Growing up as someone who is deaf, with parents who were very involved in the disability community, Seth always felt a connection with disability, and he identifies that as a significant contributing factor in his overall life trajectory. Halfway through his time at IBM working in the finance department, he moved over to work on accessibility, and appreciated the work that he and his team accomplished together.
"I think that it is just a natural progression based on my upbringing and my passion."
So, when he was presented with his assignment, helping SAPDA, a disability rights non-governmental organization (NGO) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, advance the rights of people with disabilities, it was a perfect fit.
The project that he was working on addressed accessibility challenges. They developed initiatives for new government services for people with disabilities as well as redesigned their website and implemented best practices for human resources and financial operations.
"We brought what we learned from IBM to this organization and we visited a university and met with students that had disabilities to learn more about their experiences."
Of course, there were details that needed to be worked out, but with some imagination, as well as a supportive employer and community, Seth’s opportunity came together.
First, as somebody who uses American Sign Language (ASL), Seth would need a way to communicate with the people on his team and staff of the NGO. Researching deaf culture in Indonesia, he found that there weren’t any Indonesian interpreters who knew ASL, so IBM hired an ASL interpreter to translate between ASL and spoken English, and SAPDA provided a translator to translate between Indonesian and English.
Second, there was the question of how he would meet his obligations as a parent while he was away. Seth's parents and in-laws helped a lot with childcare.
“I got really wonderful support of my family and friends but it wasn’t easy. I have three children and my wife was very supportive."
One key part of the mission of his team of three IBM employees from across the world was to identify barriers that prevented students with disabilities from achieving employment success after graduation. They did this by meeting with several administrators and students with disabilities at a national university.
"Students use an internship as a gateway to get into full-time employment and that was why we recommended SAPDA set up an internship program at the university to facilitate that."
While Seth felt that people with disabilities in Yogyakarta lacked certain opportunities, he also came to learn that people in different circumstances have ways of doing their own thing to create success.
The experience of working with people with disabilities from another culture greatly impacted Seth. It showed him how sharing good practices for disability inclusion, developed in the U.S., with people from other countries could help us advance as an international disability community.
Since his experience in Indonesia, he has carried his insight forward to his new job as Associate Director of Technology Access at George Washington University, where he works to standardize universal access principles across the campus.
"It made me very determined to work with organizations in developing countries moving forward. With my university, we are hosting several delegations from other countries who have been visiting to exchange best practices."