How Limbitless Solutions Empowers Children & Champions Accessibility

By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair

Inclusive design doesn’t mean you’re designing one thing for all people. You’re designing a diversity of ways to participate so that everyone has a sense of belonging.” – Susan Golstman 

Meaningful, inspiring storytelling and advocacy in communications play an essential role in advancing Limbitless Solutions’ mission to provide wider access to expressive and affordable 3D-printed bionic arms for children. 

Limbitless was founded in 2014 by Dr. Albert Manero and a group of students after a mother reached out to Manero for help in creating a prosthetic arm for her son. Manero and the team found an affordable alternative by using 3D-printed material and sensor stickers to be placed on the child’s skin to activate the prosthetic when muscles are flexed. Limbitless has since become a nonprofit organization based at the University of Central Florida and has enhanced the capabilities and design of their prosthetic arm. The non-profit gained notoriety after partnering with Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., to deliver a prosthetic arm to then 7-year-old Alex, who was born with a partially developed right arm. 

PRSA Orlando’s August program featured Limbitless Solutions’ President Dr. Albert Manero and Brand Director Ms. Mrudula Peddinti, who discussed the important role advocacy plays in empowering bionic kids and championing accessibility in any circumstance.

Here are some highlights:  

Approach to inclusive and accessible design: 

  • Personalization and expression are important to Limbitless Solutions who believe bionic arms are an extension of a person and should be bold, powerful, and exciting. 
  • The team at Limbitless found that the children receiving the bionic arms wanted to stand out and that by giving the children the ability to design their own arms gave them a sense of ownership and belonging. The organization noticed a change in the way children interacted with the world after receiving their bionic arm. 
  • Limbitless uses the term “bionic arms” in their branding because their recipients, “bionic kids” are all superheroes and it ties with their mission of empowerment, inclusivity and accessibility. 
  • They also created a smartphone app integration when they realized their desktop platform wasn’t as inclusive and accessible. The app helps children calibrate the bionic arms, and answers questions, among other features. 

Messaging during unprecedented times: 

  • One of the first things Limbitless did when they asked their employees to work remotely during the global pandemic was to reflect internally and place a larger focus on internal communications, as well as the mental health and sustainability of the team. 
  • When pivoting from bionic arms to supporting hospitals and first responders by creating face shields, mask extenders and a prototype for a 3D-printed ventilator, Limbitless began to release information slowly, making sure that the focus was on the bigger picture and not on their team. 
  • According to Manero, Limbitless has taken a quieter voice to listen to the community and portray a message of inclusion. He observed that there are many areas where your messaging can become a pitfall and recommends companies to listen first and then move to empathy. 

The benefits of a diverse team:

  • From 2015 to 2020, Limbitless has worked with over 165 students and faculty, representing nine UCF colleges. The spring 2020 semester saw 35 student interns focused on engineering, film, digital design, studio art, advocacy and media, game design, outreach and logistics, and computer programming. The breakdown was 60 percent female and 40 percent male. 
  • Limbitless credits its interns for many of its ideas. “They haven’t just come to the table, they’ve helped build the table.” Peddinti, who began as an intern, rebuilt the website and made it more user-friendly. Interns have contributed to arm design, launching the blog and giving the organization a social media presence, magnetization of the arms, and much more. “That’s the beauty of having a diverse set of perspectives. You get creative ideas and transform the program.”

What’s on the horizon: 

  • The organization hopes to debut an expanded Learning Lab in 2021, continue research on Project Xavier, and expand bionic arms to adults, including to veterans and first responders. 

Action items to promote inclusivity in the limb difference community and beyond: 

  • “Become aware that we are all different from each other, and that is a beautiful thing.” Instead of operating in a loss or defect mindset and asking children questions such as, “how did that happen?” or “did it hurt?” have authentic conversations that are not defect focused, such as saying, “that is so cool! How does it work?” Help children adapt to their circumstances because the lack of inclusion and acknowledgement can be isolating. 
  • In accepting that we are different, we can move beyond insensitive wording and create communication that is inclusive of our many diverse audiences. 

The August program was sponsored by Curley & Pynn Public Relations

International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference

The University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication and Media is hosting the annual International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference and announces a new Ph.D. program in Strategic Communication. 

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ICRCC features presentations, workshops and panel discussions on strategic crisis communication issues, case studies, best practices and emerging trends, presented by a unique combined lineup of top practitioner professionals and prominent academics from around the world. The event will be held in downtown Orlando on March 9-11, 2020. Learn more.

Strategic Communication Ph.D.

The Ph.D. in Strategic Communication offers advanced instruction in health communication, instructional emergency risk communication, and crisis communication; it prepares students with the necessary knowledge and skills to pursue a successful, advanced career in communication and related fields in both academic and applied settings.

The applied nature of research and theory in the program concentrations prepares students for career success in non-academic and professional settings. For example, the instructional communication courses provide students with strategies to communicate with the public on issues of health and crisis-related topics. Much of health, risk, and crisis communication involves instructing the public on issues such as safer-sex, disease management, preparedness for natural disasters, and other important issues related to the health and well-being of Florida residents, as well as national and international publics.  For more information, visit UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication and Media, or or contact Kelsey Loftus.

What we learned at supper: PRSA members on diversity and inclusion

Authored by Alyssa Badalamenti, Diversity & Inclusion Chair for the PRSA Orlando chapter

The PRSA Orlando chapter recently selected 12 members of diverse backgrounds to participate in an open discussion on diversity and inclusion. During the first-time experimental event, Dinner, Diversity, and Dialogue provided an opportunity for sharing personal experiences followed by a focused brainstorm on ways to support PRSA members at their organizations and extend the chapter’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The participants ranged from a diverse demographic makeup of varied genders, races, religions, orientations, ages, experience levels and industries. We also engaged a facilitator, Bill Hertan, to guide our conversation. He brought with him 30 years of experience in leadership and organizational development. He has lead diversity and inclusion efforts at several Fortune 500 companies and runs his own consultancy.

We immediately heard comments such as, “I’ve been waiting for something like this,” and, “I’m so glad PRSA Orlando is stepping up to the plate to directly address diversity.”

We learned that diversity and inclusion guidelines could help members when they face challenges within their own organizations, and members could use support from PRSA by creating its own best practices.

But what does a diversity and inclusion model look like?

One idea was to mimic the PRSA Code of Ethics model and co-produce guidelines with other associations, specifically with human resource management groups. PRSA National has also created a Diversity and Inclusion toolkit for chapters to use to increase diversity and inclusion within their membership. This toolkit could serve as a starting point for organizations to create their own diversity and inclusion model.

While there are not yet structured diversity and inclusion policies for communications professionals like there are for ethics, diversity and inclusion starts with intentional workplace practices. There are common themes and insights that can be used to benchmark progress. For example, we learned that simply acknowledging how our chapter embraces diversity and how we aspire to improve our efforts resulted in positive feedback and discussion. Companies that endeavor to address the issue will also experience deepened morale.

Below are some key takeaways from our discussion at supper:

 

INITIAL THOUGHTS

  • Talk about it, talk about it, TALK ABOUT IT.
    • Never stop talking about ways to advance diversity and inclusion.
  • “When I walk into a room, there’s nobody that looks like me.”
    • Look around the table. Representation matters.
  • It’s not just a box to check.
    • It’s important to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

 

FROM THEN TO NOW

  •  BACK THEN: Leave yourself outside of the door when you go to work.
    • “I remember being told, ‘Don’t tell anyone in business because you’ll never work the same way again.’”
  • TODAY: Bring your full self to work.
    • “I came out at work by simply putting a photo of my family at my desk.”

 

HOW DOES DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION AFFECT OUR COMMUNICATION?

  • Experiences define our world view.
    • Our unique experiences shape how we communicate.
  • Lead by example.
    • We tend to look toward large organizations to lead the way in how we communicate to diverse audiences. Calling out prejudice is important, even if the company is not directly involved.
  • Learn from mistakes.
    • We also learn from other companies’ mistakes regarding diversity. Inaction can be perceived just as negatively as being tone-deaf.
  • Executive involvement is important.
    • Your level at the company typically affects your comfort level of addressing bias.

 

IT STARTS AT THE HR LEVEL

  • Hire leaders who “get it.”
    • Hire leaders who promote an environment of “being yourself.”
  • Write it in the job description.
    • Emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion in job descriptions.
  • Set the tone.
    • Highlight the business case for expanding diversity and inclusion goals.
  • Is it apparent in the company culture?
    • Embed diversity and inclusion in the company culture in specific ways.
  • Measure against goals.
    • Could accountable actions as part of the employee review process help advance diversity and inclusion?

 

WHAT COMPANIES CAN DO FROM THE GET-GO:

  • Acknowledge: Acknowledging that you want to improve diversity and inclusion in your organization speaks loudly.
  • Communicate: Proper communication is the cornerstone of addressing diversity head-on.
  • Represent: Provide visual representation of diversity in photos that convey a message of inclusion.
  • Guide: Provide solid tools and guidelines of diversity and inclusion within your branding and strategy.

 

THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF EQUALITY

  • Intent is not equal to development.
    • The recent example of Starbucks holding an employee diversity training day to address racial bias seemed like a “quick fix” attempt instead of providing a deeper development of its company culture.
  • Not everyone feels comfortable talking about it.
    • It’s wise to incorporate anonymous surveys to make sure everyone has a voice.
  • AND, it doesn’t always need to be talked about.
    • Making comments about differences, over-correcting, or including someone just to “check the box” can actually make that person feel less included or singled out.
  • It takes more than one person.
    • Just having a “Diversity and Inclusion Leader” is not enough. One person cannot represent an entire group.

 

CONSENSUS

 At the very least, the consensus was that the public relations profession can promote the importance of diversity and inclusion within agencies, corporations and with clients through strategic counsel, communications and recruiting.

Companies should start by implementing or revamping diversity and inclusion policies. It’s equally important to hire diverse talent that reflects their audiences to better understand unique cultural perspectives.

By embedding diversity and inclusion within company culture, incorporating good workplace practices, and having a team that represents diverse individuals, companies can better relate to their audiences, avoid tone-deaf mistakes, and enhance their business.

We look forward to hearing more from you about how PRSA can help communications professionals address diversity and inclusion in the profession and at large. We welcome suggestions from all of our members. Please reach out to PRSA Orlando’s Diversity and Inclusion Chair, Alyssa Badalamenti, to continue the discussion and provide feedback.

PRSA Orlando: Professional Development Summit

by Monique Trevett, UCF student 

PRSA Orlando held its annual Professional Development Summit on November 30, 2018 at Rosen Shingle Creek. The event consisted of a keynote speaker and three breakout sessions that were lined up with enthusiastic panelists. 

The day started with a keynote address by Moira Vetter, who spoke about the importance of entrepreneurial storytelling. Her presentation highlighted the characteristics that set apart entrepreneurs from regular people and how many entrepreneurs have helped to shape the society we live in today. Many entrepreneurs aren’t communications savvy, so they need individuals in public relations to help tell and sell their story. A unique trait that sets entrepreneurs apart from others is their never-ending fighting spirit when facing failure head on. One of the best takeaways of the presentation was how non-entrepreneurs can use their PR skills to help an entrepreneur grow. Moira’s storytelling skills were masterful, as she was able to clearly paint the picture of her presentation in her words. Her presentation truly captured the audiences’ attention. 

After the keynote address, many of the attendees were able to break out into three different sessions. One of the sessions I found extremely helpful was the “Always in a Hurry” session. This session broke down the importance of proofing and editing in PR as well as in other areas of the workforce. One key takeaway was to always fact check pieces. Many writers misspell names, which are key components to stories. A person’s name is the sweetest sound they will ever hear, and messing that up will ruin a story no matter how insightful it may be. One of the things I used to do when writing was always inserting quotes. The panel taught me to keep facts out of quotes and that they should include something profound or personal about the person it’s attributed to. Another important point that was brought up is that people don’t speak the way things are written. In order to keep things personal, one has to get to know the person they’re writing about. 

The other breakout session I attended and found interesting was “Owning Your Content.”  The session was quite insightful and focused on the importance of style and persona when it comes to PR. One of the ice breakers during the session included a mock brand, where someone had to make up a brand and try to create its messaging. A great example used in the presentation was Wendy’s on Twitter. Wendy’s was highly successful in its sassy snaps back towards other fast food chains, and it got the people going. Many individuals related to Wendy’s because they were able to speak to the minds of what they were actually thinking.  Not only was it enlightening, it was also one of the best moves for Wendy’s. It took the company out of Wendy’s and made it a person. One thing about the session I learned is you have to be willing to take risks. Wendy’s had a 50/50 shot regarding whether or not the tactic would work, but the company was willing to place all its eggs in one basket and was willing to try new things.

As a junior in college, I found the presentation to be very inspiring. I may not be majoring in public relations, but as a mass communications student, it was very helpful. Not only do I feel more educated on the matter, I feel more confident I will be able to utilize what I learned from the experience in any job field. 

 

Key Takeaways from the 2018 PRSA International Conference

by Lauren Leetun, APR (pictured third from the left)

Many people associate Austin with “keeping it weird,” and while I did happen to come across one or two locals who were a little different, the vibe at the PRSA 2018 International Conference was anything but weird. In fact, if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be inspiring. I must thank the Orlando chapter for providing me with a scholarship to attend. As an independent practitioner, expenses surrounding a conference of this scope and magnitude can sometimes feel a bit out of reach. But thanks to the scholarship, I was able to see and hear from some of the most interesting public relations and marketing minds around the globe. Leaving ICON, I felt energized and ready to take on new challenges for my current and future clients.

One of the recurring themes among keynote speakers at the conference was how much of a difference public relations professional can – and should – make during a time when many audiences feel more divided than ever. Perhaps Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich put it best when he said: “You have a great deal of influence over the tone of our national communications. You have a great deal of influence over your clients in terms of helping them to understand that civility- and by that, I mean just merely being respectful – is critically important and is good for them as well as for the country.”

The overarching theme of this year’s conference was communications convergence, and it’s a concept I’m sure most of us grapple with from time to time. What really constitutes a journalist nowadays? What is considered real news and what isn’t? I can tell you that there were several encouraging statements I heard from those in PRSA leadership at the national level that made me feel well-represented and defended. There are people in some of the highest positions of our organization that are consistently going to bat for PR professionals who may feel embattled or tired of having to fight against the notion that we provide ‘fake’ news on behalf of our clients. I was also encouraged to hear that leadership is turning its attention to the value that PRSA’s sections provide members; as a section leader myself, I have witnessed first-hand how important it can be to meet – even if it is virtually – with others who are in similar roles to brainstorm ideas, discuss hurdles, and even partner from time to time.

One of the most exciting pieces of news I heard during the conference was that ICON will be held in beautiful, sunny climates for at least the next two years. San Diego is next up in 2019, and, believe it or not… ORLANDO is slated to play host in 2020. As you well know, a lot can happen in any given profession in two years’ time, and given our current political climate and the fact that Orlando’s 2020 ICON will be held right before a presidential election, I think we’ve got a great opportunity to showcase just how critical public relations professionals are when it comes to leading both a national, and international, narrative.

Leaving Austin, I was grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with some old friends and to meet some new ones, and I was especially appreciative of the opportunity to learn from some of the best and brightest in this business. I’m excited to put what I learned into action in the weeks and months ahead, and look forward to what I’ll most certainly learn in San Diego, Orlando, and beyond.

Thank you again, PRSA Orlando, for the scholarship and for the opportunity to represent our great chapter in another really great city.