15 Initiatives and Technologies Emerging in DEI - Senior Executive

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DEI Initiatives 13 min

15 Initiatives and Technologies Emerging in DEI

From QR codes on food packaging to AI that identifies biases, here are innovations companies are implementing to create a more inclusive experience for consumers and employees. Plus, read testimonials from chief diversity officers at Textio, Kellogg's, SupportPay, and more about how these solutions work.

by Taylor Odisho on December 1, 2023


  • Diversity leaders are finding innovative ways to create and use inclusive technology.

  • Several emerging technologies in DEI are using artificial intelligence (AI) to create a better, more inclusive experience for employees and consumers alike.

  • Other unique initiatives include sensory-friendly shopping hours at Walmart and a medical illustration library featuring people of color.

An analysis from Forrester found that up to $16 billion in design spending will be allocated to tech vendors and services companies committed to accessibility. Organizations are paying for inclusive products because the global market demands them. There are more than 1 billion people around the world living with a disability, with $1.2 trillion in disposable income to spend on businesses that have their needs in mind. When you factor in friends and family who opt to back companies with accessible products, that number increases to $8 trillion.

With these metrics in mind, Senior Executive DEI rounded up 15 innovations that caught our eye for bringing ease to the everyday experience of people with disabilities.

1. TD Adapted Accessibility Web Browser Plug-In Tool

TD Bank Group’s innovation group, TD Lab, created a web browser plug-in that allows users to easily adjust web page formats to create a more accessible experience. The plug-in allows users to change the font size, choose a dyslexia-friendly font, add reading guides and bionic reading, and go into dark or monochrome mode. TD Bank launched the plug-in in two waves and partnered with Disability:IN to “build upon the Bank’s internal testing to ensure that the tool is ready for market consumption.”

2. Voice-Enabled App Assists People with Visual Impairments Apply Makeup

To make makeup more accessible to the more than 2.2 billion people with visual impairments, Estée Lauder launched the Voice-enabled Makeup Assistant (VMA) app. Leveraging artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning, the app scans the user’s face, allows them to create their ideal makeup look, and assists with applying the makeup with a customizable guide. At the end, the app analyzes the final makeup look to ensure the makeup is applied correctly. If not, it will audibly walk the user through how to fix it.

  • How It Works: The app is available for download in Apple’s app store.
  • Company: Estée Lauder
  • Launch Date: September 2023

3. Airplane Seat for Wheelchair Users

During the annual Aircraft Interiors Expo, Delta Flight Products debuted a prototype of a first-of-its-kind airplane seat for customers who use wheelchairs. Delta hopes the patented chair design will decrease the thousands of wheelchairs that are mishandled by U.S. airlines each year. Daniel MacInnes, the director of British design studio PriestmanGoode who also worked on the seat, said in a press release: “Offering equal access to comfort, safety, and dignity for all passengers has always been our objective for Air 4 All.”

  • How It Works: The concept chair, which can be built into preexisting aircraft seat track systems, has a built-in seat that folds into itself to provide space for a wheelchair to be docked into place. A customer using a powered wheelchair can remain in it throughout a flight while still having access to their tray table and screen.
  • Company: Delta
  • Launch Date: TBD
  • Testimony: Emily Pitchford, Delta’s corporate communications program leader, shared in a statement to Senior Executive DEI: “This product remains in its early development stages, with approximately 18 months of work and reviews ahead, but Delta will keep a keen eye on the progress of this concept being driven by our subsidiary, as we are always looking for ways to improve the travel experience for all customers.”  

4. Lego Braille Bricks for Children with Visual Impairment

Like Estée Lauder’s app, Lego created braille brick sets that are more accessible to children and adults with visual impairments. The sets were initially only available for services and schools that work with visually impaired children but they’re now available to the public. Lego also has a web page with virtual games children can play to master the code.

  • How It Works: Each Lego brick has a pattern of studs that match numbers, letters, and symbols in braille, allowing users to learn or enhance their braille reading skills.
  • Company: Lego
  • Launch Date: September 2023

5. Adaptive Backpacks for People with Mobility, Dexterity Impairment

In an aim to create less sterile, more traditional and accessible bags, Jansport, in collaboration with the nonprofit Disability:IN, released a backpack and crossbody bag for people with limited mobility and dexterity in its new Adaptive Collection. The Central Adaptive Backpack looks just like a traditional JanSport backpack but is designed to easily fit onto a mobility device, has larger buckles and easy-to-grab zippers for people with dexterity issues, tangle-proof shoulder straps, and a shortened length to make it easier to reach into the bottom of the backpack. The Central Adaptive Crossbody bag shares similar functionalities. The Adaptive Collection was also named the 2023 winner in the Accessible Design category at Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Awards.

  • How It Works: The Central Adaptive Backpack can slide onto and be attached to a wheelchair or walking device.
  • Company: JanSport
  • Launch Date: January 2023

6. Google Maps’ Wheelchair Icons, Routes

To make travel experiences more accessible for wheelchair users, Google Maps provides wheelchair accessible routes and denotes with a wheelchair icon businesses that have or lack accessible entrances, bathrooms, and seating options. Google Maps also recently launched a Lens in Maps feature that uses AI and AR to provide a more immersive traveling experience and make it easier to orient the user in new places.

  • How It Works: Users looking to use the accessible map must switch on the “Accessible Places” feature in the Google Maps app on their smartphone.
  • Company: Alphabet Inc.
  • Launch Date: May 2021

7. QR Codes on Food Packaging

To make its cereal boxes more inclusive for visually impaired customers, Kellogg’s added NaviLens technology. Kellogg’s was the first company in the world to incorporate NaviLens technology into food packaging when it launched it on select cereal packaging in Europe in 2020 before expanding to the U.S. in 2022. Other notable companies that have collaborated with NaviLens include Coca-Cola UK, Barcelona’s public transport network, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

  • How It Works: Cereal boxes have a QR code that users can scan to learn more about the product, including allergen and nutrition information.
  • Company: Kellogg Company
  • Launch Date: December 2022
  • Testimony: Samantha Thomas-Berry, VP, global talent and chief diversity officer at Kellogg Company told Senior Executive DEI: “This is just one way we’re fulfilling Kellogg’s Better Days Promise to advance sustainable and equitable access to food by addressing the intersection of well-being, hunger, sustainability, and equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) for 3 billion people by the end of 2030 through the program’s initiatives, such as providing food donations or child feeding programs for those facing food insecurity and supporting farmers through climate-positive programs. Having a strong ED&I strategy is a business imperative. It ensures we are advancing toward fulfilling our vision of a good and just world where everyone enjoys a place at the table, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disabilities, or other characteristics that make us who we are, but do not define us or our potential.”

8. GPT-4 Supports the Blind and Visually Impaired

As one of the latest iterations of OpenAI’s ChatGPT models, GPT-4 can understand and interpret both images and texts for users who are blind or visually impaired. 

  • How It Works: OpenAI’s partner for the project, Be My Eyes, provides in a blog post the following example of how the technology can be used: “For example, if a user sends a picture of the inside of their refrigerator, the Virtual Volunteer will not only be able to correctly identify what’s in it, but also extrapolate and analyze what can be prepared with those ingredients. The tool can also then offer a number of recipes for those ingredients and send a step-by-step guide on how to make them.”
  • Company: OpenAI
  • Launch Date: March 2023

9. Hotel Group Introduces Autism Concierge

Karisma Hotels and Resorts partnered with Autism Double-Check to create the first-ever hotel program to offer an Autism Concierge to help guests and fellow travelers with autism plan their stays.

  • How It Works: To create a more inclusive vacation for all guests, the hotel group is now fully certified to offer guests with a child or adult with autism a concierge who will answer all of their needs. Each hotel also has staff that has completed Autism Double-Checked courses to ensure they are adequately trained on handling the different experiences a guest with autism may face. All guests have to do to start the process of booking with an Austim Concierge is email autism_concierge@karismahotels.com.
  • Company: Karisma Hotels and Resorts
  • Launch Date: August 2023

10. Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Identify Company Biases

To improve inclusiveness in their job descriptions, Cisco implemented Textio’s AI tool, which is the first to identify biases across performance reviews, job posts, and employer brand content. Textio helped Cisco fill open positions more quickly and increased the number of female candidates for job openings by 10%. The tool is being used by other global companies as well, including McDonald’s, Hulu, Oracle, and American Express.

  • How It Works: The AI tool offers relevant feedback as you write an employee’s review. It may highlight and suggest the user remove harmful language that focuses on personality traits rather than performance. The tool also evaluates your feedback to reveal inequities (i.e. non-actionable feedback), identify trends (such as performance feedback broken down by demographics), and offer takeaways, like you provide more written feedback for men than women.
  • Company: Textio
  • Launch Date: October 2022
  • Testimony: “Textio has two products that are purpose-built to help organizations hire and retain diverse teams. We built these products to remove human and AI bias from the workplace because we believe the words we use are at the center of what motivates people to join companies and stay,” says Textio’s chief diversity officer, Jackye Clayton. “AI use cases are increasing in the workplace and these technologies will perpetuate bias if left unchecked. It’s important to acknowledge that AI systems are created by humans who already possess numerous conscious and unconscious biases… In order to hire great people and retain them, organizations need to adopt systems and train humans to spot and remove bias throughout the entire candidate and employee lifecycle.”

11. Online Library Features Medical Illustrations of POC

As of 2018, just 5% of medical images showed dark skin. To improve health outcomes for marginalized communities, the Association of Medical Illustrators, Deloitte, and Johnson & Johnson collaborated to co-create the Illustrate Change online library. Illustrate Change is led by Chidiebere Ibe, a Nigerian medical illustrator and medical student, who started the movement when his image of a Black baby in utero went viral in 2021.

  • How It Works: Illustrate Change is a growing online library showcasing medical illustrations with people of color and aims to be the largest library of its kind.
  • Companies: Association of Medical Illustrators, Deloitte Health Equity Institute, and Johnson & Johnson
  • Launch Date: June 2023
  • Testimony: Wanda Hope, chief DEI officer at Johnson & Johnson, told Senior Executive DEI: “Our website traffic and file downloads demonstrate there is a real demand for these illustrations. Partners are interested in putting them into practice in educational and patient settings.” Hope added: “We received positive feedback and outreach from a wide range of partners, including large health systems, professional associations, nonprofit organizations, and other large corporations. We’re excited to think about how we can scale the initiative with a larger coalition of partners in the coming months.”

12. AI Measures DEI Progress

Similar to Textio, Diversio, a data-driven people intelligence platform, created an AI tool that measures, tracks, and improves organizations’ DEI strategies. In 2022, global financial services provider Apex Group partnered with the platform to create DEI Solutions, which allows investment managers to assess DEI data across the firm’s portfolio companies, leading to more lucrative investments.

  • How It Works: Diversio can be linked directly to an organization’s HR data to identify where a company is falling short in DEI, compare its performance to peers, and create an action plan to improve. Recommendations from the AI tool are based on Diversio’s database of 1,200 DEI programs and policies around the world. It also allows users to set and track DEI goals and collect data, such as employee engagement, within the platform. In addition to Apex Group, other companies using Diversio to improve diversity and inclusion include Honda, Fidelity, and Sodexo.
  • Company: Diversio
  • Launch Date: January 2022

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13. Inclusive Shopping Hours for Kids

To create an inclusive shopping experience for people with autism, sensory processing disorder, and other sensory differences, Walmart launched sensory-friendly hours

  • How It Works: Every Saturday in July and August, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., most Walmart locations will dim their lights, turn off their radio, and display static images on TVs for shoppers.
  • Company: Walmart
  • Launch Date: July 2023

14. Fintech Platform for Caregivers

SupportPay, which created the first-of-its-kind platform that helps employees going through a divorce manage child support payments, expenses, custody, and communication recently expanded its service to provide a similar benefit for caregivers.

  • How It Works: The expanded platform will support caregivers in managing their finances, schedules, and expenses across multiple households. SupportPay shared in a press release that it hopes the platform “can boost productivity and enhance the financial and mental well-being of their caregiving workforce.”
  • Company: SupportPay
  • Launch Date: July 2023
  • Testimony: “As a child of divorce, I have experienced firsthand the burdens of being caught in the middle of financial conflicts between my parents. I founded SupportPay with the intention of helping other children avoid such emotional strain. I am excited to expand our mission of assisting all families in reducing the conflicts and stress associated with managing, tracking, and sharing expenses. By alleviating this burden, I want to empower families to channel their energy and time towards enjoying each other’s company and their lives, while we handle the rest,” SupportPay’s founder and CEO Sheri Atwood told Senior Executive DEI. 

15. Braille Added to Airplanes

United Airlines is the first U.S. airline to add braille to its planes to help travelers with visual disabilities traverse the aircraft. United expects to add braille to its entire mainline fleet by the end of 2026, according to a press release.

  • How It Works: Braille markings have been added to individual rows, seat numbers, and inside and outside lavatories. 
  • Company: United Airlines
  • Launch Date: July 2023

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