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Nicola Palmarini: Modern-day Renaissance Man


Nicola PalmariniIt is fitting that Nicola Palmarini was the driving force behind a mobile app that people can use to explore Leonardo da Vinci's life and works and a personal project called The way to l'Olympia: A documentary on barriers between dreams and reality (link resides outside of – a movie about dreams, disabilities, and accessible travel. Both men are the embodiment of what it is to be called a Renaissance Man. In his day, da Vinci was an accomplished scientist, architect, engineer, painter, designer, physiologist, and more. Nicola has been a/an:

And, like Leonardo, he fills almost all these roles at the same time in his current position as EMEA Human Centric Solutions Center manager.

Nicola has always been interested in communication in general, and social communication in particular, and its impact on group behavior with a focus on the political environment. So, his course of study in Political Science at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan was a natural. Upon graduation and after trying out several other roles, he became the Creative Director in McCann-Erickson Interactive, Milan.

It was at McCann-Erickson that Nicola won the worldwide pitch for all the Microsoft communication (McCann Italy was the first branch of McCann Worldwide to snare Microsoft as customer) for an Encarta campaign. In addition, he headed up the campaign to build the brand of the first Italian internet provider in 1997.

His experience at McCann made Nicola a hot commodity who was sought after for many new positions. He joined IBM as Creative Director for the IBM Innovation Center in 2000. While working on interfaces and interaction, Nicola became interested in accessibility. Beginning in 2002, through his leadership of the Customer Experience Branding Usability and Design practice, he was able to get IBM to focus on inclusive access to information and services in many product development areas in EMEA.

In 2006, Nic moved to S&D as a business developer, and, in 2008, he became the leader of the EMEA Accessibility & Usability practice. This division espouses the concept of human centric solutions—exploring fields of interaction using emerging technologies, both from the software and hardware point of view. In other words… smart phones, devices, the internet of things merged with open data and social media. Nicola says, "We have delivered so many projects in these last 4 years that it is worth a trip to our website to check them out."

Nicola has received two Computerworld Honors Program (link resides outside of laureate designations for his work with The City of Balzano Living Safe Project (PDF, 305KB) in 2012 and in 2007 for his work in the accessibility redesign of the Italian Senate's web site (link resides outside of Nicola was also honored with a "bronze antenna" award by the Radiofestival for his work with his customer Antoral Gola.

We asked this Renaissance Man a few questions about the state of the IT industry in general and the accessibility industry specifically and for his views on where technology and humans are headed in the future. His responses:

/able: Do you think society and employers are making progress in considering people in light of their capabilities rather than their disabilities? 
NP: I think so and the amazing job that IBM Accessibility did in almost 80 years is, for sure, one of the reasons why we can see a brighter future today. I think that technology can help a lot, from an objective and physical help like an assistive solution, to using social media to spread the word on needs and problem and then crowd-sourcing innovation to overcome those obstacles.

/able: Do you believe that society's perception of people with disabilities has changed significantly in the last several decades?
NP: I do believe it. The more we can share, the more this helps. The London Paralympics games this past summer showed the entire world how disability can also be related to the concepts of fun, practice, show. These are keywords that have to be used as part of the message of inclusion we still have to develop and deliver.

/able: What do you see as the current trends (or challenges) in accessibility?
NP: Interfaces: I dream about a world without the necessity of graphics. The future is our natural interaction with the digital world around us.
Targets: We must enlarge our target to encompass more people and get the world to be more aware. In my opinion, assistive technology development should be aimed at, and include, the aging population (and vice versa – technologies for aging people should be directed at people who have disabilities). The aging population is growing and could "push" governments with a really different mass of opinion makers and influencers. So, everyone could benefit from these "cross-pollinations."

/able: What advancements do you anticipate in accessibility over the next 10-15 years?
NP: What I call the Internet of Thought, i.e., interaction using our super powerful tool: the brain. Projects like SyNapse by IBM clearly show the way.

/able: What do you wish businesses, governments, or the general population understood about accessibility?
NP: That accessibility is not some new stuff they have to care about: it is something that is already part of their lives. If someone is a real friend, do you ever think: is he or she my friend? You do not, so it is the same when we have to deal with disability. It is a normal, everyday part of our life. So natural…again

Nicola, modern-day Renaissance man, has written a book detailing his vision of the new workplace and of co-working –Lavorare o collaborare? Networking sociale e modelli organizzativi del futuro (link resides outside of So, if you can read Italian, check it out. Otherwise, here's a brief synopsis that's a loose translation from the Italian.

It's time to start to co-work!
In today's business world, things are changing, shifting, morphing. Companies are looking for new ways to create value and grow while grappling with increasing complexity and the demand for greater efficiency and productivity—all within the context of the movement from industrial mechanization to knowledge and innovation.

People and their ideas are more important than ever. The social networking systems available today are poised to take full advantage of an enterprise's employees' capabilities. Organizations must decide whether or not to exploit the social network to:

In a word, organizations must decide whether or not to get in the game and compete!

It's time to start to co-work.

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