Scrum.org Community Podcast - A Discussion with PST Dave Dame about the Importance of Accessibility and Diversity
In this episode of the Scrum.org Community Podcast, Professional Scrum Trainer Dave Dame joins Eric Naiburg and Lindsay Velecina for Global Accessibility Awareness Day to discuss accessibility and its importance when it come to training and work in general. They discuss the importance of diversity on Scrum Teams and how it helps teams thrive. Dave also shares some of his inspiring journey and advice for creating more accommodations within the industry.
Welcome to the Scrum.org community podcast, a podcast from the Home of Scrum. In this podcast we feature Professional Scrum Trainers and other Scrum Practitioners sharing their stories and experiences to help learn from the experience of others. We hope you enjoy this episode.
Eric Naiburg: Hi, everyone. This is Eric Naiburg. I'm the Chief Operating Officer in scrum.org. And I'm joined here today by my colleague Lindsay Velecina and one of our Professional Scrum Trainers, Dave Dame. Welcome both of you. Lindsay, you want to introduce yourself briefly?
Lindsay Velecina: Sure. Hi, everyone. I'm Lindsay and I am our Marketing Communications Manager here at Scrum.org. And looking forward to this great discussion today.
Dave Dame: My name is Dave Dame, I have the pleasure of being a Professional Scrum Trainer. Previously, I've led Agile at a lot of organizations from startup to scale up. Quite recently, I pivoted my career to really leading accessibility and I work for Microsoft to really lead what they need in accessibility and it's interesting. I was born with Cerebral Palsy. So I've lived with experience with Cerebral Palsy. But the funny thing is, is I never started really focusing on it until a few years ago, where I really started really thinking about the impact I wanted to make. Because when I was younger, I was always trying to think, what do I want to be when I grow up, and something hit me when I turned 50 have, wait a minute, I've been fortunate to really be the canary in a cave and really be able to experience things that a lot of people with disabilities in previous generations did not get the opportunity to. So I saw this as an opportunity to really how can I make sure others like me, younger than me, can hopefully have the life that I had, with a lot less effort. So that's why accessibility and agile are both passion to me, because it's really about inspecting and adapting and creating an environment where everybody can be their best.
Eric: That's awesome. Thank you. And thank you again for joining David, as we celebrate and talk about Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I think it's really important for us to kind of take a step back and really look back at some of the things that you've been doing and helping us at Scrum.org with and some of the things that we need to do. As we move forward in the future as well. I think it's very easy for people to forget, it's very easy for people to ignore, or easy to look at ourselves and not really focus on the global, right, we're really focused on everything that we need to do to help everybody in anybody. And I think one of the things that you've helped us, as a community, you've been a Professional Scrum Trainer since 2013. You've been around this community for quite a long time. And one of the things you've brought to us is helping us to make sure that we are focused on making the classroom experience accessible to everyone. Can you talk a little bit about some of the things that you've been doing in helping some of our trainers helping with some of our training material to improve that?
Dave: Thanks, Eric, for bringing that up. And, you know, I guess where I really came aware of and being able to do it was, as we get, as trainers get more and more certifications to the course, it means we got to attend a lot of Train the Trainers, so was my opportunity to be a student, again, with a disability. And then I realized, wait a minute, nobody asked me what my special needs were or they you know, did exercises that I couldn't participate in or even think about, right? Because it was something maybe to that point. They never had somebody with a disability in their class or anything. So getting to experience it as a student was really eye opening and I started working with the community and go, Why didn't you reach out to see or why don't you put anything in your introductory emails that if you need any special accommodations, please reach out mass. And you know that you think is something very simple, but it's so powerful and impactful to go. How can I help? There is no more enabling words that we can do as trainers and as humans. Just to bring that in the introductory email, because then when we understand there's a gap, then we can begin to make it better.
Eric: And we shouldn't have to rely on people to come to us and say, you know, I'm, in your instance, I'm in a wheelchair, what are you going to do for me? To make sure I can take your class, we should be proactive in reaching out is part of that welcome email as part of that registration process? Is there anything that we can do to better accommodate you to ensure that you have a successful experience within the classroom?
Dave: Well, exactly. And that's where I think we're trying to get better at working with people with disabilities, right? Because I know what it's like for somebody in a wheelchair. But I don't know what it's like for somebody blind, low eye vision, or deaf or hard of hearing, or even invisible disabilities right up, you know, like dyslexia? Do I have other things that I need to stimulate me while in class? And, you know, so as we start getting a wider variety of students, I think maybe as a PST community, we should reach out to a lot of our people that are registered in our courses before insight and ask them, if they identify as someone with a disability? Can we create a focus group to go How could we have made the course better, or experiences better? And start developing that toolkit? So we can share with trainers? Because you don't need to do it all the time? It depends who you have in the class. It depends on the balance of how do you accommodate but not, but not limited by other people in class. So I think creating a community would be a good first step, because how many people do we have registered with Scrum.org. Now that either registered to our blog, or taking our training, that number is gonna be pretty high. I think maybe just reaching out and asking, Hey, would you partake in this focus group for us?
Eric: I think that's an excellent idea. And in doing more things, to prove, again, proactive, to be more proactive in helping and assisting people to improve their learning experience, and their ability to do and be better is critical to everyone's success. But when I think about what makes good teams in good groups and good organizations, its diversity and diversity of all types. It helps us think differently, it helps us the consider other options in other opinions and other experiences. And with it, without that, it becomes difficult to really be successful in building the products that you need to build and doing the things that you need to do. And I think often we're too reactive. Someone comes and says, Hey, I'm blind. What are you going to do to help me be successful versus us coming out and saying, Hey, is anybody? How can we help you be successful?
Lindsay: Are you seeing organizations being more proactive?
Dave: Oh, yeah, like accessibility is like a ridiculously hot field in tech right now. Right? Where they realize they gotta build their products more accessible, not just from a compliance standpoint, but in usability and innovation standpoint, because if we look at what the pandemic is tied is, it's really tightest remote work can happen, which has opened up opportunities for getting people with disabilities that have talent that might have had the logistic challenges to getting into the office now can be gainfully employed. And then you tie it up with what Eric was bringing, was recruiting diverse teams, right? Because you know at Scrum.org All of us believe that. Diverse teams make better products, you know where I work. My boss says, the people that build our products should be a reflection of those that use our products. And the only way we're going to really, truly ensure we're making products that meet everybody's needs is to ensure they're represented in the product making or in the course development or whatever. And as a PSA as a as a training community. We're going to see more and more students with disabilities come to our class because they're getting employed in the private sector. They're a part of a lot of Scrum teams, because they bring that diversity perspective of where the mismatches are. Because how we how I define a disability is, it's not my Cerebral Palsy that holds me back. Rather, it's the mismatch in the environment that can accommodate for my disability is what holds me back. So for the fact that if I go to a building, and there's stairs, it's not my cerebral palsy that stop me from getting into building, it's the inability of someone not building a ramp or thinking about that limitation that holds me back. So in the same way we've done for architecture, and physical buildings, now we're starting to do in software, because our companies are reflecting more people like me, I joke about early on that I was the canary in the cave, a lot of times being 50, being the first person to progress and my role and organization, changing policies and procedures, because when I travel for work I bring out are with me, but most companies have policies that when you travel, you can't bring somebody with you, because you're there for work. But now they realize I don't wake up this hide the I gotta bring out you know, dress me in shower me, those are the things that they had to think. And I know, in scrum.org, we had to rethink that too. When I did numerous face to face events to go, like, look, I gotta bring a trainer, trainers, sorry. Oops, I gotta bring a support worker and helper with me. Right? And Eric, and I had those conversations of how do we make it more equitable for you, just because, you know, he could look at it in a way of, well, what's fair compared to other trainers. But really, Eric and Dave took that opportunity to go, how do we make it equitable for Dave, so we can have trainers with disabilities be able to partake in the same way, without any extra undue hardship of extra cost and stuff. Because they seen the benefit of having, I like to think I put words in their mouth, they saw the benefit of having diverse trainers have different abilities, to influence. And hopefully, I've influenced a lot of trainers around us.
Eric: And it's not always big things. Often, it's smaller things to remember us talking about in one of our face to faces, how do we make sure the room is clear enough, so that you can get your electric chair around to take part in different groups, as people were meeting in different groups around the room, and making sure there weren't chairs all in the way where, where I can kind of weave through them your chair couldn't, in, that's a small thing for us, it's a huge thing for you, because you can't get by those chairs, if those chairs are there. And, and just thinking about those things in making sure that they're they're available, making sure that there's somebody who can write if a whiteboard is required, can we use sticky notes, so that you can write it on a sticky note, they can be placed on that board, rather than not able to reach that whiteboard. Even as with the pandemic came some new challenges, I think as well, right, when from a training perspective, we went from 100% of our training being in person, to a large percent of it at one point, almost probably 90% of it being virtual, which meant new tools that had to be used. And those tools often use a lot of mouse clicks and a lot of movement. That may be Dave, who has limited abilities with his hands that you weren't able to accomplish. And that added new learning that we had to put in the place of how do we make it so not only the students can participate, because that was important using different tools. But even as a trainer, how you can participate in effectively teach a class.
Dave: And that's how we learn to be creative, right? That's why I think even something as simple as putting their request in the email because there's no standard solution that works for all. Disability is very complex, very nuance, but there's nothing better you can do and to go. You know what, let's use me as an example. Hey, Dave, what can we do to make this more accessible for you? So when we use something like a digital whiteboard, Dave, you might not be able to make the stickies or enter it. But what if we did group work and we and we asked somebody to help scribe these for you? Because what I learned when I used to do that in the standard scrum event of a retrospective by getting people to help me write my sticky stuff, it really allowed us to open up conversation. It's because they heard me dictating it. So it made it safe for everybody else to write the sticky pads. So when you think you're making one augmentation to benefit someone like me, sometimes it also has a benefit that radiates out where it makes it easier for others. So it's endless conversations. And for blind people, how do we do remote training where their screen reader can read a lot of this, like, there's still a lot of things we got to figure out. And what I like about it is, is we're open to trying to figure it out, let's find it. Let's, you know, challenge the vendors of the tools we use to think about building accessibility in their product, because we can't be the only ones facing this challenge that are doing global and remote facilitation.
Lindsay: And this is why this awareness is so important, because these little details that may be small for some are huge and super important to the learner and to our trainers to make sure that we're making these accommodations. So some things are easily overlooked, like being able to write a sticky, and being able to use a tool like Mural. And it's important to make those accommodations.
Dave: Right. And you know what I found when I was a student in the class, and I've seen this on Scrum teams too, in my experience, you know what, there's no better way for team bonding than when they rally around me to assist me. So when we're doing those exercises, like 124, and all in all those liberating structures, it brings a new dynamic, where you get to see what the humanity of people are in the respect, and how they gather around to help somebody where they're not good in something, to be able to use their strengths to help others which they're not good in something. I remember one company I worked at before they hired someone that was he was a Deaf developer. And we're like, Well, how are they going to hear the stakeholders? How are they going to do all these things, but the way and we didn't really give them instructions, because we didn't even know what to do. They all asked me they're like, Dave, you must know about this, because you're in a wheelchair. And I'm like, I can't hear sometimes they don't listen. But that's selective hearing that's not being deaf. But what was interesting was, this Deaf person came, automatically figured out how to get him included, where he would sit, they would take turns sitting beside them. And they would be typing things as the stakeholder was saying it so he could read on the screen, and he would pay back and someone else would speak on that person's behalf. Now that might not seem like an elegant solution. But that team, I would say before he came on, was an OK team. They were going through the scrum motions of, you know, robotic Scrum. But when they brought that element in and to see them rally in it, it forced them to communicate explicitly in so many different ways. They really started embodying all of the principles in order that really made them higher performing, which I didn't see when happening. At first, I was hoping that at best they would maintain what they were doing. But what we thought would hold them back quickly became one of theirone of the things that helped propel them further and develop them on how to act as better team members with each other, and dealing with building out complex features.
Eric: That's awesome. And I think, coming together, seeing everybody is one seeing everybody is equal and, and we're just part of a team. And we all have our issues. And we all need help and we all need to work together. And that's what bringing those different experiences bringing that diversity to the team just really does make make the team stronger. And I think you're right they've there's that ability to kind of see the team and want the team and this is where Scrum really is awesome. It's about the team success, not anyone individuals. So if we've got somebody on the team that needs help, let's help them let's help them make us all better. Let's help them make us all successful and they're going to help us in ways we have.Haven't thought then we haven't realized is that we have weaknesses in, right?
Dave: Exactly, yeah. Right? It kind of opens up the vulnerability, right of Wait a minute if this person can be comfortable with what they're not good at, here's what I'm not good at. And, you know, we've seen examples where people might have been previously a QA tester, now that they've been looking at trying to create development skills, having that vulnerability of, hey, I'm not really as good of a developer as I would like, then you begin pairing them up, right? We do that when it's functional learning without even after thought. But when we start doing it beyond that, then that's when you go from a good team to a great team.
Eric: Exactly. This is awesome. This is this has been a great conversation, and I appreciate both your insights, but also your passion. You're certainly very passionate about what you do. Those of you don't know, Dave, earlier this year, I guess, late last year at this point, um, Dave did a 5k. And no, he didn't do a 5k in in his electric wheelchair, he actually did the 5k. He walked, he used his legs, and got out of that chair in train for how many years to two year.
Dave: I started at the beginning of the pandemic, right, I was like, I could either be connected to this bread maker and eat all the bread, I can't. What I did, because the world was coming to an egg and bread is delicious. Or I could look at it as an opportunity to reshape my life. And I really spent two years exercising, working out losing 60 pounds, and getting the leg strength to what, five kilometers or three miles to be able to raise money for Cancer research. A lot of people have asked me like, they're like, why wouldn't you raise money for Cerebral Palsy, like, when that makes sense. And quite simply, I think if we want to be diverse in purpose, and help other people, we have to put our own challenges aside, to help others that are facing challenges, like we talked about earlier in Scrum teams. So by me hoping, helping someone with cancer, maybe someday someone will cancer will help raise money for cerebral palsy. Because if we can be diversity, we can be diverse in purpose, we can make hope inclusive for all, and to me, it was about being diversity of purpose. Let's put my challenges aside and focus on what I can do for someone else. Could I walk it by myself? No. But I was so fortunate to have hundreds of past colleagues and friends, each take turns working alongside of me, I kind of felt like a baton sometimes being handed. But to be able to share that moment of what I thought was previously impossible to see what the power of the collective we could do. And I think I raised over $85,000 or something like that was the most in Canada. But it was for a good cause. Right? And my hope is that it's going to benefit somebody, and what's gonna be my next purpose, I don't know. But it's got to be diverse in thought, because I truly want to make all those around me better. So it's not just people with accessibility challenges or issues. It's about humanity, and bringing us all connected, because what an amazing world we could live in. If we could easily raise our hand and ask for help, or quickly jump in or respond to somebody that asks for help. When we live in a place where that can happen naturally. What can't be accomplished? I personally think nothing could be accomplished with that kind of attitude.
Lindsay: Yeah. That's a great message for all of us, Dave. Thank you, and you're such an inspiration.
Eric: Great. Well, again, I want to thank you, Dave, for taking the time today. Thank you for all that you do, both for our community for the broader community, the story you just told. And for me personally.
Dave: I just love now the trainer's are reaching out to me now and going, Hey, how can I make my course more accessible? How can we get the courseware more accessible? It starts with asking the question and admitting and maybe coming to the thing of how can I be better? And that's something I think we can all work on. And I'm very proud of the community of where we come the last three years where I went from the, you know, annoying, complaining person to, yeah, let's, you know, let's ask let's be better and do that, to see that journey and see where the journey is going to continue to grow as we look for new diverse trainers, so if you have any kind of disability or something and you love Scrum and Agile, and you would love to be a trainer, reach out to Scrum.org. Again, start the process. We'd love to have you.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. And I, I'd even challenge you said, I want to do better. And I think it's, to me, it's even be better. Right? It's, it's not just do better, but but we need to be better. We need to be better as ourselves in we need to be better for others. And absolutely, we're always looking in our initiative from a scrum.org perspective right now is about diversity when it comes to our trainer community, and growing that community diversity in many ways, disabilities being one of them. So with that, I don't want to take up any more of your time. I know you're a busy man. Thank you very much and I hope everybody enjoys this conversation.
Dave: Thank you for having me.