Debra Ruh - CEO of Ruh Global Communications
Debra Ruh – CEO of Ruh Global Communications

I had the pleasure to interview Joy Kniskern for this blog.  Joy is an amazing woman with many talents.  She started her career determined to make a difference.  She has accomplished those goals and her efforts are going to making a difference for many years to come.   Joy is a shining example of a woman that believes that her success comes from helping other people succeed in life.

Joy has spent her entire career making a difference in other people’s lives.  She has also accomplished a lot academically including earning a Master’s Degree in Counseling & Psychological Services from Georgia State University and was honored with a Phi Chi Honor Society.  She also holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in Sociology from Vanderbilt University.

Joy works with Dr. Christopher Lee and his team at AMAC Accessibility Solutions and Research Center (AMAC).  AMAC is part of the Georgia Institute of Technology located in the College of Architecture.

I recently highlighted Dr. Lee in my blog about Leadership.  “Leaders Making a Difference in the World” Story of Dyslexia, Learning Disabilities and Finding his Greatness – Introducing Dr. Christopher M. Lee. To read the blog please visit: Here is my interview with the Joy Kniskern:

photo of Joy Kniskern
Joy Kniskern


Debra:  What led you to this field?

Joy: I wanted to contribute to the social good, and found rehabilitation was an area where so many people with disabilities wanted to go to work but encountered so many barriers – stigma, lack of training opportunities, physical access issues, no transportation.

Debra: What are some of the highlights of your career?

Joy: The first grant I received to establish, before ADA one of IBM’s Projects to give persons with disabilities skills to become COBOL computer programmers.  There was excellent involvement of private industry in every imaginable way, over 90% of graduates were hired at wages higher than staff within 3 months of graduation, I worked with first braille printers and speech output devices. I started a parallel program in customers’ service skills training so students who didn’t like or do well at programming had a path to good employment.

Debra: Tell me about our work with AMAC – what role do you play in this program?

Joy: I am the Technology Initiatives “go to” person at AMAC- I led several initiatives like our 508 and Accessible ICT work, special grants, and outreach to new and global partners.

Debra: AMAC is part of GA Tech, College of Architecture that is an interesting place to be located.  Do you think this provides an advantage to the AMAC program?

Joy:  Absolutely!  The College of Architecture is focused on design expertise and we are seeing that inclusive design is just as important as good and accessible design of physical spaces. AMAC started in 2006 as a production environment to meet the needs of students with disabilities through disability services providers within and outside of Georgia. Now that we are in the School of Architecture, we know that we have access to some of the finest research and academic resources in the world, and that fact and our action on it will help deepen and broader our path and impact on ICT accessibility in our digital world.

Debra: There is a lot of work to do across the US and globally to fully include PwD in the workforce and other aspects of society.  How can and should Universities be part of these solutions?  What steps are AMAC taking to also be a major part of the solution in US and abroad?

Joy: Research shows that to support the 9 million people in a world whose resources can support roughly half that number of people considering current consumption of goods and resources suggest that we all need to be engaged: governments, universities, thought leaders, environmental experts, in how to better engage everyone.  Universities like Georgia Tech can identify technology applications that make competitive work more possible. Robots and SKYPE make telework more possible, for example. There are many examples of how universities can be engaged in developing technologies and resourceful strategies to tap into talents of persons with disabilities.

Debra: AMAC has recently won several significant grants – can you highlight and explain the part you played in winning these grants?

Joy:  The First in the World Grant to establish Center for Accessible Materials Innovation (the Center) to expand access to higher education digital course content for students with disabilities, thereby supporting the improvement of their retention and graduation rates.

The proposed Center addresses the identified issues with an over-arching goal of expanding the availability and use of fully accessible textbooks for all students with disabilities, and for students at MSIs in particular, through four objectives:

(1) To develop applications to pioneer an innovative marketplace mechanism (a digital label) for the disclosure of standardized consumer information about the accessibility features of digital textbooks;

(2)  To provide textbook remediation services to increase the immediate availability of frequently used titles, especially those requested by students, and to use the tools created for Objective 1 to check accessibility and add to the pilot database of digital accessibility labels;

(3)  To research the causes of the seeming under-utilization of accessible textbooks by MSIs and to reverse this pattern with education and services; and

(4) To provide professional education and training on accessible electronic information for college faculty and staff including DSPs, administrators, content developers, curriculum procurement officials, and information technology managers.

AMAC, through partnerships with ATN members, publishers and AT vendors, will devise tools and applications to support the availability of consumer information through the creation of a standardized Document Accessibility Profile (DAP) for disclosing the specific accessibility features of digital textbooks. Similar to a nutrition label for packaged food, this “label” produced by an application or ‘app,’ will be created from a checklist of features enabled in the existing Online Information eXchange (ONIX) international standards used by book publishers and distributors. The “label” will be available on a web portal, and accessible from computers, tablets and mobile devices.

I designed and wrote the evaluation section of the proposal which includes an conducting focus groups at Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) focus groups to understand why the Digital Divide is much greater for minorities. We don’t have enough information about this issue to properly address it.

Debra: When you look towards the future of AMAC – what do you hope to see unfold?

Joy: My hope for AMAC is that it continues to unfold as the “go to” place for disability service providers and students they serve for digital access, and that we fully embrace the opportunities to make a difference in creating greater ICT accessibility in Georgia, the US and the world. We can play a significant role in reducing barriers related to access to information for people with disabilities. I also hope that we can sustain and strengthen allied efforts of the “Pass It On” Center for AT Reutilization, a national technical assistance center, and resources to grow our capacity for Georgia’s State AT Act Program – Tools for Life.

Debra: When you look back on your career in the future – what do you hope to see?

Joy: You know, it’s not about my career, it’s about my contribution to making the world a little better. That is what matters.

Debra: What advice do you have for young people that are interested in following your footsteps?

Joy: Look toward the highest good in everyone you encounter, do your best, and do what matters most, and take time to step aside and reflect on what is going on in your life, and those of others around you.

Debra:  What are you most proud of in your career?

Joy:  When I was 27, taking a risk by stepping out of the status quo early in my career to find funding and launch the Georgia Computer Programmer Project.  One of my students retired making a six figure income after 20 years of employment with a well-known software company. It started me on a path of social entrepreneurship that I’ve mastered ever since then.  ***End of interview***

Speaking to Joy is a breath of fresh air.  She has accomplished so much during her career and she is still going strong and changing the world.  I look forward to watching her career continue to unfold.  She is a woman that has made a huge difference in the world.  Joy Kniskern is global role model for us all.

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