Comcast's Tom Wlodkowski: Leading the Company to New Levels of Accessibility
An expert on new media's applications to people with disabilities, Comcast's new vice president of Accessibility will help make the company's products available to all.
Innovative companies use technology to reach new markets, and Comcast's decision to create a position of vice president of Accessibility is a perfect example. And who better to fill the role than Tom Wlodkowski, an expert on new media's applications to people with disabilities.
Wlodkowski, who started his job at Comcast this spring, is still formulating his strategic plan, but he knows it will be aimed at making the company's products useful for and available to customers with disabilities across the spectrum of the Comcast business, from set-top boxes to mobile applications, software, downloads and phone services.
Noting that Comcast, one of DiversityInc's 25 Noteworthy Companies, is the first in the cable industry to create this position, Wlodkowski says, "Comcast executives realized there was an opportunity to really address the market and bring in a dedicated subject-matter expert."
Specifically, previous roles include leading accessibility at AOL and at WGBH, where he worked on descriptive video for blind and visually impaired people and implemented voice-guided navigation on DVD menus. These roles have given him a great knowledge base for his new position.
"The biggest challenge for developing products for people with disabilities is that they are designed by people who aren't actually using them, who don't have disabilities. ... As I tell my friends and colleagues in the disability community, now they have someone on the inside," he says.
Out There in the Real World
Blind since birth, Wlodkowski grew up in Southington, Conn., the youngest of four brothers.
"Having a blind child as the youngest meant my mother wasn't so protective," he recalls. "She put me out there in the real world. I had to take out the trash just like everybody else. My brothers never let me play the blind card, although they would try to sneak the food bowl past me."
Mainstreamed in public schools, he was in the marching band in high school and was the drummer for a rock band, leading to work in radio after college. He thought he wanted to be on the air, but when asked to work on technology for people with disabilities, Wlodkowski found his niche.
Today, he's married with a 14-year-old son. And he appreciates how much technology has improved his life. "My son is amazed at how I can use voice-over technology on my iPhone," he says.
The D&I Factor
The hiring of Wlodkowski is part of the company's overall drive to be a leader in the diversity-and-inclusion space, says Maria Arias, executive director, Diversity & Inclusion at Comcast.
"There's clearly a focus on employees and customers with different abilities. He's our resident expert with live, hands-on experience and connections with organizations," she says, citing not just product accessibility and workforce diversity but supplier diversity as well, particularly the certification of the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) for suppliers owned by people with disabilities. USBLN certification is required for companies citing supplier diversity with people with disabilities on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity survey.
Wlodkowski and Arias also both work with Comcast's Abilities Network for employees with disabilities and their allies to create an accessible and inclusive workplace and encourage the hiring and promotion of people with disabilities.
But Wlodkowski's primary duties are marketplace focused.
"My first steps are to prioritize where we are going to focus these efforts—the next generation of set-top boxes, product development, the engineering team, and the roadmap for products from XFINITY TV that connect the home," he says.
Adds Arias: "For the past year and a half, we have focused our efforts on building a year-over-year diversity-and-inclusion plan. We are becoming a leading company in the space, and Tom's presence here is based on that."
"Do not assume you are properly registered to vote," warns activist Shaun King.
"Do not assume you are properly registered to vote," warned Shaun King repeatedly. His wife went to vote with her registration card in her hand, and they said she couldn't vote. King said some of the reasons that people are being turned away are nefarious.
Fifteen states close registration today, including Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. States that do not have online registration: Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, and Texas.
A list of every state's deadline and links to each state's voting requirements was published by the New York Times.
Free Daily Newsletter
We won't share your email with anyone.
How can you adopt a vocabulary that's inclusive and respectful of everyone? This EY exec, an advocate for people with disabilities, shares her insights.
"The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." —Mark Twain
As diversity leaders, we understand that disability is just another kind of difference, like culture, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. We recognize that diversity is a valuable source of insight and adaptability, generating better business ideas and high-quality service. Differing abilities are a part of that healthy diversity. It's our business to promote inclusiveness throughout our organizations and to advocate for policies and programs that support it.
In building an inclusive culture, we're on the front lines and need to be visibly living our organizations' values every day. It's important that we set the tone not only in what we do and say, but how we say it—in formal messaging as well as everyday conversation. This is where even diversity leaders can get stuck.
Sometimes inclusive language can seem a bit cumbersome, but with a few simple changes each of us can make a significant difference—helping to promote an inclusive culture while setting an example both inside and outside our organizations.
Here are six ways never to talk about disabilities:
1. Never say "a disabled person" or "the disabled." Say a person or people "with disabilities."
Put the person first. A disability is what someone has, not what someone is. For instance, "mentally ill" is less respectful than "person with mental-health issues." "Retarded" is never an appropriate term. Say "intellectual disabilities" or "cognitive disabilities."
2. Never use the term "handicapped parking." Use "accessible parking" instead.
Handicapped parking is still in use (e.g., when referring to parking placards), though the word "handicapped" is offensive and has been virtually eliminated in most other contexts. Remove it from your organization's vocabulary completely by using the term "accessible parking." (It's also more accurate, as accessible describes the parking and handicapped does not.)
3. Never use the term "impaired." Use terms such as "low vision," "hard of hearing" or "uses a wheelchair" instead.
Though it may be used in legal contexts, the word "impaired" can be offensive, as it implies damage. Many people with disabilities do not see themselves as damaged, but simply as different.
4. Never say "hidden" disabilities. Say "non-visible" or "non-apparent."Many disabilities are not apparent, such as serious illnesses or chronic health conditions, sensory limitations, or mental-health and learning disabilities. When referring to these disabilities, avoid using hidden, as it has negative connotations, implying purposeful concealment or shame.
5. Whenever possible, don't say "accommodations." Say "adjustments" or "modifications."This can be tricky, as accommodation has a specific legal meaning and must be used in certain contexts, like policy or government communications. However, accommodation suggests doing a favor for the person who has a disability. An accommodation is a workplace or work-process modification made to enable an employee to be more productive. It is necessary and not a preference or privilege. The terms adjustment and modification capture this idea without suggesting a favor or special treatment, so are preferable whenever specific legal terminology is not required.
6. Never use victim or hero language; describe situations in a straightforward way.
Don't use language that portrays people with disabilities as victims, such as "suffers from," "challenged by," or "struggles with." Say "someone who uses a wheelchair" or "wheelchair user," not "wheelchair-bound" or "confined to a wheelchair." On the flip side, don't use heroic language when people with disabilities complete everyday tasks and responsibilities. People with disabilities don't see themselves as inspiring simply because they're going about their daily lives. We all have challenges—working around those challenges is not heroic, it's just human.
What Terminology Should I Use?
It's worth noting that even in the disability community (yes, that is how advocates for inclusion of people with disabilities refer to ourselves), different people are comfortable with different terminology. Some are fine with the descriptor "disabled," which is in common use in the United Kingdom. Others may freely use "impaired." However, as diversity leaders, it is our job to promote behaviors that make all people feel valued and included. Knowing that some people are offended by these terms, I feel strongly that the most inclusive course is to avoid them and adopt a vocabulary that feels respectful to everyone.
As champions of diversity, we have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to set standards for how our people, organizations and society speak and think about people with disabilities. By shifting our language, we can help shift perceptions and promote the culture of inclusion that is the backbone of healthy diversity in all aspects of life.
— Lori Golden, EY, Abilities Strategy Leader
Golden leads EY's internal initiatives in the Americas to create an enabling environment and inclusive culture for people working with disabilities.
Sheltered workshops are vestiges of the past and should be reformed or abolished.
By Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability
Consider this: Businesses in regions with the lowest unemployment rates employ disproportionate numbers of workers with disabilities .
The implication? People with disabilities are more than capable, they're just not companies' first, second, or even third choice. But when employers need talent, they give new people a chance. And when given the chance, people with disabilities succeed.
The Center for Transition and Career Innovation launched this week.
The University of Maryland announced the opening of a new center that will be dedicated to assisting students with disabilities build a meaningful successful career once their days as a Terp are over.
Program that helps people with disabilities may be another casualty in the Republicans' war against Medicaid.
Connect With DiversityInc
Illinois denies high school senior spot in state competition.
An Illinois high school senior is fighting to make his lifelong dream a reality, but this track star has one major hurdle to jump over. Aaron Holzmueller, of Evanston Township High School, is challenging the Illinois High School Association upon its decision to not implement a category that would allow para-ambulatory runners, or those with disabilities who do not use wheelchairs, to compete in the state meet, as they have in swimming and even track for athletes in wheelchairs.
Jose Garcia, SVP Diversity Talent Acquisition Strategy at Wells Fargo, says yes and tells you why.
Free Daily Newsletter
We won't share your email with anyone.
Mentors, Sponsors Play Key Roles in Helping People With Disabilities Bring Their Whole Selves to Work
Professionals with disabilities might feel a little out of place because of their visible or non-visible differences. Mentors and sponsors can play a key role in helping them bring their whole selves to work.
EY sat down with Constant Djacga, who was recently promoted to Audit Partner at the firm, for career advice for people with disabilities. Constant is based in EY's San Jose office. He has a speech dysfluency, which causes stuttering issues.