Tag Archives: disability

Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking on a panel at the 1st Annual Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit which was hosted at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Headquarters on 300 East Randolph Street in Chicago. The ADA 25 Chicago Opportunity Summit assembled national and local leaders to explore strategies to increase access and inclusion of people with disabilities in the areas of education and employment.

Photo via Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Twitter feed (@ChicagolandCmbr)

Photo via Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Twitter feed (@ChicagolandCmbr)

The second day was presented by the Chicagoland Business Leadership Network and the theme revolved around discussing best practices and strategies for recruiting, employing and retaining people with disabilities. The panel I sat on, Closing the Employment Gap, included knowledgeable people from The Sea Glass Group, AbilityLinks, DePaul University, and Health & Disability Advocates. We discussed how employers can diversify their workforce by hiring talented professionals with disabilities. An important aspect of this is looking for talent in the right places.

ITKAN is a member driven professional networking and growth organization with a focus on professionals and aspiring professionals with disabilities within the technology field. While this means getting together with our members monthly to discuss technology and employment trends, ITKAN also works with companies to partner to train to their needs. We will coordinate on-the-job training and internship programs that may or may not be tied to grants or public funding such as National Emergency Grant and Workforce Investment Act. There are great organizations and services out there that will help companies find the right talent, and we are also here to help companies develop processes and documentation for internship and train-to-hire programs for people with disabilities.

If you would like more information, contact our co-founder, Pat Maher at pat.maher@spr.com or myself, Brian Chorba at brian.chorba@spr.com.

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ITKAN Chat – Interview with Steve Luker

The disability community in Chicago is an active one in various sectors, from advocacy and accessibility to various employment resources like AbilityLinks, nAblement and ITKAN. These three organizations have grown in myriad ways during the past ten years. One of the most interesting people – and colleagues – that I have worked with is Steve Luker. I actually first encountered  Steve through an educational film entitled “The Forerunners”.  The film was a collaboration between The Mind Alliance, Professor Fong Chan, and Pat Maher of nAblement. It profiles several nAblement consultants, and is intended to support students with disabilities from diverse backgrounds to consider Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines and careers. Steve was also profiled as part of a Chicago Sun-Times article related to ITKAN .

Steve Luker

Steve Luker

Steve has been able to focus his disability workarounds and use of accessible technology into a budding career in IT, specializing in .NET programming and mobile game development. I was able to sit with Steve to discuss his background, career and views on IT.

Hello Steve, we have known each other for years, but for our readers, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came into the IT sector?

I have been a Chicagoan for all of my life. I moved to the Wheaton, IL area and I am married to Michelle. I am a developer focusing on the Microsoft side of the industry. I worked on projects for BP and other large corporate clients, as well as other smaller companies. I have worked on websites and desktop applications, and am currently working on a game called “Falling Fruit”.

When did you start to develop an interest in IT?

As you know, technology users with disabilities sometimes have the opportunity to test out new accessibility devices. When I was a young child, a company came to my school with a computer which would make communicating with people easier. One of the challenges that my Cerebral Palsy creates is verbal communication. That was when I developed a rabid interest in IT. Everything I saw I thought, “I can do this or anything with this technology”.

Did IT assist you in your early education?

I started to read at age 3 so it could have been when I was 4 to 6. My disability does not allow me to speak, so I learned American Sign Language finger spelling at 5 and I was spelling every word out. What’s interesting is that I was not a good speller until I got a speech synthesizer, because I couldn’t sound out words in my head. I always found myself thinking about the possibilities that IT would bring in the future.

How did you come across nAblement?

In 2006, I met Pat Maher at an AbilityLinks networking breakfast at the College of DuPage. It was a few months after I got my degree in IT. He asked me to serve on a panel at Manpower’s corporate headquarters in Milwaukee for the Breaking Down Barriers program developed by nAblement. I was able to meet Rob Figliulo, the CEO of SPR Companies, and I really became more involved with nAblement and SPR.

I understand that you have developed a game for the Windows Phone platform. ITKAN has seen Falling Fruit, and it’s very good (and difficult!). Can you tell us about your considerations for developing the game and challenges you have faced?

I wanted to do some kind of app that would go into all of the app stores. I began thinking about how people were actually making money and what tips they gave. Instead of developing an app that people might use for a few seconds every day or two, I thought of a game that might hold people’s attention longer. That’s important when income is coming from ads or in app purchases.

I know that you are registering Falling Fruit on the Windows Store for the Windows Phone operating system. As there is so much money moving with app purchases, I’m assuming this isn’t a labor of love altogether. As Microsoft, Apple and Google are making millions with their app marketplaces, what are your expectations for revenue from Falling Fruit?

Created by Steve Luker, ITKAN member

Falling Fruit, Created by Steve Luker, ITKAN member

Well, at first, I initially thought of sit-down comedy, as there would be a lot less competition than in stand-up, but that didn’t pan out 🙂 .

From there, looking at apps as a prospective business, Apple and Google app stores take 30% of each app sold. Microsoft is different in that they take 30% up to the first 25,000 of sales. Then they take 20%. That makes it more profitable if you come up with the next Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja. I don’t mind not receiving 100% of my work, because the nice thing about all of the app stores is that they do so much of the work for you. Distribution, the billing…all of the back-end work is done well by all of the app stores. However, all of the creativity is in the hands of the app designer themselves. For example, I did some of the art myself. However, I am not much of an artist, so I ask family members and friends to help me with the more involved work.

After Falling Fruit is established and earning revenue on the Windows Store marketplace, my next goal is to roll it out on Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

Were there any core needs that you had in developing Falling Fruit?

It has to do with the processor and its ability to do virtualization. That’s when the computer creates a virtual computer. The game is being developed in a game engine so it could be exported to other platforms with a lot of code reuse. So I know .NET, but the game isn’t written in that. The game engine was key to being able to create Falling Fruit.

Name your top favorite websites and why.

Microsoft has news, learning resources, documentation, etc., even for a rookie programmer, and you can use Yammer to ask Microsoft programmers questions on their message boards and internal social network. Also, any Microsoft-related sites go here as well. At ITKAN we have access to BizSpark as well, which is a great developer site for Microsoft technologies offered free to not-for-profits. Thanks to Adam Hecktman of Microsoft for supporting us in securing our BizSpark license.

Feedly is my personal news reader. There are many others out there that work well, but as a matter of personal taste, this is my pick.

Twitter is great for following news and political discussion. You can reach out and really interact with who you are tweeting.

Finally, Twit.tv is an excellent resource for programmers.

What do you think of ITKAN’s progress, the upcoming year and the road ahead for the organization?

I think we have come a very long way. There’s such a strong bond on technology and careers in technology. We had service providers, technologists and so on in the past, but now we develop a critiquing atmosphere where we want to be better IT geeks as well as prospective IT employees.  For example, I know a little about accessibility and I know where it affects me, but now I know so much more after working with ITKAN members who have visual disabilities. I’ve learned so much more that I would have ever thought I would.

Thanks, Steve.

Thanks Bill. See you on 13th of February at our next ITKAN meeting.

“Getting to Know” ITKAN Members – Dan TeVelde

Creative leaders in technology take different paths, but it doesn’t necessarily call for a certification or degree to achieve their goals (of course it helps speed their progress). The booming growth of the I.T. field calls across all educational parameters, including ones that wouldn’t come quickly to mind.

Many people in information technology today come from fine arts, specifically in the field of music. The study of music emphasizes creativity, timing and performance, and this compliments a career in information technology very well. Ask our featured “Getting to Know” ITKAN Member, Dan TeVelde.

—–

Name: Dan TeVelde

Home: Forest Park, IL

Involved and Interested in IT – 22 years as a  Programmer & Analyst, McDonald’s, Oak Brook, IL

Education:  M.F.A. in Music, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

——

Thanks for your time, Dan.  Can you tell me how did come to the realization that IT was for you? 

I heard about a program to teach computer programming to the disabled.  I was working at another job and felt like it wasn’t going anywhere.  I had always wanted to learn how to use a computer so I took a chance on the training program.  After a year the school placed me in my current job.

Where do you think the information technology field will be in the next five to ten years, Dan?

I think the emphasis in IT will keep shifting away from just coding to more use of communication skills.  People will be working together to enhance their companies’ role in the economy.  As people become more sophisticated computer users, there won’t be as much of a need for IT people to do tech support or application development.  I think we will see more use of social media and mobile applications.  Everyone in a company will be collaborating rather than having their own spheres of influence.

People will also need to be more flexible when the priorities of a business change and must be ready to take on new roles and responsibilities.  Desktop computers are disappearing and I think the same may happen to laptops.  There won’t be a distinction between mobile and traditional operating systems.  Everyone will be using some kind of interchangeable mobile device.

As you are an employee of McDonald’s, can you offer insight on working with such a great company in regards to diversity and inclusion?

None of Us Is As Good As All of Us: How McDonald’s Prospers by Embracing Inclusion and Diversity

McDonald’s has had a forward-thinking outlook on social responsibility.  All types of employees are valued for their unique contributions to the company.  There are always opportunities for any company to expand the scope of what diversity means.

ITKAN has been gaining traction in various areas with its mission. What do you think about this dynamic group, and I’d love to hear your views on your participation on the new Visionary Innovation Team! 

I think what ITKAN is doing is great.  I would like to see more participation by businesses to send people to represent their companies at our meetings.  This would help connect people with jobs and other opportunities.  It would also be helpful to have other technology companies involved.  It’s great that Microsoft is being such a good host, and we need other tech companies like IBM, Oracle and others to participate in our meetings.

As far as my involvement with the visionary team is concerned, I think there is a lot of potential to make a difference.  We will need to find software developers who can work within the parameters we determined at our last meeting.  It would also be helpful to have some engineers there at the meeting who could interact with us about how to develop and deploy new hardware and software.

I can’t think of a time when the need has been more critical to develop better computer interfaces for the blind.  This is very important and timely.  Failure to do so would allow the IT field to completely pass us by and most blind people would either lose their jobs or not be able to find new ones.

What are your top 5 most visited Web sites? 

That’s a hard question to answer but the ones I can think of now are The American Foundation for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, the American Council for the Blind,  Google and Facebook.

You have a knowledge and love for music. Can you tell us about that and does that compliment your occupation today? 

I’ve always had a love of music I grew up hearing it, studied piano in grade school and high school, and majored in it in college.  I was going to teach at the college level but things didn’t work out that way.  I would say where music relates to what I do now is that it is part of my ministry at my church and it provides a conversation piece with people.  I once had a manager who said he would recruit IT people from the music departments of colleges.  There’s a relationship in how the brain handles music and also logic for IT work.

Any closing remarks, Dan? 

I appreciate the opportunity to put myself out there and try to make a difference.

ITKAN’s Visionary Innovation Team Blazes Another Trail

ITKAN’s mission is stoking the fires of passion and technology without limits for students and professionals with disabilities. The spectrum of disability ranges far and wide, and after an outstanding ITKAN monthly discussion about the creative possibilities of Microsoft’s X-Box Kinect gaming product, ideas and passion came together. 

The new Visionary Innovation Team will explore current and emerging technologies that can impact the lives of people with vision loss and blindness, to improve  their careers and lives as well as how society views and interacts with them.

Through the Team’s efforts to follow ITKAN’s mission of promoting the development of passionate technology leaders with disabilities, the Team ultimately wants to make a difference through analysis, discussions and solutions to the quandaries that they face.

Kathie Topel, founder of Impact Insights

Led by Kathie Topel, the founder of Impact Insights and author of POWERSHIP, along with Pat Maher, the managing director of nAblement, and Adam Hecktman, the director of Microsoft Technology Center Chicago, the members of ITKAN focused on its mission of passion, exploration and knowledge of technology in another vein.

Would you like to be a part of this engaging group and make a difference? Want to find out more about ITKAN and it’s members and supporters? Join us at our next meeting on May 17th at the Microsoft Technology Center and you’ll see that we have the setting, the people and the ideas to get the Chicago technology industry listening. (Email here to RSVP)

Coming next week,  ITKAN’s “Getting to Know”  feature will focus on Dan TeVelde, an Associate Programmer (and ITKAN Visionary Team Member) at McDonald’s World Headquarters in Oakbrook, IL.

ITKAN Chat – Interview with Brendan Ginty

Views of the IT industry from the Eyes of a Systems Engineer:

An ITKAN chat with Brendan Ginty 

By Bill O’Connor

ITKAN is feeling good about the past week!

We were recently honored as a 2012 Computerworld Honors Laureate as well as having an informative  ITKAN monthly presentation by Pat Shanahan, the CEO/Founding Partner of Shanahan Consulting Services, on his training directed at wounded veterans. We’re hoping to take advantage of Pat’s program in the future for our members. Finally, as always, ITKAN members enjoyed the exchange of passionate ideas of professionals and aspiring professionals with disabilities in information technology.

Focusing on IT professionals who support ITKAN, we previously featured Adam Hecktman, Director of the Microsoft Technology Center in Chicago. This week,  ITKAN spoke with Brendan Ginty. Brendan is a Pre-Sales Systems Engineer at Sonicwall, where he has been employed for the past eight years. Previous to his career experience with Sonicwall, Mr. Ginty was a Network Systems Engineer at UUNET (now a division of Verizon Business) for almost five years.

Brendan spoke with the ITKAN team to talk about the Systems Engineer position, his views on the information technology industry and where it is going, and his views of the future of the hiring professionals with disabilities. He is a resident of Chicago.

Hello Brendan, and thanks for your time to speak with us today. Can you tell us a little more about Sonicwall and your position there?

Sonicwall is a network security company.  boundary fenceMost people are familiar with our firewalls, but we extend our network security reach into other areas including secure remote access, content control, wireless and even data backup and recovery.  I’m a systems engineer and have the responsibility to educate and train our channel partners on these different solutions.

As there are so many different ways to breach networking systems through different types of attacks, I would imagine that a systems engineer has to be a “good” guy and “bad” guy at the same time. Would that make sense?

To a degree yes.  There are white hat hackers or ethical hackers who look at network vulnerabilities and attempt to patch those holes.  There are also black hat hackers who look for vulnerabilities with malicious intent in mind.  Both approaches are designed to find flaws within a network.  It’s my job to give our customers the tools they need to protect their business from these flaws and enable them to continue doing their job without having to sacrifice productivity.

How did your career path lead you to becoming a systems engineer as well as to IT itself?

Computers were always a hobby of mine going back to the days when I had a Commodore 64 as a kid.

I never really saw computers or networking as a profession, until a friend of mine made a career change into the industry.  I ended up taking some courses at a local college, got some certifications and then worked a few types of entry level IT jobs which helped me gain experience.  From there I had gotten to know people in the industry and the “human” networking piece was essential.

From your point of view, how do you feel about the security industry in IT as a whole? Where can someone start on the path towards this specific occupation?

The security IT industry is a great place to be, because it’s constantly evolving and you’re always seeing and learning new things.  As long as human beings are writing code, they are going to make errors (bugs) within that code, and there is always going to be someone out there looking to exploit that error.  As far as a path, I would take some classes to get a solid foundation in whatever area interests you.

There are a  lot of different directions you can go within the IT world, so narrowing down the field will make things easier.  There are also a ton of organizations that are available like ISC2 for security professionals, that hold seminars, trainings and other helpful things to promote your continuing education.

So after work, is the tech world put away until work rolls around again, or does technology bleed into your leisure time?

I don’t think I ever put it away.  Especially with smart devices like the iPhone and iPad, I feel like I’m wired in most of the time.

Before I asked you to visit us for a few moments, you mentioned your interest in ITKAN. As you know ITKAN’s mission is to support the development of passionate professionals with disabilities in technology. I’d like to know your thoughts to wrap things up.

I think ITKAN is a great resource.  Technology enables people to do things they may not have been able to do otherwise.  People with certain disabilities may automatically count out an opportunity, but within the IT world there are so many roads to choose, I think it’s important people understand that.

Thanks Brendan. Your opinion and insight is valuable and appreciated. Any final thoughts?

If you’ve got a passion for something, just stick with it through thick and thin and you’ll eventually get there.

“Getting to Know” ITKAN Members – Joseph Blasi

As the Information Technology Knowledge Ability Leadership Network (ITKAN) continues through 2012, we have focused on displaying our membership and their skills. This week, Bill O’Connor focuses on our first member interview, Joseph Blasi.

——

Name: Joseph Blasi

Home: Des Plaines, IL

Involved and Interested in IT – 10 years

——

Hello, Joe.

“Call me Joseph.”

Sorry, Joseph…Some questions for you as an I.T. professional…What 3 factors do you bring to the table in IT?

¨     “I have worked on various projects building and repairing hardware and configuring software and PC systems.

¨     “I really enjoy keeping up on technology, especially new releases of Microsoft products.

¨     I enjoy participating in technical forums. They allow me to look into different aspects of technology and be proactive in helping people with current problems and solutions.

Pretty solid background, Joseph. Where do you think technology will be in the next ten years?

“It really depends on the big players. How will Apple continue gaining of market share? Will Microsoft’s release of Windows 8 be a game changer? Will Linux build a general standardization in their niche? Even Internet service providers will havetheir say, as will the verdicts regarding network neutrality issues.”

What are the 5 Internet sites that you go to the most and why?

VP Forums – www.VPForums.org – This is a site that talks about virtual pinball. Pinball overall looked dead, but it seems to be having a rebound! 

Slashdot – www.slashdot.org – Good tech discussions, stories and articles. 

DSL Reports www.dslreports.org – Discussions on new sites and, like Slashdot, good dfiscussions about tech 

Simtropolis – www.simtropolis.com – This discusses the game SimCity, and I always want to keep up on it. The possibilities are endless with the program!

Mame World – www.mameworld.info – This talks about vintage arcade games, game simulation, and being able to play hundreds of arcade games on your PC. Awesome! 

What do you think about ITKAN? It’s a budding group, but what makes them special and productive?

It’s an interesting group. You’re focusing on people that have a lot of talent in the IT industry, but each one of them is really unique. It’s a tough job market, but these people need to be examined more closely. It’s a good idea, and hopefully, the members of the group will get some exposure. 

Thanks Joseph! Anything else?

Yeah, Bill, I’d like to be interviewed again! 

You bet, Joseph!

Coming next week, we meet with Brendan Ginty, an IT Security pro in Chicago.

ITKAN Chat – Interview with Adam Hecktman

Adam Hecktman

Adam Hecktman, Director, Microsoft Technology Center

Using social media to foster broad, interactive dialog:
A chat with Microsoft’s Adam Hecktman

By Hsuan-min Chou, hsuan@jumpbean.com

Adam Hecktman, a native Chicagoan, leads Microsoft’s Midwest region as Director of Technology where he builds relationships with the city’s Fortune 500 companies.

Prior to joining Microsoft, Mr. Hecktman consulted at Andersen Consulting as a rank-and-file employee. Mr. Hecktman’s next assignment at Andersen was two years in Grand Rapids, Mich., while Microsoft was ready to send him to Hawaii for a sales meeting. An easy decision, no doubt!

Mr. Hecktman is active in the non-profit industry, sitting on the advisory boards of Chicago Children’s Museum and Northwestern University’s Family Institute. Despite his busy schedule, Mr. Hecktman was able to answer a few questions regarding his engagement with ITKAN/SPR and how he uses social media at Microsoft.

Tell me about yourself, and your role at Microsoft?

Adam Hecktman: I am a lifelong Chicagoan. Chicago and Technology are my two passions. I love them both. So my role as the Director of the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago is kind of tailor-made for me. I have been with Microsoft for almost 20 years. I’m one of the few people I know of that can say with conviction that every day at work has been a fantastic day!

What led you to become involved with ITKAN/SPR? 

AH: I was involved with SPR before ITKAN. Microsoft has a close, long-standing relationship with one of the SPR companies (MPS Partners). It was through that, years ago, that I met Pat Maher. Pat runs another SPR company (nAblement) and is also the leader of ITKAN.

Pat has had a very powerful impact on my way of thinking about a lot of things. One of those things is the potential that people with disabilities bring to the workforce table.  And a second is the obstacles that they must overcome to participate in that workforce.

Having now been part of ITKAN, I have made friendships with some very talented people that any company would be lucky to have on their staff.

Why are you so invested/interested in social media, and in what types of social media do you engage? Blog, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn? How do they help you?

AH: I am invested in social media, and yes, I use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn regularly. However, I might not be your typical social media user.

I mean I do love user-generated content, and I love how that informs broad interactive dialogue. But the social media that I use regularly are the social networking tools internal to my own company, Microsoft. Let me give you two examples:

We have an internal feed that we call OfficeTalk. It is micro-blogging internal to the company. Think of it like you would an internal Twitter. I am not using it so much to broadcast news or topics. I am using it for what I think is a higher purpose—to recognize broadly people’s accomplishments. Whenever I see someone who has done something to make other’s great, I post a little note on OfficeTalk. That way, potentially everyone in the company can see this person’s accomplishments.

In that same vein, we have a tool called Kudos. This is a peer-recognition service that allows you to thank people at Microsoft, and track who has recognized you for something. Since it is a cloud service, it is available to me when I am on or off the corporate network. Oh, and it sends a message to your manager so that you are recognized up the chain. :^)

This is how I get value from social media. I know that everyone has their own reasons for using it or not using it; this is mine.

How have you used social media, and what has been your greatest challenge?

AH: My greatest challenge is understanding how to filter social media tools in the most efficient way possible. Tools like TweetDeck help. But the content you see is only as good as the content people post.

What has been your strategy for creating visibility to yourself? For Microsoft? For ITKAN?

AH: I like to think that everything I do helps me represent Microsoft and the organizations I work with like ITKAN.

So it can be as broad as discussing a technology on the TV news, or as narrow as a discussion with someone I met on the El [Chicago’s elevated train system]. It all reflects on you, your company, and your organizations. Beyond that, I really do not have a strategy for creating visibility for myself.

Tell us about some of the people you’ve met while working in social media.

AH: There are some people who have really mastered the art of generating great content in social media. One of my favorites is Dr. Mark Drapeau, who edits the site http://Publicyte.com .

This is a social media play that takes a theme of public interest and riffs on it. He has a great term for it: Civic Innovation. Recent themes have been around connectivity, and the public interest and policy surrounding it. Other themes have included cybersecurity, etc.

Probably the master of social media in Chicago is Howard Tullman. Howard runs Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, which is a fantastic two year digital media school right here in the Loop. It is a very forward-thinking, push-the-envelope kind of school that is building the next generation of digital media talent.

But the driving force behind it is really Howard himself. What makes him such an icon in this space is the way he can take a story, and combine so many different types of social media to surround it. He is one of the people in the city that I admire most.

Where do you see your involvement with ITKAN going? 

AH: That is a good question. Right now, I support them by providing them with a space to meet, access to interesting and (hopefully) helpful speakers, and of course my personal friendship. I’m really happy with that involvement.

But what I want to see is more people recognizing the potential that each of these members possess. The company that recognizes that—to the point where they engage with one of the members on a career level—is going to be a far better company for it.

What do you so when you’re not involved in social media?

AH: My job is not really social media. It is really about running the Microsoft Technology Center so that we can work with our customers and help them envision solutions that meet their business needs.

I love my job and I put my heart into it. And when I am not having fun with my colleagues, partners, and customers… I am spending time with my family and enjoying this fabulous city we call home.

Thank you again, Adam, for agreeing to answer some questions for the ITKAN blog.

You’re welcome, Hsuan.

——

NEXT WEEK: An interview with a ITKAN member, Joseph Blasi