As founder of Accessibility Partners, which provides accessibility consulting to public organizations and private sector corporations, Dana Marlowe helps people with disabilities by making technology usable for all. She hires them too.
“Eighty-five percent of our team are people with disabilities and so it’s not something that I personally take lightly as far as how inclusion is framed,” says the 39-year-old Silver Spring resident.
A self-described human rights activist, Marlowe also helps homeless women through Support the Girls, another company she founded, that facilitates donations of bras and feminine hygiene products to homeless shelters.
The married mother of two sons, one first-grader at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and the other a preschooler at Silver Spring Learning Center, Marlowe attended the Rochester Institute of Technology for her undergraduate studies, earning a bachelor in science degree in professional and technical communication before receiving a master’s degree in interpersonal and organizational communication from the University of Texas-Austin.
We recently caught up with Marlowe to talk about the progress people with disabilities have made, reaching out to interfaith couples and rocking out to indie music.
Where did you get the inspiration to start Accessibility Partners?
I’ve been doing disability rights advocacy for a long time, since I was little. There’s no reason that technology should not be included in equality because technology levels the playing field for a lot of people — whether that’s websites and mobile applications or smart phones for people who are blind or low vision or deaf or hard of hearing or have a physical disability or a hidden or nonapparent disability.
Technology is a great equalizer and being a great equalizer also means that the technology itself needs to be accessible, so that everyone can have access to it. Knowing that, I started a consulting firm because I felt like there was a need in the marketplace to provide top-tier accessibility consulting to major IT manufacturers.
Has society made progress in disability inclusion?
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed 25 years ago. I think we’ve made an enormous amount of progress as far as inclusion in general society overall, whether it’s in education, the work place, tourism — there’s so many different angles. But I think we also have a long way to go. There are still attitudinal barriers that persist, whether that’s in the workplace, in hiring managers, or whether that is in society when it comes to helping customers that come into your store with a disability, or whether it’s because your website’s nonaccessible because you just didn’t know about it.
Are you in an interfaith marriage?
I am Jewish. My husband is not. We’ve been together for 20 years. As I tell people, I don’t think of us that we’re like this interfaith marriage. We don’t label ourselves that way. To us it is just our marriage. And we do have a Jewish household and we’re raising our two sons in a Jewish environment. They both go to Jewish day schools and so it is important, but it’s also not something that we actively think about all the time.
Tell us about your work with interfaith couples in the Jewish community?
When the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington was creating a couple different task forces on trying to engage different members of the population, one of them was interfaith couples and interfaith families and so I was the chair of the task force. It involved talking to families and couples in interfaith relationships and letting them know that there are a lot of programs out there and so everybody is welcome and it’s a very inclusive community.
How have you been able to help women business owners?
As an entrepreneur who also happens to be a woman, I think that we all stand to benefit and learn a lot from each other. Women helping women is very important. It’s not what I do on a daily basis because I’m running an IT consulting firm, but I’m able to impart some of the lessons learned, the challenges, the shortcomings, the pitfalls to other people.
It’s important for them to learn all aspects of running a business and that there are challenges and that there are wonderful days so you get the framework for the holistic environment of what it looks like from a female entrepreneur. There are inherently some things that women and men do differently in the workplace.
Why indie music? What is your favorite band?
I love music, and I like to have my pulse on what’s new and what’s coming out. There’s a lot of fun in the Top 40 you hear on the radio, but I tend to really like to attend live music and music festivals of what’s coming down the pike in several months, so that you can hear new sounds and innovative ways of putting music together that you don’t necessarily hear if you turn on your Top 40 station. My music styles always change, so right now I really like Ryan Adams and Arcade Fire. I go to a lot of music festivals, and I go to early morning dance raves in clubs in D.C., like at 6 a.m.
Tell us about your travels.
I love traveling to foreign countries where I don’t speak the language and I get to meet people through smiling and gestures and I get to see the best in humanity. I get to eat new flavors that I wouldn’t typically try, and so I would have to say international travel to developing nations is one of my favorite things. I loved Dubrovnik, Croatia, but my favorite, favorite place is probably Costa Rica.
Why Costa Rica?
The relaxed lifestyle and the people are wonderful.