Older Is Better: Late-career Job Hunting

Originally published at CareerBuilder.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Fortune magazine painted a frightening career picture for older professionals in its February 1999 cover story, “Finished at Forty.” “Once you’re 55, it’s almost impossible to find a job in business. But a new trend is emerging: In corporate America, 40 is starting to look and feel old.”

To be sure, finding or keeping a job, even in a booming economy, becomes increasingly difficult as you age. But it is not as impossible as Fortune magazine would have seniors (and not-so-seniors) believe. While age bias does exist, it, like youth and inexperience, is an obstacle that can be overcome.

So what are older professionals to do when they are forced out of the workplace by downsizing or decide to leave their long-time jobs voluntarily to pursue other options? How do they succeed in a market that favors younger professionals who will work for less money?

First of all, assume a positive attitude. Carole Kanchier, author of the book “Dare to Change Your Job and Your Life,” says that can make all the difference.

She cites the examples of two of her clients, both of whom lost their jobs in the 1990s because of defense-industry downsizing, to make her point. One believed she had too much experience and knowledge to offer to potential employers to go without a job for long, and she was employed within two months. The other was convinced that he could never get a job because none were available in the aerospace industry. He was jobless for more than a year before seeking guidance and getting his career back on track.

“You need to believe that you’re going to get the job,” Kanchier says of older people on the job hunt. “If you think you’re too old and you won’t get it, then you won’t get it.”

Helen Harkness, the founder of Career Design Associates Inc. in Garland, Texas, and author of Don’t Stop the Career Clock: Rejecting the Myths of Aging for a New Way to Work in the 21st Century,” echoes that sentiment.

“You have to be excited about what you’re doing and really want to do it,” she says. “And then you have to communicate that excitement. … If you don’t have a plan, you fake it until you make it. You don’t go out there looking like a victim.”
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St. Louis: Media City On The Big River

Originally published by Media Life Magazine
By K. Daniel Glover

St. Louis is a city rich in commercial history. Situated along the Mississippi River, it once was the center of the fur trade and later became home to entrepreneurs selling their wares to frontiersmen passing through the “gateway to the West.”

The city blossomed as first steamboats and then railroads brought more people, and thus more commerce and industry, to its borders.

Today, as the long-time headquarters of Anheuser-Busch and its Budweiser brand, St. Louis is still known for an industry that made it famous early this century: liquor. But it is also an auto-manufacturing center, with Ford, Chrysler and GM plants, and is home to upstart Internet companies like MAX Broadcasting Network, a new media company that owns sites like MaxFootball.com and MaxBaseball.com.

Bank of America and Boeing, which records the history of aviation at the James S. McDonnell Prologue Room at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, also have a presence in the city. (McDonnell-Douglas was based in St. Louis before its merger with Boeing.) And although St. Louis lost the nation’s oldest professional football franchise, the Cardinals, to Arizona in 1988, it still boasts a proud sports tradition.

The St. Louis-based Sporting News named its hometown the Best Sports City this year. That distinction is hard to question when the St. Louis Rams, who moved to town in 1995, gave the city its first Super Bowl in 2000 and in mid-September was off to a 3-0 start, when home-run record-holder Mark McGwire and the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team were bound for the playoffs, and when the St. Louis Blues regularly rank among the nation’s best hockey teams.

To a great extent, the media market in St. Louis revolves around the city’s professional sports teams. But the automotive sector also accounts for up to 40 percent of the media dollars spent in the city, says Jay Goldman, president of A&JG Media.

Yet despite a robust economy in St. Louis, sources say local ad buying have been on the downswing. Even the locally based dot-coms have been spending their ad dollars nationally rather than in St. Louis.

Coleman Steele, the media director for Veritas Advertising, credits the slow market to numerous factors. D’Arcy, for instance, had been the largest buyer in St. Louis for years. But when the agency moved its headquarters to New York early in the last decade, it took much of the buying with it.

St. Louis also has lost the headquarters of Blockbuster and Southwestern Bell. “The market isn’t as healthy as it once was,” Steele says. “It’s just been one thing after another.”
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Does The ADA Belong In Web Design?

Originally published at Silicon Alley Reporter
By K. Daniel Glover

When Slashdot.org early this year raised the issue of whether Internet sites should cater to the needs of people with disabilities, the debate turned ugly at times. Many users of the Web log for the technologically savvy argued that designers must try to make their sites accessible to all. Others insisted that the 10-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act is unwelcome in, and even a threat to, the information age. When it comes to the Web, they argued, the disabled deserve no special attention.

An “anonymous coward” (the moniker Slashdot gives writers who refuse to identify themselves by name or email address) summarized that viewpoint in a bluntly worded Feb. 7, 2000, note: “While I have sympathy for the disabled, and even agree with the ADA in general, this is ridiculous. The Web is naturally evolving into a graphically rich source of information that could not be expressed in words. … I’m sorry. The burden is on the user. I’m not going to dumb down the graphics on my sites for anyone!”

David Rose, the co-executive director of the Center for Applied Special Technology, whose Bobby service tests the accessibility of Web pages, winces when he reads comments like that. “I used to live in the South,” he says, “and I remember the same comments about ‘coloreds,’ questioning why we should spend so much money to educate them or to remodel restaurants and gas stations so that there was one bathroom for both whites and blacks. To many, white people mostly, it made the most sense just to stay with what was working fine — one for whites and one for coloreds.”

But if Rose and his colleagues get their way, the anonymous cowards of Slashdot will become as marginalized as the bigots of the 1950s South. Web designers — and the corporate executives who give them marching orders — will think before they code. They will create pages that bridge the digital divide between the disabled and the able-bodied. And in the end, the Internet will empower the disabled and help them overcome the obstacles of a bricks-and-mortar world.

Ask the disabled what they think, and indeed they will tell you that the Internet can make their lives better. An online survey of disabled people, taken between March 22 and April 5 for the National Organization on Disability, showed that they spend nearly twice as much time online and using email as able-bodied people, and that nearly half of them believe the Internet has improved the quality of their lives.

The results do not surprise people who have worked to guarantee the disabled unimpeded access to online information. “The Internet has the greatest potential for enabling people with disabilities [out] of any technology ever developed,” says Chris Ridpath, who works at the Adaptive Technology Resource Center at the University of Toronto in Canada.

But potential is the key work because as a March report for the Disabilities Statistics Center at the University of California at San Francisco shows, people with disabilities do not have the same access to the Internet as others. “New technologies hold great promise, but … the computer revolution has left the vast majority of people with disabilities behind,” H. Stephen Kaye wrote in “Computers and Internet Use Among People with Disabilities.” “Only one-quarter of people with disabilities own computers and only one-tenth ever make use of the Internet.”

The lack of “alt-text” tags, which describe images for blind people who are using screen readers, presents the greatest obstacle. “Images can be displayed, but they can’t otherwise be processed the way text can,” says Michael Cooper, head of CAST’s Bobby project. “And images are used quite a bit in the Web, so that’s a fairly common and quite severe problem in website design.”

The issue was at the heart of the National Federation of the Blind’s decision to sue America Online last November for being inaccessible to the blind and therefore violating the ADA. But the NFB withdrew its suit in July when AOL agreed to ensure that its next version of software would be compatible with screen-reader assistive technology.

The issue of Web accessibility goes beyond alt-text tags, however. Sound files are of no use to the hearing impaired. Timed responses on dynamic pages, small targets on image maps, and mouse-only commands make online life difficult or impossible for people with motor disabilities. And long lists and pop-up windows can confuse people with learning disabilities.

“Most websites these days have some degree of access barrier,” says Kynn Bartlett, director of the HTML Writer’s Guild AWARE Center and director of accessibility at Edapta, a San Diego startup company working to give websites the intelligence to morph to varying needs and technologies. “I’d say at least 90 percent of them impose serious hurdles to access by people with disabilities.”

Technology experts familiar with Web-design obstacles are reluctant to mention any offenders by name. Instead, they prefer to encourage greater accessibility by rewarding it. CAST, for instance, allows websites to post “Bobby approved” banners on their sites if they pass the center’s accessibility test. The center maintains a list of approved sites in a database.

The Bobby service enables anyone to check the usability of his or her favorite sites — and a little surfing quickly reveals the extent of the disability divide. Few of the big-name dot-coms — Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, eToys, E*Trade and iWon, to name a few — could win Bobby’s approval. Tests of those systems on July 20 triggered numerous “blue helmets” that indicate accessibility problems.

The inaccessibility of online grocers (Peapod.com), health-related sites (Vitamins.com and MedicineNet.com), and airlines (Continental and Delta) is perhaps more noteworthy. If the disabled could benefit from anything online, it would be the ability to shop for groceries, vitamins and airline tickets, or to access the “100-percent doctor-produced medical information” MedicineNet says it provides.

“Shopping online can be a real godsend,” says Geoff Freed, project manager for the Web Access Project at the CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media. “But it does you no good to visit a grocery service if you can’t navigate its website. You might as well try to get on down to the grocery store instead.”

Commercial sites are not alone in their oversight of the needs of the disabled. Even with measures like the soon-to-be-implemented federal rule commonly known as Section 508, which would require government agencies to procure, develop and maintain technologies that are accessible to the disabled, many government sites fall well short of meeting accessibility standards.

High-profile federal sites such as the Senate’s also failed the Bobby test. (The White House and House of Representative sites passed.) Even more telling, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission/Justice Department ADA Handbook online is not accessible, according to Bobby. While the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability would be Bobby approved, its publication “Working While Disabled: How We Can Help” did not pass the test.

Presidential candidates also do not seem to “get it,” if a December 1999 study by the Internet consulting service OrbitAccess is any indication. Sen. John McCain’s site won the accessibility battle, according to “Web Accessibility of the Presidential Candidate Sites,” with with Vice President Al Gore’s in a close second. Texas Gov. George W. Bush finished next to last, rating higher only than Alan Keyes’ Web page, because Bush’s site was “crowded with unclear links and decorative, undescribed image maps,” among other things.

The report lambasted the candidates for producing “brochureware” that “conflicts with the Web paradigm of fresh information with direct, accessible navigation, useful for everyone.” When OrbitAccess revisited the presidential sites six weeks after issuing the report, and after notifying the candidates of the study, it found that the campaigns not only had not addressed the problems but that some had actually created new hurdles.

Bobby is not the only tool available to webmasters who want to make their sites accessible. The ATRC, for instance, created A-Prompt, a software toolkit that checks for accessibility problems in HTML files and then prompts the user to make changes.

The World Wide Web Consortium also has published several versions of its detailed “Web Contents Accessibility Guidelines” and even began printing a pocket-size “Quick Tips Reference Card” because of popular demand. The Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison serves as a clearinghouse on Web accessibility.

With such tools and guidelines widely and readily available, people who praise the potential of the Internet to help the disabled argue that ignorance, arrogance and bigotry have kept the Web from fulfilling that potential. Advocates of a disability-friendly Web say their efforts have been hurt by myths about the time and money involved in making sites accessible and the dullness of “accessible” designs.

The AWARE Center’s Bartlett, for one, rejects what he calls the false dichotomy between “flashy design” and “accessible design.” “Web accessibility is never about removing the fancy stuff but rather about including alternate ways to get the same information or perform the same task,” he says.

The ATRC’s Ridpath emphasizes that accessibility is not just a disability issue. The changes that make the Web more accessible to the disabled, he says, do the same for people who browse the Web by cell phone or other nontraditional means, or who disengage multimedia offerings in favor of text-only viewing.

“The real tragedy of access barriers,” Bartlett says, “is that nearly all of them are avoidable. With a little care, a little education and a little more time, nearly all can be solved.”