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Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, a non-profit dedicated to accessibility, education, and advocacy, joins the program to discuss his own diversity of story of losing his sight in 2005 after developing meningitis. Albert shares the theoretical blind spots that can get in the way of progress. He also reveals why digital equity will ultimately benefit people of all abilities and discusses the business case for corporations to become more accessible.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • How to challenge the status quo when it comes to persons of all abilities (7:00)
  • The theoretical “blind spots” that get in the way of progress (13:00)
  • The emotions that complicate the response to disabilities (19:00)
  • The importance of teamwork in creating change (28:30)
  • Why digital equity benefits everyone (31:00)
  • How companies can build a new market for their products and services (33:30)
  • The impact that aging will have on consumer needs (34:00)
  • How new technologies will expand transportation and mobility options (38:00)
  • How to open up nontraditional avenues of employment for persons with disabilities (41:00)

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

JENNIFER BROWN: Albert, welcome to The Will to Change.

ALBERT RIZZI: Thank you, Jennifer. Happy to be here.

JENNIFER BROWN: Me, too. We’re live with each other in person, believe it or not, and with your beautiful guide doggie here, whom I love.

ALBERT RIZZI: Just sitting there saying, “How come I don’t have a microphone?” (Laughter.)

JENNIFER BROWN: “I have a lot to say about this guy.” I’m sure. (Laughter.) The stories he could tell!

ALBERT RIZZI: The tales he could tell, yeah. (Laughter.)

JENNIFER BROWN: Anyway, we met through the wonderful Stella and Fannie. Do you want to talk a little bit about your involvement with that group and what you’re up to?

ALBERT RIZZI: Yeah, sure. Fannie and I met through Studio Analogous and she was kind enough to introduce me to Stella and Leslie and we did that Inclusion Summit on Aging and Genderism together, and that’s how you and I met.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.

ALBERT RIZZI: Girl power!

JENNIFER BROWN: Girl power, that’s right. And we bonded immediately on many levels.

ALBERT RIZZI: It was even seconds, it was weird. It was like you’re my “sista from anotha mista.”

JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. I love that. So, we’re going to get into the why and wherefore of that today a bit.

ALBERT RIZZI: Sounds like a plan.

JENNIFER BROWN: We always start The Will to Change with our diversity stories. I love yours. Unique as they all are. Tell us a little bit about what that means to you?

ALBERT RIZZI: It’s interesting, the will to change, I didn’t have any choice in the change, but I willed it to be comfortable and enjoyable. Actually, 13 years ago Sunday, this past Sunday, and 13 years ago this very week, I was fighting for my life.

The doctor thought I had a sinus infection and went into the hospital, started getting spinal taps. One, two came back negative; three, four came back positive. And after about four days, five days, it was decided I had meningitis.

I went into the hospital December 9th, 2005, roughly about at 194-ish pounds with 20/20 vision, and left two months later totally blind and 125 pounds, and woke up as a blind man – person who happened to be blind, whatever you want to say. And after what really seems to be a day or two and a strong talking to by my father, I was told he didn’t raise a quitter. And at the time, I was a principal and was a kindergarten teacher and took over a nonprofit school in the South Bronx.

He reminded me that I expected 100 percent of my students, of my nieces and my nephews, and I had to show him right now, right here, what it was like to put forth 100 percent, and that I and to go out there and be the best blind person there ever was. So, I’ve been on that journey for about ten years now. We’re running into those virtual and literal walls. I think I’ve said this a few times, my nose is Italian, it’s big enough, I don’t want to run into any more to make it swollen. (Laughter.)

I started My Blind Spot, which is an organization geared at inspiring digital equity for people in the 21st century. We want to make sure that people of all abilities have access to execute in life. When I lost my eyesight, I found that my access to the things I did every day were disabled to me, but yet I was the one who had the word “disability” or “disabled” stamped on my forehead. I dove into learning more about the community, more about how to assimilate back into being an executive. And My Blind Spot was born.

And it’s more about the blind spots in our lives, the theoretical blind spots that we have than it is about the physical blindness. And we advocate for authentic inclusion of ability alongside race, gender, orientation and religion in both our social and corporate cultures.

And as you had said so many times, and I’ve been stealing it, replicating it, duplicating it.


ALBERT RIZZI: Oh, it is, yes. I talk about the intersectionality of ability in all those other diversity groups that are celebrated because the disability community numbers over 1.4 billion in the world. That’s as large as the population of China. We have 2.3 billion friends and family, we have nearly $8 trillion of discretionary spending power, 4.9 trillion of that resides in North America with $175 billion of disposable income.

While it’s all wonderful and great to do things for the right reason because the poor disabled person needs help, air quotes, the world doesn’t operate on pure goodness. They want to make sure that there’s a return on their investment and that there’s a bang for the buck. And we got lots of bucks in our wallets and we want to spend them and be appreciated for them.

JENNIFER BROWN: We do. You know, diverse communities in general are the fastest growing in terms of spending power. So, companies that heed this and are proactive around building not just customer and market approaches, but talent approaches for all kinds of abilities. It turns out, what’s good for people with differing abilities is good for all of us.


JENNIFER BROWN: I always say a third of us will have a disability at some point in our lifetimes as well.

ALBERT RIZZI: I have a colleague of mine, Ray Saltini at FFW, who says, “We’re all temporarily abled.” (Laughter.)

JENNIFER BROWN: Don’t get used to it.

ALBERT RIZZI: No, right. It’s one of those things. We age into this community, you know? I think I look at – again, that intersectionality of it all, but if you take a look, I think I’ve said this to you before, but it’s worth saying again. Forrest Gump. We look at him as the median. Right now, there are 61 million people in the United States that have a disability. Let’s say 30 million of those people are institutionalized or dependent on daily care. We don’t want to distract the world from taking care of people who are in absolute need.

But then when we look at somebody like Forrest Gump, who overcame mental adversity, physical adversity, socioeconomic adversity, and had access to the right tools to promote his own ability, thereby creating infinite possibilities in his life, he was better off for it. That’s our mantra, access to the right tools creates ability or promotes ability and it creates infinite possibilities in people’s lives.

And that’s how I was raised: Here’s the tool, use the tool, learn how to use the tool, become fantastically able, and then go make the possibilities with what you’ve learned.

And I think that when we look at the generalization, and if we look at, again, the historical perspective on the civil rights movement going back to the ’60s with African Americans and blacks and negroes, all the variations on the themes of who they wanted to be recognized as or referred to. And even the infighting or differences of opinion about who was too black or not black enough or too white and not white enough.

And then the ’70s with the women wanting to shed the chains of domestic bondage, to a degree. And stepping out into the world to be accountable and valued. And not forget that they still could be homemakers if they chose to, all the issues that were there, and then the LGBT community, if you weren’t in drag and a boa, you weren’t really gay you know? (Laughter.)


ALBERT RIZZI: Yeah, you didn’t have on flannel and a tool belt.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. I didn’t fit that, either.


JENNIFER BROWN: It was a strange thing.

ALBERT RIZZI: To this day, I don’t. And people say, “You don’t sound gay, you don’t look gay.” I’m like, “Let me put my six-inch stiletto heels on and my dress and we’ll be fine.” I don’t know what you want.

And I get the same thing today, “Well, you don’t look blind.” And I think, “Well, am I supposed to be black? Am I supposed to have glasses? Is my head supposed to rock back and forth?” Am I supposed to look like Helen Keller? What does being blind look like to you?


ALBERT RIZZI: That’s one of the things I think that I’ve been called by my higher power to redefine how people see ability, not so much disability, because we’ve had that defined for us for years and now we’re trying to break those antiquated myths and misperceptions that have been handed down for thousands of years and challenging the status quo to look at us, see us, value us, and count us amongst that community of people who are deserving of going to work, going to school, recreating, procreating – all of it.

JENNIFER BROWN: All of it. You mentioned the LGBT community. You and I share the fact that we’re in that community.


JENNIFER BROWN: You came out years ago and then you’re speaking of your intersectionality. You mentioned to me that you learned, and I agree with this, so much about how change happens and how normalization happens and educating people and how to grapple with something you can hide, which is interesting because you walk around the world and people see you, they think they see you, and they make assumptions about who you really are on multiple levels.


JENNIFER BROWN: How do you decide to talk about outing yourself and compounding – we talk about intersectionality as the compounding of stigmatized identities, the interplay between them and how they can magnify each other or cause extra or complex burden. How does that feel for you?

ALBERT RIZZI: Well, I did draw a lot of confidence. Yeah, that’s the only word I can come up with. And being a member of the LGBT community, as I transitioned into the blind community, I remember back in the day when we had ACT UP.


ALBERT RIZZI: I’m not an activist as much as I’m an advocate. And I think there’s a distinction between the two. Activists are in your face like the Panthers, some of the women’s rights groups. There is just so much value in advocating to be included and valued as an individual that I think sometimes being an activists can be off-putting.

Self-identification in the disability community is still an issue.


ALBERT RIZZI: We have a lot of people worried HIPAA laws, “I don’t have to tell them I’m blind.” They’re going to figure it out when you walk in the door, dude, you know? (Laughter.) What do you mean you need a screen reader and a dog or a cane? Why didn’t you just say that?

JENNIFER BROWN: It would help to show the sheer size of the community. We have the same thing in the LGBT community. There are a ton of people who are hiding. Tons.

ALBERT RIZZI: Oh, I’m with you. And I don’t deny I’m gay when I meet people. Again, I guess I’ve got to act it a little better because I thought you couldn’t figure it out – I mean miss that I was gay with the broad side of a barn. “So, are you married?” “No.” “Why? A guy like you should have a wife or a girlfriend.” I’m like, “Yeah, no, no, no.” (Laughter.) “Okay, I got that done. Got what I need at home.”

But the same thing is true. When we have people with invisible disabilities – and that’s one of the things about My Blind Spot. We talked about the theoretical blindness in our lives and the blind spots that impact our forward progression in life.

We work across the spectrum of ability. We work to ensure that people who are living with sensory loss, whether it’s a hearing impairment, visual impairment, or speech impediment. People whether have mobility issues, people who may have had a spinal cord injury. We’ve got people on the team who are paralyzed from the neck down – shout out to Jeff Weldon, how you doing buddy?

We have people who are amputees. We have people who have cognitive issues, cognitive delays, people with dyslexia – I finally said that right today. Aging. We did the whole spectrum because all of the simple codes that go into a digital platform allow the full array of assistive devices, whether it’s a screen reader that people who are totally blind use, it takes the textual information and turns it into an audio output. We have magnifiers, Braille displays for people who read Braille. Everybody who’s blind should learn how to read Braille, otherwise you’ll be functionally illiterate. And then we have Dragon Speaks, the voice-to-text technology, the voiceovers of the world. All of those tools, when we work to incorporate the code to work for people like myself, when we focus on people who live life with their eyes closed, so to speak, we’ve knocked out 90 percent of the barriers in the lives of people of all abilities.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so beautiful. I was researching a bit at your behest about Microsoft and Office 365 or Intuit creating that kind of technology for bookkeepers. There’s an interesting video that you sent me.

We designed a program with Wells Fargo, one of our clients, for leaders with disabilities. It was such an instructive experience to go through the PowerPoint and the slides that we created and make sure we described all the images and that we designed in such a way that was good for low vision and all the other abilities that would be in the classroom.

It was a real wake-up call and it became a standard for my team, then, to not make the assumption that this is just for programs for people with disabilities, it’s for all audiences, because there are always people with varying abilities in the room. You just don’t know. There is so much hiding, there is so much reticence to ask for what you need, and not, then, adversely obviously affects performance and engagement and all of those things.

ALBERT RIZZI: Do you know Kathy Martinez?

JENNIFER BROWN: I do. She’s been on the podcast. Shout out!

ALBERT RIZZI: Shout out to Kathy Martinez.

JENNIFER BROWN: And Wells Fargo!

ALBERT RIZZI: Wells Fargo! When you said that, I thought, “It probably had to be Kathy.”


ALBERT RIZZI: It’s always Kathy.

JENNIFER BROWN: I know. The thing about that, too, is self-identification is difficult. That’s something we’ve learned in the schools. We’re working with this new solution called CaptiVoice, which is an assistive reading device that is universally accessible to people who are print disabled, which is the terminology I use when we talk about people who are blind, sensory loss, physically impaired, mobility impaired, dyslexic, and people who are second-land learners, regardless of language.

When we’re in a classroom as kids, we’re afraid to ask the questions and self-identify somebody who doesn’t know something or isn’t, quote/unquote, normal. Right?

So, we carry that with us today. That winds up morphing into who we are as an adult. We don’t want to identify as the gay person until we know the room is comfortable, we don’t want to identify with the person who may have a hidden disability because people are going to look at us differently. I know they look at me differently.

I was in the church choir once and I could hear people, “How are we going to get him to go up onto the altar?” I said, “Use his dog.” (Laughter.) It’s like I’m in the room, I’m not deaf. You know? I can hear you people.

So, it’s always interesting how we all have to educate ourselves and educate those around us to understand our abilities are only limited by the low expectations that are thrust upon us by others.

It’s this community of people that – if you were given an invitation to join this club, that included Sir Richard Branson, who’s taking us to Mars, Virgin Records, Virgin Airlines, Cher, Einstein, all three of them dyslexic. Thomas Edison, low vision, hard of hearing. Michael J. Fox, mobility impaired because of his Parkinson’s. And then we have people like Jim Sinocchi at JP Morgan Chase and Victor Calise, commissioner for the Office of the People With Disabilities here in New York City, paralyzed or in a wheelchair, different spinal cord injuries.

You would never take the invitation to that exclusive club of people. And it goes far beyond just names that we know. You take a look at Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I mean, I immediately dove into the history of disabilities and who was the first person or where did it first come to pass. And I was blown away to find out that the very first reference made to anyone with a disability was this queen in India who had her left leg severed in battle and jammed this rod in her leg and went back out to battle. It was so B.C., I can’t even tell you how many numbers before that.

And then I followed it through. You talk about the progression of all the different assistive devices that we’ve used and all the people who have shaped the world.

Winton Churchill was mentally ill, suicidal and extremely depressed. I mean, the man wouldn’t even go up near a balcony for fear he was going to throw himself off it, and two of his family members, his children, did commit suicide.

It’s interesting how we all look at people with disabilities with this concept of less than and guilt and fear – fear that we’re going to catch it or somehow acquire it, like what happened to me, or guilt because we couldn’t protect our loved one, whether it’s our child or our spouse, our parents from acquiring it.

And it’s those emotions that complicate our being able to be compassionately empathetic about the ability, because we feel guilty or afraid that we couldn’t stop it.

I just believe that when we take a measure of the real successful people in the world who have done great things, at least 25 percent of them were disabled – 25 percent of people with disability.


ALBERT RIZZI: A colleague of mine, Susan Robinson, fantastic advocate for the community. She and I both believe that we should not talk about people being disabled. You can disable a bomb, you can disable a car. “Disabled,” but the definition, means to make something stop working, make it stop moving. You can’t disable me. I like to say, “Don’t dis my ability, okay?”

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, that’s your hashtag. I saw that. (Laughter.)

ALBERT RIZZI: Yeah. Hashtag, don’t dis my ability, #AccessAbility. We believe in that. There’s a need for us to shift our mindsets about coddling people because they don’t fit the, quote/unquote, norm. What is normal, anyway?


ALBERT RIZZI: It’s what we make it.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s so true. Albert, you guide organizations to be better on this.


JENNIFER BROWN: And so you have the inside view of what is or is not enabling an inclusive workplace for all abilities – technology and otherwise. So, what are the things you look for in terms of a committed employer? I know you are not just a corporate advisor, but state and city governments as well.


JENNIFER BROWN: You think about smarter cities. You think about living in New York. It’s by turns, the greatest and the most frustrating place to be differently abled. I mean, you go in the subway every single time.

ALBERT RIZZI: Oh, it’s true.

JENNIFER BROWN: And you’re like, “How is this okay?”

ALBERT RIZZI: We were just discussing that on the way here, Joseph and I, Joseph Bevzner (ph.), a colleague and friend. We were traveling out of the hotel and he said, “Come on, let’s walk in the street.” I said, “Why?” He said, “There are trees laying down, they’re doing some landscaping.” On the sidewalk? And then coming here to meet you, there was construction and I had to walk between cars. And he just turned to me and said, “I don’t know how you do it.” It’s one of those things. I’d be screaming at the dog. “Why are we going in the street?” Well, there are no visual cues for me, there are audio cues, either.

We were just last week – yeah, a week ago Monday – we are at the U.N. celebrating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.

ALBERT RIZZI: And we worked very closely with the Kessler Foundation, the Kessler Family, and the U.N. to create this very first of its kind engagement with the community. We had some fantastic speakers, one of whom I met for the first time, Christine, whose last name I forget at the moment, I apologize. Fantastic woman working in the apparel field who lost use of her arms and had complications getting dressed. And now she creates this accessible clothing line.


ALBERT RIZZI: Susan Robinson, who’s a great motivational speaker, she’s don TED Talks all over the place, and Jim Sinucchi from JP Morgan Chase. In the short time that I’ve been blind – I have to say, Helen Keller once said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.” The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.


ALBERT RIZZI: I’ve never seen more clearly in my entire life. I have this vision for all things possible. And we do meet with organizations. Intuit, we’ve been working with them now almost eight years and we’ve made their premier accounting software program, QuickBooks for Windows, accessible and usable, which is critical. There’s a big difference between making something accessible and making sure it’s usable. So, we’ve made it usable and functional for the first time. I’d say we’ve helped at least 500, 600 people get or keep jobs, not have to go onto disability.

I mean, the work we do at My Blind Spot is to make sure people have choices in their lives. We advocate with the corporations, state agencies, and we’ll get to some of those in a moment, to make sure that we aren’t forcing the disability community to become taxing dependents, but by creating avenues to employment that are digitally inclusive, we create independent taxpayers.

Back in the ’80s, we were talking about the LGBTQ community. I was working with MTS, an organization that helped people with AIDS find work. And their motto was: The cure is working. Being able to get up every day to go to work can cure you of so many damn things.

JENNIFER BROWN: Totally. Totally.

ALBERT RIZZI: And I carry that in my heart every day, you know? All the things I learned about coming out and wanting to be accountable for who I am in my authentic, true self has really translated into who I am today. Much to people’s chagrin, they wish I wasn’t so authentic. (Laughter.)

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s called honesty.

ALBERT RIZZI: I know. You don’t like it? Get out of the way! (Laughter.)

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s refreshing.

ALBERT RIZZI: No, it is to a degree.

JENNIFER BROWN: Depends who you ask.

ALBERT RIZZI: I’m an acquired taste, you know?

JENNIFER BROWN: Your dog loves you.

ALBERT RIZZI: Oh, he does. Oh, my God, I’d be lost without him. My number-one son is home, he’s 13-and-a-half, he’ll be 14 in March. This is my baby boy, so I’ve got two boys.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, cute, cute.

ALBERT RIZZI: We work with Intuit. We’ve worked with American Airlines. We’re working with Canon U.S.A. right now. We are working with the State of New York delivering for the first time what’s termed as digital accessibility and usability testing and remediation services.

JENNIFER BROWN: Wow. Sounds very complicated.

ALBERT RIZZI: So, it’s a mouthful. Basically, what it means is we assess digital platforms for usability and functionality and guide the IT teams and the dev teams into best practices for bringing them into compliance with the WCAG standards, the international standards that have now been adopted here in the United States, bringing our country into full compliance and alignment with the international community.



JENNIFER BROWN: Tell us about the requirements for – where do you see this going in terms of percentages of spend with owners of companies with disabilities? So, I’m a certified LGBT-owned and woman-owned business. And the whole conversation about certified disability-owned – I’m not sure what the exact language us. But the bottom line is getting more diverse suppliers into the spend mix for agencies, cities, companies. It’s helped me. In fact, I have the Wells Fargo relationship because they were very committed as a company to LGBT-owned companies. They were building a suite of leadership programs and invited me to bid on an RFP. I had that opportunity because I’m certified and I have all those relationships.

Of course, we had to win the business, but they’re committed as a company, as are many of our clients, to diversify their spend and sometimes it’s government mandated, and in the case of LGBT spend, it’s not yet, but it doesn’t hold companies back from having an affirmative stance in assigning their own percentages of what they want to spend with LGBT-owned companies.

So, where are we with the disabilities-owned company spend? And also with hiring goals, are there some interesting positive movements?

ALBERT RIZZI: That’s a loaded bunch of questions there.

JENNIFER BROWN: I know, that’s a lot of stuff.

ALBERT RIZZI: Let me unpack it slowly, though. Oddly enough, in New York, and I think many other states, the minority-owned businesses tend to exclude LGBT and people with disabilities.

JENNIFER BROWN: I knew you were going to say that.

ALBERT RIZZI: The New York State provisions are such that if you’re a minority-owned or women-owned business, you’re either African American, veterans – they have veterans with disabilities, but they don’t acknowledge everyday Joes like me, and there’s no LGBT consideration.

So, that being said, I can’t speak to that because I’ve never had to compete for business because of that. However, I am now a preferred source vendor, provider of services through the New York State Preferred Source Program, which is exclusive for people who are blind and organizations that deliver 75 percent of the labor force through people who have severe visual impairment or are blind. Kind of like it, kind of hate it. It still gives that separate but equal, that affirmative action – the only reason you got the bid is because you’re blind. No, no, no. All the work we get is because of our skilled professionals.

We have three internationally certified professionals. My executive director, Tanner Gers, just got his certification. And Jonathan Buonaspina, our senior project manager, just got his. My goal – let me rephrase that – our goal at My Blind Spot is to make sure that we are at least 90 percent internationally certified. I don’t want to be a company that doesn’t walk the walk and talk the talk and we’re on our way.

And I had to correct myself, because one of the things that has been true for me, this didn’t happen because of me, what’s happening at My Blind Spot. I think it happened in spite of me, to a degree.

JENNIFER BROWN: Leaders often feel that way. I can relate.

ALBERT RIZZI: But you heard there’s no “I” in team.


ALBERT RIZZI: I remember growing up thinking, “What the hell does that even mean? It’s just an E and an A.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Forget it. I know.

ALBERT RIZZI: And then I learned that TEAM was an acronym for “together, everyone achieves more.” And as much as we have our own personal egos attached to the responsibilities and value and work we bring to the table, the entire success of My Blind Spot is interdependent upon the pieces of the puzzle that come together to form the team at My Blind Spot.

And we’re on our way. We’re working with the State University of New York. We have a contract out there in signature land with CUNY. A lot of good projects are on the rise, and corporations need to get on board. If for no other reason, we always hear how corporations tend to have funding for litigation to stave off any malcontent who might come at them with position that they’re less than.

And, news flash, lady justice is blind. Her gavel’s going to favor us.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. (Laughter.)

ALBERT RIZZI: No, it’s true, you know? I always ask people, “Do you know what she’s wearing?” They go, “Yeah, a little black number.” No, it’s not a Chanel dress, it’s a blindfold. (Laughter.)

JENNIFER BROWN: I love that.

ALBERT RIZZI: But it just reinforces that seeing is not believing; believing is seeing. We use all our other senses to be able to effect change in this life, and our eyesight skews the vision that’s in front of us I think.

And I think, to that end, I think the corporations of the world need to take off their blinders and realize by being digitally equitable and creating inclusive digital environments, you’re not building on a new market. If you follow my thought process the entire conversation, everybody that works in your office is aging into this community. Period. Get over it. We’re all getting old, we’re all losing our eyesight, we’re all having mobility issues. Some of us have invisible abilities that we don’t speak of.

So, if you start building for inclusion now, that concept – the field of dreams, if you build it, they will come. They’re already there, and you’re not getting that full productivity out of your workers. Now, if we just improve, and I think there were some statistics that just came out that I haven’t really digested completely that the cost associated with – and I prefer to call it “reasonable adaptations,” I learned that from a colleague of mine in the U.K., as opposed to accommodations. Accommodations just sound so expensive, but these adaptations or accommodations in the workforce cost less than $800 a person, sometimes as much as $539 if anything at all.

If we build the concept and bake it into our process, when it comes to digital equity, there’s no cost involved. So, what we’re doing, then, is we are ensuring a smooth personal experience, a smooth end user experience for our consumers and our employees when we invest in technologies to maximize the investment we already made in them to protect and promote productivity of our employees who are aging into this community.

And, oh, yeah, by the way, just as an added benefit and a side thing, you’re able to build a whole new market base of people with disabilities who have been ignored for millennia who have a shit load of money to spend.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. Yes. Yes. Profanity is okay on The Will to Change.

ALBERT RIZZI: I just got pinched, I’m not allowed to say that. (Laughter.) And I stumble with that one, but the “poopy.” (Laughter.)

But the fact of the matter is that we’re not – you know, and a lot of companies, and this is just business 101, I know my market, I’m sticking to my market. Well, your market’s aging into this. So, we’re going to support you and say, “Yes, know your make, but make sure they have unfettered, barrier-free access to your product offerings.”

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.

ALBERT RIZZI: And then, by accident, you’re going to bring in another community of people because then there are people out there who I have to pay my rent, I have to pay my mortgage, I have to buy my food, I have to do all the same things I did when I could see. So, wouldn’t it be easier for you to process my payments rather than sitting here trying to figure it out? As people age into this community, you wind up tapping into not only the disability community, but then you might even be able to get a whole new market base because a friend of a friend of a friend happens to know somebody who’s disabled, and they’re going to go where the people in their lives are valued and appreciated. So, there’s going to be brand value built into what you do if you acknowledge the disability community.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.

ALBERT RIZZI: Now, Microsoft just came out with a really cool commercial.

JENNIFER BROWN: I saw that commercial!

ALBERT RIZZI: Oh, I cried.

JENNIFER BROWN: The gaming one?


JENNIFER BROWN: What’s it called? How do we find it? Just type “Microsoft holiday ad”?

ALBERT RIZZI: That’s it, yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, that’s how I found it.

ALBERT RIZZI: The funny thing is the first time I saw it on television, I was bummed it wasn’t audio described. But then I was with our friends over at – sit down, he got excited. (Laughter.) The dog’s sitting up, “Dad’s yelling, what am I going to do now?” (Laughter.)

When I worked with Sparks and Honey.

JENNIFER BROWN: Sparks and Honey.

ALBERT RIZZI: And Merlin described it. And no one’s described it to me before because I hadn’t been in the room with somebody who was there to describe it to me and I was tearing up.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, it’s a great ad. Talk about Satya, the CEO of Microsoft, I loved his book. He’s a total inclusion champion on many levels, including abilities because of a personal story, right?

ALBERT RIZZI: Yeah. His son is a member of the community. I believe that he has a visual impairment and has some other underlying abilities as well, and that’s where Satya’s an example of why I always speak about Forrest Gump.

I had done a presentation at a major global organization and the room had $15 trillion of net worth in it. And I started doing my Forrest Gump thing. And I said, “Does anybody know somebody who’s dyslexic? Does anybody know somebody who’s aging?” And all the hands were up in the air, you know? And I think that that’s where Satya – the people of the world, the corporate CEOs and CIOs and the whole C-suite need to take his lead.

Jenny Lay-Flurrie is there, too. She is deaf and running their accessibility office. Lead by example. Understand that if your child or your loved one can’t work in your office, chances are somebody else is not being productive. He’s really leading the way. It’s authentic and it’s true. And I believe that there are some firms out there following behind. AT&T does a good job. They’ve done some fantastic work.

A colleague of mine, John Herzog, now just got relocated to Los Angeles. He was with the FCC before. I had met them at their Austin lab. And AT&T acquired DirectTV, and now he’s created this whole – and I was crying like a little baby, I swear, because I was able to change the channel, know what I was watching, hear when it was going to be on again. You know, back in the day when we were kids, they had the TV Guide, and they had the grids and everything. All of that was there. I could see when it was going to be on again. I could listen to the program.


ALBERT RIZZI: There’s so much happening right now out there that I picked the right time to go blind. Technology is a level playing field, and the next horizon is going to be artificial intelligence.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.

ALBERT RIZZI: We’ve got to get ahead of that.

JENNIFER BROWN: How do we avoid coding in our biases to artificial intelligence that we’re building, right? I think about this a lot. It’s going to be male and it’s going to be maybe white and it’s going to be – it’s just leaving a lot of us out. And the problem is it accelerates exponentially the bias, right?


JENNIFER BROWN: So, it’s the worst possible outcome.

ALBERT RIZZI: I don’t know. We just have to watch Star Trek over and over again, because that’s all – I mean, you take a look at the communicators, the original series, and then you take a look at Star Trek The Next Generation, Data, I don’t know, these artificial intelligences, should we not include bias? I mean, do we want to have a genuine representation of all humanity, good and bad? I don’t know. But it’s going to be very interesting how we get to that place in life where the artificial intelligence actually is hard to detect the difference between one or the other.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, it’s going to be fascinating.

ALBERT RIZZI: Yeah. I’m looking forward to getting my own self-driving car, too.

JENNIFER BROWN: I know, right? Of course you are.

ALBERT RIZZI: I watching the television piece on CBS about Tesla and all of a sudden he’s like, “And I’m not driving now.” And I’m like, “Dammit, I wanted that car!” (Laughter.)

JENNIFER BROWN: Soon. I think it’s going to happen.

ALBERT RIZZI: It’s not soon enough. Let me tell you. I’m going to get out on the highway! (Laughter.)

JENNIFER BROWN: Looking for adventure! (Laughter.)

ALBERT RIZZI: Whatever comes my way!

JENNIFER BROWN: We’re like the same age it. (Laughter.)

ALBERT RIZZI: I can’t wait. I cannot wait. I’m going to say, “Mom, I’m on my way to see you.” “Oh, you got a ticket?” “No, I’m driving, I’ll see you in a few days.” (Laughter.)



JENNIFER BROWN: It’s going to happen.

ALBERT RIZZI: I know. I know.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s going to be great. So, companies are, I think, probably struggling to come up to what we would call maybe compliant even, right? Let alone take advantage of. So, do you do some sort of audit?


JENNIFER BROWN: I know for the gay community, we have something called the Human Rights Campaign has the Corporate Equality Index, right? So, it’s an index that we assess companies, and companies literally apply for it, they get a score, they get either 100 percent or 41 percent. And so they’re pushing each other. And they’re trying to achieve – always keep 100 percent if they have it, and then HRC keeps raising the bar, of course, and adding new aspects of LGBT inclusion, policies, protections, education, and all of it. So, is there something similar going on disabilities?

ALBERT RIZZI: Yeah, you know, I think it’s a work in progress. Actually, I was just having this conversation with Kirk Adams, Doc Adams, with the AFB, he’s the chief accessibility officer – no, chief executive officer. I’ve got too many cows, chows, whatever.

JENNIFER BROWN: A lot of C-suite people.

ALBERT RIZZI: President of the AFB the oldest blind-centered organization that was started by Helen Keller. And we’re going to be forging a partnership to see how we could shift the needle on authentic inclusion and digital equity.

There are companies out there that do it. We’re talking about one specifically that has 100 as a grade, but then it gives the sense that it’s 100 percent, and when we don’t include digital equity in that mix, it’s a false reading.

It’s evolving. You know, I think because we haven’t socially accepted ability in a manner that we can measure the number of people in the workforce who are disabled, I mean, we still have a 75-percent unemployment rate amongst people of disabilities. I know a lot of you out there grumbling, but this is my truth and this is what I see. There’s a lot of different opinions about what the numbers are because of the way the Department of Labor measures unemployment versus underemployment.


ALBERT RIZZI: Versus people who aren’t looking at all.


ALBERT RIZZI: And I’m sorry, when you’re a blind person who can’t go out and use Monster, Indeed, or any of these online application platforms or the internal application processes of any number of organizations, you get annoyed and you stop looking. Not because you want to stop looking, because you can’t access that information. So, to measure the frustrations and to determine who is technically unemployed, in that nature, I talk about unemployment and under employment. The numbers are staggering.

There’s no way the general public would live with the numbers of unemployment or unemployed that are out there today. And that’s where we need to really take a look at the mental wellbeing that going to work brings into people’s lives in general, how remote, work-from-home opportunities are perfect for people like myself who have a mobility impairment, even though I’m able to walk upright – sometimes when I’m not drinking too much – there’s those instances like today walking here. I mean, it’s not always the easiest thing to do to navigate a street that may or may not be under construction, that may or may not have a detour.

So, there are a lot of different ways that we’re looking to open up the avenues for employment that aren’t traditional, that may be unconventional, but still give people an opportunity to earn an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work so they can feel good about themselves honestly.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. So, let’s talk about allyship for a second. I’m encouraging and spending a lot of my energy talking about how we are all spending all of our energy and passion educating about our own stories and how we can be included.


JENNIFER BROWN: But if everyone else were able to utilize their voice collectively, to hold the organization accountable themselves as leaders, their colleagues to being truly inclusive, it would spread the work around and be less risky, honestly, for some of us who are already on the margins to take the risk of speaking up, right? Take the risk of asking for a different accommodation so that we can be productive and happy.


JENNIFER BROWN: So, how do you advise – we have so many incredible hearts and minds on this podcast listening to us. What can we do?

ALBERT RIZZI: Oh, my God, you just gave me chills trying to think about that. Something came to mind. Rick Kessler, with the Kessler family, was riding a train and saw people sitting in what was the reserved area of people with disabilities. And he had heard the lady say to the conductor, “You know what they get, if they come in, I’ll get up.” It’s like, “No, that’s what it’s supposed to be for. It’s supposed to be there when I get there.”

I think taking ownership in that, I think it starts in the home. It’s like one of the things, too, when I first lost my eyesight, I’d be walking around with my cane before I got the dogs and I’d hear, “Hey, Mister, why you swinging that stick?” I’m like, “Oh, teachable moment.”

And my collapses and when I would open it up, “Magic.” I’m like, “Yeah, you want to do magic?” And we’d teach them. And it wasn’t until one day that I’m walking – it was on 11th Street, I was coming back with this fantastic chocolate cake with raspberry filling. Don’t ask me why I remember that.


ALBERT RIZZI: It was 11th Street, and I would have to guess she must have been about 11 or 12. And this young girl said, “Oh, mommy, that man’s blind.” You know me, “Oh, yeah, but I’m not deaf, how did you know?” (Laughter.)

And the mother starts apologizing to me. “Oh, I’m so sorry, honey, you should have never said that. Never, never, never.” And I’m like, “Hold the phone, my teachable moment’s for you, mommy. She saw me. She acknowledged me. She was identifying me and you were just teaching her to not do that.”


ALBERT RIZZI: What I love about the millennials and the globals today, these kids who are under 30 and under 20 and 11 and 12, they want everybody to be included.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, they do.

ALBERT RIZZI: I remember hearing kids, “Oh, my teacher’s gay.” What? How did you know?

JENNIFER BROWN: We never heard that.

ALBERT RIZZI: Oh, I data say that. And then there are gay leagues, you know, your gay this, action leagues, all these things.


ALBERT RIZZI: Transgender – I mean, I’m hearing binary –

JENNIFER BROWN: Nonconforming, fluid, love it.

ALBERT RIZZI: I’m like, gender fluid? It sounds like a mess. I don’t even know. But it’s like all these new things that I’m coming up to hear about. These kids and these young leaders are becoming more inclusive and are demanding inclusivity. I take my hat off to all those kids in Florida who started that conversation about no more guns. Sorry, it’s time for us to really evaluate what we’re doing there.

And I gave them so much credit and the way they spoke – articulate, intelligent, young adults on the cusp of doing great things. And I think that’s where I personally and professionally look at doing preventative medicine versus triage. I want to make sure that the people coming behind me, our youth, and our youth transitioning, like myself, I’m only 13 years old in disability life, but I’m 55 in real life. But the people who are transitioning into this community for the first time, I want to make sure that the people who come behind me don’t run into the same stigmatism or the same discrimination or the same prejudices that kept me from going back to running my own businesses or the businesses for other people.

I want to make sure that the buck stops here to the best of my ability. I want to leave the world better than I found it.

JENNIFER BROWN: And it’s not a cliché, it’s so powerful.


JENNIFER BROWN: When you talk about it.

ALBERT RIZZI: Who is it? Oh, my God, it’s gone, it’ll come to me in a moment, but there’s a poem about success, Ralph Waldo Emerson, that I have it, I read it all the time, you know? It basically ends up where if you can leave the world a better place than you found it, that’s the sign of success. Nothing else really measures it. Just, you know, I want to make sure that kids don’t have to suffer.

JENNIFER BROWN: I know. I hear you. And for the LGBT community, it haunts me that 50 percent of LGBTQ employees are still closed in the workplace.


JENNIFER BROWN: It’s a stat I share a lot, and people are shocked because they think we’re “post” a lot of things.


JENNIFER BROWN: Clearly, we’re not. And I think we’ve learned that he hard way recently living in our world with politics and everything. I think we have to be – it’s going to take all of us to role model inclusion, to stand up for ourselves and for others. And we talk a lot about privilege. Whatever kind of privilege you have, and we all have a level.

ALBERT RIZZI: We all have, yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: I mean, you’re a white guy. You know? You’ve got white guy privilege. And you’ve got tall, white guy privilege.

ALBERT RIZZI: You are good looking too. (Laughter.) Dart board good looking. No, yeah.


ALBERT RIZZI: I’m could have fit in. I could have blended if I wanted to.


ALBERT RIZZI: You know, that’s the thing, too, when we talk about the youth, again, I’m going back to them because I think – the children are our future. I’m going to start doing my Whitney.


ALBERT RIZZI: But the two communities that I think are really going to lead – and there are so many things you just said, too. The education rates of people with disabilities is low.


ALBERT RIZZI: Graduation rates in high school are horrible. Getting college degrees is not as high as it should be. And then when you do have a college degree, you can’t find a job. But I think that the kids will lead the way, you know?


ALBERT RIZZI: They are going to want to make sure that everybody’s included. Kids with disabilities today want to be normal. They want to procreate, recreate, they want to facilitate, they want to participate. They don’t want to just sit home and back in the days in the ’50s when we were younger, our grandparents, they would roll people out who had a disability for the parade, put a poppy on their chest, “Good job,” and push them away for another year.


ALBERT RIZZI: But all that’s going to change. Need I think the concept of inclusion is going to be one of those things when we see it in the classroom, we needed to have populations cross-pollinated with ability. They can’t be homogeneous, they have to be heterogeneous.


ALBERT RIZZI: They have to have all shapes and sizes, colors – you know, we’re a mosaic. It has to be a full mosaic. And that way, when we go into the office environment one day, Johnny and Jane are going to say, “Where’s my friend in the wheelchair?”


ALBERT RIZZI: Where’s my friend who’s deaf? We don’t see that today. And when we start changing the landscape, again, the political environment today doesn’t want us to change anything. They want to set the timer back to – I mean, centuries. But I think our global society is not going to allow that to happen. I think our sense of humanity has hit reset and we needed to check ourselves into understanding where we came from, why we didn’t want to be there anymore, and make sure that we continue to move forward in our harmonious way.

And that includes people of all abilities. That includes people with disabilities who are able to get up and function and not rely on the kindness of strangers – like Blanche DuBois from Streetcar Named Desire.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my goodness. And digital inclusion is going to do a lot of that and accomplish a lot of that.

ALBERT RIZZI: Yeah. See, we talk about digital equity now. I’ve shared, there are two new ways that I rephrase this now: “Intersectionality,” thanks to you, and “digital equity.” Because digital inclusion or – it sounds – or digital equality, it has that ring to it for me that’s like, “And if you don’t do this, I’m going to sue you.” Whereas equity –

JENNIFER BROWN: Is concrete.

ALBERT RIZZI: Making things equitable.


ALBERT RIZZI: Those are terms that we use in the C-suite. That’s what we want to do in the financial industry. We want to be equitable.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.

ALBERT RIZZI: We want to be fair with everybody.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s right.

ALBERT RIZZI: So, that’s a different concept. But, yes, digital equity, authentic inclusion, making things equitable in life so that way people can feel comfortable being who they are regardless of race, gender, orientation, religion, or ability.

JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful. So, Albert, where can people find more information about you?



ALBERT RIZZI: Okay, you can write to me at Albert@MyBlindSpot.org, or you can visit our website, MyBlindSpot.org. We are @MyBlindSpotOrg on Twitter, Facebook, MyBlindSpot.org. Yes. Just reach out to us. If you want to do an assessment of your platforms, we could give you a good once over, let you know where the issues lie in a cursory manner, and then allow people who happen to be the stakeholders in the outcomes, who are most likely your consumers or your employees, double check things for accuracy and make sure you just don’t minimally comply, but exceed those types of benchmarks and open up your digital environments to people of all abilities around the world.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s the idea. Thank you, Albert, for joining me.

ALBERT RIZZI: Thank you, I appreciate you having me.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. Keep up the good work.

ALBERT RIZZI: Bye, everybody, thank you.


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