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Diversity and the other “D word”

I have been part of several startup communities around the world, from Portland to Tokyo, and along the way, I’ve encountered the usual host of startup characters. Hell, I am one of them

 

! Yes, we tend to be a geeky bunch with an overly affectionate relationship with caffeine, and some of us could write a dissertation on a properly hopped IPA.

A black and White Tactile Rubik's Cube

But, I am also an anomaly–I am blind. Literally.

In my experience, I have found startup communities to be quite welcoming in spirit But, inclusion is more than a line in a tech conference code of conduct that says everyone is welcome. Inclusion is more than attitude; it means accessibility, figuratively and literally. Sure, everyone is welcome, but does everyone *feel* like they are welcome?

True inclusion is easy to measure, it’s when everyone participating can say yes to the question: “Do you feel like you are able to contribute?”

When you’re mentally or physically handicapped, or disabled or a PWD (person with disability) the answer usually not clear. It can mean that a host of tools or adaptations are needed to help one with their daily lives. For me, I have a computer that talks to me, and I use a Guide Dog to navigate. Someone with dyslexia or OCD may have an entirely different set of tools and adaptations to make their world more accessible.

No one likes to feel left out, but when we talk about mass produced goods and implanted policy, inclusion and accessibility tends to mostly an afterthought. But, what if inclusion was part of the initial design?  The seed for this movement is slowly sprouting. From product to policy, you can find examples of inclusive design like Apple and Voice Over on iOS since 2009, to the recent news of British Columbia banning door knobs. Plus, did you know that in Japan many canned products are sold embossed with Braille labels? However, inclusive design does not simply mean enabling accessibility – It means enabling a larger more diverse audience to use your service, purchase your product, visit your website, or attend your event.

When we discuss diversity, inclusion and adaptability are topics that are rarely thought of, but I believe it’s time for that to change. Portland traditionally has become a center for experimentation in the Northwest.  We have some of the best startup incubators. Portland has one of the largest Indie music scenes. And of course Portland has a vibrant independent artist scene. Let’s add to that list! Let’s make Portland a center for inclusive design and spark the conversation around disability and diversity.

And that’s why I would like to invite you to Startup Weekend Access; an inaugural StartUp Weekend designed to bring the non-disabled and disabled together to innovate and create inclusive startups and products together!  Our mission is to create an environment where truly anyone can come to together to brainstorm, build, launch, and kick ass!

I am proud to be on the organizing team for the event and hope you’ll join us.  Limited-time early bird tickets are on sale now at swaccess.co.

Cory Klatik is a developer, a marketer, an entrepreneur, and an advocate for inclusive design and accessibility. Currently Cory is a social media & community manager for Intel. Cory has lived, studied, and worked around the US, and in Asia. Cory is a co-organizer for Startup Weekend Access – the first Startup Weekend focused on people with disabilities. Cory was born blind and his partner in crime is Vine.

Drink, Code, or Cry: The inspiration & irritation of being beat to market

You are working on the next big “thing.” Maybe it’s the next Facebook or maybe you developed the recipe for the perfect calorie-less-donut. Either way this “thing” is golden. You’re new product make so much sense, it’s so good — That it’s on the front page of Giga OM or Hacker News from someone else. Sonofabitchonastick! But that product was such genius! You even have the proof of concept mostly built you say… Hell you even started showing it off you say. Take a moment, have an adult beverage, or two.

Sober? OK, here’s the bad news. There are many smart people in this world, and probably many of them are smarter than you. They probably saw the need for a solution like yours before it was a twinkle in your eye.

Put that third drink down – There is good news. Competition is validation. Even better yet, you already achieved a major milestone. You started. You built something and now you know you are moving in the correct direction. You found a niche.

Take a closer look at your product vs. them. Are you going up against an Amazon, or some other Mega-Corp? If so, you have to face reality. Ask yourself: Is this a new half-assed “hobby” for the Mega-Corp or is it a serious move that will have virtually unlimited resources. If Mega-Corp’s new offering is a serious move then that is a major gap that no amount of networking or tenacity will make up for. You are working from a POC, it’s easy to change now, you are agile.

After that reality check are you ready to move forward? Then it’s time to put on your big boy (or girl) pants and get back to work. Do your research. What does the new competitor have that you don’t? What are you doing better than them? Figure out the gaps. This is basic MBA stuff, you should definitely understand it – there is even “an app for that” — seriously. Checkout: iTunes U and Coursera.

Now that you are past the irritation, go be inspired and beat your new opponent’s ass.

Don’t Call it a Reboot

When I wrote my first blog for this site I had a grand idea of what I would be sharing and the story I would be telling. I tried to set a tone that this site would be one concept, and that the site would follow one path and not much more than that. Maybe I’m frenetic or just easily distracted. Either way it turns out that’s just not how I work, my mental process doesn’t work on one path at a time.

The major theme stays the same. I am blind, I am trying to start a company on my own or with others, and I am trying to succeed while working at a Fortune 500 Company and I’m sharing all that goes along with that. In the name of actually delivering blogs though,  I am expanding what I share to include more of my thoughts, notes, ideas, and maybe even pitches.

Working from the terrible and terribly cliché phrase of “opening the kimono” this is me “opening my moleskin.” – I won’t be actually showing you them, it looks like some blind guy scribbled on them – My goal is to go from sharing notes on ideas to sharing notes on execution.  These are my thoughts, ideas, and concepts, no one else’s.  Some ideas might (probably will) be kind of dumb, or not well thought out. That’s OK – This is me sharing the process with you from my unique point of view.

Starting Blind

 

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

– Helen Keller

 

Helen Keller said, “the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” I can relate to Helen Keller beyond her thoughts on motivation. I too am visually impaired, visually disabled, blind, or whatever “handicrap” term you want to use to describe it.

My blindness does not hold me back, though. My number one goal at this point in life is to build something new that with luck (or more likely, a ton of hard work) you or someone you know will want to use. This blog is a part of that process.

Some people find the idea of starting something new too terrifying to ever attempt. They would never have the courage to start a new blog or a new business. They would rather die than take the risk of creating something for an audience that might not like it.

If you are anything like me, however, the idea of starting something new is not terrifying but exhilarating. You find the desire to create an essential part of your being. You want to make something happen. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know how things will turn out. You enjoy “starting blind,” so to speak. Well, so do I, and that’s what I want to share with you.

This blog is not my personal journal, nor will it be a blog about people blogging about people blogging. It definitely will not be about me being blind, although that has definitely shaped my perspective. Instead, this blog will be me sharing my point of view on technology, new/social media, and my participation in the global renaissance of entrepreneurship in the information age.

I’m not exactly sure where we will be going, but this is not the first time I am starting blind. I have already taken that leap many times in life. I have over a decade of experience as an IT technologist, beginning by working for a tattoo parlor as a PC technician. I once moved to Japan for school and work in order to learn how to speak, read and write Japanese. I now have two years of social media marketing experience at a major tech company despite not having a communications degree (something that is kind of like learning how to fire a gun in a war) because I was not afraid to get out and meet the right people.

These experiences proved to myself and to others that I am comfortable starting blind. They have given me a unique perspective that I hope you will find valuable. Despite my lack of eyesight, or perhaps because of it, I have vision to spare. I look forward to sharing the journey with you.