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Home » News » Access Granted: commercetools Part 1

Access Granted: commercetools Part 1

Ablr's Mike Iannelli talks to Marc, Stephanie and Nicole of commercetools on the Access Granted podcast.

Access Granted: commercetools Part 1 Transcript. Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts.

Mike Iannelli: Welcome back to Access Granted. I’m your host, Mike Iannelli. Today, we’re diving into stories about accessibility in eCommerce and the global impact of prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion with our friends from commercetools. You’ll hear from Stephanie Forbes, Nicole Hayworth, and Marc Stracuzza, each offering unique insights into their roles at commercetools and their commitment to accessibility and inclusion.

Let’s jump right in. I’m very happy that you guys are here cause there’s a lot of cool stuff you guys do a commercetools. And not only from, you know, a DEI perspective, but from an accessibility perspective and inclusion perspective, I know we started working together, Ablr, what God, probably a year or so ago or at this point, right? About a year?

Stephanie Forbes: A little over a year. 

Mike Iannelli: You know, eCommerce is such an important or commerce in general is such an important situation today. Especially when you talk about what happened with COVID and then web statistics flying to the roof. And now we’ve got assisted technology and online shopping.

It’s just completely changed the world we’re living in. And I want to kind of open that up, Marc, to you initially is sort of when you think about products, you think about the site, you think about access, you think about business, what does accessibility mean to commercetools? Cause that’s a, that’s a broad statement, but for someone who’s really leading the space, what does that mean to your organization?

Marc Stracuzza: I think the first way we want to start this off is to think about that shopping experiences. commerce and what we call eCommerce, uh, it’s really the portal into modern commerce, the modern shopping experiences. So you have to have methods and websites and, and, uh, accessibility portals that people can reach on their own terms, to buy the products that they need for everyday living, because everything these days is available online.

You can grocery shop online. You do your, you know, home shopping online, of course, with marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart and things like that. Massive amounts of goods and services are sold online. So if you’re not opening up the experiences to everybody… 

Mike Iannelli: Mhm. 

Marc Stracuzza: Then you’re really doing a disservice in multiple avenues. Of course, you’re just doing a disservice to the end customer because they can’t have access to these goods and services, to these, to these modern shopping experiences. But I mean, selfishly from a commerce perspective, you’re also, you’re doing yourself a disservice because you’re not able to sell. You’re, you’re losing a portion of your prospective audience and your prospective customer base. So it’s really, uh, it’s beneficial in multiple avenues. To make your experiences, uh, as, as we like to call it omnichannel, which is different methods of shopping, different ways to get into it, whether it’s an app or a website, uh, you know, through your car, whatever that experience might be and of course you want , is, is open to everybody, as many experience types as possible and as accessible as possible. So you have your large audience. 

Mike Iannelli: So when you talk about that and how important commerce is, and you talk about omnichannel. And when I think about omnichannel, the old school mind for me is the marketing omnichannel. It’s all the resources and sources that are falling into the, into the engine. So whether it’s paid search, display, social, it’s having a holistic approach to an experience that covers the entire ecosystem.

Marc Stracuzza: Yep, yep. 

Mike Iannelli: So I know that we’ve been working able or supported you guys in some consulting, helping doing some testing, but, and this can be open for anyone. I’m just interested in terms of like, what have you, what have you done and what has been your commitment to accessibility as an organization? Um, and I don’t know if you’re comfortable answering this question or not, but I’m interested in what has been done. And then ultimately on top of that, what, what kind of impact are you seeing? Cause what, you know, David was just in here earlier and we were talking about clients and you guys have serviced a significant amount of folks as well. And I’m interested in what is the, the feeling that you’re, or what you’re hearing out there from the work that you’re doing with accessibility. And if, is it, is it, is it catching on for your clients? And is it catching on in your industry? 

Marc Stracuzza: commercetools is a bit unique in this perspective. Um, we subscribe to a methodology called headless commerce, which essentially is, is we don’t, we don’t directly have a front end for our core product. Now we do offer as part of our offering a front end. So I’m, I’m touching both bases here, but I’m going to start with the core offering and then go to the second. So what we have is a, is a set of APIs, which is for those who don’t know what an API is, it’s a program interface, uh, application program interface or application programmatic interface, but essentially it’s, it’s code, it’s code connection to our services. Uh, I don’t want to get too technical, but the cool thing about having that as your connection point for your, all of your services and everything we do is exposed via API. So is you can consume that in whatever way, shape or form works best for you. There are, uh, there are a myriad of tools that are out there from an accessibility standpoint to be able to interface with APIs, because these are standards now, right? There, these standards are accessible. So whether that’s, you know, uh, you’re using scripting languages or you’re using an API client, like a, like a Postman, uh, many, many different ways.

And these are all accessible tools. These are open-source tools. There’s, there’s all these different methodologies that, and someone who might have, uh, some kind of accessibility need, no problem. They can interface with our product directly. That’s when interfacing with our products, those are our customers. But then you talk about the end users, which is the shopping experience, right? Those are going to need the front end through the channels, through your website, front end, through whatever methodology you’re using to do your shopping experiences. And I think this is where we could talk about a different type of accessibility. This is your end user. This is the person going to try and shop on online. And for that perspective, the cool thing is, is again, you’re, you’re kind of going into the channel and the channel is controlling the experience. So if you’ve got, uh, an application to run your shopping experience on iOS, well iOS devices are great with accessibility. You have to meet those standards and you have to be able to, to leverage those standards. Again, websites, websites, this is one of the things we did with you, Michael, with Ablr, is to try and figure out how our website can be betterly accessible, right? And so there, there is an onus on the website developer to be able to make sure that they’re doing the thing, the services to make sure that you’re not using methodologies that aren’t able to be tabbed through for people who have sighted issues or, um, that there’s, there’s multiple methodologies are dipping into the, the, the information that you want to expose. So I think from a commercetools perspective, it’s too vain. It’s that we allow our customers, our direct customers, which is our major retail brands and the customers that are providing the goods and services, uh, and their employees and their people to access our product on their own terms. And then to be able to expose that information through the channels that they need to also on their own terms, because it’s all wide open.

Stephanie Forbes: As far as optimizing our website in order for people who have external devices, whether it be keyboards or screen readers, so they can actually read things easier, they can look at the, they can have access to the images and the hyperlinks and all of that. Uh, we also have, which enabled a lot of things, um, for our organization, the information that, um, Ablr had open our eyes up to, uh, we were able to implement that. And we, we were able to share that with our web developers, our engineers. We’re constantly evolving and we’re constantly keeping this before everyone so we can continue to evolve and change things. We’re also doing trainings. We’re teaching people about accessibility. We’re bringing in external speakers to talk more about accessibility. The importance of having people of all types, uh, no matter your ability or not, uh, to come in and be a part of the organization, we’re including them into the discussion. So there’s a lot of things that Ablr opened our eyes up to in order for us to be even more inclusive.

Nicole Hayworth: I want to know your opinions too. I’m assuming given the shift to remote flexible working has done a lot for folks who have limited accessibilities, right? So it’s like. 

Mike Iannelli: 100%, that’s the number one barrier. 

Nicole Hayworth: Yeah. So it’s like being able to do that from the comfort of your own home with whatever tools that you need to be successful in the workplace has to have had a huge positive impact on those folks. 

Mike Iannelli: You’re absolutely right. I mean, when you think about John and I were just talking about this yesterday, the barrier is so big in employment. We talk about ride sharing apps and public transportation and driving. And, you know, for someone, even it lives 15 minutes away from the office, it takes them an hour and a half to two hours just to get in uh, so there’s an exhaustion of three and a half to four hours of commuting. Um, the tools, the tech, uh, the, the office facilities aren’t inclusive. Um, it’s just, work from home orders and technology has radically changed the industry and frankly, the world for many reasons, but for the folks in the community, it gives them the same, it levels the playing field.

Um, and so the training and the education, but the, the part about Ablr Works, which is great is. So we work with the state of North Carolina and other states as well. But we, we recruit individuals that have this sort of motivating factor that have visual impairments or low vision, and they want to do something different with their lives.

They don’t want to just sit on the sidelines and collect disability and just be part of, you know, not say part of the problem, but they want to be part of the solution. Uh, and so now in today’s environment, they can be. And so the Ablr Works program works with these individuals, brings them in, and we train them for a 14-week program to become certified accessibility analysts.

We also have a cybersecurity program that we’re launching as well, but the whole intention is to change and maximize the pool of untapped talent that has been on the bench or on the sidelines for since the dawn of time. 

Marc Stracuzza: And I do like that, that idea that like you’re saying, being in your own home space, which is catered and tailored toward your special needs, going into an office, even if, community aside, you’re at the office, you know, whether the desk situation, you know, is, is suitable for you, whether the corridors of the traveling to and from the office door to your desk, to whatever restroom spaces are available, all that is things that we sometimes take for granted and, and someone with, uh, differing abilities are going to have a large struggle with and we think about it all the time, is just that idea of, uh, of making the computer, uh, the access to your, to your work environment with the toolings that you need to, to do your job day to day, like we were talking about, you know, I was talking about it’s great for programmatic interfaces because they’re accessible, but if you’re using the tools that are, that are there to you. But of course you have to have access to that tools. You have to have a system that is set up for you to use those tools. And if you’re commuting back and forth and you don’t have the ability to bring that with you. And some of these offices now are starting to open back up and, and in some cases are starting to enforce having to come back into the office. And are we, are we going to have a backslide for these individuals? 

Mike Iannelli: Now, when this first happened, I was thinking, man, I’m not, I’m this guy. I like to be in a room with a whiteboard. Of course. I’m like, I’ll never do work from home. This is so weird. And now it’s like, I don’t, I’m so much more efficient. And if you, if you translate that into the community, it’s so much more efficient for all of us. Right. To have the flexibility. 

Stephanie Forbes: I think that’s what I love is that you opened our eyes. You gave us that awareness that we may not have typically been aware of that there might be a problem for someone coming into the office. Now we’re thinking ahead. We’re not waiting till, “Oh, that’s the day they’re coming back in. What do we do?” We’re being very proactive. So I’m really glad that we connected with Ablr, so we can not just only optimize our website, but start thinking about the office, thinking about how they’re coming in, start thinking about the tools that people need um, to come in and work and just give them, giving them an opportunity because we want to be inclusive, right? We want to include everybody. And that means every body doesn’t matter your condition, doesn’t matter your race, your ethnicity, doesn’t matter, your gender, whatever. We want everyone to have a fair shot and a fair playing field.

Marc Stracuzza: And Nicole, that kind of comes to your domain, right, which is all starts with the hiring process. 

Nicole Hayworth: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Inclusivity is so important in that hiring process. And there’s a lot that you can do, but I, I, the reason I started this conversation is I just think that flexibility and remote work has to be opening up a lot of doors that weren’t previously open, which I think is an exciting thing and I hope we continue to see it. I know, like you said, there’s been some backsliding, um, but I’m hopeful we’ll keep pushing forward towards increased flexibility. 

Mike Iannelli: Yeah, and it comes a lot with accommodations. And we were talking about accommodations the other day, and I think the, the average, because a lot of organizations like, well, I don’t, I’m not going to pay for that. I don’t, I can hire somebody that doesn’t need it. But it’s like, I think it’s $500 is the maximum accommodation requests that a lot of folks it’s $500 that they can literally change the lives of people. So when you think about what is that, and it’s flexibility, I mean, a lot of it before has been stubborn. Well you need to be here and you need to be in this office so I can watch you and I can make sure. And it’s like. You know, I probably work 12 hours a day now. I probably worked eight before, you know, you know, so, and, and truthfully, I was sending emails last night at 11:30. I had nothing else to do. So I’m also at work all the time, but if I had to go into the office, different story. But I think, talk a little bit about the hiring process because I’m interested, Nicole, on that because, you know, workforce development is, is, it’s truthfully probably the future of what Ablr is going to be doing and education.

So when you, when you acquire a new individual, there’s always these misconceptions like, Oh, I’m going to, I’m going to bring in someone to make this effort. I’m going to, I’m going to do this. Um, but there’s a lot of things that need to be thought about in that process. And one of the things we always think about is it’s great to bring in an individual, have that positive intent to say, I’m going to make a change for our organization. And I’m interested because it’s easy to say there’s, we’re going to do this, but then there’s thinking behind it. So there’s like, how do you train the rest of the organization to make sure they understand etiquette and inclusive language?

Nicole Hayworth: Yeah, for sure. And I have to give a big hats off to Stephanie and her team, because they put a lot of that foundational stuff in place, like training around psychological safety and microaggressions and words that we should use and not use and, um, the impacts that our words have on folks in general.

So they really help lay the foundation. Stephanie and I were lucky enough to be part of the team who did a big series of unconscious bias trainings as well. Um, so we actually traveled all to all of our offices pretty much to go give that in person. So we were in Germany for a while. 

Stephanie Forbes: We designed the training we worked together with the talent acquisition team, and we just really sat down and figure out what is best for the employees and to understand how we can share that with them around terminology around, look, everybody has a bias. It’s okay. It’s okay. We just want to make sure you’re aware of your bias. So if you come into a situation, you know how to navigate it, you know what it feels like, what it means. We gave our own personal, um, insights or stories that we’ve experienced as far as unconscious bias. 

Nicole Hayworth: Cultivate belonging is one of our core values as a company. It’s like our second core value as a team. So her team does a really great job of kind of laying that foundation for the company of, you know, this is something that we are going to prioritize. Um, so I think we just kind of layer on top of that from the talent acquisition side. And I think there’s a few things that we do that I think are really proactive, but I think it really starts with the trust of the organization. And we’re very lucky that we have a lot of trust from our senior leadership to 

Mike Iannelli: Top down, right? 

Nicole Hayworth: Make these decisions, to push back. I think typically recruiting and talent acquisition can be looked at as a support function of: “I tell you, I need this. You go give it to me.” And it’s very, very transactional. And I don’t feel that way at commercetools. I think we are a very well-respected part of the hiring process and they rely on us for our expertise, which I think is really laying a great opportunity for us to have these impacts. And if we are in the situation where we encounter somebody who might look or behave or act a little differently than the rest of the team, we have had the opportunity and we’ve been able to push back.

If we set, get a no on a scorecard. So we get like, yes, no. Um, after an evaluation, an interview evaluation, we have the opportunity to say, hey, talk me through this. Tell me exactly why you think from a factual basis, we always go on facts. And I think that’s key to eliminating bias. That was a big part of our unconscious bias is if you’re going to say no to somebody, you need to give us at least two reasons. They have to be facts. That can’t be my assumption is this. I presume this based on what they said. It has to be factual evidence based on what they stated, not your assumptions of what they stated. 

Mike Iannelli: That’s amazing. 

Nicole Hayworth: Yes. So we hold them to that. And luckily, like I said, we have the trust and the respect of the organization that if I push back on you for this. You know, A, that we’re coming from a good place and we’re doing it in a way to ensure that we’re finding the best person for you, but B, 

Marc Stracuzza: We’re trying to find you the best possible candidate.

Nicole Hayworth: We are trying to find the best possible candidate. 

Mike Iannelli: And eliminate the bias because a lot of people are saying, well, wait a minute, that person’s, you know, this or that. And I don’t really like them where they came from another company and it’s a personal vendetta versus hey, it’s about the real qualifications. But I’m interested in when you talk about pushing back on this.

Nicole Hayworth: Yeah. 

Mike Iannelli: Where’s the balance with culture and skill set? 

Nicole Hayworth: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. So we actually struck the words cultural fit from our vocabulary. Period. 

Mike Iannelli: Are you guys hiring? I love what you guys are doing. 

Marc Stracuzza: It’s a great place to work. 

Mike Iannelli: Oh my god! 

Nicole Hayworth: Yeah. It is not something we refer to. It is not allowed in your scorecards. You can’t say somebody is a cultural fit because what does that really mean? So something I’m really excited about that we just rolled out last year was our structured interview process. And this was like a year in the making, year of hard work towards this. Essentially, we said every single role that we hire for at commercetools has three specific set of interviews that are designed to find a different characteristic about a person, and that’s the only goal of that interview. The reason we’re so specific on the structuring is because it eliminates a lot of bias. I think in the interview process, we’re seeing a lot of people coming with their own questions about their own things that they’re curious about, or we’ll hear, “Gosh, I wouldn’t want to have a beer with that person,” and I really don’t care if you want to have a beer with that person. I really don’t. And that’s why culture fit is not relevant. It’s not relevant. It’s not. And so something that’s been really great is as we are rolling out these new set of values that we have, we call them our guiding stars. We decided to make every candidate go through what we call a, um, a guiding stars interview, or you can think of it as like a values interview.

The entire purpose of that goal is to ask questions that the talent team has formulated. So nobody’s coming up with their own questions. We have a set of questions that are related to every single core value to us. And the entire goal of that interview is to determine, does this candidate have values that are aligned with ours and vice versa?

So we’re dropping cultural fit. We say values fit. Are they a values fit? And if you say no, I need you to point me to exactly which value and what they said and why you think that they are not going to be part of the values fit because culture fit, like I said, it’s irrelevant. It’s, it’s in a nice way of saying I’m biased against this person or I don’t think 

Mike Iannelli: It’s like the old boys club. 

Nicole Hayworth: With the team or this is an opportunity for me to exclude a certain group of people or a person based on my perceptions of them over a 30-minute conversation. So it’s, you’re not allowed to decline somebody based on culture fit anymore. 

Marc Stracuzza: What I love about our people organization at commercetools is this is a constantly evolving process. Like, like you said, they rolled this out at the end of last year. You’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I’ve been at commercetools for four years now and it’s a, it’s constantly gotten better. It’s, we’ve constantly keep asking ourselves, what can we do to eliminate bias? What can we do to make the interview process more comfortable, uh, more inclusive? I know from a development perspective, one of the things we talked about is we used to have to have people interview with the development manager first and then do an exercise, a development exercise.

And we flipped that. We, we made it optional. They could flip that over. They can say, you can start with just coding. You can just start with what you’re comfortable with before you talk to anybody and just submit a code sample. So anybody can come in, pull the sample down off the website. Great. Develop it and submit it.

And that’s part of the interview process. And if you, so you’re starting with the talent, right? Before they even have to speak to anybody and some people that’s great with, and they want that. And some people would rather start with, with speaking to the hiring manager and that’s, we’re good with either way. It’s really what’s more comfortable for you because we want your best self to shine through the interview process because ultimately we want the fit that’s great for commercetools and for the employee, right? Because that’s how you, that’s when it syncs, right? 

Nicole Hayworth: And I think that brings up a really good point with the structured interview process, besides eliminating bias, which I think is going to be the biggest impact we see on our organization.

I think the second piece that I’m most excited about is that candidate preparedness is if I have three specific interviews and I can tell you exactly what we’re looking for at each step of the interview process, it’s going to allow you to be better prepared for those interviews, because interviewing is nerve wracking, and I’m very passionate about people can be really good employees and not good interviewers, and people can be really good interviewers and not good employees.

Mike Iannelli: It’s like the same thing when I took my SAT. They all said, Hey, some people are really good at taking tests. Instead, I went to East Tennessee instead of another school that was better for my baseball career, but hey, it worked out. I’m here today. 

Nicole Hayworth: Exactly. They all have the same amount of information. They’ve all been prepared to what, what to expect per interview, which I can, A, take away a little bit of nervousness. Right? Because it’s always stressful to go into an interview with who’s going to be your boss and then you don’t know what’s going to be thrown at you. So if I can say, Hey, this interview with your boss, your future boss is just going to be around your skillset and how your skillset can pertain to this best interview, that’s the only kind of questions that they’re going to ask you. Or this call is just based on these four key values that we have just to make sure there’s an alignment between your core values and our core values. And then it can enable them to come in and like you said, be their best self because we want everybody to succeed in the interview process.

That might not be a hire, but you should leave an interview feeling like, gosh, I did really well. I might not get this job, but I feel really good about that. And I was well prepared and I felt like I could bring my true self because what we want to hire is your true self, not your interview self, but your true self because that’s who we’re going to end up seeing when you’re an employee.

Stephanie Forbes: I think that’s what I love about our talent team. They have evolved a whole lot. They have put in the work. They have thought about the different questions. They thought about the process because they want to treat each person as an individual and not a number, like you said before. And, um, they have excelled so much. And I just love that they’re, they’re really. thinking about each individual person, about the managers. The managers are great. They’re asking, well, what more can I do? How can I help look for X, Y, and Z? You know, they are very engaged and involved. So they have done an amazing job. 

Mike Iannelli: So as we’re talking about staffing, we’re talking about hiring. Have you had an experience when you’ve interviewed folks with disabilities? 

Nicole Hayworth: Mhm, for sure, we’ve hired some. 

Mike Iannelli: For those who can’t see my face just lit up, but, uh, I want to hear about that. And I also want to hear about how you two work together in that. And then truthfully, how, because you’re Director of Portfolio, right? 

Marc Stracuzza: Yeah. 

Mike Iannelli: You’re probably, so you’re on the, you’re on the execution side of this. So you’re leading the inclusion efforts and DEI efforts for the, the organization, you’re taking this information and deploying that in how you execute hiring and staffing and growing the organization. And those individuals that you’re hiring and staffing are coming into people like you to support your organization and your team.

This is really a wonderful little story you have, but I want to know about the disability side too. Tell me about who you’ve hired, tell me about the process. And I’m interested in the organization and what accommodations potentially are happening across the board. And please, this is all three of you.

Nicole Hayworth: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So we have hired folks with disabilities before actually not too, too long ago. Um, and I think it comes from the ability, like I, like I said earlier, like the ability to have that trust to push back of, I don’t know if this particular situation or this individual’s accessibility needs are going to fit with the team.

And we say, why? Tell me why like, if, if it’s not going to be a fit. 

Mike Iannelli: I just got intimidated there for a minute when you looked at me, I was like, I don’t know! *Laughter* I did not expect that side of you. For all of you being all anxious and nervous. Like I’m like, I don’t even need to be here. Can y’all just talk amongst yourselves?

Nicole Hayworth: From the talent perspective, we really try to look at each individual as, like, they’re the skill sets that they provide. And not how they can increase the diversity of the team. Like, of course, that’s incredibly important, but if they can do this job really well, why wouldn’t we want them to do this job really well, you know? And of course, making sure the team is diverse is incredibly important to us as a company, but I think if they can do the job, like, gosh, why can’t we hire them? Why can’t we figure it out? 

Marc Stracuzza: I want to just jump in there for a second. And because you say, why is it, it’s really important to the company. And I, and I think it is to have a diverse set of people in the company and, you know, and the reasoning is, isn’t because we want to have boxes checked on a list. It’s because that diverse perspective is just gonna make everything better. We did, we talked, I think we started this talking about product and, and but the idea is, is the more diverse perspectives you have that are helping you develop your product and your product strategy and product roadmap, then the better you’re going to be building products, the more people you’re going to be building products for and, and the better thing you’re going to deliver. And, and of course, again, selfishly from a company perspective, that’s great for us because the better product we have, the more successful we’re going to be right. 

Mike Iannelli: That’s right. 

Marc Stracuzza: But it does all start with having a diverse set of thought and a diverse set of abilities, because that just expands the set of, of information that’s informing the process of building your products. So I really do think that it’s all circular, right. And, and it all ties together.

And without that diversity of thought, then you’re going to, you’re going to, I mean, by definition, you’re going to have a very myopic perspective and you’re going to be building things that are just not for everybody. And we don’t, especially in commerce, especially in commerce, you don’t want to exclude anybody, right? 

Mike Iannelli: And say that again. 

Marc Stracuzza: Yeah. Especially in commerce. You don’t want to exclude anybody. 

Mike Iannelli: Alright, maybe one more time. The thing that I love about I love about the diversity of the hires is problem solving, you know, and, and it’s always, you know, John and I talk in our team talks, it’s like, when you have a disability, you are already, you have to come up with innovative solutions to achieve what you want to achieve because the world isn’t set up for success for you. And so when you think about the capabilities of an individual who, who has a disability. Problem solving is typically one of the number one things you look for in someone because they have the ability to find their way to a solution and and regardless of how they do it, it’s the thinking that matters because one of the things that happens a lot of time in staffing with folks with disabilities.

It’s not accessible, right? So the website’s not accessible, the job description’s not accessible, um, how do I print off directions to get there isn’t accessible, how do I get there isn’t accessible, how do I get in the building may not be accessible, how do I get to the front, I mean, so the whole process is different.

Nicole Hayworth: Yeah. 

Mike Iannelli: So I’m interested in what are the challenges that you have faced, if any, in the hiring process. And then how have you solved them? Or what’s the process for solving them? 

Stephanie Forbes: Can I interject here first? I think it started with bringing awareness to people, defining what diversity really is. Cause when people think about diversity, they think about race and sex, you know, the genders, we try to really broaden our idea of what diversity is and include every intersectionality there is. Um, we really are good as far as training our employees and teaching them about dispelling all of the myths of people with disabilities, bringing in people to talk about their stories. Cause I’m more of the human aspect of things. I’m sharing the perspective of a person’s story. Like, for example, if we look at this water bottle, you know, can everybody open this water bottle?

We don’t even think about, well, what if somebody has a defect on the hand, are they able to twist this? We need those people at the table in order to come up with ways to create this product so everyone can use it. So I think where we have, uh, done better is where we have done a good job is, uh, bringing awareness about people with disabilities, educating people, um, not calling people out, but, you know, gently reminding them of, of things that they may say, or maybe doing, uh, we’re being more proactive as far as our insight. So I think it started with that and it really just trickled on over into talent acquisition where they have really been the leaders of pushing back and asking those, those 


Mike Iannelli: You’re literally trans, so that, that’s the beauty of what you guys are doing is one of the things I think about with Ablr all the time is I always say that, John, it’s not accessibility, it’s, it’s, we’re transforming organizations 

Stephanie Forbes: Yes.

Mike Iannelli: From the inside out. And a lot of that goes back to empathy and understanding people’s positions. And, and I say this, that’s such a great people all the time. Yeah. Yeah. And, and I, you know what I, John has said this, I, I’ve, I’ve referenced John a hundred times in this, in on these podcasts, but um, you know, you say proximity builds empathy and I don’t claim to be like, you know, the smartest guy in the room by any means, but it took me a bit to figure that out. And when I, when I figured it out, it was like, wow, you know, it’s really hard to be diverse and be equitable and all these things if you’re never exposed to it. 

Marc Stracuzza: Yeah. 

Mike Iannelli: We all have those biases. We all, cause we were raised with them and it’s, it’s understanding. And, and, and what I love that you said was like, we all have them, you know, not being judgmental and hating on each other for having them, but being accepting and understanding that, hey, look, this is the world we grew up in. Yeah, it’s different.

We all had different experiences. We all grew up in different areas. This is where we are today, but what do we do with the knowledge we have today to help change tomorrow?

Nicole Hayworth: I can speak from like a personal perspective. So my dad actually has a disability. He has a minor form of cerebral palsy. Um, so I grew up around that and I think when you talk about that, yeah, yeah. I always try to think and my mom and I discuss this all the time is like when my dad goes into a job interview, that’s tough, because his speech is slurred, he has a wide gait when he walks, but he’s a perfectly smart individual. Um, so I think it’s all about kind of like leading that with compassion. And like you said, growing up around it, I think there’s been a lot of probably situations that I’ve entered into where I don’t have those assumptions about people, um, especially around a disability like my dad’s because yeah, I know how capable and smart and hardworking he is.

And especially like growing up in the fifties and now, thank God, it’s like so much better, but like for him to even do half of what I do, it’s twice as hard or three times as hard. So like the endurance and the hard work and everything is like even multiplied for somebody like that who has to just get through a bunch, like you said, like with the commute, just to do what I do as an able-bodied person, totally fine. But like, it’s like showing up with that first impression. And yeah, it’s very interesting cause I can speak to it from a personal perspective too. 

Mike Iannelli: Thanks for sharing that. 

Marc Stracuzza: I was going to say, I think what’s interesting about the disability community, in and of itself. And, and I know that there’s even that word within the community is, is kind of a hot topic, but, but the idea that. It’s not one thing. It’s not an obvious thing, necessarily. We talk about like race and gender. They tend to be more obvious, although not necessarily, but, but it’s in it with a disability, there’s a lot of disabilities, neurodiversities that you will never know by looking at somebody, whether or not they have this. And so this umbrella, it makes it almost a much more complicated topic because it’s so over encompassing, uh, of so many different segments or sub or subclasses of, of what we would call a disability. You know, obviously think of the, of, of hearing disabilities or visual impairments or like you’re saying, physical disabilities.

Nicole Hayworth: Mm-hmm. 

Marc Stracuzza: But again, there’s so many more that are just on, on the list and, and, and in some way, shape or form, it probably touches everybody in small ways, maybe especially when we get into neurodiversity. Mm-Hmm. We talk about the different way people think differently. I like to say this story, uh, a lot because my wife and I just realized this recently, we were having a conversation a couple of years ago and I was reading an article on, on one of those major forums that everybody reads. And it was a person talking about a condition called aphantasia, which I had never heard about in my life. And I was like, well, what is this? And it’s like, oh, when I, uh, I don’t see visualizations in my head, was this person describing it? And it was like, well, uh, I was like, well, I don’t see that. I don’t see visualizations in my head either.

And I looked at my wife and I was like, do you see pictures in your head? And she’s like, of course I do. And I was like, wait a minute. So like, if you would just say like picture a red ball in your brain. My wife sees this perfectly crisp three dimensional red ball in her headspace. I see nothing. Wow.

Nothing. Really? And, and my whole life. Never knew I had this con I, apparently, I, I’m one of the 3 percent of the people in the world who have this condition called aphantasia. Well, it’s a, it’s a neurodiversity, which just, my brain works differently than everybody else, right? How, how is that impacting me positively and negatively my life? Right. I mean, at some level, it, it, I’m in a very successful place in my career, but there’s been, I’m sure there have been moments where it’s good and bad. It helped influence my ability to do something or not do something. But, but we don’t, we don’t ever talk about that. I would never have known about it. I was 45 years old when I found out I even had this thing. Right. And I think that there’s so many neurodiversities that make us different and it’s not a disability necessarily, but it is a difference. 

Mike Iannelli: We all play a role. And I think, and, and even with visual impairments, I, I, this is going to sound ridiculous, but I always thought it was like either you’re, you’re, you’re, you can’t see or you can. And there’s so many, you know, retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, cataracts. I mean, there’s, um, there’s people with low vision, complete blind. I mean, everyone is different. Um, and even when you think about growing into disabilities, we’re all going to have a disability. It’s a future as we get older, physical, right?

Right. Uh, mental, cognitive, you know, visual. I mean, I, I wear glasses today and my vision is going, I tell John jokingly. I’m like, I don’t know what’s going on, but I can’t see anymore. What’s happening. Uh, but it’s, it’s a, something that we have to work. It’s like a, it’s like a proactive approach to it. But I, and I do believe inclusion ties into faith. I do believe it ties into humanity and kindness and goodness. And I do believe that, I think that that has to happen because it’s so easy to say, be selfish and say, “I just got to do my own thing,” you know? And that’s not how humanity was created. Humanity was created as a, as a group, as a, as a, as a collective, you know?

Thanks for joining us in today’s episode of Access Granted. I hope you found the insights from Stephanie Forbes, Nicole Hayworth, and Marc Stracuzza as enlightning as I did. There are stories about accessibility in eCommerce and commercetools’ dedication to diversity, equity, inclusion are truly inspiring.

Remember to stay tuned for part two of this conversation, where we’ll have more thought provoking discussions on holistic human inclusion. Stay tuned!