A Commitment to Progress through Accessibility: Answering the Call of the Nation’s Blind to Provide Educational Products and Services

MARK RICCOBONO:  I want to keep moving because we're a little bit behind and we have a lot to do.

So I'm going to shortcut this introduction not because it's not important but just to catch up on time.  And there's a lot I could say about the next gentleman that's going to come speak with us.

I think you already know about Pearson.  If you've been coming to this convention, you know that we've had some great work that we've done with Pearson.  We've also had some extreme frustrations.  We had a resolution last year that expressed our real frustration for blind students.  And got Pearson's attention and we had the opportunity, we said we need an executive-level meeting and we need an executive to take up the charge of equal access at this company.  Not just in one or two areas but across the company.

Today we have a commitment to progress through accessibility working with the organized blind movement not just answering our call but, working with the National Federation of the Blind.  This gentleman came to that meeting and he represents the commitment on behalf of the company but also a real commitment to then defer.  He's the President of Global Products and North American Courseware President at Pearson but more important he's a true champion for equal access.  I'm proud to introduce Tim Bozik.

(Music playing).

"Hit me with your best shot.  Fire away."

TIM BOZIK:  Well, thank you, Mark, for the musical and verbal introduction and for inviting me to speak today.

I'm super happy to be working directly with you on the important mission to advance accessibility for all.  And I'm honored to be with all of you today.

I am joining from my home in Montclair, New Jersey, and hope that everyone who has joined this virtual national convention is well, that you're well amid the challenges in our country in terms of a global pandemic and persistent racial and other inequalities.

I know equity is a basic principle of the National Federation of the Blind and especially the month we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  And let me add a particular thank you to any students in the audience.  I know COVID-19 has made this a very challenging time and year.

As Mark said, I am Tim Bozik, President of global product and North American courseware in Pearson.  That means I'm responsible for Pearson's global product strategy, product management, as well as our North American publishing business.  For those not familiar with Pearson, we're the world's learning company.  We provide content, assessment, and other digital services to millions of teachers and learners in over 70 countries around the world.  And all of that is in service to our purpose, which is to help people make progress in their lives through learning.

As a leader in education, we have a special responsibility to serve blind learners and all people with disabilities.  I am happy to join this conference to share our work and vision for a more accessible future, and to hear and learn directly from all of you.

I've organized this brief talk around three main points:  First, what Pearson is doing now with the National Federation of the Blind; second, why our partnership is a good cultural fit and can be a force for progress; and third, what else Pearson is doing to advance accessibility for all.

On the first point, we're proud of the work we're doing this year with the National Federation of the Blind and I'm excited to tell you about it.  Before I get to progress, I want to acknowledge our past, a past that Mark referenced.  Last year at this conference, called on Pearson to do better, to demonstrate a full commitment to accessibility ensuring that our new products conform to accessibility standards.  You called on us to be more responsive to schools, to students, to parents.  You called out certain Pearson products and you called on us to communicate publicly about our commitment to blind students.

Your criticism was fair.  Your call to action was justified.  And we heard you.

Today I'm happy to report about how we're answering that call.  As Mark mentioned we've been engaged with leaders of the National Federation of the Blind in many discussions about how we can best strengthen our commitment to the blind.  After exchanging ideas in a series of very productive meetings, and insistence that it was the right thing to do, we decided to enter into in a formal agreement.  I'm proud to announce or convey that in March Pearson and the National Federation of the Blind officially signed up, locked arms and began working in concert toward a more accessible future for blind learners.

Here's some of the ways we're working together to make our higher education assessment of products and services more accessible to you.

First, after years of providing project-based consultation, NFB is now acting in a formal consulting role with Pearson to inform our accessibility roadmap and specific product remediation.  This will help us improve product design, processes, development, and policies.  NFB will specifically review and advise us on the accessibility roadmaps for our key higher education products.

Second, NFB is helping us promote a culture of accessibility internally.  Increasing awareness and enriching our culture is critical means to better understand and serve the needs of blind learners.

Third, we're opening a communications channel for the NFB to directly and regularly inform us about accessibility issues that you're experiencing.  This allows us to respond and remediate faster.

Fourth, we've begun to conduct audits on our products.  We know that removing accessibility barriers to STEM education is a priority.  We're in the process of auditing over 40 of Pearson's widely used My Lab in mastering courses of accessibility with a goal to remediate as many issue as possible.

For those not familiar, My Lab in mastering is used in problem solving and practice.

We're also conducting audits in registration, accessing homework assignments, and using E text to ensure that students with disabilities have a positive, simple, and easy experience with our products.

15 audits have been completed.  We started with those based on their high usage as well as their feature sets, representative of a broader number of titles in our portfolio.

Learnings from these audits will inform our ongoing work with NFB to prioritize and remediate products with accessibility gaps.

Last, we'll communicate publicly and transparently; posting updates on our websites and we'll make details of our status and plans available to customers who need them.

These actions will make our progress and commitment to accessibility more transparent.  This is important.  I think it will also promote awareness in the education sector and hopefully across industries.

Our new agreement will serve as a catalyst to access rate the work needed to improve accessibility for blind students.  It's the headline of what Pearson is doing now with the National Federation of the Blind but it's not the only thing we're doing together and an effort that needs to be sustained and that we're committed to.

I'm also happy to share that our entered an innovative mentoring program with the NFB.  Next month, Pearson will expand our corporate disability mentoring program.  The expanded program will include a mentoring triad, which will bring together blind mentees, sighted Pearson professionals and blind NFB professionals.  This is a new approach for Pearson and an opportunity to help blind youth learn and succeed in their careers.  It's also an opportunity for Pearson employees to learn directly from blind mentees and to better understand their lived experiences, incorporating those into our work to make an impact for countless more blind students.

You can learn more about this on the NFB website, on Pearson's website, and through social media channels.  And the publication process is open through July 31st.

Now, let me turn to the second point, which is why our partnership with the National Federation of the Blind is a really good cultural fit and a force for progress.  I want to tell you some things about Pearson's culture that make me believe we can be a force for progress together.

First, serving all learners is central to Pearson's culture, moral fabric, across education and assessment.  I mentioned earlier that our purpose is to help people make progress in their lives through learning, and this can only be fulfilled when our products and services are accessible to all users, including those with visual challenges.  Eliminating barriers and increasing opportunities for all is also reflected in our sustainability goals, which are publicly communicated every year.  In fact, the very first pillar of our sustainability goals is to reach more learners by improving access to our products and services.

Second, I know the people at Pearson.  I've worked here over two decades.  We've got a team of passionate leaders across the company that are personally committed to accessibility.  These are people across functions and product and content production and marketing, details, strategy, government affairs, finance.  The they're in our education and assessments business, they're in the United States, and they're around the world.  Many are part of our disability employee resource group called Pearson Able, and I would like to tell you a bit about them.

Pearson Able is a force for cultural awareness and change within our company.  The group is growing and has multiple chapters around the world.  They're dedicated to promoting disability equity, celebrating those who break barriers, and developing a culture where the needs of people with disabilities are understood and addressed.

The group leads internal awareness events and they create webinars, blogs, and other resources for Pearson employees.  Last year our assessment business hosted an accessibility institute with 25 virtual training sessions for employees on accessibility.

Finally, accountability is one of our four explicit company values.  We've embraced our past issues and mistakes that we've made.  We've found gaps in resourcing and technology and policy implementation that compromised our ability to consistently deliver accessibility work.  We're holding ourselves accountable and we're taking actions to address those issues.

There is a strong cultural and value alignment with the National Federation of the Blind that really runs deep in our DNA.  In addition to the cultural fit, let me share some other things we're doing.  First, we're investing in accessibility in becoming even more customer focused.  We've invested nearly $9 million since 2018 in accessible courseware and we're becoming more learner centric with engagements just like this with the NFB and with other groups.

We're also investing millions of dollars in a new learning platform that will have accessibility by design, it will accelerate product innovation and allow us to make faster updates.  Pearson learning platform is one of our top priorities and will significantly advance our accessibility efforts.

And last, we are rededicated to implementation of accessibility goals and policies.  On this point, our relationship with the National Federation of the Blind is especially critical.  We're each leaders in our respective fields, and I'm confident we'll make greater impact together.  Just as the NFB partners with multiple stakeholders to influence and drive progress, so disappear son, which brings me to point three.  What else we're doing to advance accessibility for all.

Earlier I mentioned Pearson Able, who has helped us form alliances in the broader accessibility community.  With council from Able, we became part of the Valuable 500, a global movement to put accessibility on the global leadership agenda.  We've agreed to create a Pearson-wide global disability policy framework.  And our valuable membership also includes a commitment to mentorship in mentoring.com.

Also with Pearson Able, we've begun reporting our practices to a group called Disability In, dedicated to an inclusive economy where people with disabilities participate fully and meaningfully.  Last week in a joint participation with people with disabilities, they released scores of its disability equality index and Pearson was named one of the best places to work for disability inclusion.  That doesn't mean we have everything worked out, but it means we take this seriously.

The scores are based on a variety of factors, including our vendor relationships.  And I would like to mention two vendors we're proud to work with:  T Base and Barrier Break.  The scores were T Base Communication is one of America's leading providers of textbooks in accessible formats.  In October we announced a partnership with them to deliver Braille and large print textbooks to educate students faster and at lower cost.

We also have a partnership with Barrier Break, a team of leading experts in accessibility technology with a proud culture of hiring people with disabilities.  We use them to test our digital products to ensure we're complying with WCAG 2.1AA standards.  We're proud of our work but I want to be clear we're conscious that much work remains to create stronger culture of inclusion in service to people with disabilities.

With your engagement, we know we'll keep moving forward, and with your help, we're confident we'll advance our mission to help all people make progress in their lives through learning.

In conclusion, I hope you found this talk to informative about what's come of the challenges we received a year ago, engaged in, and responded to, and I'm really glad that I could join you today.

I know this has been an especially difficult year for blind students, people with disabilities, and their families.  The global pandemic has presented new challenges that your sighted colleagues and peers, myself included, just don't have to deal with.  Many of these challenges around your education, and many are about public health and the lives that you lead.  People with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.  We know that and we care deeply.

Beyond our empathy, we're committed to actions to remove accessibility barriers.  We're working closely with Mark, the National Federation of the Blind, you, the members of the National Federation of the Blind, who have challenged Pearson to do just that:  To use our position as the world's learning company to make progress.  We accept your challenge.  I personally accept your challenge.  And I personally embrace our partnership with Mark and the team.

Thank you for your time today for joining the session and we look forward to hearing more from you throughout the year and returning next year to update you on what we've accomplished together.

Thank you, Mark.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Thank you, Tim.  It's good to hear your voice and we'll look forward to seeing you next year in New Orleans at our convention.  Hope you can make it.

We appreciate the work that Pearson is doing, and it does reflect a journey that the company is just really at the beginning of.  Tim, your leadership is critical in that.  So thank you for that.