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Access Granted: NC Presenters Consortium Part 2

Ablr's Mike Iannelli talks to MaryJo Birchbach from NC Presenters Consortium on episode 10 of the Access Granted podcast.

Access Granted: North Carolina Presenters Consortium Part 1 Transcript. Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts.

Mike Iannelli: Welcome to Access Granted. I’m your host, Mike Iannelli. Today, a special guest is joining us, Mary Jo Birschbach, the communications and development manager at the NC Presenters Consortium. Mary Jo has a wealth of experience, including teaching and a high level administration background. In this episode, we’ll discuss how technology is shaping the future of accessibility and how human kindness should be at the heart of all of our efforts.

If you want to change and you want to be different and you want to be better, it takes time, but it can also just start with something so little just by saying hello to other people, right? And then opening doors for other people or putting other people first or picking up a piece of trash on the side of the road, whatever it is, it can start with small steps that lead to other steps.

MaryJo Birschbach: And it’s also important to know that You’re not always gonna get the step. You’re gonna make mistakes. Sometimes you’re gonna miss the opportunity You’re not gonna do the thing you wanted to do and you’ll look back and you’ll go I should have done this or I should have said this or I should have and that’s part of learning.

Mike Iannelli: Yeah, that’s your opportunity to learn. 

MaryJo Birschbach: And that’s part of, that’s, that’s part of growing is, you know, I try my best to help people every day and to be as good of a person as I can be every day. And some days are harder than others. Some days I’m not my best and I have to be okay with that. We have to be forgiving with ourselves. And understanding with ourselves, I think, and that’s 

Mike Iannelli: In a culture that is not forgiving. 

MaryJo Birschbach: No. Yeah, exactly. 

Mike Iannelli: And that’s the hard part because you, again, I could say something right now accidentally and it would come across wrong, without bad intention, but I make mistakes. But in a world today where you make that mistake and you’re trying to forgive yourself and move on, we are not very forgiving, 

MaryJo Birschbach: Right.

Mike Iannelli: We judge, we criticize, we condemn. You know, and it’s like, I think that this is a two way street and I think inclusion is a two way street. I really do believe that. And it’s hard to say that because I’m like, man, even saying that makes me feel that maybe that was the wrong thing to say. But I think it is the right thing to say, because that’s the whole purpose of this.

We need to say things and maybe someone will correct me and say, you sound ridiculous and that’s okay. But if we want things to change, it’s a two way street. 

MaryJo Birschbach: Right. Well, you want everybody to be involved. 

Mike Iannelli: Exactly. 

MaryJo Birschbach: You want everybody to be a part of that conversation and I, and I think that that is always going to be the goal, right?

We, we always want for people to feel that they can be a part of that conversation. Some people are not going to feel that off the bat because their experience is prohibitive of that. That’s not what they’ve experienced in the past and you know, we are like it or not. We are a compilation of past experiences on how we approach the future.

Mike Iannelli: I don’t like it. 

MaryJo Birschbach: I don’t like it either. Um, trust me, I think that it comes with time and I think that it comes with a genuine willingness, a willingness for people. To, to just do those little acts, to bring people together, to connect, to share, to help, you know, that can make a difference in someone’s day. That small thing, that holding the door, you know, saying good morning, smiling at people. I do those things regularly. 

Mike Iannelli: I remember someone saying you have no idea what that other person is going through and we don’t, that person could have lost an animal, that person could have been in a car accident, that person could have got terrible news, that person could be depressed, that person could be sad, that could be person could be on the verge of just the worst possible scenario. 

MaryJo Birschbach: Yep. Your best day can be their worst. 

Mike Iannelli: That little thing of kindness, even a tiny little thing can change someone else’s path. 

MaryJo Birschbach: Right. 

Mike Iannelli: Do you believe that? 

MaryJo Birschbach: I do. I mean, I do it because it’s a choice to do it. And I, and I want to, whether or not it’s reciprocated, whether or not I get a thank you or I get a smile and that’s okay.

Mike Iannelli: Yeah. You’re not supposed to. 

MaryJo Birschbach: That’s okay. I’m okay with that. Yeah. Um, saying bless you, you know, little things like that. Because to me, I don’t, it, it lets people know I see you. And I think that’s important. I think people knowing, like, we’re human beings, you know, we are in a shared space sometimes, we’re going through the doorway at the same time, we’re walking paths and, and that may be the only exchange we have. And for some people, you know, that smile or that good morning or that holding of the door might be the only positive thing that they experience. And even whether they realize it in the moment or they don’t. I don’t want to leave people with having a negative experience, I guess is my thought. I want my interactions to be either neutral or positive. I don’t want to leave things in a worse state than when I encountered them. And I think that’s just how I, how I approach it. Um, I would not, I’m, I’m typically very introverted, it’s hard for me to, I would have never thought that I am. I am. I’m an introverted extrovert. Like I’m, I’m, I know I’m an, I’m an extroverted, no, I think it’s the other way around.

I’m a extroverted introvert, so I can be extroverted if I need to, but typically 

Mike Iannelli: you prefer…

MaryJo Birschbach: I prefer just blending into the background. 

Mike Iannelli: So let me ask you, what are some of the things that you think this, this relationship, cause I’m learning. So much just talking with you, but from where we were to where we are and to where we might be going from webinars with the association to work and making sure we’re doing some more accessibility work for training, uh, people on etiquette, inclusive language.

What are some of the things you take away from this, this Ablr experience that we’ve had so far? 

MaryJo Birschbach: It is really that support to do things correctly and to approach accessibility correctly. And, and it brings an awareness, you know, I’m not a designer or a developer for websites to go next year, you know, expect the unexpected, but working with Ablr has definitely given us and given me an understanding of what is right and what should be and how it should be done.

Because it’s just. Good design. It’s just the way that it creates content that is accessible for everyone. For us, you know, I think being able to work with Ablr, learning from Kim, who is like… 

Mike Iannelli: Amazing. 

MaryJo Birschbach: Amazing. She’s incredible. She really is. And, you know, just being able to learn and to stretch and to put on the glasses and the perspective of people who are engaging with content differently than I am. And I think that for us is, is the goal. We want to make sure that whatever we have available, because we are, we’re a remote organization, you know, we’re not stationed anywhere. The way that people find us is the web or social media. So we want to make that accessible to as many people as possible.

We’re still working on it. We’re not there. 100%. We are working on it. We are. And that’s all you can ask for. But, you know, without that support, I don’t think that we would have recognized it as quickly. Um, and having, having that, and then being able to act on it and say, okay, well, of these 84 things I have to fix, I can fix 52 of them and the rest, I’m going to need some help.

That is huge because you can’t fix something that you don’t know is wrong. And without Ablr, we wouldn’t have known that. So I’m appreciative of it and the guidance and answering all of my ridiculous questions. Cause I like to ask questions cause I’m learning. 

Mike Iannelli: You are learning and this is a huge starting point.

 Museums are evolving, arts are evolving, the culture is evolving and I’m super excited about like every, every aspect of life will become universal. Like everything we do will be universal. Where do you see the consortium going in your association as it evolves? As you guys are saying, Hey, we’re, doing accessibility work, we’re doing inclusion work and we have the, that’s why I love associations.

You have the ability to touch so many people. Where do you see, or what have you felt so far, what are you excited about in the future? 

MaryJo Birschbach: I’m excited to just be able to share, you know, share with our members, here’s how you can do things. Or, you know, if you’re running into this issue, let me help you. I think that for me is the most exciting, you know, we deal with a lot of technology and so knowing how do I make this adaptable. How do I make this accessible for people? And then being able to support them in doing that. And it’s the small things, right? We deal with a lot of videos, for instance. And so encouraging our members, you need to be captioning your videos. If you, you know, you have to consider having audio descriptions for your videos.

You have to be aware. And it’s, it’s not easy to, I did my first video, um, and it is not easy, uh, just because for me, it was just like, am I saying the right thing? Am I including the right information? I want to, I want to make sure that it’s, it’s beneficial, right? If you’re going to do it. 

Mike Iannelli: Yeah. 

MaryJo Birschbach: Do it right.

Mike Iannelli: Yeah. 

MaryJo Birschbach: And that’s my goal. Yeah. But sometimes I think about it a little too much. But anyway. 

Mike Iannelli: Same. 

MaryJo Birschbach: I get in my head about it. I’m like, is that right? I don’t know. I’m going to do it again. 

Mike Iannelli: Stop overthinking. 

MaryJo Birschbach: Um, yes. No. I’ve got to overthink about everything. But I’m excited that we can help support our members on their journey because I think, you know, the physical, physical accommodations have been in place, you know, the ADA has put that in place. And so I think on a certain level, that is just a part of venues, right? That they’re kind of thinking about that. 

Mike Iannelli: And that’s a good step. 

MaryJo Birschbach: Adapting. And it is 

Mike Iannelli: It’s time to move past that. 

MaryJo Birschbach: Right. I think as technology just becomes more pervasive in everyone’s lives and it, it changes how we consume information. And so I think that people have to just be more cognizant of the fact of you want to make it available to everyone. And it’s those little things. 

Mike Iannelli: So tech is helping us get there, but there’s still that the human side of it. 

MaryJo Birschbach: I mean, it is. 

Mike Iannelli: They’re going to connect at some point where the tech is just everyone naturally is going to have, will be on a level playing field from a technology perspective, but then there’s a human side of it. If those two can intersect, I mean, that’s, that’s utopia. 

MaryJo Birschbach: That’s the goal, you know, because the technology isn’t going to work for everyone without people being able to tailor it to do what it needs to do.

And I, it’s way above my pay grade to do all of those things. I, and my skill level really, but I think that technology is great. It’s wonderful. It’s a connection. It’s, it’s fabulous. We have access to information instantly. If I want to learn how to make something, I can just pull up YouTube and it’s right there, right?

But it doesn’t replace people, and it doesn’t replace the human interaction, and it doesn’t replace the fact that at the end of the day, we’ve got to help one another. It’s a tool, but it’s, it’s not the tool. It’s a, it’s a piece of it. So, and for us, that’s, that’s what it is. Our organization, we have amazing members and what makes our organization our members, them, the people, not the venues, not the buildings, not the cities, the people.

So I think if what you’re doing is aimed at helping people and working with all people to the extent that you’re able, then naturally, inclusion comes with that. And it comes with also the awareness that you aren’t going to get it right a hundred percent of the time. But you got to get yourself up, dust yourself off, do it again, because I’m still learning.

You know, I, like I said, I’m still really new to figuring it out and, and I want to do the right thing. And I think that’s where, you know, getting the, getting the information back on our site and realizing like, “Okay, we’ve got work to do.” I wanted to do it right then and there, because to think that I wasn’t providing that, it bothered me deeply.

I don’t know if I can explain that well. Probably sounds like 

Mike Iannelli: I know how you feel because I spent almost 25 years of my life building websites, mobile apps, doing advertising for major retailer, major, every large percentage of the major retailers that you know about. And I never, ever even thought about it, ever considered it, didn’t even know what it was.

MaryJo Birschbach: Yeah. 

Mike Iannelli: And I excluded unintentionally, but I still excluded millions of people throughout my career, millions, never even thought of it. And so that was the punch in the gut for me. It was like when I was a John and I heard his screenreader and I was like, wait, you’re telling me that. I didn’t, I didn’t do this.

MaryJo Birschbach: Screen readers are, that’s a whole new, like, yeah.

Mike Iannelli: And talk about tech, but like I had no, and just same idea. And I think part of it is that goes back to that forgiveness part and just saying, Hey, you know, I didn’t know this. 

MaryJo Birschbach: When you know better, you do better. 

Mike Iannelli: That’s right. 

MaryJo Birschbach: I used to tell kids that all the time. I go, okay, well you didn’t know better. And if you know better, I expect you to do better and that’s it.

Mike Iannelli: And your background with education is such a critical piece because we always say like we need to get down to the children level. Like we have to get down to the kids, 

MaryJo Birschbach: Right. 

Mike Iannelli: Because as we, if we want to grow out of this, we have to start younger, 

MaryJo Birschbach: Right. 

Mike Iannelli: And so it’s great that we’re here and the hope is that maybe the older people tell their kids and the teachers tell their kids, but like we want to get in the school, young schools, like elementary and talk about etiquette, inclusive language.

Mm hmm. And help people understand, like, and it’s human nature for people to judge and criticize sadly, but it’s human nature. But if they don’t ever have the information versus if they do have the information, I think we will get to a better place of acceptance and understanding and inclusion earlier than we would have if we didn’t teach people.

MaryJo Birschbach: Right. Well, to me, that’s a huge, some people don’t hear it. You know, they don’t see it, their, their experience is only in school or having someone model that and, and it’s important, it is important for kids to understand we’re all different. I think that goes a long way in helping them understand other people, but I also think it goes a long way in helping them understand themselves, because especially when you get to middle school, kids are questioning themselves, they’re doubting themselves, they’re feeling at their worst.

And that’s where I think it’s that challenging time of you can be there’s nothing wrong with being different. We’re all different. We all have abilities and disabilities and different things. And, and, and it’s not, you know, There’s nothing wrong with that. And I think if we can change that mindset, that’s where it starts.

Mike Iannelli: I’m very grateful for you being here. 

MaryJo Birschbach: Thank you for having me. 

Mike Iannelli: It was an enlightening conversation. We talked a little bit about accessibility. We talked a little bit about inclusion, but we talked about things that really matter. And to me, it’s the human kindness aspect. And I think that your experiences with education, I think it’s amazing. I think, I believe that a lot of the words that you said today will resonate with people and can change people’s mindsets. 

MaryJo Birschbach: I hope so. If, if anybody, you know, is listening, watching can walk away from the experience, just taking a moment to not talk and just listen and be present and understand that your lens is not the same as someone else’s.

That’s where it starts. It’s just a willingness to, to do it.