Jay Wyant, a passionate accessibility advocate, has been chosen to lead the State’s ongoing efforts to make state government electronic services and information accessible for all Minnesotans.
He joins the Technology Accessibility Standards Implementation project managed by the Office of Enterprise Technology and funded through the 2012-13 biennium according to a law signed by Gov. Mark Dayton following the 2011 Special Legislative Session.
The goals of the accessibility project include setting State standards, providing hands-on training on accessible content development, and developing an accessibility website, which is now online, and includes standards, guidelines and computer-based training and videos.
Jay will serve as the “face” of the project, and work with colleagues statewide in his new role.
Jay was most recently the CEO of Remotocom, a provider of high-quality on-demand webcast and live webinar services. Prior to that, he led the marketing teams of several technology firms including software development companies and a national captioning agency. Jay also frequently presents on accessibility technology and self-advocacy strategies.
As he began state service last week (Feb. 8), Jay took a moment to share his hopes for the job with his colleagues throughout the State.
Q: Would you like to share a little of your personal history as it relates to your experience as a consumer of accessible technology?
A: I was born deaf, which meant that I grew up in the era of "M*A*S*H," "WKRP in Cincinnati," "Taxi" and other classics without a clue as to what the characters were saying. I bought my first captioning decoder in the spring of 1986. Finally, when a program or event captured the popular consciousness, whether it was Special Agent Dale Cooper marveling over a good cup of joe on "Twin Peaks" or seeing Operation Desert Storm take place, I was able to be an active participant in the conversation.
That exposure to captioning also made me aware of all the advocacy and groundwork that had been done to make the world more accessible and usable. For example, until the Television Decoder Circuitry Act (1990) was passed, we had to buy a separate device to simply use the TV! And before the relay services were established, thanks to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, I had to rely on friends and colleagues to make or receive telephone calls. Because of these and other laws leading to new products and services, I am able to be a more effective citizen.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your work with Remotocom? What motivated you to get into the area of integrated communications?
A: I have a varied professional background that includes education, software development, marketing internet technology, non-profit leadership, captioning, and audio description. Starting up a company that integrated those elements made sense, and there is a need for high-quality, cost-effective integrated media communications. There is a perception that such systems and services are expensive, accessible communications more so; Remotocom shows that such is not the case.
Q: Part of your new job description is to be a “champion for accessibility implementation within state government.” Do you see your background in integrated communications as something that can enhance your work at the State?
A: In the past 30 years, I have had the opportunity to work within nearly every sector of the economy and with a wide range of clients, consumers, and colleagues. The resulting skills and experiences I have developed will all contribute toward my work here. For example, as Remotocom CEO, I designed our accessible on-demand webcast platform, hired the teams to build and then implement it, and persuaded potential users of its value. As board president of several non-profits, I have been actively involved in various policy efforts, such as the national Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) program.
Q: What do you feel are some of the strengths of the accessibility efforts currently underway at the State of Minnesota?
A: OET’s Rena Rogers and the Advisory Committee for Technology Standards for Accessibility and Usability oversaw a number of initiatives with wide-ranging participation from vendors, consumers, and agency representatives. These teams were incredibly thoughtful and farsighted. They recognized that there was no quick fix or "add-on" solution to enable truly accessible websites, internet media, and other related technologies. Just like curb cuts for sidewalks and handrails for stairs, accessible technology and communications must be baked into the DNA of IT design and development. By starting at the procurement level, they laid the groundwork to get people to think of accessibility as part of standard operating procedure, rather than as another hoop to go through. People will adapt and change when it makes sense - how many people text messaged five years ago compared to today? Accessibility makes sense, and the framework is now there to show how to do it.
Q: What aspects of your new job are you most excited about?
A: I am looking forward to working with Minnesota state employees and citizens to show other states how accessible technology and communications is practical, useful, and affordable. I am also excited about leveraging Minnesota's active leadership in this field to encourage technology vendors and entrepreneurs to design and build accessible technology and services that we can purchase and use for the benefit of all.
Q: What areas of accessibility do you feel are some of the most misunderstood, and do you think you will be able to address them in your work at the State?
A: I think there is a misperception that accessibility benefits only a very small group of users. It is our nature to not truly understand the value of something until you need it. For example, I didn't really appreciate the universal value for curb cuts until I had to push my daughter on walks in a stroller. But if others hadn't invested in that curb cut before I came along, it wouldn't have been there for me.
Thoughts or questions on the Technology Accessibility Standards Implementation project? Want to know more about Jay’s work? Contact Jay at Jay.Wyant@state.mn,us.