Priceless Reward 无价之宝

In 2004 I went to China as the newly appointed IBM Accessibility Center Director. At the time, the word “accessibility” had no Chinese translation. I, with the help of the IBM Research Director, worked on the Chinese translation myself.

My goal was to start introducing the concept of digital accessibility to the most populous country in the world, a country with more than 85M people with disabilities and a country where I and my family had lived seven years prior because I was on a three-year foreign assignment from Boston to Beijing to help IBM open up the financial services market.

During those three years, I successfully helped the People’s Bank of China (China’s central bank) to implement an inter bank clearing system, the Shanghai Stock Exchange to develop a brokerage system and the People’s Insurance Corp of China to deploy a nationwide agent management system.

All these commercial successes paled in comparison to the work with the CFDP (China Foundation for Disabled Person), China Braille Press and the China IT Magazine Association in the fall of 2004 to call on the government agencies such as China Disabled People’s Federation (CDPF) to institute digital accessibility national standards, a foundation for any accessibility technology development in China.

We worked hard to conduct basic accessibility training sessions for all the CDPF branches in the beautiful seaside town of Beihai and brought in subject matter experts, such as leaders from W3C (World Wide Web consortium), to do technical exchange with top Chinese universities like Zhejiang University . We even helped to host China’s first Accessibility Technology Forum where hundreds of attendees were introduced to assistive technology for the first time. All this work resulted in IBM’s name being mentioned in China’s first accessibility standards document and in China becoming one of the first countries to adopt the latest web standards WCAG 2.0.

This work, which involves using technology to narrow the prosperity and happiness gap between people with and without disabilities, was profoundly impactful. As a result, I decided to “major” in this human centric technology area and help institutions to understand that human diversity is at the core of innovation.

It brings me tremendous joy and pride to see how far China accessibility has come.

The reward from this kind of work is priceless.

Values Matter 以德在先

Uber Fail” is the title of June 26th’s Time magazine cover article. In it author Katy Steinmetz and Matt Vella described the catastrophic fall of Uber, “the world’s most valuable startupand commented that

“future startups are going to make decisions that will impact the lives of millions, defining the world the way religions and empires used to”.

The article went on to say that if “Uber’s stunning stumble proves anything, it’s that in the absence of any rule makers that can keep up with them, the architects of the new economy – which may be another way of saying, the new world must hold themselves accountable“.

After reviewing the chronology of Uber’s rise and fall, the author concluded that

“Its also possible that what we’re witnessing is the birth of a new Silicon Valley value, the concept of responsible disruption- one that incorporates inclusion and diversity, unsexy and difficult as they may seem, alongside thinking differently”.

It’s this conclusion that makes me think of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s commencement address at MIT earlier this month, when he pronounced that “technology is there to serve humanity” and asked students to “work toward something greater than yourself.”

Cook then went on to challenge students to be careful not to adhere to the false premise that the path to success involves keeping “your empathy out of your career” and everything has a “ROI”. He cited Apple’s commitment to accessibility for people with disabilities and to the green environment as two examples of the “right thing to do“.

The profile of Uber that emerges in the Time article and of Apple from their CEO’s speech at MIT gives a glimpse into the two companies’ contrasting psyche, values and perhaps explains why Apple has been the most respected brand in the world seven years in a row, with a 800+ billion market value.

I know Uber as a company has revolutionized the transportation industry and put the “sharing economy” on the map for almost every individual. So from that standpoint, Uber should be rewarded for its vision and innovation. However, precisely because transportation is so close to every person’s need, Uber has an extra responsibility to its customers. I hope Uber will come out of this crisis not just stronger but better by thinking differently and acting differently with a different set of corporate values that will inspire not only Silicon Valley but everyone.


THINK Thanks 知恩圖報

Right about this time a year ago, I was on my way to IBM Headquarters in Armonk for a meeting. It was a routine drive from Boston which I had done hundreds of times over the past 30+ years. That day was a beautiful Spring day with trees just budding along Interstate 84. As I was driving, without warning, I felt a voice telling me that I needed to make a decision to start a new journey beyond IBM, that day. Up to that point, I had not thought about retiring. But after going through multiple personal losses in the prior year, including losing one of my managers at the young age of 42 to cancer, and my mother-in-law whom I was very close to, to Parkinson’s, and reflecting that I was at the exact age my father was when he passed away, I decided to listen to my inner voice and turned in my retirement decision that afternoon.

Since that day, I have enjoyed all the things retirement affords you: the freedom to sleep in, the freedom to travel, the freedom to read and most importantly, the freedom to think. One of the things I came to realize through my thinking is how much IBM imprinted on me as a person. I remember my first IBM sales training session in Poughkeepsie, New York when our instructor talked about IBM Founder TJ Watson’s three basic beliefs: Respect for the Individual, Best Customer Service and Pursue Personal Excellence. I carried these beliefs into my job as an employee, a manager, an executive and now as an independent business owner. It is amazing how they shaped my thinking about how to treat people, to deal with customer situations and to better myself.

I think these three basic beliefs also guided me into dedicating myself to accessibility work. Accessibility is about using technology to enable equality, which is the fundamental way of respecting the individual, every individual. The best customer service translates into trying to listen and understand the needs of the disability community and then developing new ideas to bring about innovative solutions that make substantive difference. In order to achieve the first two, one has to always learn and do one’s personal best every single day, as this work is not just about technology or ones and zeros. It is about bettering humanity

As I move forward into my second year post-IBM, I want to share these beliefs more than ever, as I think we all can benefit from having some true and tested principles to guide us through this unbelievably complex and challenging time. Besides, by sharing this, it makes me proud to have been associated with a company that respected me as an individual, gave me an opportunity to pursue a business that I believe in and entrusted me and my team to deliver solutions and services that made a difference. For that I will always be grateful.

A UN Related Reflection 饮水思源

Last Friday, December 2nd, The United Nations celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  I was very honored to be there and felt strong gratitude both professionally and personally, as I have a story to tell.

When I was growing up in Taiwan in the late 60s, my father worked for the United Nations as a maritime commerce subject matter expert.  He helped the Taiwan government develop and launch a merchant marine academy so they could train sailors for the emerging commercial shipping business there.

My father was very good at what he was doing and was very well liked by his colleagues because he was also a very social man. We lived in an all-Chinese neighborhood, but my father would often invite his UN colleagues to our home for special holiday celebrations like around Christmas time.  I remember how awed I was, along with all the neighborhood children, when we saw these foreign guests of different nationalities: French, Japanese, German, Italian and American arriving at our house.  I also remember in 1971 how disappointed I was when my father told the family that even though he had received a full-time offer to start a similar maritime program in Brazil, the job offer had been rescinded because Taiwan had been removed from membership in the UN to make room for the People’s Republic of China.

Little did I know that this early UN connection would shape my life in so many different ways later.

Specifically, on the eve of December 12, 2006, 35 years after my first encounter with the UN,  I was at the time, Director of IBM Human Ability & Accessibility Center.  I had been invited by Axel LeBlois and Ecuadorian Ambassador Luis Gallegos to come to the UN and consider becoming the first private sector sponsor of G3ict, a non-profit organization dedicated to implementing the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) by promoting a digital inclusion and accessibility agenda world-wide.  I remember thinking that IBM certainly should support the CRPD, as it is

”an international treaty that was inspired by U.S. leadership in recognizing the rights of people with disabilities”. (

It really did not hit me about my personal connection with the UN until I attended and spoke at the initial UN CRPD meeting.  As I was listening to each country’s progress report and engaging in dialogue about what the private sector could do to help this cause, it struck me how the UN is the one and only global institution that strives to do good for the entire world.  And that by setting inspirational goals and policies such as climate change and disability rights, its mission would eventually trickle down and impact individual citizens’ lives.

As we come off one of the most contentious presidential elections ever and when the whole geo-political landscape seems to be shifting in many unknown directions around the world, I hope we can maintain faith and work hard to support collective institutions such as the UN and federal, state and local governments as they offer the best forum and structure to improve life for each citizen by working through individual or national differences.

This is the back story to why I have wanted to work with G3ict after my career with IBM, despite how large and how removed the UN seems to be from individuals on a day to day basis.  The UN made a difference to me and my family’s life, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Boston Accessibility – the next generation

Great blog  by Maureen Kraft, IBM Accessibility Transformation Leader!

“On Saturday, October 1, 2016, I joined over 100 members of the Boston accessibility community as we descended on the IBM Innovation Center in Cambridge, MA for the 7th annual Boston Accessibility Conference. Participants included some veteran faces and many new ones. Invited by their professor, Dr. Soussan Djamasbi, 40 students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute enjoyed an immersion into the world of accessibility that included panels, workshops and discussions on how to include persons with disabilities into the areas of Information Communication Technology (ICT).

The day started off with breakfast and networking followed by a keynote address by Brian MacDonald, President of the National Braille Press. Brian encouraged our continued support and investment in braille literacy, technologies and content while braille has proven to boost the academic achievement and employment rates for blind and low vision (BVI) persons. Of the 26 percent of blind persons who are employed, almost all can read braille. “The correlation is clear – braille is an extremely important tool for blind people to become literate, and it is a critical component that supports educational advancement and increases employment prospects.” – The Need for Braille – National Braille Press.

Brian MacDonald, President, National Braille Press delivers keynote address to the Boston Accessibility Conference.
Brian MacDonald, President, National Braille Press delivers keynote address to the Boston Accessibility Conference.
Following the keynote address, Sarah Bourne, State of Massachusetts, John Rochford, UMASS Medical School, Jennison Asuncion, LinkedIn and co-founder of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and John Croston III, founder of Web Accessibility Camps in D.C., led a panel discussion on accessibility. The intent was to provide the newcomers an introduction to accessibility and was attended by the newbies, WPI students. As the panel was taking place, I snuck away to set up for an Inclusive Design Thinking workshop. This left plenty of time for networking at lunch while enjoying a veggie wrap and some of Char James-Tanny’s infamous Vegan Chili. Very spicy!

After lunch, my colleague, Erich Manser, and I led the Inclusive Design Thinking workshop. We had 38 participants, a majority of whom were students, new to accessibility. In the workshop, we took the audience through a set of empathy building exercises. We started by asking everyone to design an alarm clock. After 2 minutes, we shared designs and had some pretty interesting ones. One student said they envisioned a ball that would roll off the bureau onto the floor while the alarm went off. This would force him to get up and turn it off.

Next, we threw a constraint into the design; the user of the alarm clock is deaf. While most initial designs included audio, this new constraint required creativity and lateral thinking. Many designs involved some sort of touch, vibration and/or light. One participant recommended that the lights would gradually turn on as if the sun were rising. Personally, I always wake up to the smell of coffee.

We next passed out a set of low vision simulator goggles and challenged each attendee to take a photo with their phone while wearing the goggles and tweeting it. We had many successful tweets, even one from retired IBM Chief Accessibility Officer, Frances West.

Frances West tries on a pair of low vision simulator goggles during an empathy building exercise. (Photo courtesy of Marcus Yee)
Frances West tries on a pair of low vision simulator goggles during an empathy building exercise. (Photo courtesy of Marcus Yee)
We wrapped up the workshop by asking folks to work in groups of 3-4 to create empathy maps that included a persona of a user challenged by a disability and to identify what the person says, thinks, feels and does. The class shared their empathy maps and a common theme arose. Most folks associated frustration with their persona when relating to their challenge while also highlighting their desire to be productive, independent and the best that they can be.

WPI students presenting their empathy map to the class.
WPI students presenting their empathy map to the class.
Later that afternoon, John Rochford, Cheryl Cumings, Work Without Limits, Erich Manser and I led a panel discussion on how to include more blind persons in hackathons and coding employment. Cheryl launched a pilot program this summer to teach blind and low vision students how to write code. The challenge she faced was providing a development environment that was accessible to blind and low vision students. Cheryl settled on Notepad and a browser. But how do you take the student from the classroom to a hackathon to employment? We need development tools that are accessible in the workplace. (See Notes for Blind Coders Roundtable Discussion for our notes.)

We wrapped up the day with some really cool demos on a joint project between UMASS Medical, UMASS Boston, WPI and IBM to simplify content to improve comprehension by persons challenged with cognitive and learning disabilities, aging persons and just about everyone. Peter Fay, IBM, and Fei Wu, UMASS Boston, demoed how IBM Watson™ language and AlchemyAPI® can be leveraged to create a content clarifier that simplifies text to a 5th or 6th grade reading level. Dr. Soussan Djamasbi showed how her students are conducting eye tracking studies to confirm the improved comprehension when reading the simplified text. This is really cool stuff and Dr. Djamasbi vowed to continue to include accessibility and assistive technology in her curriculum.

In closing remarks, Frances West asked the students of WPI what they thought of the future of technology including personalization, aging, speech, text simplification and augmented reality. Frances plans to bring share their feedback at the World Congress on Technology this week in Brazil.


I arrived home late Saturday evening exhausted but with much delight. This is one of my favorite events of the year. I get to network with some of the brightest stars in accessibility and share my thoughts and ideas, especially with the next generation of technologists and innovators, on how we can make the world more inclusive to all.”


OutThink Aging

This past January at Computer Association Technology’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, IBM and CTA announced a joint study on the cognitive computing impact on aging.  This was one of the most significant studies I sponsored as IBM’s Chief Accessibility Officer.  Very proud that it is now available for public consumption.

Improving the quality of life for the world’s aging population

Our parents and grandparents represent one of the most complex societal and economic shifts across the globe. By 2050, people aged 60 or older will make up nearly 22 percent of the global population. (Source: United Nations)

IBM is creating solutions to help manage life’s vital decisions, prolong independence, and reduce loneliness by helping seniors stay more connected with friends and family. By leveraging a network of connected mobile devices, sensors and cognitive systems, we can help family members and caregivers improve the health, wellness, safety and security of our parents and grandparents.

Global report on aging

Learn about the challenges of meeting the needs of the aging demographic, together with recommendations for three core areas where the intersection of mobile devices and cognitive computing could have the greatest impact on the essential concerns of older adults.

By preventing fraud and abuse, providing greater social connectivity, and improving access to vital information and services, we can empower seniors to live longer, healthier and more independent lives.”


You can find the link to the article here.