A few of my IWCO Direct colleagues and I had the opportunity to attend (virtually and in-person) the Adaptive Spirit 25th annual conference (AS2021) held on April 7 and 8. The event focuses on building business relationships and effective networking practices in the telecommunications industry, while generating a large portion of the operating funds for the U.S. National Paralympic Ski and Snowboard Team each year. IWCO Direct is a proud sponsor of AS2021 and contributed the annual report, programs, and collateral materials for the event.
About Adaptive Spirit
As stated on their website, “Adaptive Spirit is a not-for-profit trade association that focuses on building business relationships and effective networking practices in the telecommunications industry. Through initiatives that focus on education and networking, Adaptive Spirit champions the strength of business relationships with the result of creating a more profitable industry. To that end, Adaptive Spirit provides education, recognition, information, and networking opportunities for cable companies, content providers, and others who supply products and services to the industry.”
Because of the 10% capacity restrictions due to COVID-19, the AS2021 event had 130 in-person attendees this year in Vail, Colorado, including IWCO Direct’s Sales Director – National Accounts, Megan Lester. I attended the virtual sessions. Pre-COVID, about 1,300 people attended the event each year.
A key focus of the event is to help telecommunications companies consider people with accessibility needs in their planning. Although it wasn’t possible this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, typically at the annual event Paralympic athletes are aligned with industry participants to ski the slopes in Vail and to develop personal relationships.
AS2021 Focused on the Business Case for Inclusion
Tom Wlodkowski, VP Accessibility, Comcast, moderated a panel session, “The Business Case for Accessibility.” Did you know that one-third of U.S. households have someone with a disability? Or that 10,000 people turn 65 everyday? Tom shared how Comcast employs customer services agents who are deaf to communicate with deaf clients and prospective clients as an example of what Comcast is doing to provide more inclusive service.
Ilene Albert, the Executive Director of Broadband Product Management and Accessibility at Cox Communications, recommended listening to customers with disabilities for their perspective on the customer journey BEFORE you implement accessibility programs, not as an afterthought. By doing so, you create customer stickiness because you are able to serve your customers better.
Steve Raymond, VP Accessibility, Charter, said when inclusive hiring is promoted from the top down, it becomes part of the company’s culture and part of the company’s identity.
One comment that resonated with me was made by David Ortiz—Colorado State Representative, District 38. David was a skilled combat aviator who survived a catastrophic helicopter crash during a deployment in Afghanistan. He is currently serving as a Colorado State Representative and an advocate for veterans and the disabled. David said companies can realize unexpected results from incorporating accessibility. When asked, “What would you like to see regarding innovation for people with disabilities?” David replied, “Access. When you provide an access ramp for wheelchairs, you are also helping provide access to those with strollers and carts. Lots of people use closed captioning all the time regardless of need.” The same is true with speech recognition products, exoskeletons, braille, widened doorways, websites adapted for those with hearing or vision impairments, mono skis, incumbent bikes, etc. There are positive unintended outcomes from including accessibility.
Mike Shebanek, Head of Accessibility at Facebook, said, “Independence without inclusion is only half the story.” Avoid separate products, but rather build inclusivity in to the product design. For example using artificial intelligence to look at photos and provide screen vision descriptions provides both independence and inclusion.
Supporting the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games
“Adaptive Spirit is such a unique experience. It’s rare event combination that allows for collaboration with industry professionals, enhancing your personal development, and connecting with such an inspiring group of athletes for a great charitable cause,” Megan Lester observed after her in-person experience at the event. “This conference shines a bright light on the challenges of accessibility in a primarily able-bodied world and the steps being taken to build enhancements in from inception rather than re-engineering. It was such an honor to meet the athletes and have the opportunity to donate to a great cause. Looking forward to cheering them on in Beijing!”
“All surplus funds from the AS2021 event are directed to U.S. Paralympics to benefit the remarkable athleticism and competitive spirit of the U.S. Paralympics Ski and Snowboard Team. Through the donations, the team has the opportunity to remain the top adaptive ski team in the world. From the telecom industry’s generosity, millions have been raised over the years, touching thousands of lives,” according to the Adaptive Spirit website.
AS2021 closed with a silent auction that raised $96,379 for the 24 members of the U.S. Paralympics Ski and Snowboard Team as they prepare for Beijing.
Donations are accepted year-round outside the Annual Event. Click here if you are interested in donating to Adaptive Spirit and supporting this great cause.