In 2004 I went to China as the newly appointed IBM Accessibility Center Director. At the time, the word “accessibility” had no Chinese translation. I, with the help of the IBM Research Director, worked on the Chinese translation myself.

My goal was to start introducing the concept of digital accessibility to the most populous country in the world, a country with more than 85M people with disabilities and a country where I and my family had lived seven years prior because I was on a three-year foreign assignment from Boston to Beijing to help IBM open up the financial services market.

During those three years, I successfully helped the People’s Bank of China (China’s central bank) to implement an inter bank clearing system, the Shanghai Stock Exchange to develop a brokerage system and the People’s Insurance Corp of China to deploy a nationwide agent management system.

All these commercial successes paled in comparison to the work with the CFDP (China Foundation for Disabled Person), China Braille Press and the China IT Magazine Association in the fall of 2004 to call on the government agencies such as China Disabled People’s Federation (CDPF) to institute digital accessibility national standards, a foundation for any accessibility technology development in China.

We worked hard to conduct basic accessibility training sessions for all the CDPF branches in the beautiful seaside town of Beihai and brought in subject matter experts, such as leaders from W3C (World Wide Web consortium), to do technical exchange with top Chinese universities like Zhejiang University . We even helped to host China’s first Accessibility Technology Forum where hundreds of attendees were introduced to assistive technology for the first time. All this work resulted in IBM’s name being mentioned in China’s first accessibility standards document and in China becoming one of the first countries to adopt the latest web standards WCAG 2.0.

This work, which involves using technology to narrow the prosperity and happiness gap between people with and without disabilities, was profoundly impactful. As a result, I decided to “major” in this human centric technology area and help institutions to understand that human diversity is at the core of innovation.

It brings me tremendous joy and pride to see how far China accessibility has come.

The reward from this kind of work is priceless.