When the virtual reality headset first slid into place, covering my eyes and resting on the bridge of my nose, there was a moment of calm darkness. Then the screen glowed, coming to life, and there stood Grace Chikui, an elderly blind woman and long-time resident of the Little Tokyo district in downtown Los Angeles. In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in October, Viacom’s Office of Global Inclusion (OGI) hosted a unique virtual reality (VR) experience aptly named Walking With Grace, which used 360° video and spatial audio to provide employees with unparalleled perspective into the life of someone differently-abled.
“Through select audio interviews, Grace recalls childhood memories growing up in the area, helping us discover her neighborhood. Each swivel of the head and body, left, right, backward and even up toward the sky, revealed more of her world.”
I was one of two dozen employees on the Paramount lot who gained a new understanding of what it’s like for Grace, and others like her, to navigate physical environments. As we followed Grace through her Japanese-American neighborhood, the sounds of hustle and bustle, the laughter of tourists on the street, the rush of the night air enveloped the senses. Through select audio interviews, Grace recalls childhood memories growing up in the area, helping us discover her neighborhood. Each swivel of the head and body, left, right, backward and even up toward the sky, revealed more of her world.
“It was enlightening to witness the daily experiences of a sight-impaired person in Los Angeles, and the use of the VR technology made it possible in a more comprehensive and poignant way,” shared Paramount Pictures Executive Vice President of Legal Affairs Mike Grizzi.
The VR exhibition is the work of “FORM follows FUNCTION,” a collaboration of filmmakers, photographers, graphic designers, musicians, architects and artists who seek to create media that nurtures awareness and engagement with their surroundings, and highlights people with unique relationships to the space around them. “The more we know about everyone, and each individual story, the more empathy we have, sympathy we have, the more understanding,” said Joel Quizon, co-director of Grace. “That just makes for a better world.”
According to Diversity Inc., there were 39.9 million people in the United States with a disability as of 2015, but only 19.5 percent of those 16 and older were actively employed. “Our nation’s most successful companies proudly make inclusion a core value,” said Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. “They know that inclusion works. It works for workers, it works for employers, it works for opportunity, and it works for innovation.”
By celebrating NDEAM, OGI has demonstrated Viacom’s dedication to fostering a more inclusive workforce, one where every person is recognized for his or her abilities — every day of every month.
Viacom’s Office of Global Inclusion is devoted to creating a company culture where diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion are celebrated.