Cisco Highlights Commitment to Accessibility During National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Cisco IP Communications Helps Improve Accessibility for People with Disabilities
October 28, 2003
By Stacy Williams, News@Cisco
"America Works Best When All Americans Work" is the official theme of the 2003 October National Disability Employment Awareness Month. As a global leader in Internet Protocol (IP) Communications systems, Cisco Systems is taking this theme to heart.
Cisco has entered a new paradigm -- no longer just connecting networks and desktops. With more than 2 million productivity-enhancing Cisco IP phones shipped to customers worldwide, Cisco is connecting all types of users - including those people with disabilities. Cisco and its software development partners are working to ensure that Cisco IP phones, as well as other IP Communication solutions, meet the needs of people of all abilities.
According to the US Census nearly one in five workers has a disability, and with legal requirements like those in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, Cisco is taking a proactive role in fostering accessibility in the workplace, including IP Communications. "Cisco recognizes the importance and relevance of accessibility in our design, and we are dedicated to making our products usable for everyone. Our goal is to improve the way all people work, live, play and learn," says Mario Mazzola, chief development officer at Cisco Systems.
In addition, Cisco has an initiative underway to learn more about people with disabilities in its own workforce and to increase the number of strong alliances with organizations in the disability community. The information gleaned and relationships established will help guide product development to ensure that Cisco is meeting the needs of its customers with accessible telephony solutions, as well as improving accessibility for its employees.
"Cisco is conducting research to learn more about trends and how we can improve our programs," says Sylvia Allen, senior director of worldwide diversity and ethics at Cisco. "Because Cisco employs people with disabilities, we are continuously adding programs to increase awareness of and promote sensitivity around disability issues. We also ensure that accommodations are regularly improved to help maximize safety and productivity."
Already, Cisco IP Communications solutions and third-party technologies are breaking down the barriers in the workplace. Len Mudrock, a software designer at Cisco who is hearing-impaired, uses Cisco IP telephony technology to communicate with his fellow workers and customers. He says his day-to-day work-life differs very little from those of his peers.
Mudrock's primary method of communication is still using his TTY (teletypewriter), an electronic typewriting device that transmits and receives messages coded in electrical signals carried by telephone wires. Now, he connects the TTY to the Cisco IP network using a Cisco Analog Telephone Adaptor (ATA-188), which acts as an interface for the TTY to the Cisco Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) network. Cisco's VoIP Infrastructure reliability transmits TTY signals because of its inherent quality of service (QoS) capabilities that are built into the system. The largest benefit of IP for Mudrock is the freedom of mobility. Mudrock can carry his ATA and TTY device to any Cisco building or to his home and plug into the IP telephony network and make calls-all while retaining the same phone number.
Mudrock also uses an instant messaging program over the Cisco IP network to chat real-time with co-workers. He also has access to a Video Relay Service (VRS) for meetings. He logs on to the VRS website, where a communications assistant appears on his computer via a web camera. He can watch as the operator relays calls in sign language. Mudrock can communicate back using American Sign Language, and the operator relays the message verbally to others on the call. All of which occurs over the IP infrastructure.
"As a software engineer, I am thrilled to be working for Cisco," says Mudrock. "And as a hearing impaired person, I'm happy that Cisco has given me the tools I need to succeed."
Cisco software designer Greg Fowler, who is sight-impaired, is also taking advantage of Cisco IP communications solutions to interact more easily with coworkers and customers.
Fowler uses a softphone from Cisco AVVID partner IP blue Software Solutions. The IP blue softphone is designed to work with the Cisco IP Communications system and mirror the Cisco IP Phone 7960G. The softphone which is installed on Fowler's laptop computer allows him access to all of the phone's features through audible output. Functionality, like audible caller ID and directory lets Fowler know who is calling and gives him an easy way to find co-workers without having to see the phone. Using a "hot key" on his keyboard, Fowler can access an audible help menu in the softphone that instructs him as to which key he will need to press for specific functions. For the first time that he can remember, Fowler does not have to memorize buttons on a phone.
The fact that Cisco conducts so much business online makes Fowler's life easier. "I don't remember the last time I received a paper memo," he says. "From filling out vacation and payroll forms to other functions, I am more self-sufficient because I don't have to scan paper and ask for assistance in filling out forms."
For Cisco and its partners, it is an exciting time to be involved in developing applications for Cisco IP phones and creating IP communications solutions that help improve the lives of people with disabilities.
"Cisco IP communication solutions and open IP standards broaden the range of applications possible for bringing accessibility to higher levels," says Don Proctor, vice president and general manager of the voice technology group at Cisco Systems. "IP telephony and convergence are enabling exciting options for communication that simply aren't possible using traditional telephone networks."
Stacy Williams is a freelance journalist based in Dutch John, UT.
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