think about the time. It was 1971. It was before rights existed to bring people with disabilities in school and things like that. It was before this new thing was going to come called technology. I feel I've been blessed, I couldn't have been born in any better time, because there was just going to be this vehicle of technology that was going to really enable me to do things that people with disabilities previously couldn't do. Luckily for me, my parents, they weren't change agents by any means, but they had the courage to deal with and knowing.

Think about when we go into organizations to tell them they're going to be agile, they're like, we can't do that. Not our company. No, we got regulatory compliance. But because they've never seen what was possible, they can only judge what's then. Sometimes I think I like to really tie my disability, tie the importance of building with accessibility and inclusion, how we build those products, and how it will impact the organization to be more agile.

Are you ready?

Audience: Yes.

Are you ready?


There we go. I'm going to do this to go next slide. Or I'll ask her. You can switch this 'cause no one sees a picture of me. But when I say 1971, think about that time. We had to even get up to turn the channel on the TV. That's how outdated we were. Next slide.

Despite that, I was able to go to school. I remember I got up to OAC. In Canada, OAC is your last year before you decide what you want to do for university. I was really good in business. You can go back. I was really good in business, I was really good in technology, but I didn't know what I wanted to do.

I remember my dad walking down the stairs saying, "David, let's be honest. With you being in a wheelchair, you're not going to be a fireman, you're not going to be a police officer, nor are you going to be a construction worker. But you know what else you're not going to be? Living under my damn roof for free the rest of your life, so you better figure it out." That was the kind of things I've learned that I had to go figure it out. I had to learn to do it and I had to help other companies do it.

Fast forward, went to university for technology and business. In 1995, I finally got my first job after nine months of not getting one. Despite having a degree, I'd either go where I got an interview, but there was no ramps to get in the building, or if I could go in the building, I couldn't get to the meeting room. And nobody ever saw someone in a wheelchair. They might have had a family member. They look at me like I was like an adorable little teddy bear. I'm like, yeah, I want the job. I'm like, sure you do. I bet you'd be really cute at it too. But I finally got my first job as a logistics coordinator.

Remember 1995, there was no computer on every desk then, but I was the first one to get one. My peers were taking eight hours 'cause to schedule the training, it was a lot of paperwork. If you see these hands, these hands were made for paperwork. But instead of me taking 8 hours, it would take me 12 hours a day to do that.

I came from a very blue collar family, so working overtime was no big deal. I worked the extra 4 hours 'cause that wasn't the norm. But on the weekends, there was this new thing called the internet that I thought probably would stick around. I built a website so people could log into our schedule their training for themselves and the facilities could schedule the ones they want to host. It took from me doing it to 12 hours to now I was getting my work done in 3 hours. The guy in the wheelchair was getting things done in under half the time. I was like, who's disabled now?

But what I learned was what was the status quo then of 8 hours, people didn't realize there was a new way to do things or do something to be an outlier. Instead of becoming an outlier, I made the organization an outlier. That was my first time becoming a change agent, was when I learned that I had to find a new, different way of working. I couldn't wait for others to do it. I had to learn to do it myself.

Then when I got all that… The funny thing what I didn't tell you was, through those two years of struggling through it, I couldn't even fit my chair in the bathroom. 'Cause remember 1955, I didn't have the courage to ask for accommodations. I would hold it every day for 12 hours.

Think about limiting your water 'cause you don't want to drink too much, 'cause then you're going to have to go to the bathroom. But then my leader comes to me and he goes, Dave, man, you're doing awesome. Do you need more computers? Do you need bigger teams? And I'm like, you know what you could do? You could build me a bathroom I could use. He was like… Then he put it on me. Was like, "Why didn't you ask for one?" I'm like, "Why didn't you ask me?"

That was my first thing of working with leaders to help them see what they couldn't see. You see how my disability connected to my purpose and to do things like that. For many years I've worked for organizations to help them understand their disability. They didn't have cerebral palsy, but they had the ability of getting stuck in the status quo. What I do is try to find different new ways of working and I was successful.

Up until three years ago, I was the Vice president of Scotia Bank. For somebody that wasn't going to be able to work, I broke the glass ceiling. Then when the pandemic hit, you really did some self-reflection shit of what you want to do with your life. I wasn't supposed to live past 12, I'm here. I've been married for 19 years, never thought I'd leave home, fall in love and get my own house. What is it I want to do? Then this opportunity came to Microsoft to build, to lead their accessibility group, to create inclusive products for windows and devices. To be able to empower people to achieve things that I've been able to.

'Cause throughout my whole career journey, I never got to see people like me. I was in the table, I'm like, where's the other disabled folks? It was even funny. I spoke at my first accessibility conference in October. You don't know a rush to the accessible bathroom until there's a lot of people in the wheelchair. That's why I'm glad I'm back at an agile conference 'cause I really don't like sharing the bathroom.

But when I took the job at Microsoft, besides being in a wheelchair, I didn't know anything about accessibility. I knew about cerebral palsy and I'm like, there's no way I'm going to get the job. Luckily my boss googled me and just got stuck watching me or the person she interviewed me at the time. She's seen how I've been able to change and influence organizations and that was what was going to be needed to get the budget and funding to make sure we build our products inclusively.

Can you go to the next slide? 'Cause technology is that love-hate thing, sometimes it works, we love it, and sometimes you guys can all agree you hate it. You find an app you love and then you find an app you hate. For somebody with a disability, computers would enable us at one point, back when it first came out, it allowed me to go in classrooms type, and then the thing like the… Skip, then the thing like the mouse came. You can go the next slide. Then I couldn't use the mouse anymore. It's kind of a we giveth and we take it away.

Even if you… Skip the slide again. Even video games, when I was a kid, what I could do to play with the other kids in regular school was to play video games. It was very simple. Three buttons could play. I could be an asshole, talk shit and beat them. Then they made the controller so complex that it would have been easier for me to play regular hockey than it was to play video games. But again, I always like to say it's not my disability that holds me back, rather the environment to accommodate my disability that holds me back. Think about organizations. It's not the people's desire to be agile that holds them back. It's the environment in which they do agile that holds them back.

How do you manage the environment? How do you give flexibility and control? When you're designing hardware, we designed the adaptive game controller that allowed people with disability play video games. As you see, there's many switches there to do things. Click the button. You can click the slide. With hardware it's hard to make one size fit everybody. But what we do is make it multimodal input, so you can plug many different switches to have people help accommodate the way they do things. I might have two hands, somebody might have one, somebody might have a foot they could use or knee. So how do you build a multimodal thing that with whatever somebody's ability has, that they can control the environment they're in?

Think about all the tools we have for agility. We have many things: portfolio, we have scrum, we have combine. It's not about coming to a consensus to one tool. But how do we have multimodal processes to help any function in the organization be able to use and achieve more? It's not about fitting the one tool that works for all. It's making a multimodal to find the right tools to help the right person to enable them. It's about moving forward, not always moving the same way of doing things. Because the way I do things are different than you.

How many of you woke up this morning? How many of you got dressed? How many of you had Bee come to your room and help you get dressed? I guess that's where we differ. But just because I do things differently doesn't mean I don't want to achieve it the same way. That's where we got to think when we're doing transformation and products. If you can skip the slide. What makes innovation so hard? What we're always told is create a solution for a problem people don't know exist. That's innovation. Find some way of a problem, fix it. And that people didn't know they had the problem, but once they did it, now they wouldn't live without it.

That's the beauty of disability. When you guys use a product you don't like, you can compensate for it unconsciously. You use it, you might say the usability sucks. But when a person with a disability uses something and gets stopped, that's a fail function where we can't move further. Then we can study it, understand it, and when we solve for that mismatch, it helps everybody. Can you click the slide?

How many of you use closed captioning on the TV? You're in the bar somewhere, you're trying to watch the game closed captioning. You're trying to put your child to sleep and you can follow the show when you're watching. How many of you use voice commands on your phone? That's what I love now, hearing you guys get frustrated with your phone is the same frustration I have using software to dictate it. I'm like that's equality. We're equally pissed off.

Texting was originally made for people that were deaf to communicate. We could argue teenagers are deaf, but that's what they use for primary things. How many of you use audiobooks today or audioblogs? It allows you to do multisenses. When we solve for something that can't be done, it also helps others away. When we're doing transformation, when we solve certain things, it helps other groups in areas that we didn't know exist.

When you're building an inclusive product, when you're realizing every user is different, when you're realizing every organization is different, this is where a business agility is more applicable than the business itself. It's for the humans, for the product that makes vehicle and does it. Can you click the slide? Disabilities, I always like to say we're all going to be disabled someday. Just some of us beat you to it. When you design for somebody with a disability today, you're actually designing for your future selves.

Were many of you born with glasses? I see. Now you're wearing glasses. Can you run like you used to? Can you get around like you used to? Now, the only thing I don't like saying when I say we're all going to be disabled someday, I know there's very finite parking spaces. By doing that, I know I'm going to be out of parking spaces soon. But think about it for product makers within our organization, if we know all our users are going to be disabled, why aren't we building our products now to meet them where they're at? All our ability cycle… Our abilities are losing us every day. The one thing for sure, you're going to need to use it.

If we knew we had an idea for an innovation everybody would use and buy, we'd all do it. But why aren't we doing it to be inclusive now? Organizations can keep their employees longer, keep that institutional knowledge, but yet have the technology to be able to keep them enabled and aligned all the way they go, 'cause you meet them where they're at. Next slide. This is why I like building diverse organizations. I never had a problem building inclusive products on teams that I was in because I was in it. I remember somebody asking me what's it like having somebody with a disability on the team versus not. I'm like, shit, I don't know. Every team I'm in there happens to be somebody with a disability.

But I truly believe the people who build our products should be reflective of those. Not just disability or ability, different nationalities, different things. We're building global products for global users. Why not make it with different people? Why not have different genders? Why not have that beautiful dynamic tension of everybody fighting and arguing what they need and want to synthesize something we can move forward and get better. Remember, the people who build our products should be reflective of those that use our products. Next slide. I won't talk about this 'cause my time is running low.

Here's the reasons to invest in accessibility or even in agile. You can turn off the deck now. Here's the things I noticed that were the same, 'cause changing the organization to build inclusively is like building agile. What has made me successful in my career is I don't talk the same to every stakeholder. Every stakeholder is going to be different. Some are motivated by story inspiration, some are interested in data.

I always like to joke. When I worked at the bank, they spoke two languages: PowerPoint and money. I needed to know to use the data and to do that, to create that quantifiable benefit. But there's some that get moved by emotion. So learn to have the right story, the right compelling reason, the purpose why we're doing what we're doing. Because it's in the purpose where we really get people motivated to do that. It is when we inspire them and getting the data to continually to invest into things like that because we need to build that. Think about for me when I talk about accessibility, there's 1 billion people that are disabled right now around the world that have self-identified. Not everybody's self identified. I just started self-identifying a year or two ago. When I'd go interview they'd be like, "Well why didn't you tell us you were disabled?" What does it matter?

They're like, 'Well how are we going to tell the person interviewing you to give them a heads up here in a wheelchair?" I'm like, "What if that leader is an asshole who gives me the warning that he's an asshole and I got to prepare for him?" Why should they have a competitive advantage? If we know there's going to be 1 billion people and it's going to go to 2 billion in 20 years, that makes good business sense. Whenever I do it, I go like look, I have cerebral palsy but my money does doesn't. If you want my money, you better build a product and service I can use. That's the data, that's the business and that's the storytelling.

As we're leading organizational change, what kind of leader do we need to be? What is leadership? How would you define a leader? Let me ask you, how would you define a leader? Sorry?

Speaker 1: Somebody who's human centric.

Human centric. That's a nice, progressive answer. How else would you define a leader?

Speaker 2: Has followers.

Right. That has followers. How else? Pardon me?

Speaker 3: Someone who gets things done.

Gets things done.

Speaker 4: Who get's the best office.

The best office, exactly. But a good leader is not a title or nothing fancy.

I have a PSW Borlack. A PSW is not a leadership or glamorous position. Sadly it gets looked down on. But for 19 years, Bee comes to my house, gets me about 5:30 in the morning, showers me and dresses me so I can go out and build the product, build the organization and change the world. It's nothing glamorous, nothing sexy. He is beautifully invisibly present. Meaning his leadership style is allowing me to shine. When we're working with organizations, it's not about our success in making them agile. It's about them shining and getting the success with us in the background.

I want to leave you with this. Who are you willing to shower tomorrow to help your organization get better?

Thank you.

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