Helen Keller ServicesAwards

2023 AccessAbility Awards

Watch the AccessAbility Awards video here on Tuesday, June 27 at 3pm EST which will recognize industry leaders who are prioritizing accessibility and inclusivity.

2023 HKS Accessibility Awards 

Presented by Sue RUZENSKI 

Hosted by Doug Roland 

* Denotes transition in the Awards video

Welcome screen, list of award recipients: Kellog Company, Netflix, P&G, NV Access, NaviLens, Compass365


Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Sue Ruzenski and I’m the Chief Executive Officer at Helen Keller Services. I’m a white female in my sixties, I have shoulder length blond hair. I’m wearing black rimmed glasses, a Navy blue dress, and I have a plain beige wall behind me. It’s my sincere pleasure to welcome everyone to the third annual Helen Keller Services AccessAbility Awards. This event, which is celebrated today on Helen Keller’s birthday during DeafBlind Awareness Week, is really our way to cheer on the progress that has been made collectively in the area of equity, inclusion, accessibility, and also celebrate the diversity among all of us. HKS is very proud and honored to recognize trailblazers who are marking the path for others to learn and follow. We thank these leaders for being role models in their pursuit of significant goals of bringing designs, technology and services to a new level where individuals of different abilities can be empowered, independent and experience improved access. These six recipients of the HKS AccessAbility Awards stand head and shoulders above other companies. On behalf of Helen Keller Services, we thank you for being a formidable force of equality. You are making a big difference by making life easier, by making it safer and more inclusive, using an accessible, person-centered approach to your products, your services, your technological innovations and practices. Thank you for making a difference to the blind, low vision, and DeafBlind communities. And now, before we get started, we’d like to share with you a brief video about Helen About Helen Keller Services. 

* HKS video plays


The Helen Keller National Center for DeafBlind youths and adults is the only national program providing comprehensive vocational and rehabilitation services to individuals with combined hearing and vision loss. Participants travel from across the country to our headquarters in Sands Point, New York. For a person-centered approach to vocational rehabilitation. We provide training in adaptive technology, communication, orientation and mobility and independent living in a supportive community of individuals who have faced similar challenges. Our customized training and immersive learning experience gives DeafBlinds participants the skills they need. So they can live, work and thrive in the communities of their choice. At Helen Keller Services for the Blind adults with developmental disabilities find the support and resources they need to become more productive and independent in their daily lives. Our on-site, residential, and in-home programs are designed to boost self-confidence, improve daily living skills, and encourage participation in a variety of community-based activities. The Helen Keller Services for the Blind Children’s Learning Center offers a full range of programs and services for preschool children with low vision, multiple disabilities, autism or pervasive developmental delays. We have a dedicated team of teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists  and speech and language specialists. We are committed to providing the academic, social and therapeutic supports these students need so they can reach their highest potential in the classroom and beyond. 

*HKS video ends


And now I would like to introduce to you our MC for today’s event, Doug Roland. Doug Roland is a talented filmmaker and he has worked with Helen Keller Services on a variety of projects, most notably his Oscar nominated film, Feeling Through. It is my pleasure to now hand this over to Doug Roland. 


Thank you, Sue. Sue actually being modest, she is also an Academy Award nominee as she was a producer on the film. But nonetheless, I am so pleased to be here today to celebrate DeafBlind Awareness Week by honoring such amazing individuals and companies for their groundbreaking work. My name is Doug Roland. I’m a white male in my late thirties. I have short, dark hair and I’m wearing a light blue button up shirt over that, a dark blue blazer. And over each one of my shoulders, I have bookshelves that have various books, trinkets and awards on each one. Our first honoree today is Procter and Gamble’s accessibility leader Sam Latif. Sam is revolutionizing the way P&G creates products, packaging and advertising to serve the 1.3 billion people with disabilities worldwide. Sam’s personal experiences and unwavering passion have driven P&G to become the epitome of inclusivity. As a senior director, Sam is responsible for creating a disability confident culture within P&G and beyond. Congratulations, Sam and P&G. 

* P&G video plays


Imagine a world accessible to all people. At P&G, we aspire to create a company and a world where equality and inclusion are achievable for all. Where our workplaces and culture are accessible, where employees with disabilities are empowered to advocate for themselves and be their full selves at work where everyone is disability confident. At P&G, we’re building more accessible won’t take streets step by step. Striving for tangible impact. Recruiting Diverse talent to become disability confident and make an accessible world to reality. We are unique and we are united. Equality and inclusion. 

* P&G video ends


The world today is not accessible for everyone and I want to change this. Hello everyone. My name is Sam Latif and I work at P&G. I’m the P&G’s first ever accessibility leader. I’m blind and I have a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, and I’m really so fortunate to be able to do my dream job, make the world accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. I’m first generation Scottish-Pakistani, and today I’m wearing a black top white skirt and a red head scarf. So I’d like to start by thanking the Helen Keller Services for this wonderful, wonderful recognition on behalf of everyone at P&G, our designers, our packaging, our design R&D teams, our brand teams. In a way, we’re just delighted to receive this recognition from an organization which advocates and represents people that we also are trying to serve better every day. You know, 2 billion people around the world live with some kind of disability. That’s a quarter of the world’s population struggling with their vision, their dexterity or other cognitive challenges. And for P&G, accessibility is about ensuring people have an equitable experience, whether it’s across our media, when they’re looking at our advertising, when they’re shopping for our products, or even when they’re opening and using our products at home. We need to provide independence, allowing all consumers to research, shop, buy and use our products independently. So adding tactile and NaviLens is just a small step in our journey to make our experiences more equitable for blind and low vision consumers. So I really encourage you all to go and have a look at our new Head and Shoulders bottle I’m really proud of. It’s got four tactile stripes on the back of the bottle. And the other great thing is that this product is made with 45% less plastic than the previous bottle, and it’s only got nine important ingredients inside. The tactile on these bottles are building on the work that we started in 2018 on our Herbal Essences range. So in North America, all of our Herbal Essences have tactile strips for shampoo and tactile circles for conditioner on our Herbal Essences bottles. In Europe we’ve also introduced something called NaviLens on our Pantene range, allowing blind and low vision people to see the range of our products in store. They then they can see not only see the products in the store, they can select the one that they want completely independently. They can read any of the product information for that product independently as well using NaviLens. And we also launched NaviLens on our ‘Always’ brand, which is really, really incredible. And we also, in Europe, launched our new laundry detergent box, which is really incredible. It’s accessible for people with all types of disabilities. I’m going to show you here. You know, it’s incorporated both tactile and NaviLens, for blind. So here there is a tactile symbol shaped like a washing machine with four tactile stripes underneath. Next to that symbol there is NaviLens and for people with dexterity challenges, it’s easy to squeeze and lift the cap off. But the best thing is it’s still not accessible for children because they don’t have the same handspan on their hand. So this is a truly inclusive box for people with all kinds of  disabilities. You know, creating better experiences for a quarter of the world’s population is a challenge that should inspire us all. Thank you for everything that you do Helen Keller Services, and for helping us lead into the future to make the world a more accessible and inclusive place. 


Brace yourself for a groundbreaking technology that’s unlocking possibilities and empowering all. NaviLens is transforming the lives of individuals who are blind, including those who are DeafBlind. By harnessing the power of mobile technology, NaviLens helps make cities smarter and more inclusive through this groundbreaking technology. But that’s not all. They’re teaming up with top brands to bring this exciting technology to your local retailers. Get ready to experience the future. On behalf of NaviLens, welcome Oran McAllister. Congratulations. 

* NaviLens video plays


A visually impaired person has to be able to read a QR code very easily. So we had to invent a new one. The operation of NaviLens is very simple. You can scan a tag from a distance. We can be 15 meters away and the tag will be detected. I find it a very interesting app. I would like it to be available this afternoon when I go home on my route. Don’t wait for tomorrow. I am very happy because this technology is better. It’s much better, it’s cheaper. I gave real direction. Yeah. This is the best solution. I think one of the best. Yeah. It also allows you to navigate with the tags toward one direction. If we also know the distance in meters, you can locate yourself knowing exactly where you are. This feels like you have someone to guide you. It’s super useful because I have thought how can it be possible that when moving your device around it detects a small tag located in one place? This isn’t going to help me. I can’t point. When I’ve seen how it works I said damn, this really works. Basically, I say this: fabulous. This must be implemented now. This is amazing! What the…? Awesome! 

* NaviLens video ends


Hi, my name is Oran McAllister and I work in client engagement at NaviLens. I am a tall, white, fair haired Irishman with an ever graying beard. I am sporting a plain white shirt with some colorful buttons on the front and wearing brown glasses. And I am sitting here at my desk in my office. Behind me is some antique furniture and some bookshelves and a lovely piece of art with the face of a woman on a red background. I am extremely honored and humbled to accept the Helen Keller Services AccessAbility Award on behalf of the team here at NaviLens. NaviLens is a relatively new technology, the use of which enables people with visual impairment to navigate unfamiliar environments as well as identify and locate important elements in everyday life. This is a particularly special recognition as what we do is so incredibly important to all of us. We constantly strive to identify the needs of the blind and BlindDeaf communities and do everything we can to provide the autonomy that they deserve and require in order to live life to the fullest. Accessibility is at the heart of our mission here at NaviLens. Our particular focus is to help the blind, partially sighted and DeafBlind communities be more independent. But inclusivity is also very important to us, which is why our technology can be used by everyone. This is our passion. We absolutely love what we do, which makes this award even more special to all of us. To receive this level of recognition from Helen Keller Services takes our breath away and reaffirms that what we are doing truly makes a difference. Thank you to everyone at Helen Keller Services from all the team here at NaviLens. 


Good afternoon, everyone. It’s great to be here with you today. My name is Megan Dausch, I am the accessibility specialist for Helen Keller Services. I am a white woman in my thirties with brown hair and wearing a gray shirt, and I have a braille display in front of me on the table. I wanted to talk to you a bit today about accessibility in general and what it means for me. As a person with a disability accessibility is important because it empowers me with choices, participation and independence. I can choose where to buy products if a website is accessible. I can choose to access information if it is in an accessible format. I can participate in an event if it is accessible. In basic terms, accessibility ensures equitable access and use by people with disabilities. When designing a product, starting a project, planning an event, it is critical to involve people with disabilities in every step of the process, from inception to final testing. Some companies make products that they think are accessible only to find out later that they don’t actually meet the needs of the users. As accessibility is built in from the start. It will not only result in a more inclusive product, but it will be a stronger product since it considers diverse perspectives and experiences. It also saves money and time. It is much easier to consider accessibility from the outset rather than make changes and patches to a product later. Imagine you are making chocolate chip cookies, but you forget to put the chocolate chips in one of the batches. If you tried to add them after you bake your cookies, you have something very different than you intended. You have cookies with chocolate on top rather than mixed in. That’s not a chocolate chip cookie and not the same equitable experience as if you were eating a cookie with chocolate chips. AccessAbility is of course essential for people with disabilities, but also improve the experience for everyone. Transcripts, for example, are critical for people who are DeafBlind but can benefit English language learners. Having multiple ways for people to access and interact with a setting, content or event helps everyone engage in the most accessible way for them. AccessAbility involves both tangible and intangible work. It is critical, for example, that we learn the mechanics of creating accessible documents, web pages, understand how to write effective alt-text use headings structure appropriately. But accessibility is not just about learning how to. One of the most important tools in the accessibility toolbox is empathy. Accessibility cannot be improved solely through running automated tools and understanding the technical aspects of accessibility, but is about a shift in thinking and perception. Accessibility is not a static concept and we all grow as we travel along our accessibility journeys. Any of us can become disabled at any time, so thinking about accessibility in all of our processes will only make a better experience for all of us, even if we currently don’t think we need accessibility features. We all have the power to make the world a more accessible place, and we can start doing so by engaging with people with disabilities, asking questions, and learning from one another. 


Welcome Beth Foor from Kellogg. Beth is a passionate advocate for people with disabilities and has been a key member of Kellogg’s cross-functional team that has integrated NaviLens technology into some of the company’s most iconic cereals in the US. The technology allows consumers to locate and hear information about their favorite cereal. Kellogg is the first food company in the world to integrate this technology into the packaging of their products. Congratulations, Beth and Kellogg. 

* Kellogg video plays


For millions of blind and low vision people in the U.S. navigating daily life is a bit different. From making breakfast in the morning to shopping for groceries at the store. At Kellogg, we believe that everyone deserves a seat at the table. That’s why we’re introducing NaviLens technology on select cereal boxes in the U.S., including Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Special K Original and Crispix. With the NaviLens code and app users can now easily find products and hear their name, nutrition and allergen information. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Cereal, kids snacks, baking marshmallow treats. We’re proud to be the first food company to feature this technology on packaging in the U.S. It’s all part of Kellogg’s Better Days Promise to create better days for 3 billion people by the end of 2030. To learn more search Kellogg’s NaviLens. 

* Kellogg video ends 


Hi, my name is Beth and I am a white female in my late forties with shorter, dark brown hair and glasses. I’m wearing a light pink shirt and I’m in my home office with pictures of flowers on the wall behind me. It is an honor for me to accept the 2023 Accessibility Award on behalf of Kellogg. The mission and vision of Helen Keller Services are very near and dear to me as I have Usher syndrome, so I understand firsthand the importance of making the world more accessible for those with vision and hearing loss. At Kellogg, making our product more accessible is one of the ways we’re achieving our Brighter Days Promise to advance equitable and sustainable access to food. It was with that spirit that we became the first food company in the world to incorporate the innovative NaviLens technology into our food packaging in Europe a few years ago, and I’m proud to have played a part in bringing it to the packaging of some of Kellogg’s most iconic cereals in the US. I love the name of this award ‘AccessAbility’. Even though many of us experience challenges through vision and hearing loss, it’s important that we focus on our abilities and all the value that we bring, and it’s important that we work together to keep advocating for a more equitable world. Thank you to Helen Keller Services for the important work for the important work you do to empower individuals who are blind, DeafBlind have vision loss, or have combined vision and hearing loss like myself. We are thrilled to partner with you to work towards improved accessibility so all individuals can thrive. What an amazing way to honor the legacy of Helen Keller and to celebrate DeafBlind Awareness Week with all of you. On behalf of everyone at Kellogg, we sincerely thank you for this special recognition. 


Heather Dowdy, director of product accessibility at Netflix, is focused on leveraging technology to ensure people with disabilities can access and enjoy their favorite films and TV shows. As the eldest daughter of deaf parents. Heather is fluent in American Sign Language and known for her ability to foster collaborations within the disability community. With accessibility features like audio description for the blind and low vision and subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, Netflix is working to create an entertainment experience for everyone, regardless of language, device, connectivity, or ability. Thank you, Heather and Netflix, for the wonderful work you’re doing. 

* Netflix video plays (images of diverse Netflix shows, no dialogue) Netflix video ends


Hello, I’m Heather Dowdy, I’m a brown skinned African-American woman wearing a bright red top with matching lipstick and long honey twists in my hair. In the background of my home office is a large white bookcase filled with lots of books and mementos. As the director of product accessibility at Netflix and on behalf of all my colleagues, I want to thank Helen Keller Services for this award. As we remember Helen Keller’s advocacy for the DeafBlind community on her birthday. At Netflix, we believe incredible stories should be enjoyed by everyone. No matter who you are, where you live, and what you love to watch. And we strive to continuously improve the experience for our blind and deaf members to access and enjoy their favorite content. Over the past year, we increased the total number of films and series that support our audio description and subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, and expanded the number of languages available for both features so that more members can enjoy great stories from around the world. We’ve also been focused on improving the narration and style of audio description to be as detailed as possible so that members with vision disabilities are delighted by the juicy excitement of series like ‘Bridgerton’ or the action of ‘Stranger Things’ and not miss out on any detail. Our audio description guidelines are more inclusive of skin tone, hair texture and overall identity to better represent what’s happening on screen. Based on feedback from the DeafBlind community, we also previously provided descriptive transcripts for our Academy Award nominated documentary Crip Camp, which opened the film to a wider audience. We continue to explore new features for future films. We’re really excited to continue this journey to bring joy to our members no matter what their ability, and we’re deeply appreciative of this special recognition. Thank you. 


Hello, my name is Scott Davert and I’m the coordinator of the Technology Research and Innovation Center here at HKNC. I’m going to talk a little bit about what accessibility means not only in general, but a little bit about what it means to me. What is accessibility? Well, accessibility is inclusion. That’s one quick way to summarize it. And accessibility doesn’t have to mean specific types of accommodations. It’s all in how you frame it. For example, I’m totally blind. I don’t need lights. So as far as I’m concerned, just go ahead and turn them all off. Take the light bulbs out, go ahead and sell them to somebody else. I don’t need that accessibility, but my counterparts who have vision do need that accessibility. So accessibility is not only important for people with disabilities, it’s important for people who may not have disabilities. Accessibility is providing equal access to everyone, regardless of their disability or no disability. It isn’t about disability specifically. Accessibility means everyone’s included. That even includes me, apparently. So just very briefly, as an example, when I’m working in specific environments, I need to use what’s called a braille display to navigate around whatever I’m looking at. Let’s say it’s a document that’s sent to me. And if it is properly accessible, I can read it on here and be equally included. And if I have time ahead of time, if someone is willing to accommodate that, I can even look at the document ahead of time. So let’s say we’re going into a meeting and that sort of thing is going to be reviewed, some kind of a document, I then have equal access. So because I have that equal access like everyone else, I also have a seat at the table, so to speak. 


NV Access general manager, James Boreham and training and support manager Quentin Christensen are the leaders at a not-for-profit software development company that is revolutionizing technology access for the blind and low vision. Through their free and open source screen reader NVDA, blind and DeafBlind individuals are empowered worldwide. The non-visual desktop access software is available in 175 countries, 55 languages, and is used by 250,000 people worldwide. We thank NV Access for removing barriers and providing equal access to education, employment and daily life for blind and low vision people at no cost to the user. 

* NV Access video plays


In order to use a computer as a blind person, you need software that will read the text on the computer screen. NV Access is an Australian based charity, which was primarily set up to support and develop the NVDA screen reading software. NVDA is currently translated into 50 languages and it’s used in at least 150 countries. Students here all use NVDA on the computers. What I like best when using a computer is that I can communicate better with the social community. I can make new friends on Facebook, for example. We feel that it’s essential that people can access technology and all the benefits that it has to offer regardless of their financial situation or where they live. 

* NV Access video ends


I am James Boreham, general manager of NV Access. On behalf of NV Access, thank you. It is an honor to receive this accessibility award from Helen Keller Services. NV Access and Helen Keller Services show an aligned commitment to inclusivity and enabling the Blind and DeafBlind people to access education, employment and independence. NV Access believes every Blind and DeafBlind person has the right to freely and easily access technology. We achieve this through our free and open source screen reading software NVDA. As it is open source, there is a very active user and developer community behind in NVDA with many contributors being blind themselves. This means that NVDA is truly a software for the blind, by the blind. Technology is constantly evolving and becoming more and better in our lives. NV Access works very hard to ensure that NVDA is stable, that it is secure, and can work with the latest technologies.  


Hi, I’m Quentin Christensen, training and support manager. On behalf of NVDA’s users I’d like to thank Helen Keller Services. Recognition of our work is confirmation of our users’ faith in us and affirmation of the need for choice in screen readers and an affordable choice at that. Empowering people is core to both of our organizations. NVDA lets people access whatever they want to access on a PC in a way that works best for them. NVDA takes the text on screen and can then either read it aloud in your choice of voice, presented in braille on a refreshable braille display, or both. This is not only about choice, but vital because some users can’t hear or understand certain voices, or can only read particular braille codes. The need for screen reader innovation is ongoing as Windows is continually evolving. As an example, we are collaborating with a number of partners to ensure that NVDA works with the new generation of tactile graphics displays and multi-line braille displays. We look forward to further working with Helen Keller Services to empower blind and DeafBlind people. And once again,  we are humbled that this recognition of our work to date. Thank you. 


Todd Withers, CEO, and Todd Martindale, solutions architect, are part of the amazing team at Compass365, transforming organizations using SharePoint, Microsoft 365. With their expertise and dedication, they empower businesses to leverage technology enhancing efficiency and effectiveness across industries and making it accessible for all. Helen Keller Services benefited directly when Compass helped make HKS’ new Intranet ‘Helen’s Hub’ accessible to Blind and DeafBlind employees. Their willingness to work collaboratively with HKS to achieve this goal was above and beyond. Congratulations, Compass365. 

* Compass365 video starts


Hello, I’m Todd Withers and I’m the CEO of Compass365. I’m a 60 year old white male. I’m six feet tall and weigh about 200 pounds. Okay, maybe 210 pounds. I have white hair, black rimmed glasses and a goatee. I’m sitting at my desk where behind me is a glass door revealing a beautiful Southern California day. And just over my right shoulder is a very oddly placed red fire extinguisher. Compass 365 is an employee owned technology company specializing in the Microsoft 365 platform. We’ve been in business since 1984, and we’re located in Glendale, California. At Compass our mission is to really make a difference with our work. The problem is we’re a bunch of computer nerds, and making a positive impact on the world is not so easy. To make a difference for real people we need to partner with organizations like Helen Keller Services. And now it’s my pleasure to introduce Todd Martindale, who was the lead technologist on our work for Helen Keller. Todd?  


Hi, I’m Todd Martindale and I’m a senior technologist at Compass365. And just so you know, we’re not all named Todd at Compass, but today you’re hearing from both of us. I am a 48 year old white male with brown hair,  and today I’m wearing a t-shirt from JPL. I was so excited to be able to partner with HKS on the Helens Hub’s SharePoint Intranet Project. Microsoft Technologies provide an accessible experience out of the box, but the best part of this project was working with the people of Helen Keller to make SharePoint even more accessible for all users. For you techies out there, we used Microsoft’s SPFX framework to improve the accessibility experience by making subtle changes based on feedback from our partners at Helen Keller. For example, things like sign up menus, page headings and anchors, and various web parts were all improved for accessibility. I want to truly say thank you to Helen Keller Services for letting us work with you on this project. And a special thanks to Mia, Megan and the rest of the intranet project team for being such great partners. Thank you.  


Speaking on behalf of all of us at Compass365, we’re so grateful for this award and for the opportunity to work with Helen Keller Services. You have allowed us to fulfill our mission and in our small way to make a difference. Thank you. 

* Compass365 video ends


And now it’s time for us to bring this award ceremony to a close. And I just want to share on behalf of Helen Keller Services our thanks and appreciation to all the awardees today. We applaud your commitment in making the cause of accessibility part of your social responsibility. You have enriched your business proposition with a clear benefit to customers, employees and partners who are blind, have low vision and are DeafBlind. We are thankful to be celebrating DeafBlind Awareness Week with you. I want to thank our audience for being here with us today. We hope you enjoyed the show. We look forward to seeing how other organizations and businesses will prioritize accessibility to the benefit of individuals who are blind, have low vision and are DeafBlind. 


Well, folks, that wraps up the third annual Helen Keller Services AccessAbility Awards. Once again, a huge congratulations to all of our award recipients for leading the way in accessibility and helping foster a world where such groundbreaking efforts will hopefully soon be common practice for all. nd of course, a huge thank you and congratulations to the entire Helen Keller Services team for all the work that you do. On a final note, Helen Keller Services invites any companies who are watching and wanting to enhance their accessibility practices to connect with them at accessibility@helenkeller.org. Thank you and happy DeafBlind Awareness Week. 

* Final thanks screen with the names of the awards recipients

End of Transcript

We are proud to recognize organizations and individuals who are making incredible strides to advance accessibility for the blind, DeafBlind and low vision communities.

This year’s recipients include Kellogg, Netflix, P&G, NaviLens, NV Access and Compass365. 

For inquiries about Accessibility services for your business, please email HKSAccessibility@helenkeller.org.

AccessAbility Awards poster showing logos of sponsors: Netflix, P & G, Kellogg's, NV Access, NaviLens, and Compass 365
Helen Keller Services logo icon
Helen Keller Services

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