Disability Inclusion in the Metaverse: What HR Needs to Know

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Disability Inclusion in the Metaverse: What HR Needs to Know

Welcome to another exciting episode of All About HR! This is the series for HR Professionals and business leaders who want to future-proof their organization and learn about the latest trends & insights from industry experts, CHROs, and thought leaders.

What aspects do you need to consider regarding disability inclusion in the metaverse? In this episode of All About HR season 2, we talk with Giselle Mota — Principal Future of Work @ ADP, Co-creator @ NFTY Collective — about disability representation in web 3.0 and the metaverse.

Giselle is a futurist, strategist, and advocate for diversity and inclusion — whose passion is to find ways to leverage technology for a positive future of work.

In this video, we’ll talk about:

  • The current state of accessibility and inclusion in web 3.0 and the metaverse
  • Representation of seen and unseen disabilities in the metaverse
  • How HR can harness the metaverse to make inclusion real and tangible

Watch the full episode to discover how HR can start to prepare to enter the metaverse, particularly when it comes to diversity and inclusion!


Related (free) resource ahead! Continue reading below ↓

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Giselle Mota: Even in HR, we’re seeing like legislation globally, even, starting to move towards giving people a choice. So if you can give people a choice of how they want to present themselves by name, why not give them a choice of how they want to present themselves in avatar form if you’re going to give avatars in your HR experience at any point? So it’s about representation and choice, having the freedom of letting your people value them enough to say, You know what, however it is that you want to be addressed or seen or valued in our organization, we respect that and we give you the place to do that as our employee.

Neelie Verlinden: Hi, everyone, and welcome back for a new episode of All About HR. My name is Neelie. I’m your host, and on today’s episode, I get to speak with Giselle Mota. Giselle is a lot of things. She is a futurist, she is the Principal Future of Work at ADP, and she also is the co-creator of the NFTY collective, a very interesting project that we are going to talk about. I am super excited about today’s conversation. So we are going to dive right in. But before we do that, as always, if you haven’t done so yet, please subscribe to the channel, hit that notification bell, and like this video

Neelie Verlinden: Welcome to another episode of All About HR. 

Neelie Verlinden: Now, let me welcome Giselle to the show. Hi there. Giselle. How are you? 

Giselle Mota: Hi Neelie. I’m doing well. How are you?

Neelie Verlinden: I’m very well, too. Thank you very much, Giselle. Perhaps we can start by you telling us a little bit more about yourself?

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Giselle Mota: Sure. There’s a lot to say. You kind of covered it. As far as that, I do a lot of things. And I think in general today in today’s world of work, like so many people and so many things, it’s hard to kind of, you know, tie them into a corner. So in general, though, I love inclusion. I am all about the intersection of technology and inclusion. And if there’s anything I can do to help make the world a better place so that people are not left behind in technology and experiences, that’s what I’m about.

Neelie Verlinden: Yes, that is what you are about. And that is also why I’m so excited to speak with you today. Because recently, I saw that you shared an article on LinkedIn. And that was all about disability inclusion in web 3.0 and the metaverse, and that’s when we got in touch because I said okay, I would love to record a podcast with you about this topic. And so that’s why we are here today. Now, you are committed to bringing more inclusion and access to web 3.0 and Metaverse spaces. Still, perhaps, yeah, for those of us in the audience who don’t immediately know exactly what we mean by web 3.0, perhaps we can briefly explain that.

Giselle Mota: Sure, web 3.0 is more of like the next version of how people are going to use the internet and it’s still in development now. And, basically, if you think about how we use the internet or even computers like at the very beginning when we were doing dial-up. I don’t know if you’re –  are you old enough to remember like we have that connection? You know, you’ve got mail like all of that. So the experiences are becoming more decentralized. And that’s a word you’re gonna hear a lot with web 3.0. All that means is that instead of having a middle person, like a big corporation that’s always owning any digital asset that you put out. So like, if you put up a picture today on social media, it doesn’t really belong to you. It belongs to that social media provider. But in web 3.0, it’s about people owning what they put out, whether any digital asset, and even making businesses and organizations around this system that is governed by blockchain. And so basically, you’re the owner, you cut out the middleman, it’s decentralized, and well, this is where we talk about things like NFT’s, non-fungible tokens, and all that kind of fun stuff. So yeah, that’s what that’s about. And that’s web 3.0. And I think you did you ask about metaverse?

Neelie Verlinden: Well I think we can do metaverse at the same time now. Yeah.

Giselle Mota: Okay. Yeah, you know, Metaverse is actually like, it’s not new. We’re in the metaverse right now. I’m talking, and other people are watching right online. And so they are part of this Metaverse experience. Whenever you watch something online, or you’re playing a game online, or you’re doing any kind of experience in that way, it’s the metaverse and so we have used things like 3D design and animation for years, not new. We’ve used things like virtual reality for years, augmented reality, like all these experiences, you join them together in a happy marriage and now you have this thing called Metaverse. We’ve coined this phrase now, and people are making it popular, but it’s still people who will say like, well, the metaverse isn’t really here yet. It is in a way, and there’s more to be developed. And so that’s what that’s about.

Neelie Verlinden: Thank you very much for that. Now, if we talk about the current status of inclusion and disability, inclusion and access, interrupt me if I’m wrong, and Metaverse spaces at the moment, what can you tell us about that?

Giselle Mota: You know, it’s funny because at the moment, it is a reflection of what’s happening in our physical worlds, and even the reflection of what’s happening in web 2.0, which is how we interact with the web today. So if you look around at, you know, organizations putting a focus on diversity and inclusion, there’s always been like this undercurrent of that some people are left out of certain experiences, whether that’s, you know, experiences in technology and experiences in like processes, like not getting paid fairly, not being represented in genders fairly, all that stuff exists in the real world. It translates into the online world like what we know today, and then it translates into the metaverse and web 3.0. So as of today, there are articles pushing out of unfortunate statistics that even NFT projects, right? So these artworks that you see AIX or you see all these, you know, images of people. In the beginning, the people who were pushing that out and making the most compensation on it, where homogenous-looking people. They tend to be Eurocentric men, and people of color were left out, women were left out. And obviously always, as always, people with disabilities are left out. And so now what you’re seeing are groups of people from the LGBTQ+ world or from you know, more women representation and people of color are entering into these spaces to own, to create to, you know, be voices in it, which is great. But also, people with disabilities still are left out a lot. That’s because these worlds are kind of like, inaccessible a lot of times so it’s hard if you want to like have a VR experience in the metaverse and you’re getting motion sickness, or you’re blind or all these other things. Well as there’s not an option for you, right? Or if you need to do like digital identity verification on one of these, you know, apps or systems like coin base or etc, to actually obtain an NFT. It’s hard to do that process. And I can go on and on with different examples, but it’s not accessible. And there’s not representation today, unfortunately.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah. So Giselle, what I’m wondering now is, have you got the feeling that when we talk about inclusion, the people with disabilities, they often are a forgotten group, so to speak, within the discussion about inclusion?

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Giselle Mota: Yes. And you know why that is? I think, mainly, it’s because when people talk about diversity, they often don’t realize that disability is diversity. And if you think about it, 1 billion people in the whole global population have some sort of disability, right? With the global pandemic, more and more people are becoming disabled because of some sort of chronic illnesses that have resulted from the pandemic or etc. So what we’re seeing now are more people having disabilities but less access for those people to be able to have these experiences that are continuing to flourish, right? And yeah, so, unfortunately, that is the case. It’s not seen, as you know, diversity is disability, and we’re not really tying that in together enough.

Neelie Verlinden: No. Do you have any ideas of how we could actually increase that?

Giselle Mota: Yes, I think if we start up changing our perspective a little bit, that will help because, again, as I’ve noted, there are 1 billion people in the global population that have a disability alone, but of those 1 billion people, like I’m sitting here, and I have a disability. You can’t see I have a disability. I have dyslexia. So that’s called a neuro divergence. I see the world a little bit differently because my brain processes that way. And I’m not the only one, you know, but I also am intersectional, which is a phrase coined by an author named Kimberly Crenshaw. And what that means is like, even you, yourself, and our audience, we’re not just one thing, I’m disabled, or I have a disability, right? I have a disability, but I’m a woman. I’m a woman of color. I’m an Afro Latina. At that, I’m a lot of things. So I think if more organizations and just in general, people will realize that humans are so nuanced. We have so much to us. And if we start to embrace that concept more then something like a disability won’t be something that’s overlooked. It’ll be like, oh, this person sees the world a little differently, or they have to access an experience a little bit differently. Because it makes up who they are. So when we create technologies, we need to keep that in mind. And if we did that, you know, we would include everyone with all of these innovations.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah. And you said that so beautifully there because I mean, yes, every person sees the world a bit differently. And imagine how much good that could bring to a company and then of course, by extension, to the world. So yeah, I think there’s still so much more that we can achieve there to be honest.

Giselle Mota: I agree for sure. Yeah.

Neelie Verlinden: Now let’s talk about the NFTY collective. This is, of course, the main reason that we got in touch, first of all, so maybe you can start by telling us a little bit more about this project and its mission. 

Giselle Mota: Yes. Okay. So it’s an exciting and personal project to me, because, as you mentioned, I’ve been working like in the future of workspace, I’ve been working in tech, I talk a lot always about like artificial intelligence, but combining that with, you know, implications in bias and ethics and making sure that, you know, we’re following diversity, equity and inclusion, and analytics. I talk about all that. But I took a step back, like two years ago, and I asked myself, what was I doing with my time, you know, because the United States, but also the globe, went through this, like, unfortunate time of racial reckoning. And there was so much discrimination, so much like ugliness that was coming out, right, in the whole world, against certain groups of people. And I said to myself, again, what am I doing with my time? How am I making a good contribution other than just the work that I do on a day-to-day basis? So I looked around, and I thought about people, I thought about what was important to me as an individual. And I thought about, you know, a marginalized, underrepresented, actually group of people, which is people with disabilities. And I thought, if I can do something around merging my love and geekiness of technology, but also merging that with my heart and passion of not allowing people to be left out of all of these experiences as the world progresses, then I came up with NFTY, right? NFTY is a play on a word. So NFT’s, right, to play on that word. The project is not an NFT project, like you would consider when you hear about all other projects. It’s more about highlighting the niftiness or the specialness or the amazingness in people and people with disabilities. And the mission is to make sure that disability, inclusion, representation, and accessibility are included in web 3.0, and metaverse. So basically, the main focus is working with technology providers of these platforms and helping them include people with disabilities at every intersection point of the experience. That’s the main vision. The quick of it is where we’ve created these avatars of real people from around the world. And they have all types of disabilities. Seen disabilities, like, you know, we have a character that was born with a condition called hypoplasia, which means that they were born without arms or legs, and they are in a wheelchair. This individual is a filmmaker, and they’re of African descent. They live in the UK, amazing individual. And we made an avatar of him. So he has a choice. And that’s the key thing. He has a choice of, if you go into, you know, want to buy an avatar or a digital representative representation of yourself, you could choose to be an ape, if you want, that’s fine. That’s what we have today. You could choose to be Snoop Dogg, the rapper, if you want. That exists today, you could, you know, play a game with that avatar, but you don’t have the choice yet to show up without arms without legs in your wheelchair looking like you. And so we wanted to provide that choice for people. And that’s what it is about.

Neelie Verlinden: Beautiful. I was really listening to you. And seriously, I was feeling it in my heart. I think it’s just such a beautiful, beautiful, and super important project that you are working on. 

Giselle Mota: Thank you. 

Neelie Verlinden: And yeah, I could feel it through the screen. So that’s very nice. So this was an example that you gave about an avatar for someone with a disability that people can see as well. But I know from the article that there’s also an avatar for, let’s say, unseen disability. So maybe you can also give us an example of that.

Giselle Mota: Yes, yes, we have a few people in our collection right now who have disabilities. You can’t see everything. We have an individual with bipolar disorder. We also have someone with ADHD, attention deficit, as well as dyslexia. We have people with autism. So how do you mark yourself as a difference, right, when you’re maybe on a meeting at work, or you’re playing a game, and you’re interacting with people, and you’re trying to like network? And how do you do that? So we came up with just a simple marker, which is every one of our characters has glasses, and their sunglasses are kind of like a cool urban look to them. But what we did for people with an unseen disability is we created a specific design on it’s like an abstract design that actually comes from our logo embedded in their glasses. And so that is a marker and a symbol that somebody will know eventually we hope that this will take off as well, that hey, if you see a character with these glasses on, something’s different about their cognition, the cognitive perspective that they have. So maybe it’s because they have a different, you know, like a bipolar perspective or maybe they have a neurodivergent perspective of autism or whatever it is. But that’s what we did as a marker.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, I very much like that touch. So yeah. Now, Giselle, before we are going to move on more towards the role of HR, because I mean, the podcast is called All About HR after all. Still, there’s one last thing because what would you say to people who might think, yeah, I mean, why do we need these avatars, you know, that actually indicate if somebody has a disability or not? Why is that important? Maybe we can stress the importance of this?

Giselle Mota: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And I think it’s not about having the avatar. It’s about the choice to have the avatar or not. And so today, there are technologies even in HR, where if you’re in a learning simulation, or you’re doing something as far as like, even getting on a call, there are certain providers that are creating like, I believe Microsoft was doing one where instead of being on video or having just your profile picture, you can embody an avatar. The problem is, what if you’re in a wheelchair? What if you’re blind? What if you have a neuro divergence, and you want people to know that? Do you have the choice? And I think that’s important for even HR leaders – to give their people choices. One of the things that we’re even doing in my full-time organization at the moment is working on giving people the opportunity to show up as their preferred names. Some people are born in one gender, they change that, and they change their name, and they want to be called by that name that they’re chosen. So even in HR, we’re seeing legislation globally even starting to move towards giving people a choice. So if you can give people a choice of how they want to present themselves by name, why not give them a choice of how they want to present themselves in Avatar form, if you’re going to give avatars in your HR experience at any point. So it’s about representation and choice and that freedom of letting your people valuing them enough to say, you know, what, however it is that you want to be addressed or seen or valued in our organization, we respect that and we give you the place to do that as our employee.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah. Thank you for that. Then slightly changing tack, as I said, because yeah, we are going to zoom in a little bit on the role that HR can play in all of this. So Giselle, perhaps a bit of an open door, but still, I think the first question here would be, should HR be entering the metaverse? I mean, yes, I know that we are in a way, we’re already in the metaverse, but, you know, first question, probably yes. Should they actually be entering it?

Giselle Mota: I would say yes. Because a lot of those organizations on the marketing brand side are already trying to create stores or, you know, different consumer experiences in these Metaverse spaces. I can list up so many big brands that are already in these. So why not then allow people to work in those places, to socialize in those places, to learn in those spaces? So yeah, I think they should.

Neelie Verlinden: Nice. And how do you see the role of HR when it comes to, more specifically, bringing more inclusion and access to web 3.0 and Metaverse spaces?

Giselle Mota: Yeah, HR has a unique perspective of knowing what people want and need, how they utilize HR processes, and experiences and HR technology. So you can take that in and say, Hey, in web 2.0, there’re web guidelines that organizations always get kind of into legal issues, etc, every year because it’s not as accessible. So HR could stand up and say, Let’s tap into how we need to think about, and just always raise their hand and say, Hey, we have some people that need accessibility options. They need perhaps like captions, they’re going to need maybe a transcription or somebody doing sign language, or they’re going to need audio opportunities to experience so we have to think broadly. And I think HR can always raise their hand and bring that to the table, as technologists are creating these experiences or investing in platforms that will do that.

Neelie Verlinden: Have you already come across organizations that are doing this very well already, Giselle?

Giselle Mota: I will say, you know what? Not really, to be honest, not really, because it’s so new, and organizations are just starting to get into it from the consumer side. As always, everything always starts with the consumer. Right? How do we mark it? How do we sell and then finally, 

some technology experience will come to the internal HR processes, so I have yet to see it.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah. But I think what is very exciting about this is that, I mean, obviously, there are two sides to it, as always. So I think there’s a dark side about the Metaverse, and then there’s also like a very, let’s call it, the bright side of it. Let’s start with the bright side now. It could really provide a massive opportunity here to build communities and also workplaces that really have this belonging and there’s inclusion, right? So I’m wondering, I guess here, how can HR really harness the Metaverse to make that inclusion real and tangible? I know a little bit about the future now but I mean, at the same time, why not? You know, because we both are. 

Giselle Mota: Yeah, why not? That’s what I do. I’m a futurist. All right. I think there are a couple of ways. So one of them is immersive experiences. So, you know, when you’re trying to train an employee on something, a concept, whether it’s Hey, everyone, we need to take inclusion training, or this is how we do XYZ process. It’s better sometimes to immerse someone in an experience where they can know that lived experience or feel it or, you know, have that moment. So in a Metaverse space, you can create simulations, you can create different interaction points, and there’s not this like barrier of physicality. So let’s say that I want to work alongside an individual who’s across the globe from me, right? I can do that in this space. We can collaborate, and I can have a simulated object that we’re both working on at the same time through a mixed reality where they probably have the physical asset in their hands. I’m seeing the digital version of it, and we’re both working on it together at the same time in a Metaverse space, a digital environment space, you can create like learnings and training. I know a lot of people are working hybrid now. And maybe even some organizations have gone fully remote. So we miss that human interaction in a lot of cases. And again, if you’re separated by distance or because of issues like remote work or hybrid work, you can still join and like network and have a happy hour or something where you’re getting together, not on a Zoom call but maybe something more like an immersive experience in the metaverse. So there’re a lot of ways from learning to onboarding, to training to working actually on projects together, so doing work in the metaverse. In fact, I believe the Subway restaurant chain has created a virtual store where they actually have a real employee making cryptocurrencies by making virtual sandwiches as an experiences the metaverse. No, I don’t know how we’re gonna eat a virtual sandwich, but it’s a thing. So yeah, those things exist.

Neelie Verlinden: Okay. Nice. So imagine there are people in the audience listening are working in HR, which is very likely and they’re not there yet with their organization, but they would like to prepare themselves already, you know, to enter the metaverse at some point. Do you have any thoughts on how they could do that?

Giselle Mota: Yeah, there’re a few things. I will say YouTube is full of awesome and amazing resources, even for free, to learn definitions and to learn what platforms and things exist out there. That’s one I know that there are some courses even on LinkedIn already. I’ve been seeing people post courses around the metaverse in web 3.0. Kathy Hackle, she’s put out a book. She’s known as the Queen, or the godmother of the metaverse, and she has a book that recently came out about the metaverse, so you can check that out. I’m just dropping names and resources because there’s a lot out there right now. And I think apart from that, in general, it’s good for HR people to start learning a little about, like asking even your kids or other people you know, who are using things like Roblox, Minecraft, Sandbox. These are platforms on the metaverse that are even sometimes using web 3.0 and cryptocurrencies and things like that to function. So just ask the kids. Basically, you’ll start to get a little understanding.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, nice. Thank you for that. Now we are actually getting to the part of the podcast where I get to ask my guests about what they believe is the biggest cliche about HR, first of all, so that’s one for you.

Giselle Mota: That’s fine. You know, what irks me a little bit is one that I don’t like we hear so many times, organizations will say, Human Resources and humans are the main resource or our asset, but I feel like first of all, the word the term itself is a little strange, because if you think about human resources, like even when HR started is kind of like this process of taking people and making them function as parts, like cogs in the part of a process to get like to an end result of an assembly line. And I think too often, people are seen as resources. And then I feel like so many organizations use this cliche about humans, you know, in the resource, but they lack the follow through of treating people like humans, or they’re humans like people. So I think it’s like, let’s get away from the cliche, and actually put some action behind our words and treat people. Well. That’s it. So I’m off my soapbox. 

Neelie Verlinden: Now, that’s a nice one at the end about the word Human Resources. Actually quite funny that you say that because we had a guest on the podcast not too long ago. And she said that they had a joke in the company. She was actually working on the people team where they said that every time you say HR somewhere in the world, a puppy dice, so they made a point of not saying HR but people team. So yeah. For puppies, all right. And then Giselle, we always ask our guests if they want to share an epic win, and an epic fail with us. And this can be anything. So some we had personal stories, we also had professional successes and failures, it can be anything you would like to share.

Giselle Mota: All right, this is fine. An epic fail. I will say when I was in college in my undergraduate degree, my parents, they were immigrants to the United States. So everything that they built, they built from the ground up, and they wanted to give me an opportunity with some money that they had collected over the years, like they wanted to give me an opportunity to be like an entrepreneur, I showed them that I wanted to do business, I went to business school, like, it looks promising. So they invested some money in me to do this. I don’t know what, like 20, 21, 22 years old over here, you know, for the first time with the money to do my own business. Ah, I can’t tell that was the worst experience, but a good learning experience, too. So it failed miserably. I will say that. So I don’t have one of those stories of like, I went out at 21 years old, became an entrepreneur and was successful. It’s not like I failed. But in doing so like, around that time the market crashed, the global market crash, especially in the United States, I think goes around, I won’t date myself not to date myself. So but yes, I also feel hope, if that answers the question.

Neelie Verlinden: Yes, it does, definitely. And then they also have an epic win.

Giselle Mota: You know, honestly, if I look back, I touched on it earlier, but like, the past couple of years was awakening for me personally on so many levels. And it really made me stand up beyond like, you know how sometimes even underrepresented people, a lot of times they almost feel like they have something to prove. Sometimes in certain organizations and certain processes, we are striving a lot. We strive to make it, we strive to succeed, we strive to prove that we belong, etc. Something came over me over the past couple years that I was like, no more of that. I’m never going to do that again. And that’s not going to be my mentality. And I’m actually going to uplift other people with the work that I do. And thus, this project, you know, different work that I’m doing and involved in and my attitude in life. And so that’s been my biggest win so far.

Neelie Verlinden: Wow. Yeah, that’s a beautiful one. And I can definitely see that you’re inspiring other people with the work that you do, and you’re inspiring me already. And we’re only having a conversation for the podcast. So I think and then really my final question, Giselle, is what is next for the NFTY collective?

Giselle Mota: Okay, so right now we have been launching because July is Disability Pride Month. So we’ve been launching and releasing all of the avatars with the people who inspire them. So we’ll be putting that on social media across LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, all the month of July next. From that we’re going to be pushing and continuing to work with technology providers to partner with them and collaborate on all types of experiences. So the mission is not just this artwork. The mission and the big goal is let’s use these digital identities of people with disabilities in games and movie productions, in, you know, co-branding efforts and training and learning and development. And wherever we can, we’re going to do that. So even if anybody’s listening out in this audience, and they want to connect with us, because you have an opportunity to embed what we’re doing into some kind of project. Let’s do it. And that’s where we are. We will infiltrate the world of web 3.0 and Metaverse with people with disabilities. And that’s what it’s all about.

Neelie Verlinden: Oh, wow. And so where can people best reach out to you then, Giselle?

Giselle Mota: LinkedIn, I’m always there so people can reach out there, and then the project itself we have a presence there, but also Instagram is one of them. For some reason, people are flocking there to kind of look at the content, and on Instagram we are NFTY.official. 

Neelie Verlinden: Thank you. And then, thank you very much for this conversation.

Giselle Mota: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. It’s been so nice. Thank you.

Neelie Verlinden:It has been thank you so much. And thank you everybody for tuning in to today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And as always, don’t forget subscribe to the channel, hit that notification bell, and share this episode with a friend. See you very soon for another episode of All About HR.

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