Lenovo’s “Diversity by Design” and Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  May 25, 2022

The tech industry’s problems with making innovative products and services fully accessible to people facing physical and mental challenges is anything but front-page news. Instead, there is a continuing flow of articles and opinion pieces discussing how the industry could and should clearly work harder at addressing the requirements of special needs individuals and groups.

But while the industry’s overall record on accessibility could be better, some individual vendors, such as Lenovo, have made accessibility a central issue organizationally and in their business and development processes. Let’s consider the announcements Lenovo made to highlight the recent 11th Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).

GAAD and the tech industry

So what is GAAD? Inspired by a blog posted in 2011 by web developer Joe Devon, GAAD aims to increase awareness and spark innovations that make technology products and services more accessible and useful to the estimated 1 billion people worldwide who struggle with disabilities, including visual, audial, motor and cognitive impairments. GAAD supporters recommend following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) first published in 1997.

With nearly a quarter century of planning, effort and funding behind it, you would think that WCAG (now WCAG 2.0) has made a great deal of progress, right? Not quite. In fact, a 2020 WebAIM study analyzed one million home pages for accessibility issues and found that 98.1 percent of home pages contained at least one WCAG 2.0 failure (leading to significant errors). Additionally, the million home pages analyzed averaged 60.9 errors each, including missing and low contrast text and empty links and buttons.

For unimpaired workers and consumers, these errors are typically minor inconveniences. However, such errors can create serious impediments for a multitude of disabled people. In turn, as people, organizations, countries and regions have turned more and more toward using digital services and tools in education, workplaces, government and commercial processes and recreation, inaccessible technologies are hindering hundreds of millions of disabled people from fully living, learning and working.

In essence, accessibility is vitally important to individuals and organizations worldwide.

Lenovo’s Diversity by Design and GAAD 2022

What has Lenovo been doing to make its solutions and services more accessible? In 2020, the company created a new Product Diversity Office (PDO) designed to ensure that Lenovo products were developed with “Diversity by Design” – that is, in line with diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) goals.

To achieve this, diverse teams work in product planning and execution phases, and the PDO also consults with a broad range of diverse users to validate designs and provide feedback. Finally, Lenovo encourages partnerships with employee resource groups and diversity partners like its accessibility and inclusion advisor, Haben Girma (the first deaf/blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School).

Those and other efforts led to Lenovo announcements and posts coinciding with GAAD 2022:

  • A commentary by Ada Lopez, manager and program director for Lenovo PDO that includes her thoughts on vetting 38 company products for accessibility, and the launch of a new “Accessibility Consultation” process and form. Lopez shares some examples of the benefits the company has delivered, as well her thoughts on the future of Lenovo PDO.
  • A post by Thorsten Stremlau, CTO and executive director of Lenovo’s Commercial Product Portfolio about a recent collaboration between the company and Dr. Peter Scott-Morgan for Lenovo’s Kind Cities Campaign– an initiative shedding light on the need for kindness in all communities. Diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND) – also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – in 2017, Dr. Scott-Morgan provided insights to Lenovo and its partners on developing accessibility solutions to create better experiences for individuals with disabilities. Stremlau also discusses how the Covid-19 pandemic has increased Lenovo’s focus on mental health and helping those afflicted by anxiety, PTSD and other pandemic-related conditions.
  • An article exploring a partnership between Lenovo Turkey and BlindLook to become the first computer brand in Turkey to cater to those who are visually impaired. As a result of the partnership, all Lenovo notebooks and desktops will be compatible with audio simulation technology designed to enable greater access for users. Those include 16 simulations in Lenovo Thinkpad Carbon Models that are designed to help impaired users learn common tasks, such as how to surf the internet, how to use office apps and insights on using the keyboard.

Final analysis

The posts and announcements celebrating GAAD 2022 paint a bright picture of Lenovo PDO and the company’s efforts to develop accessible commercial products and services while continuing to pursue its diversity, equity and inclusion goals. The broad focus of the company’s DE&I efforts reflects its ambitions in this space, as well as the extent of Lenovo’s worldwide business. With supporting operations in over 60 countries and sales in around 180 countries, the company’s literal global reach means that the benefits of Lenovo PDO and its technology accessibility strategy can potentially reach most of the 1 billion individuals struggling with disabilities and help them enjoy fuller, more productive lives.

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