Conference season is a time of great learning for both the employee and the employer. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn, grow, and stay at the cutting edge of a given field. At the same time, a lot goes into making the process a success. Conferences require ticket purchases, travel, expense questions, and consistently being “on” from the moment you wear your good shoes to the relief felt from closing an Uber door back to your temporary base of operations.
So, what was our goal at SXSW (pronounced South By South West) between this exciting tightrope of learning, networking, and managing our tired feet? We wanted to learn if SXSW was for Tamman and our place in the conference as a digital accessibility thought leader.
Another goal of ours was team unity. It was a huge reason we brought in our CEO Jeff Tamburino. He is investing part of 2023 into meeting our non-East Coast employees. He went down to Austin to learn more about our team members, what their work experience is like, what ideas they have to help Tamman reach new heights, and to simply get to know them as people, not just employees. This is one of many trips our CEO has planned; Jeff has plans to visit additional groups of employees outside of the East Coast soon.
So we’ve got our goals set, our team in high spirits, and our elevator pitches ready to go at the flash of a business card. What did our team members learn, and how did they grow? Let’s find out.
We wanted to get an accurate understanding of what the digital accessibility scene was at SXSW. So early in SXSW, our CEO Jeff checked out the accessibility session Future Proof Workplace Through Digital Inclusion.
Our biggest takeaway was that the population decline will be the biggest challenge to the workforce. This translates into our workforce aging rapidly, so companies will HAVE to make tools and workflows more accessible to the entire population that needs those accommodations.
This panel was led by Jonathan Thurston, Director of Digital Accessibility at Walmart, who facilitated the conversation to discuss strategies for embedding digital inclusion across the enterprise.
Key Takeaways –
- Highlighted the aging population reality
- The number of Americans ages 65 and older will more than double over the next 40 years, reaching 80 million in 2040. The number of adults ages 85 and older, who most often need help with basic personal care, will nearly quadruple between 2000 and 2040.
- This means older workers will be needed to fill the gaps, and this age group needs the most accessibility accommodations.
- This means that as the workforce ages, companies that incorporate digital accessibility early on will likely attract more workers that fit their needs.
- By bridging this gap, large and small employers will benefit from building accommodation infrastructure for workers with low vision, difficulty hearing, decreased finger dexterity, and more.
- Companies will have to make tools and workflows more accessible to the entire population that needs those accommodations.
Our Business Analyst (and Data Science maestro), Emma attended the panel “Using Brain Science to be a Better Manager” with Jeff.
Key Takeaways –
- Did you know the average person makes 35,000 decisions a day?
- Framing – how you say something is more important than what you say.
- Be aware of positive and negative biases in your statements.
- The importance of clear communication.
- A poorly written email costs your team 17 hours of wasted time a week.
- Spend the extra time to put things into context so there is no confusion with your message.
- Empathy is a gift you should be handing out often.
- An interesting fact: 7% of C-Suite execs have a disability, but 4 of 5 don’t disclose it.
Our team resonated with this talk so much that our CEO Jeff met with the panel’s lead speaker Melina Palmer, and bought a copy of her book, What Your Employees Need and Cannot Tell You. and got it signed on the spot.
One of our expert Email Developers and Austin local, Laura, went to the Hacking Beauty for Accessibility panel led by Estee Lauder’s VP of Digital Tech.
Key Takeaways –
One of our favorite quotes of the weekend was dropped here: “People with disabilities are the first in ultimate hackers because they have to figure out how to navigate everything every day.”
Estee Lauder even has an app that tells people with low vision that their makeup is on evenly/correctly.
Enrique, one of our ace Mac Enterprise Engineers, went to the highly packed Own your own data by taking control of your digital future panel, led by a former Cambridge Analytica employee.
Key Takeaways –
- Data rights are one of the most important topics of human rights.
- In most jurisdictions, data collection has few laws on how it can be received and what can be done with it.
- Education is vital to know what is being done with your data.
- It is essential to include data rights from the start of developing a new technology or application.
- Auditing mechanisms are necessary to prevent algorithm biases.
- The development of algorithm bias is impossible to eliminate completely.
- Speakers state that because of these biases, bringing together team members of diverse backgrounds is increasingly important.
We also enjoyed spending time with our friends at the Amplify Philly house! They had a fantastic atmosphere and even more incredible panelists.
Overall, our presence at SXSW was a success both as individuals and as a company. SXSW helped our employees learn more about their chosen fields and how seemingly separate journeys can help build them up. It provided us the opportunity for our CEO to visit our Texas crew and get to know them better and understand what their day-to-day experience is like.
As a company, we learned that while accessibility and universal access to information drive us, it’s not as much of a priority to the broader tech space. That is why SXSW 2023 was a massive gain for us; we learned what the accessibility scene is like, where it is lacking, and how to improve on it. We will be ready to broaden accessibility awareness and staying power in the future. If you feel similar to us that digital accessibility is sorely missing from the conference, join us in making our driving force a standard that benefits everyone who uses technology.