AI Your Diversity and Inclusion

As a person who has never felt as if she belonged, finding a space where I feel welcome has been difficult.  For those who know me, it might come as a shock to learn that as a child I was painfully shy.  I remember only saying a handful of words each year in elementary.  I wasn’t like the other kids.  I found it hard to fit in and feel welcome.  I had some great friends, but I always felt as though I was on the outside looking in.

I haven’t been diagnosed with a learning disability or physical impairment, but still struggle to find where I belong.  A few years ago I was introduced to some members of the #SQLFamily and instantly was welcomed into the fold.  This simple act of inclusion solidified and heightened my desire to open my eyes, mind, and heart to others. 

Diversity and Inclusion

What does diversity look like?  What does inclusion look like?  We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion as it pertains to race, sex, age, sexual preference, gender identity, and education.  It was a chance email I received as a SQL Saturday organizer that made me realize I am missing a huge set of people in my drive for diversity and true inclusion. 

While we search for a place to host our events, we look for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  Are there ramps for wheelchairs, are there elevators, is there ample handicapped parking spots, is the building accessible for the blind, etc.?   We can even ensure our PowerPoint presentations are accessible to people with visual disabilities.  (If you have not checked to see if your presentations are fully accessible, click here to learn how to do so.)

With all the careful planning and consideration, what I have not thought to research was availability for our community’s hearing impaired!

What We Are Missing

In Austin, Texas there is a very large tech community.  There is also a very large hearing-impaired community.  We are very fortunate to have the Texas School for the Deaf (“TSD”) here in Austin.  They are an amazing school who do amazing things for so many!  As of today, I realized we have a huge opportunity to engage a large portion of our members we haven’t had a chance to in the past!”.  You see, a hopeful attendee reached out via email to let me know that she would like to attend SQL Saturday Austin; however, she is deaf and asked if we will be able to supply an interpreter.  Not only that, she has several other tech friends in the area who are hearing impaired.  How could I not include them? 

I told her “YES! I WILL MAKE IT SO!” 

ASL (American sign Language)

What It Takes

In order to make sure that this lovely lady and her friends are able to attend our event, I set out to find interpreters.  I happen to have a very good friend who works for TSD.  She pointed me to a local company that provides ASL interpreting.  There is an extensive list of requirements needed to make a SQL Saturday event truly ADA compliant. It takes specific guidelines, certifications, and money (and a lot of it), to ensure we have qualified, knowledgeable, competent ASL interpreters. 

SQL Saturdays are organized by volunteers, our presenters are volunteers, and each event is funded SOLELY by sponsorship from companies.  This being a free event, not all companies see the benefit of sponsoring.  To those companies who do sponsor, we appreciate you more than you can ever know!

Low on Funds, High on Drive.

What do we do when the going gets tough? 

The tough get going!  So that is what I did.  I set about trying to find extra funds, some grants, sponsorship solely to cover the cost of interpreters.  Feverishly pounding away at my keyboard, making call after call, researching guidelines, companies, and possibilities,  my husband walks in and says “What are you doing?”  I laid it all out for him.  In a stroke of brilliance he says “Why not just use the AI Melody Zacharias spoke about at PASS Summit?” (Not Your Grand Mother’s AI)

Data is everything
Everything is better with data.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Sometimes it is hard for me to see the forest because the trees get in the way.  Of course!  Technology can help!  We can use Microsoft Translator to aid those who are hearing impaired, and as an added bonus, those whose first language is not English!  

Knowing that an actual human translating is much preferred to a computer, this is not the perfect answer.  However, this is a viable, cost-effective answer to a problem that some of our attendees will face at the event.  I hope that each person reading this blog takes a moment to think about how they too can use AI to reach an audience that has been (unintentionally) ignored.  Our goal as a SQL Community, Data Community, Tech Community is one of providing low-cost and free education to all.  We are not reaching that goal if we are not reaching out to the hearing impaired or those who speak a different language.

To Boldly Go

In the next few weeks I will be putting together detailed instructions for our speakers, asking them to join me in ensuring they have followed the best practices making sure their presentations are accessible for people with disabilities.  Also, I will send an email to attendees of SQL Saturday Austin letting them know our intention of  introducing and using technology designed to be more inclusive. 

I will do my best to make sure that we make our event more inclusive and content available to those in our community who have not had the opportunity to experience a SQL Saturday due to visual, hearing, or language barriers.  Once I have those instructions complete, I will share them with you via blog post.

Will you will join me in making tech and education, and our community, more inclusive?  Speakers and Organizers, I implore you to follow my lead on this.  I am happy to share all the experience and info I have with you.  Let’s make technology for all!

Technology for ALL!

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