A casual acquaintance might describe Pamela Siebert as a successful, attractive, and deaf professional. But her mother—who clearly knows best—more accurately sums up Pamela with an altogether different adjective: 'self–motivated'. Not only is she a successful IBM software engineer, but she is also an accomplished theatre lighting specialist, having participated in over 15 productions, including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Pamela also held the title of Miss Deaf Kansas 2005-2007 and placed in the top six at the Miss Deaf America pageant last year. She is focused, driven and believes in success. Her positive mentality, outstanding work ethic, and talent would be an asset to any company, but she found a home with IBM, a company that she says, 'Understands employees with needs and is very good with providing accommodations upon request.'
Pamela always knew she wanted a career focused in technology. From an early age, she demonstrated an aptitude for programming and Web-site development. When it came time for her to enroll in college, her top two schools were the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Gallaudet University. Both schools had a significant number of deaf students to help make learning and socialization easier for Pamela, but she ultimately chose to attend RIT where the classroom was fashioned after a mainstream environment (hearing and deaf students attended class together). RIT provided a wealth of accommodations to Pamela, including American Sign Language interpreters and note-takers for class. She also attended some classes where the teacher taught in American Sign Language. After graduating from RIT in 2003 with a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology, Pamela started her first full-time job with IBM as a quality assurance tester.
Early on in her quality assurance assignment, Pamela's manager asked her to be a beta advocate for a customer. She recalls being hesitant and wondering, 'How will this customer feel working with a deaf person?' Her main concern was that there would be communication issues, leaving the customer feeling uncomfortable. Luckily, Pamela's manager continued to encourage her to take advantage of this new opportunity. Pamela planned her meetings with the customer carefully. After informing the customer that she was deaf, she arranged for a sign language interpreter and remote captioning for their weekly calls. The remote captioning professional would dial in to the call and type online, providing real-time notes for Pamela to read. At the same time, Pamela would sign to the interpreter and the interpreter would speak aloud on the conference call. Once the customer understood the process and why there would be delays in conversation, they proved quite patient. The project was completed successfully and both Pamela and the customer were pleased with the experience.
That experience, among others, makes Pamela feel that society is becoming more accepting of people with disabilities. Not too long ago, people had very different attitudes and perceptions. Pamela relates, 'My mom, who is deaf too, endured high school without a sign language interpreter because her school did not want to pay for one or did not think there was a need.' In those days, her mother was considered 'low functional' compared to her hearing peers because she could not hear to participate the same way as the other students in class. Pamela hopes that accessibility will become a higher priority so schools, companies, and organizations will provide more accommodations and easier access to information and education. More than anything, Pamela feels this is important because people with disabilities need to 'contribute to the same society as their peers.'
Pamela has a theory about how to accomplish these goals, 'Accessibility needs to be cost-effective, reusable, and beneficial to people with disabilities and people without disabilities.' Assistive technologies, tools, and services shouldn't be viewed as an investment for one specific group of people, but as accommodations that can create a more productive and enjoyable experience for everyone. For example, having a captioning professional attend conference calls is valuable for all participants because Pamela can post the transcript of the call in a team room for everyone to access. This allows people who missed the call to read the details of the discussion and gives everyone an opportunity to revisit the information at their convenience.
Today, Pamela works with various IBM Informix® and IBM DB2® server products. She explains, 'Basically, I try to 'break' the products and catch any problems before the customers do. "She enjoys her job, her coworkers, and her company. Only one wish remains, 'I wish that everyone understood that accessibility is not a burden. If equal access was given to everyone, imagine the advancements we could make as a society."
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