Samsung Talks Accessibility Awareness with Eric LeGrand
Today marks the tenth anniversary of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). According to the World Health Organization, over a billion people – about 15% of the world’s population – have some form of disability and the rates of disability are increasing due to population aging and increases in chronic health conditions. And, in a world of rapidly advancing technology, GAAD is calling on developers, designers, and other creators to put a greater focus on digital accessibility and inclusion.
Samsung believes that accessible technology is a fundamental principle that underpins how we approach design and development. As a global innovation leader, we are revolutionizing our products and services to provide a heightened user experience for all, including those across the spectrum of disability. Our continuous research and development (R&D) in accessibility, as well as our collaborations with research institutes and organizations, such as the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Shepherd Center, ensures that Samsung’s meaningful offerings empower everyone to defy barriers and achieve more for an enriched life.
Samsung also has a longstanding philanthropic history with non-profit groups like The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, a leading nonprofit dedicated to curing spinal cord injury and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis, as well as a Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation partnership program, Team LeGrand. Team LeGrand was launched in 2013 by Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers University football player who suffered a spinal cord injury during a football game in October 2010. For the last six years, Samsung has worked closely with Eric and Team LeGrand as a charitable partner, helping to raise funds for individuals living with spinal cord injury and their families. And that relationship has only gotten stronger over the years with the two becoming mainstays at our Samsung Gives Charity Gala and our Samsung Gives Month of Service, among other initiatives.
Ann Woo, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship for Samsung Electronics America, caught up with Eric ahead of Team LeGrand’s 11th annual A Walk to Believe – Virtual 5K Run, Walk & Roll, which has reached a special 11-year milestone in the battle against paralysis. The two touched on why accessible technology matters, as well as how the one-time NFL-hopeful has fought back from the brink to become a true inspiration.
Tell us about your foundation, Team LeGrand, and how it came to be.
There’s a funny back story to how Team LeGrand came to be. Throughout 2011 and 2012, I was fortunate to have people reaching out to me asking how they could help. I recalled that The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation had been there for me since the very beginning, so in speaking to my mom, I thought we should set up a meeting with the foundation. One thing though – I didn’t know who Christopher and Dana Reeve were. My mom could not believe it! She explained that he was ‘the original Superman’ from the 70s and 80s, and I reminded her that I was born in 1990. After I did my research on him, I learned about his advocacy for those with physical disabilities and was wowed. I was aligned with the foundation’s core mission and values, so we formed Team LeGrand in the fall of 2013.
How much did you know about spinal cord injuries before you were injured?
I knew absolutely nothing. I remember seeing a warning label on the back of our helmets on how contact in football may result in concussions, head, or neck injuries, or even some type of paralysis, but I honestly didn’t spend too much time thinking about it. After my injury, I got a real crash course on the matter.
What are the ways in which technology is empowering you to achieve more?
Technology is one of THE most powerful tools that can be provided to people with spinal cord injuries. I can control devices with simple voice commands. Did you know that all the TVs in my house are Samsung? And the Smart TV in my room has this voice recognition feature that works when I say, ‘Hi TV’ – and I just navigate from there.
Later this summer, I am opening LeGrand Coffee Shop in Woodbridge Township, NJ, and I plan on adding accessible technology that my employees and customers – who may or may not be able-bodied – will be able to use.
That’s wonderful news, Eric. And it’s great to learn about your plans to integrate technology into the shop to provide a better experience for all. To that point, why is accessibility so important to you?
When you face an extreme injury like mine, you start to see the world in a different way. You really wonder ‘what am I going to do?’ when one of your physical abilities is taken away from you. But when you see brands making a concerted effort to help with inclusive and accessible technology, it provides a renewed sense of independence, confidence, and dignity. That’s why it’s so important to me – and there are a lot of other people in similar situations.
And, lastly, what helps you to stay motivated?
Spinal cord injuries occur every 45 minutes1 in the US and each story is always tragic. Whether the injury resulted from a car or a diving accident, you learn about that individual’s backstory, the trajectory they were on, and how their life has changed course. All these stories motivate me to challenge myself. They help me reflect on the last 10 and a half years of my life and inspire me to keep pushing. And I want to encourage others to not allow their disability to hold them back from anything.
That’s why Team LeGrand’s A Walk to Believe is so important. We’re raising awareness about this important issue. It’s overwhelming to see people coming together – both in-person and virtually – for the cause. The run, walk & roll has turned into a family event and a corporate outing like with Samsung. Through our valued partnership and extensive community involvement, we’re able to extend our support to people overcoming the challenges of paralysis and guide them down a rewarding path of transformation and discovery. We’re also educating the public on the issues affecting people with spinal cord injuries. That’s my motivation right there.
To support Team LeGrand’s A Walk to Believe, click here.
At Samsung, our vision is to “Inspire the World, Create the Future”. As global innovation leaders, this means conducting business in a responsible and ethical manner as well as developing products and services that make technology accessible to everyone. To help customers navigate Samsung.com, please visit our Accessibility page and activate the Web Enhancement Tools, which allow site visitors to customize their user experience.