Creating an Environment of Inclusion

What I learned while presenting at NAB

Back in 2015, I was working as a video producer/director in the communications department at Gallaudet University. That is where I first learned about the NAB Show. I immediately wanted to go. I thought it would be a great place to learn about new things for creative workflow and production. Especially for someone like me, who is deaf. 

Alas, I was unable to attend at that time. 

Four years later, my dream came true. I was hired as an art director at BBDO New York through its Creative Residency program. There, I was invited to be a speaker for not one but two sessions at this year's NAB Show. The invite was made possible through NAB's partnership with FMC (Future Media Concepts). The theme for this year's expo was "Where Content Comes to Life." 

To tell you I was nervous would be an understatement. The show is enormous—over 100,000 attendees. It was the most prominent platform I had ever been invited to present to. In some ways, I felt like an imposter. 

At BBDO, we are always aiming to deliver award-winning work. We do it through our storytelling that helps bring brands' stories to life. And that's when it hit me. The show's theme was "Where Content Comes to Life." So that's what I would try to do: Just tell my story and bring it to life. 

Minutes before we started, people were filling up the spacious room. Fancy blue LED lights lit up on the sides of a huge projector screen. It was a full house. My interpreter smiled and looked at me with a "Whenever you are ready. It's your show." 

I met the audience with a huge smile and an introductory slide titled "Captioning for Dollar: Visual Accessibility and Inclusion." To get things started, I taught the audience three ASL signs: hand waves for applauding, as well as yes and no. 

I began my presentation with some impactful numbers. For example, 466 million people suffer from hearing loss worldwide—48 million in the U.S. alone. The audience's epiphany, however, came when I explained how visual accessibility and inclusion can be truly good for any types of business. But if it is not accessible, then 73 percent of the 466 million people worldwide, and 48 million of those with hearing loss in the U.S., will immediately leave the page. 

Let those numbers sink in—73 percent of 466 million people worldwide and 48 million in the U.S. Accessibility is a human right. The good news: Technology is continually advancing and quickly becoming available. It can help remove barriers to access. Because if work is not accessible, we cannot be inclusive. 

I engaged the audience with some questions as to whether they were surprised at the numbers of hearing losses in the U.S. and the world. They responded in ASL. That was an inclusive experience. 

CJ Jones, a deaf actor and good friend of mine (who recently starred in Baby Driver, Hulu's Original Castle Rock and the production of James Cameron's Avatar 2 and 3), came to my session. He shared a personal experience about how he brought his deaf mom to watch him in Baby Driver at the movie theater with captions before she passed away a week later, and how his hearing children have enhanced their learning by reading and watching captions on TV and movies. All of this was made possible because of accessibility. When he finished his comments, the audience applauded in thunderous hand waves. 

I was approached by a gentleman who was crying and who explained how the presentation and CJ's story moved him. He was ready to roll up his sleeves to do the work that can facilitate accessibility. I looked at his badge: He was a producer at Microsoft. 

This shows these messages are needed. This shows people listen. And even though we still have much work to do, when we work together to do the right thing, we can change the world and better bring the stories for our clients' brands to life. 

My second presentation was a panel session focused on "Creative Business: Women in Post Production." I participated with four other talented women. Our focus was on how to market ourselves, key approaches on how to support and mentor other creative women in the industry, how to cope while we experience the imposter syndrome in creative spaces, and tips for young talents in the audience who are looking to get into the industry. It was uplifting, but also daunting: As women on the panel, we are role models, inspirations and symbols that it is possible to thrive despite any type of adversity we may face. 

In closing, I would like to share an excerpt from Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Barry Kaufman's book, Wired to Create: 

Art born of adversity is an almost universal theme in the lives of many of the world's most eminent creative minds. For artists who have struggled with physical and mental illness, parental loss during childhood, social rejection, heartbreak, abandonment, abuse and other forms of trauma, creativity often becomes an act of turning challenge into an opportunity. 

That's why sharing this story from the NAB Show is something I will remember for a very, very long time. 

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Storm Smith
Storm Smith is an art director at BBDO New York.