As more and more business and education is conducted via webinars, virtual meetings, and other online venues, the independent living community is faced with new challenges to access. Consider the last webinar you attended and imagine (or remember!) how it was for someone with a visual, hearing, or mobility impairment to participate. Now add in the interactive innovations that are quickly improving virtual engagement, and accessibility becomes even more challenging. These were obstacles Jim Eli, EPA’s Vice President, was committed to address and solve with all the equipment and technology at his disposal.
Jim believed in creating access to all people, disability or no. Before he died, one of his fondest wishes was to create a system that allowed every interested partner in a project to communicate virtually with ease.
Jim was a champion of inclusiveness and the worth and contribution of every person. He worked tirelessly to include all our partners when, in 2013, we launched a two-year process of innovating to make the virtual environment both highly engaging (and hopefully less frustrating) and inclusive.
Just a few days before his passing, Jim facilitated an online meeting with members of our local disabled community. We included one participant who was visually impaired and one who was hearing impaired. We also included a program manager from FREED Independent Living Center who could consider the perspectives of all disabilities they serve, including those with mobility impairments.
This small group slogged through a highly interactive web-based event which taught us more precisely how screen readers interact with the platform and how to incorporate closed-captioning, polls, and engaging visuals. We learned how to design the audio and visual aspects of the event so that each person was fully included. There were glitches of course, but with a twinkle in his eye, Jim could foresee how to address them. At one point in the meeting, he choked up, saying:
“I am completely amazed to see what [people with disabilities] have to do just to interact with a world that wasn’t built for them.”
We are working with an online platform that has many exciting possibilities for inclusion and effective collaboration. As with most innovation, our enthusiasm is still running far ahead of technology. (Here is a link to a demo of our virtual engagement platform.)
We believe that Jim made the world a better place. It has been our privilege and honor to have him in our lives as a devoted father, husband, and visionary. We will continue his work in his memory.