Google Europe TechAbility – Business 2012

Julie McElroy is a young Scottish woman from Glasgow who has Cerebral Palsy which has resulted in walking difficulties along with a speech and hearing impairment and manual dexterity problems. She epitomizes drive, motivation and passion for life. Currently studying towards a PhD (part-time) in Assistive Technology and Education.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I applied for the Google Europe TechAbility – Business 2012 and the Google TechAbility Europe Mentoring Programme‏. These sort of programmes are always competitive and I thought due to complexity of my disability, this would affects my chances. Against all odds, I secured a place.

Over the years, I began to explore how IT could help me in other ways and it was when I was studying at the University of the West of Scotland, they had a variety of courses from Games Development, Music Technology, Multimedia and to Computer Science. However it was while undertaking my Dissertation it took me in a different direction of looking at Assistive Technologies. Combining my IT knowledge with technologies passion gave me that niche to advance my knowledge in a specialised field where I am constantly using assistive technologies to live my life daily.Thankfully, I have been able to combine my IT acumen alongside doing my equality and diversity work.

Back to Google Europe TechAbility – Business 2012 event in London on Wednesday 21st November, I was a little apprehensive of what to expect apart from knowing that I would be joined by other students across Europe who have disability themselves and also had a passion for IT or had the desire to work for Google.

190 students applied for the Google Europe Business and Technical TechAbility 2012 for the first of its kind this year and only 70 students were selected to join. That is a considerable achievement in itself. 35 students each on the Business and Technical programmes.

As I walked into the Google Office, one of their offices based in London, four words which strike my mind: dynamic, innovative, creative and passion.

The main contact for the day was Clare Bass, Diversity Programmes Manager, Google EMEA. Clare joined Google in May 2011 and is the Diversity Programmes Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

The event itself was fast-moving one and very stimulating so much to take onboard however thankfully a speech to text reporter was provided for those who were deaf which helped enormously.

After our brief introduction to Google by Matt Britten who is Managing Director of Google in the UK & Ireland. Matt was inspiring as he was passionate about giving diverse people to work digital industry such as Google.

Shortly followed by we had our first seminar talk by Ade who talked and discussed the Google Toolbox Tech Talk which talked about Google’s Cloud Computing; Machine Translation; Speech Recognition and Computer Vision. All the topics which Ade discussed was straightforward to understand for those who were studying in computing related field.

After a short break, Sarah who suffers from tinnitus is a mother of two, works four days a week in advertising aspect of Google, delivered a Googleyness Explained presentation.

This presentation gave us a better understanding how to use digital media when managing marketing campaign through the internet and how the diverse world can outline the vision for future in terms of social media campaigns etc. One of the recent projects she talked about was Google – Good To Know Campaign (http://www.google.co.uk/goodtoknow/campaign/). The aim of the campaign was all about reinforcing the message about staying safe online.

Another one, we looked at was UNESCO which take a virtual walk around some of the world’s most remarkable natural and cultural landmarks using Google Maps, Google Earth, and Street View http://www.google.com/intl/en/landing/unesco/

Sarah also talked about how information on the internet more organized and make it more universally accessible and useful for people to use. The key word was idealism.   Lastly, she talked how there is such a ‘buzz’ with other Googlers (staff) to meet up in the ‘hang-out’ zone. This encourages brainstorming session, interaction and creativity among staff rather conducting meeting via messenger, emails or conference calls.

The introduction of Google’s Dragons Den was born and this encourages Googlers (staff) to pitch their advertising campaign idea. Helen’s campaign idea was to create the first silent conference debate about deaf and hearing impaired users.

Just before lunch we had a seven minutes group session each with different employees who works  for Google. The session was called ‘Grill a Googler’. First up was Helen who we already know about having discussed the Googleyness Explained presentation. Second to speak to us was James Morgan who lives in London and works for Google’s Customer Service division. Interestingly James studied at Glasgow University doing philosophy and psychology. He had been with Google for five years and he echoed what Google is, it a company that is constantly evolving and learning new knowledge every day. Next Helene and Beth spoke to us about the Google’s recruitment and what programmes Google offers to students. Dan was next to speak to us, he comes from Wales originally and once again, he expressed the positive experiences of working at Google, followed Ashley Hall who now works for Google after having successfully apply to the Google TechAbility Intern programme last year.

After a delicious lunch in the Google’s canteen which was modern, vast and open, we returned for the afternoon session which was delivered by Helen who talked us about CV Prep and Interview Advice. Time was tight so she only managed to the CV Prep section and what Google look for. It was informative and a valuable session for those keen to perfect their CV.

To get everyone on their toes again, it was time for the Google Business Challenge. Our mentor for our group’s challenge was Stephany Van Willigenburg who is the New Products and Solutions Industry Manager. Stephany has an impressive international upbringing and she started working for Google back in 2004 as a Sales Analyst and working her way up to where she is now.

The objective of the Google Business Challenge was to think of a charity, brand or club and in our groups, design their mobile site and advertising followed by presenting to the overall group of thirty five students.

Interesting facts to date about mobile marketing and why is important to utilized the platform, over 50% of UK have a smartphone; users nowadays want to use their mobile phones to search the web, use social media and shops and most crucially advertising on mobile is another important marketing channel for brands to use.

The last session of the day before we headed for a tour of Google and to a networking reception we heard from Ashley Hall who had been with Google for a year now and he talked and answered questions for us of the ‘Experiences of an Intern’. Ashley initial studied for a degree in Geography followed by hoping to do a Postgrad however the Employability’s Google TechAbility came along and decided to grasp the opportunity. Ashley is dyslexic. Ashley was intern and it was a learning experience for him because Google is such a vibrant place to work and everyone is treated equally. Google embraces inclusion. Ashley now works full time for Google in their Dublin offices which has been a great success so far.

I cannot expressed how much this event shaped my technology vision, given me ideas and tools to apply to my PhD research taking for example Google Plus. It was simply an incredible day to be surrounded by Googlers (staff) who are fervent about what they do in the fast paced digital technology industry.

It has been an unbelievable 24 hours after getting home from London. While the event on Wednesday gave me the capability, concrete vision and ideas to take forward and horn in my specialized field of assistive technology and my studies, I must confessed I thought my hopes were dashed about the possibility of being selected for the Google TechAbility Europe mentoring programme because there was so much information to absorb and when I was having to relies on a palanytypist, I thought my contribution to the group work was hindered. I particularly find teamwork difficult in noisy environments whereas when I am outdoor doing challenges, it all about teamwork and communication which I can cope with.

Today, looks set to spearhead me on my technology leadership and career at last! Thanks to Google and Employability they have delighted to confirm me a place on the twelve-week Google TechAbility Europe mentoring programme. The Google team was extremely impressed with my level of enthusiasm and look forward to working with me in the coming months.

Wow!! I am so thrilled to be given the opportunity and my journey start in earnest with my first in-person meeting with my mentor which will take place at the mentoring programme kick-off event on Wednesday 28th November in London!

I look forward to charting this journey with you all.

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Fashion Quest

JULIE McElroy is no stranger to a challenge, and her latest mission will take her to new levels – thanks to the captured photo featured in the newspaper earlier this year. Julie was inundated with messages of a new search to nurture for the future.

This triggered Julie to set-up her quest to produce a dress designed by one lucky disabled student from her former school and in partnership with Amanda Buchanan a Fashion and Textiles Lecturer from Cardonald College to fit Julie’s winning design.

When asked George Godfrey, art teacher of Ashcraig School, the former school where Julie once attended what inspired him to partner up with Julie, he says ‘Our students have been involved with many partnerships over the years and working with Julie has given our students new experiences in real life situations. Seeing what difficulties Julie has overcome, the challenges that she has succeeded in will inspire confidence and determination in the students.

He goes onto says “What is truly inspirational about Julie is her commitment, drive, ambition and fortitude. Had Julie been able bodied without impairment she would still be inspirational. You then add the difficulties attributed to her mobility, her communication and the attitude and discrimination of others and you then can really appreciate just how significant an impact she has made on others”.

Describing her reasons for being so active in promoting disability rights and encouraging people with disabilities to aim for success, she says: “I want to experience a totally new existence, challenges that are different from what I experience in everyday life. I know that I have the commitment and passion to succeed and I want to show people that regardless of their disability they can achieve anything.”

She said: “I want to take this fashion concept to another level in Scotland. Some disabled people take their passion for fashion and the way they look seriously. I want disabled people to feel confident, have the professional approach and confidence about what they wear and thus change the perception for the public that they can be good looking! Also it will help nurture the next generation of disabled individuals.”

This is furthered echoed by George stating “More role models, promotion and positive media coverage. There are also many technologies available that could support learning even in the design industries.

The project phrase of designing the dress is now completed by the students and George commented on the fact that “Throughout the process students have become more confident, more self aware of issues relating to disability. It has been empowering for them to be on their own and be committed to the new challenges that they have experienced”.

Now that the winning design is completed, Julie says “After much deliberation with Amanda about which dress would really suits me it came down to one after looking at ten designs all put together by students. However, the winning design caught my eyes in the early stages of the design when I was up visiting the school in April 2012. There was something wholly unique about this design, I fell in love with it!!

The winner of the chosen design is Rae’esah Ismail who was born with Cerebral Palsy and currently attends Ashcraig School. When asked what sparked her eye-catching design, Rae’esah says “Images of inspirational landscapes symbolic images for courage and that clearly matched Julie’s personality”. She goes on to say “My mum is fashion conscious and we use to enjoy designing clothes at home for fun”.

It is clear to see that Rae’esah is thrilled to have her design transformed as she said “I’m really excited and proud that my design is going to be seen on someone who is as strong as Julie”.

Winning this fashion design competition has given Rae’esah confidence to take her artistic flare further beyond school as she said “I would like to go to college and do more art and design work. I also love graffiti art and would love to do more of that type of art”.

Meanwhile, the production of the dress has begun in earnest and expected to be ready by November. Amanda tells how she met Julie and now turning Julie’s dress into reality “I had the pleasure of meeting Julie some years ago at a course we both attended. She struck me as a resilient and determined woman with the ability to achieve whatever she put her mind to”.

When asked what inspired her to take on the task of making a dress for Julie “It is a privilege to be involved in such a brilliant project mixing the imagination of children and promoting the best idea through creative work. Knowing Julie I feel confident everyone will be rewarded by participating in this collaborative effort”.

Julie views this as the ideal platform to put disabled fashion out into the spotlight, and is urging everyone to get behind her idea. When asked how she would encourage people to take part who may be self-conscious of their image due to their disability, she said: “Although I have accepted my disability and myself for who I am, I know that this is far from easy to do. However, I would encourage others to do the same. You realise anyone with a disability isn’t any different from everybody else.

We are all equal and all human and have the right to do the same things as normal peers but they will have to be done differently.”

Cardonald College Fellowship

It was a memorable day for the graduates of Cardonald College 2012 on Friday 2nd November as they celebrate their hard work and success throughout the academic session of 2011/2012. It was an incredible day and to see such a diverse range of students graduate on this occasion.

I had the privileged in joining the graduates at this Graduation ceremony to be awarded the Fellowship of College which is a prestigious accolade to accept. However, I must emphasized that it was Cardonald that gave me the leap forward and transform my life around and I now hold Cardonald in the highest regards.

Now that I’ve been made a Fellow of Cardonald, I look forward to joining the other fellows and the board of management in promoting Cardonald at the heart of the education in Scotland and beyond.

I will still continue to offer my expertise and share my journey through life with students at Cardonald College with a vision of drive, motivation and passion.

Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the involvement of the marketing department for the preparation and hard work they’ve put into the Fellowship award along with Fellowship documentary.

Congratulations to the Graduates of 2012.

Cardonald College’s Website www.cardonald.ac.uk

Cardonald Fellowship Documentary click here