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Kim and Cole Stephens.

Kim and Cole Stephens.

By Kim Stephens

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Many people may think, “Well, that’s nice, but that doesn’t really impact me.”

That’s the way I felt until one moment almost two and a half years ago. That was the moment my two-year old son was diagnosed with a life-threatening, progressive disease – Hunter Syndrome. From that moment on he was a child with a disability, and I became a special needs mom.

I’ve always been a strong supporter of people with disabilities. I worked for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for three years, and for almost four years, I was a part of IBM’s AccessibilityCenter, now called the Human Ability and Accessibility Center. But until that moment in the doctor’s office when the full impact of raising a child with a disability came crashing down on me, it wasn’t personal. Now it is.

As the IBM Global Diversity and Inclusion Education Lead, I have a mission, but as a staunch supporter of equal rights and accessibility, I have a passion. That passion is fueled by the thought that someday my child will grow up and enter the workforce. This is my hope, and it’s a hope that goes against the very nature of his disease. But fighting for my son’s future is my job as a parent and as an advocate for people with disabilities.

With my job role, I can work within a large corporation to help create solutions for people with disabilities and raise awareness. Early in my career I worked on IBM Home Page Reader, one of the first talking Web browsers for people who are blind or visually impaired.

I helped create Web accessibility guidelines when we were all still hand coding HTML.

So what will I do next? I’m still knee-deep in technical solutions, but I want to go deeper. I want to tap into the unconscious biases that we all have about people with disabilities and anyone that is different from us. I want to help people slow down and think about the viewpoints and lens that they use to separate and distance themselves from those around them.

Kim Stephens, Global Diversity and Inclusion Education Lead, IBM

Kim Stephens, Global Diversity and Inclusion Education Lead, IBM

I want to make it just a little bit easier for my son when he enters the workforce or just kindergarten later this year. I want so much for him, just like we all want so much for our children.

So in this anniversary year of the ADA, take a moment to think about what you can do to make life easier for people with disabilities — because in a moment your whole life can change – you or a person you love could suddenly be a person with a disability.

For more information, check out IBM Accessibility and IBM Diversity, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act 25th Anniversary page.


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Posted by: پارتیشن
January 5, 2016
6:33 am

Good idea, if the act is implemented worldwide it will help the people with disabilities.

Posted by: deno
December 18, 2015
8:52 am

Thanks Kim, It is a very moving story.

Posted by: Sunil Nigam
August 5, 2015
9:11 am

Thanks for the posting Kim. My wife was a special-ed teacher who became a college professor of disability studies. She got ALS and found that, as her illness progressed, many of the same accommodations that she advocated for for children
became important for her. One of the pleasant discoveries about the ADA is that often the design changes introduced for the disabled make life easier for everyone.
However, ADA compliance can raise some real issues in the workplace. I would like to raise two issues relevant to IBM:

- I used to manage a deaf software engineer. It was quite common that an online meeting or a required educational video was not available with captioning. The engineer got tired of asking for captions and as a result sometimes missed being part of a discussion. I got tired of raising issues about captioning on the engineer’s behalf. The lack of captioning is still a problem. How can we create a company culture where appropriate accommodations are routine?

- The UIs for some of IBM’s software products do not have adaptations for screen readers or keyboard access to GUI elements. The products ship for years with waivers on our accessibility guidelines. How can we make it a business goal to have the most accessible software in all product categories?

We should use the ADA anniversary as time to review our own practices to make accessibility for all a reality.

Posted by: Dan Goessling
August 4, 2015
5:19 pm

Kindly withdraw the comment that I posted at 4:47 PM on August 4, 2015. I feel that this article not be the correct forum for me to be promoting ADA (which stands for American Diabetes Association).

Posted by: Sridhar Murthy
August 3, 2015
1:05 pm

Thank you for sharing your story and your passion to bring awareness to everyone.

Posted by: Tom Sawicki
August 3, 2015
11:19 am

2 IBMers were featured in a disability awareness video (myself and another) 7 years ago. The title is called America’s Strength. There are lots of disabled IBMers getting it done each and every day. I think the key themes are that due to a lack of understanding, companies view ADA as an expensive reason to avoid hiring disabled persons. The reality is that with a modicum of expense, companies can add talented workers who add variety to the labor pool

Posted by: Andrew Bryant
July 31, 2015
12:52 pm

Thanks for sharing your story. It always has greater impact when it comes with the voice of someone who has been there. I work with elderly in my community, and I always find that when I speak coming from experience, it means so much more. Wishing you, Cole and you family the best life possible.

Posted by: Bernard King-Smith
July 31, 2015
11:41 am

Thank you Kim for sharing your story and your heart with us. As a special needs mom of an exceptional child I often wonder how she will accomplish all the life choices she dreams of daily. How encouraging it is to know that IBM has someone as committed as you are to dive deeper for solutions–someone who understands first hand what challenges people with disabilities face–someone who desires to make a difference in the lives of those with disabilities. As we advocate for our daughter, it is our great hope that society will one day see the tremendous potential for the future that every exceptional person with a disability carries within themselves. Your efforts to go ahead and prepare a place here at IBM with tools and accessibility will one day enable people like my daughter to maximize her fullest potential. Our great hope is as she continues to dream of one day working for IBM like her mom, that because of you, her dreams have possibility and IBM will have been made ready by all of your hard work and accomplishments. Thank you for ALL that you do to further the cause, for promoting the ADA and for making it possible for people with disabilities to effectively demonstrate all they have to offer.

Posted by: Danita Oliver
July 31, 2015
10:55 am

Thanks Kim for sharing your story with the world.

Posted by: Paula Kwit
July 30, 2015
1:49 pm

Kim, Thank you for all you are doing, personally and professionally, in support of accessibility. The World Report on Disability states that disability is part of the human condition – almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently disabled at some point in life (paraphrased). I see aging friends and family members struggle with various challenges unimagined in earlier and younger years. Think about it on your next birthday, or any and every day!

Posted by: Carol Zarker
July 30, 2015
11:05 am

Kim, thanks for your story, your mission and passion that you share for people with Disabilities. My story began back in 1983 when I became a foster parent of a child who had been abused and had permanent brain damage from that abuse. One year later I was fortunate enough to be able to adopt him and call him my son. He is my pride and joy. The ADA Act was just becoming a real live support system for parents as I sat in ARD meetings wondering… how will I get through this. The ADA has done so much for our kids… The work you are doing is wonderful and will make a difference in lives for years to come. My son is now 33 and has an amazing life. Keep doing what you are doing because you are making a difference. We should all remember that people, kids, adults with disabilities are a human beings first… the disability is just a part of who they are…. and as a human we all want to be loved and feel like a part of this society called life. Thanks again for your work….

Posted by: Jackie Buford
July 30, 2015
10:03 am

Thanks Kim! I have a similar story. When some new part of reality — like living with a disability — becomes personal for us, our world gets bigger. I wouldn’t wish special needs or disability on anyone, and at the same time my life and the lives of my family and friends are bigger as a result of who my daughter is and what she deals with. Overcoming my own ignorance and personal involvement as her life progresses isn’t always easy, but just saying ‘yes’ to each new diagnosis or progression is a lot like solving any other problem — it creates the space for something new to become possible. And that’s pretty inspiring.

Posted by: Lecia Papadopoulos
July 30, 2015
9:56 am

Two years ago, my 29 year old daughter, suffered a brain injury. As a right handed Graphic Design who spent her days putting ink to paper, what does a right handed pen and ink artist do when they no longer can use their right hand? We are still searching for that answer. Without ADA there would be no way she could even search for the answer. I am thankful it is there. I am hopeful it will expand and improve in the years to come.

Posted by: Karen Curd
July 30, 2015
9:49 am

Thank you Kim for your passion and your mission. It is true, all of the tools and technology created will not help those with special needs reach their full potential unless we can overcome the unconscious bias that exists. We must work to look through an individual diverse lens vs. a “normal” lens. I don’t believe there is a “normal” when it comes to describing the human being.

Posted by: Gusanita Roberson
July 30, 2015
8:14 am

Thankyou for the post and your goal to raise awareness of unconscious bias. The WW Special Olympics is going on in LA at the moment. It strikes me that all of us need to reach our full potential – I mean who is “normal” these days.

Posted by: MaryRose Crotty O'Connor
July 29, 2015
10:05 pm

Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you as well for the work that you have done and continue to do to raise awareness of unconscious bias.

Posted by: Leslie Ott
July 27, 2015
10:35 pm

Thanks for the post. An inspiring one. Lets not think that they are different. They should still live life and enjoy every moment.

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