Episode 156 – Unstoppable Best Buddy with Garett Tomasek

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Our guest this episode is Garett Tomasek. Garett describes himself as an “advocate for the disability community, specifically working directly with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities”. In our time together we discussed his involvement and commitment to an international program called Best Buddies. This program promotes especially inclusion for the community of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Even so, what Garett and the Best Buddies family does, of course, directly effects so many outside the community served by Best Buddies.
Garett will spend much of our time together discussing his experiences with raising awareness of disabilities through Best Buddies. Today he chairs the Young Leaders Council for Best Buddies. Clearly as you will see Garett is a leader young or not. He is definitely a fierce and unstoppable advocate and I hope you will enjoy and appreciate what he has to say.
There is more to Garett than his involvement in Best Buddies. I will let him tell you all about his lifestyle and how he lives his absolutely positive life.
About the Guest:
Garett Tomasek advocates for the disability community, specifically working directly with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). He studied Economics at Texas A&M University and works for an insurance company as a Business Analyst. Born and raised in Texas, he lived a traditional life, with one sibling and two loving parents. Living in the South, he had to learn about self-acceptance quickly as he struggled to accept being gay. The social isolation of not knowing who to trust he felt ostracized at times. Feeling different at times allowed him to connect to his peers who have an IDD, as they often shared the idea of just wanting to be accepted. 
As a Board of Directors and Chair of the Young Leaders Council (YLC) at Best Buddies International, accessibility has become his driving passion. Best Buddies International “is the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).” The YLC is an international council of participants working collaboratively on special interest initiatives to further the organization’s impact.
He is a champion for online and event accessibility, educating organizations on the missed economic opportunities when they choose not to have inclusive universal accessible practices.
Ways to connect with Milam:
LinkedIn: Garett Tomasek, link to LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gtomasek/ 
Instagram: _garett_tomasek, link to Instagram profile: https://www.instagram.com/_garett_tomasek/
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
accessiBe Links
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Transcription Notes
 Michael Hingson ** 00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i  capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson ** 01:20
Hi, once again, and welcome to unstoppable mindset where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. I love that anyway, today we get to talk with Garrett Tomasek, who deals a lot with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He’s got a degree from Texas a&m University. And I’m not going to give you all the details because it’s kind of more fun to hear it from him. So Garrett, welcome to unstoppable mindset. We’re really glad you’re here.
Garrett Tomasek ** 01:48
Well, thank you so much for having me. And it’s a pleasure to be here.
Michael Hingson ** 01:52
Well, why don’t we start by you telling us maybe just a little bit about you kind of as a younger Garrett going through school, or any of that kind of stuff that you think is relevant and how you got kind of a little bit, at least where you are today.
Garrett Tomasek ** 02:07
Yeah. So I like had mentioned I am a recent graduate of Texas a&m university, I got a BS in economics. I was born and raised in North Houston, Texas, and I have two amazing parents and wonderful sister about four years younger than me. But growing up, I kind of found best buddies in high school. But sophomore year, and a friend had mentioned it to me, and I should kind of come to an event and it was an unbelievable, surreal experience. But growing up, I struggle a lot with my self identity and acceptance of being gay. And that’s I think, where I kind of gravitated towards Best Buddies and a sense of wanting this sense of self acceptance. And I really struggled a lot with that. So having society I guess, wanting to accept me, I think gravitated me to best buddies and a sense of relating to other individuals with an ID of just wanting to be accepted. And finding Best Buddies is a fantastic organization just dedicated to inclusion and opportunity. And it’s just been a fantastic experience since and I’m currently now a chair of the Young Leaders Council, which is a council of 24 different people across the country and two people from Canada as well. And I’m a board of director for the organization as well.
Michael Hingson ** 03:47
Tell me a little bit more about Best Buddies what it is, and we’d love to know more about how you got how you gravitated to it. But I’d love to learn more about the whole nature of Best Buddies, if you would, please.
Garrett Tomasek ** 03:58
Oh, yeah, it is a really, really cool organization. We are the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending that social, physical and economic isolation individuals with an intellectual and developmental disability face or an IDD. We’re all across the United States. We’re in 43 different countries and we have our four main pillars, friendship, leadership, integrated employment and inclusive living. We started off in our friendship program. That’s how we got founded back in 1989. And ever since we’ve grown to this global mission and just spreading inclusion all over the world and all over the country and it is a fantastic experience. And the three different four different pillars. It’s the friendship pillar. So that’s basically one to one friendships between a person with and without an IDD. And that can be from college. Each to elementary and we even have citizens and a buddy. So we try to make inclusion on all platforms in all arenas. And we have a leadership development, which is basically our ambassador program, training individuals with an add on how to self advocate, which is very important and honestly a really hard skill to learn of public speaking. And we have integrated employment in forming employers the importance of hiring people with a disability, and honestly the cost savings that they can achieve when hiring a person with an IDD. And our newest program, which is kind of my favorite now, which is inclusive living and it’s kind of really conceptualizes all aspects of life. And it allows an individual with an IDD to live independently. So they can have an inclusive life of friends and have a job and now live independently. I’m all aspects that are very important and really, really cool and very impactful.
Michael Hingson ** 06:08
So how does it work? What kinds of things do you do to not only promote a lot more inclusion, and equality? But But how does? How do the programs work? Or what kinds of things do you specifically do?
Garrett Tomasek ** 06:22
So our friendship pillar is mainly in schools. So an example can be like a chapter. So my school that I just graduated from, from Texas a&m, we had a chapter and the way the chapters usually are set up is, at the beginning of the year, the chapter will pair individuals with an add in individuals without an add into a friendship. And they hang out several times a month, the chapter hosts different events. For everyone that is a member to hang out and have fun, they’ll do like different dances and stuff. But mainly as a promotion aspect. It’s just social media, word of mouth, and everyone just kind of talking about the impact that they have on themselves. Best Buddies has really helped me self discover myself, and really pushed me to be a better person and a better leader. And it’s just a fantastic opportunity.
Michael Hingson ** 07:28
What kinds of things do you do in terms of helping, like with employment and so on? I’d love to hear some stories about that.
Garrett Tomasek ** 07:38
Oh, yeah, it’s very impactful. So for example, there, I used to work at a grocery store in Texas called HEB. Wonderful grocery store, absolutely love it. And the way the program works with Best Buddies is that we partnered with organizations or companies like HNB. And we kind of go in and we tell them like, Hey, this is our program. These are the opportunities that are there for you. So I’m a person with when you hire a person with an IDD there, have significantly less turnover rate than a person without a disability without an IDD. And we show them other amazing things that the individuals in our program have and the skills that they’re able to bring to the job and the individuals in our programs are paired up with a job coach, and the job coach goes to the job site, make sure that they have everything that they need advocates for any resources or support that they may need to be successful in their jobs. But Best Buddies is basically in that aspect, a support system to the person with an IDD so that they can be successful in that job. And over time, they kind of wean off and they kind of add in that support as needed. So that they can be successful and in their hopes and dreams. And we sit down with them and we set out Okay, so here are your goals are what are your goals, and then they go through and they make a path so that they can achieve those goals and set in achievable steps so that they can aspire to whatever they want to do in life.
Michael Hingson ** 09:27
What kind of reactions have you had from employers, not only at the beginning, when you’re approaching them and saying, Hey, let’s talk about this. But then later when they actually start having employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities, what what changes because I’m assuming things sort of change in their attitudes. Oh,
Garrett Tomasek ** 09:50
significantly. I think it’s almost like a company wide cultural shifts, honestly, because, at first I think it’s just a stereotype that individual with a disability are not effective, or they can’t do the job as successfully as a person without a disability, and showing them that this person can be successful, but not just successful can honestly do the job better than their peers at times and showing that there is a path forward. And it kind of spreads throughout the company. And a lot of times, individuals from those companies will come and volunteer with the organization and other events as well. But it really changes perspective on not just the individuals working directly with our participants at that company, but it spreads throughout the company, and it really makes a cultural change. And it really pushes the importance of diversity and inclusion at the at the workforce.
Michael Hingson ** 10:57
Do you find that people with disabilities, once they get a job and start to work somewhere, tend to stay longer, and don’t just go search for the next job?
Garrett Tomasek ** 11:10
Oh, for sure. I have had conversations with many of my friends who have an IDD and may start in a job and they talk about how they don’t like it and I tell them that you can leave that is that is an option for you, you don’t have to stick there that you can go search for another job that you can go do something else. But a lot of the times they feel so grateful and they enjoy the employer, they may not always enjoy the the hard work and the the mundane tasks at times, but who doesn’t. And but they feel very loyal to that employer because that the employer gave them that opportunity, an opportunity that many people don’t do and or many employers don’t jump out to do that. And so they feel very grateful. And so they don’t usually jump around. So they that’s why that that really low turnover rate. But it’s also very difficult for a person with a disability to get another job, specifically person with an IBD.
Michael Hingson ** 12:14
Well, not just especially it goes across all all lines of disabilities, it certainly has been true for persons with physical disabilities, we do recognize that if a company decides to be willing to hire us, and makes appropriate accommodations, which don’t necessarily have to be at all expensive or complicated. But the companies that decide to really include us, we’ll discover and do discover that not only can we do the job, but we will stay and oftentimes we can do it better. And that opens up the doors. And so I really liked the way you put that because it has been something that a number of studies have been conducted around. And it’s always been the case that people with disabilities who get jobs, recognize how hard it was to get the job in the first place. So we love it. And we’re going to be very loyal to the companies who are willing to hire us and bring us on board.
Garrett Tomasek ** 13:16
Oh, for sure. And it’s it’s really heartwarming, warming to hear and talk to my friends, when they get a job and the level of impact and just the overwhelming of emotions and feelings that they have when they are able to secure that employment so that they can be independent, and they can live the life that they are have just dreamed of. And not the dream that they’ve not just the life that they dreamed up but a life that they’ve been told that they can’t achieve. And they are proving everyone wrong. And it is it is a really cool thing to hear when my friends are experiencing that.
Michael Hingson ** 14:06
This may not be a really magical question, but it still is worth asking. Do you find that the employers who catch on to this really become some of the strongest advocates on behalf of these employees and others?
Garrett Tomasek ** 14:20
Oh, for sure. Oh, for sure. And it spreads because they talk to their friends, they talk to their clients and they talk to people in their inner circles and it spreads it starts off with one employer and it starts and it spreads from there. i Yes.
Michael Hingson ** 14:38
Yeah. I mean, it’s in that’s the way it really ought to be that they catch on and then it gets to be a snowball rolling downhill and getting a lot more snow in other words that you get more people who become involved and it’s a it’s an increasing sort of thing, which is great. What kinds of jobs do you generally find that people are getting or does it go across As the board,
Garrett Tomasek ** 15:01
it honestly kind of really goes across the board. That’s what he does a really great job and sitting down one on one with our participants in our jobs program to highlight their excitement, their goals and what they want to do. And we’ve really tried to align them to that career so that they can be successful and that they enjoy the job that they’re doing. So it really kind of goes across the board and that aspect. So for example, I know, a couple of people in the chapter that I was in at a&m That worked at the grocery store, they were a bagger. I have a another friend that was at the information desk on campus, another friend that worked at the George HW Bush Museum and Library. So there’s a lot of different opportunities that are available. And it’s not just kind of like one job kind of thing.
Michael Hingson ** 16:07
Do you see that some of the people who go to work at a particular place like the George HW Bush Library, or the Information Center, and so on, that there is advancement, do they get promoted?
Garrett Tomasek ** 16:21
You know, that is an area that I think still has a barrier. And I think that is that next step and next arena for organizations, like Best Buddies, or advocates to continue to advocate and to show, hey, this person has been very successful, not just successful, but they are doing their job even more efficiently than the person that they just replaced, that they deserve to be promoted, and they should not be overlooked. It’s not always the case that they’re overlooked. But I do think that there is some seeing multiple instances in that way. Yeah.
Michael Hingson ** 16:59
Yeah. And that’s, of course, the next major step. And it makes perfect sense. I’ve seen that happen a lot that Oh, you do really well on this job. And yeah, there are other jobs, and there’s a promotion, but we really like you being where you are. And that’s, that’s an attitude that we really need to be able to break down as well. And, of course, the the reality is that a person has to be able to prove that they can take an advancement. But more often than not, I think people would be surprised if they just if they really gave people the chance that they could go up and do higher level kinds of jobs. It doesn’t have to be just one job fits all.
Garrett Tomasek ** 17:44
I completely agree.
Michael Hingson ** 17:47
Well, tell us more about you. Well, before we do that, well, let’s do that. Tell us more about you. So you got involved in Best Buddies in high school, you said right. How did you actually first discover them?
Garrett Tomasek ** 18:00
So I had a friend back in, I think it was my sophomore year of high school. And she had mentioned, hey, you should come check out best buddies. She didn’t do a great job on selling it, honestly, she just kind of said, Come on. It’s basically just a group of friends hanging out. And I was like, Well, I really involved in all these other organizations. And I don’t know if I really have time right now. And so I kind of pushed it off the can down the road. And eventually, I went to my first event and it was a Valentine’s Day dance. And it was like I stepped into a portal into another world, and you stepped into the room. And you just felt this overwhelming feeling of joy, as it was a party celebrating acceptance, inclusion. And it’s still something today that I struggle with, to put into words how impactful that that moment was on me. And after that event, I was hooked. And I joined the club and became heavily involved and just ran up the leadership pole as high as I can and got involved as much as I could and just trying to spread that mission and showing the possibilities that are within Best Buddies. And it was still, like I said, such an impactful event that really just changed my life.
Michael Hingson ** 19:36
So it’s all volunteer program for you. Yes, yeah. So you and you said you’re part of the Young Leaders Council now.
Garrett Tomasek ** 19:48
Yes. So after I got involved after that one event, I ended up being the the vice president of the chapter by that next year. At the beginning that night. next year and the year after that I became chapter president. That was during my senior year of high school, I started, Amr founded about nine different chapters in my area, a couple of different elementary, middle school and high school chapters, and won a couple of awards for my chapter, I want a couple of when won an award for chapter president and I was encouraged by the staff in Texas to apply for the Young Leaders Council. And that’s where I currently preside over and the Young Leaders Council is basically a council of different participants in the organization. And our job is basically to advocate the participant perspective to the staff, who run best buddies on a daily basis and show them hey, this is what’s rockin and rolling. And this is some areas that we could look further into. And we work a lot on special interests, so building different resources, doing little mini studies, and really kind of further developing the skills of the individuals on the council so that they can be more effective leaders in their communities. And when they go on past Best Buddies, or past the council, that they can make a stronger impact, whether that’s at their job or other organizations as well.
Michael Hingson ** 21:30
What are some of the major disabilities that you encounter and Best Buddies?
Garrett Tomasek ** 21:34
Um, it’s a wide range, zero palsy, Down syndrome. It’s, it’s a good wide range
Michael Hingson ** 21:44
of autism. Oh, yeah. So do you ever find or get involved with or advocate for any of the people with disabilities getting service animals to assist them? Do you ever have any involvement in that, um,
Garrett Tomasek ** 22:00
I don’t have any involvement in that I don’t actually know too many people that have a service animal that’s in Best Buddies, I think I’ve met maybe one or two, and they had a vision or hearing disability. But those were the only two people that I knew. And that was mainly I believe, I met them at our annual leadership conference. And that’s a really cool experience that one is, once a year, it’s at Indiana University. It’s basically representative from just about every chapter across the globe coming together for a long weekend. And those are the only two people that I’ve kind of met, I asked
Michael Hingson ** 22:40
the question only because I’ve been to places like Canine Companions for Independence, which is a school started up in Santa Rosa, California, but they have several campuses now. And among other things, they have trained service dogs to deal with people with autism and other kinds of disabilities. So it was just more of a curiosity as to whether you had encountered a lot of that. And of course, the reality is that most people, no matter what the so called disability is, don’t use a service animal, even with with guide dogs. Um, I think it’s probably well, it’s less than 10%. I think there are about 10,000 guide dog users in the United States. And there are a whole lot more blind people than that, but it was a question I was just kind of curious about. But it is a, it is an issue that, that sometimes people find animals can really help them a lot, which, which is a good thing. But again, it takes a fair amount to want to have that responsibility. And oftentimes, the person with a disability can’t necessarily handle the service animal on their own. So oftentimes, I think, with a number of the intellectual disabilities or developmental disabilities that that people have, when they train with an animal, somebody else who is going to be the person who will be with them, will also be involved in learning to use the dog and may actually do some of the actual dog handling with him for the person. So it’s, it’s, it’s a process all the way around. That is really cool.
Garrett Tomasek ** 24:19
Yeah, um, I know, at least at the my university, we had a pretty big program where students would train guide dogs, and that was really cool. We soon raised the puppies. Yeah. But they were they were already pretty fully grown, or at least they look fully grown. And they were mainly training them on campus who go on and off buses and it was always really cool. Seeing them go around campus and stuff, but, um, but I know that was a really big program at my university.
Michael Hingson ** 24:54
Yeah, I call them puppies because the until they actually go back to the school do the training. They’re considered in the hands of puppy raisers. And oh, technically, you could have a 15 month old puppy. Well, I have a seven year old guy dog who thinks he’s a puppy. But it is. But yeah, I’ve seen some colleges do that several years ago, I had the opportunity to go speak at Hartwick College in New York. And they have a, what they call it a puppy club on campus, from one of the guide dog schools, and they had several dogs on campus. And the school really accepted them, then the the job of the students who were involved was to raise the dogs to teach them basic skills. But what it also meant was when it came time for finals, anyone who needed a dog fix to calm down and be a little bit more ready for finals could have a dog visit their room and spend some time with them. So the dogs earn their own keep. Now, nothing like having a dog to help out when you’re getting ready for final I guess, I had my own dog. So I was spoiled in that regard. Well, you we found you or I found you through Sheldon Lewis. And I guess that’s is it best buddies that uses AccessiBe
we are in the process of furthering our partner with you guys. And one of the steps was to really kind of further our conversations and learn more about the impact with accessiBE. In fact, I actually had an internship with the insurance company over the summer, and actually pitch so at the in the summer, we had a pitch a product. And I wanted to do something with accessibility. And our team focused a lot with the digital aspects of our company. And so I discovered you guys, and I was like, look at this amazing company. And so I pitched to them, and they absolutely loved it. I don’t know where that how that process ended up going. But as for specifically with Best Buddies, we are in the process of further strengthening our relationship with accessiBe.
Michael Hingson ** 27:06
Well, that’s, that’s cool. So what do you do now so that you have an income to be able to support your best buddies habit?
Garrett Tomasek ** 27:13
There you go. So currently, I will. So the this past semester, I actually had three jobs. I was at the information desk on campus, it was like a student center. And I helped train different student workers was a job coach for a program for specifically for individuals with an IUD so they can get a higher education and a job at the end of four years. And I was also an undergrad teaching assistant. But post graduation, I’ll be working for that same insurance company that I internship over the summer. But as a business analyst, I believe my specific title is going to be associate product specialists. So I kind of like the title product specialists is kind of kind of cool.
Michael Hingson ** 28:01
Uh huh. So you work for an insurance company now? Yes. And what do you do? Um,
Garrett Tomasek ** 28:10
so we basically, um, I guess the best way to explain it is like we’re a project management team. So we kind of work with engineers to make our websites legal to make sure our websites are up to code up to standards, and we work with advisors to make sure the resources or the documents on there are accessible to them, how we can improve that for them. And are they honestly being used? We look at the data analytics as well into that,
Michael Hingson ** 28:46
not to try to cause any grief or anything but how does the insurance industry deal with or view persons with developmental or intellectual disabilities years ago, we had major problems with insurance companies when it came to insuring say blind people or other persons with physical disabilities. And it turns out that the insurance companies were erroneously assuming that we were a higher risk. And I suspect that probably intellectual and developmental disabilities fall under the the legislation that has passed but just curious, is that ever been an issue in the insurance world to your knowledge?
Garrett Tomasek ** 29:25
I’m not to my knowledge. I can’t speak on that. There is a lot of work to be done, just like in any area, but the specifically what I did over the summer, when I was working on my specific project, I worked a lot with advisors and I worked with a couple of specific advisors that have a vision disability, and how they told me the multiple loops and things means that they had to do just so that they can effectively read a document that they needed to do, so that they can be successful. And it was, when I had, I had multiple meetings with with them. And after I spoke with them, they were really high performers for the company. And they were still having to jump through all these hoops. So if we were able to make the process of, Hey, these are documents easier to them, for them to read and to understand, then they can spend more time on growing their business and growing the overall company. So that was a a unique and really cool experience for myself to learn more about the their life and the struggles that they go through, and so that I could be an advocate at corporate for them and advocate for better and more accessible tools and things for them.
Michael Hingson ** 31:04
I think the big challenge that we all tend to face is that companies in general haven’t recognized that it’s reasonable to say that part of the cost of doing business is providing full inclusion. You’re right, there are documents that oftentimes are not prepared in a way that make them accessible. Oftentimes, there are meetings and documents aren’t provided in advance so that people can research them. And the reality is, if companies would never do handouts at meetings, but provide them even a few hours in advance, it would be much better because if you hand out a document at a meeting, people have to read the document in order to talk about it, rather than giving people the documents and then saying your we’ll talk about this at the meeting and then really being able to deal with it. So there’s an advantage of doing that. But it goes even deeper, you know, people have coffee machines and other things at job sites that aren’t accessible, because they’re touchscreens, and things like that. And so the result is that some of us don’t have access to it. Yet, we provide lights so that all of you sighted people can get around in the dark or we provide other kinds of things. We provide computer monitors, but people have had problems even getting access to screen reading software. The reality is that inclusion should be part of the cost of doing business. And it’s so hard to get people to break down that barrier in their own mind. Oh for short,
Garrett Tomasek ** 32:44
and that’s basically the curb cut effect. That’s the idea that literally the cut in the curb for that ramp when you are out in public and different shopping centers and you have the concrete ramp up to the store. Not just individuals with a physical disability utilize that the a mom pushing their child in a stroller or dad pushing their child in a stroller or the the mailman with all these packages rolling up on that ramp that it makes society more efficient that these things that are, quote unquote accommodating for individuals with a disability really make everyone’s life easier. And it’s a beneficial to everyone, just like how you were saying.
Michael Hingson ** 33:35
Yeah, and one of the ones that amazes me the most. And I’m actually about to start on an adventure. So my attitude may upgrade. But one of the things that amazes me is that we have Android phones and iPhones very smart phones that to one degree or another and mostly talk. But I don’t see Apple for example, really promoting voiceover, the whole screen reader process as a powerful tool for drivers in vehicles to make a lot more of what a driver normally would look at a screen to see rather than using a phone that talks and letting things come through verbally so that they can keep their eyes more on the road. Now having said that, my adventure is my wife passed away this past November and we and she was in a wheelchair she’s been in chair her whole life and we had a 2017 van that was modified for her and we just sold that vehicle to to someone to actually to the company who originally provided it to us. But for me not being a driver which is okay because I think most people don’t do a very good job of driving from my observations are but be that as it may be I need to get a car so that if I need to get around, I don’t have to use somebody else’s vehicle, they can drive my vehicle and we don’t do wear and tear on their car. And I’m looking at getting new cars, a new vehicle, and it will be a whole lot less expensive than the wheelchair van was. And I’ll be interested to see if in like 2023 vehicles, voices have been and voice technology has been integrated more into the driver experience. And I don’t know the answer to that. But I was looking at a couple of vehicles this morning. And they say they’ve got voice recognition and other things. But I’d be curious to see if the voice output process has become a little bit more sophisticated. But my impression is, at least I don’t hear anybody talking about it, that not a lot has been done. To eliminate a drivers need to look at screens rather than using voice.
Garrett Tomasek ** 35:53
That is a really interesting observation. But first, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, I can’t imagine.
Michael Hingson ** 36:02
But she’s still around. And if I don’t behave, she’s gonna beat me up. So I’m.
Garrett Tomasek ** 36:08
But that is a really cool observation. I haven’t ever really thought about that. But I’ve really thought about the self automated self driving vehicles and how that’s really going to transform the landscape, they have a long way to go to make sure that the safety aspects are all there. But that’s really going to really transform so many lives. And it’s really going to level out a lot of the playing field when it comes to opportunities.
Michael Hingson ** 36:37
Well, in so many ways, right? Because if you truly have good operating safe, autonomous vehicles, the accident rates going to go way down. And yes, it’s going to help for people like me, if I want to just go out and get in the car and go somewhere, assuming again, the interfaces and the technology is there that allows me to do it, to be able to say, I want to go to the Costco and Victorville or be able to do that in some way. And that the technology is there to really let be input that. And that’s of course, part of the whole issue. If you get a Tesla vehicle, everything is touchscreen. And of course, they would say, well, we can do that, because there’s so much of the vehicle keeping in its own lane and monitoring itself that it that you can have the time to do that. And my response is balderdash. Because the reality is, you’re still looking at the screen, rather than keeping your eye on the road part of the time. And as a passenger, I can’t ever operate even a radio in a Tesla, because it’s all touchscreen. And it shouldn’t be that way because that clearly isn’t very inclusive. No, it’s
Garrett Tomasek ** 37:45
not. No, it’s not. But I’m, I’m optimistic. I’m very hopeful that as the technology advances for those automated vehicles that the car industries or Apple or phone industries really see that there’s a lot of opportunity for them that they are missing out on to make that technology more inclusive and available to all individuals no matter their ability. And I’m, I’m optimistic I think that if Apple or Android or Tesla or Ford, whoever it may be doesn’t make that I’m sure some engineer or entrepreneur will come along and see that opportunity and make that.
Michael Hingson ** 38:38
Well, the issue is that the technology is available to do all of that today. The problem is, the problem is selling both the manufacturers and to some degree the public on it. But I think that if people really start to look at it, they’re going to recognize how much greater a good experience a good driver experience it will create. And a much safer driver experience. I’m all in favor of autonomous vehicles, I really liked what Tesla’s doing in a lot of different ways. And I think that overall, they they do start to make driving safer, but they’re still missing out on a lot of stuff. And it isn’t just the driver experience that we have to take into account. It’s the passenger experience as well. But I agree with you, and I’m very hopeful that over time, we will find that people will, in reality, do the things that will truly make a driving experience and a passenger experience not only more enjoyable but safer. And the way to do that is to make sure that everybody has access. So it’s a it’s a process and it is a mindset shift all the way around. And that’s really what it comes down to. So it’s something that we’ll have to hopefully see happen and I have faith that people overall have common sense. So you know, I think We’ll, we’ll see how that goes. I think that’s the best thing. So, as an advocate, what’s, what are some of the challenges? Or what’s the biggest challenge that you face? And dealing with being an advocate? And how do you deal with it?
Garrett Tomasek ** 40:17
I’m educating others, and showing them the importance of inclusivity of accessibility. And it’s very easy to discuss these conversations with groups of individuals who are exposed or have direct relationships with individuals with a disability, it comes very difficult to individuals who don’t have those relationships or and it’s often very difficult to get through to educate them on that importance, and why it’s important, and a lot of people are very knee driven. And it’s kind of like, well, I don’t need that. So why do I need to focus on it, and it’s, you got to find and change your argument, depending on who you’re discussing with and what their individualize, I guess, priorities or view on life. So I guess the biggest difficulty is changing your argument, so that you’re able to get the advocacy or the goal accomplished, it may not be the perfect packaged message that you would have liked it to be packaged up as, but the goal is to get the move that needle to further improve access, improve accessibility, because if there’s not access inclusion can’t exist. And that’s, that’s the goal is to have universal access as much as we can. So that’s really the difficulty is knowing your audience and really knowing how to best package that message.
Michael Hingson ** 42:14
What is a typical roadblock that you find and face when you’re talking with someone about say hiring a person with an intellectual or developmental disability? What’s What’s the barrier that comes up,
Garrett Tomasek ** 42:27
um, I think just predispose ideas, that person with a disability can’t be successful in that role. And it’s not just the individuals who aren’t exposed or have relationships with other people with a disability or person with an IDD. But even parents, at times, have very similar parents with a child with an IDD have very similar ideas and thoughts because they were told one thing, they were told that their child can’t do certain things. But organizations such as excessive FBI or Best Buddies is changing that narrative and changing the landscape and literally pulling opportunities out of thin air. And it’s, it’s, um, yeah, it’s just it’s
Michael Hingson ** 43:23
how do you break down the barrier? What do you say that causes an aha moment and gets the person to realize, maybe I had it wrong.
Garrett Tomasek ** 43:31
I think just having that genuine conversation, making sure you’re not accusing anyone and making sure you are being as direct but open as possible and letting them know that they can ask any questions that they that they would like to ask that and letting them know that you may not message your question, the most appropriate way. But this is a safe space, and I’m here to help educate you on how to best talk about different identities or different groups. What is the most appropriate way of talking about a person with a disability or a person with an IDD and how to best package that I think a lot of people aren’t aware of that. And so they are nervous in that area. And so they just kind of avoid it at times at all costs, so that they don’t have to approach those things. But I think in forming individuals with who are able bodied, that the conversation that I’m having with them is a safe space that I’m here to educate them and I’m here to support them so that they can be more inclusive and have more accessible practices, and that they can be an advocate for others that them also understand Anything that this is not inclusion and accessibility is not a one man’s fight. This is a collective group that we need everyone and as many people as possible because we have to work together to make that change to change the world to change our countries to change our communities. And we need numbers, and we have to, we need everyone on board or as many people as we can on board.
Michael Hingson ** 45:26
Have you faced discrimination in your own life for any reasons?
Garrett Tomasek ** 45:30
Um, I don’t think I have personally but I have seen others who have, and it’s very difficult to, to witness that. And it’s hard as a friend to, to be there for that person. Because I don’t know what that’s like, I don’t know how they’re feeling. But I am here, I’m here to support them. And I’m here to help them in, get them through that situation. And it’s, unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of resources or support in our societies to defend against that, or the ones that are that are there, it’s very difficult to do that. Or to penalize the people who are discriminating. But I personally, I don’t believe I have, but I do know, I do have friends who have?
Michael Hingson ** 46:26
Well, I asked the question in, in part, because you said earlier that you were gay, and I didn’t know whether you had ever faced any discrimination or whether that’s ever come up for you? And I’m glad it hasn’t. It shouldn’t. But people are people, right. And so we always have challenges.
Garrett Tomasek ** 46:44
Oh, yeah. And that is part of who I am. And that is something that I have struggled with. But I have the opportunity and the ability to camouflage and society, I can dress a certain way. And I can act a certain way. And it makes it more difficult for people to I guess I label me and I guess discriminate against me. But that also is not truly authentic to who I am. And so I have that struggle on a daily basis. And that’s something that I, I have to Yeah, I have to face daily at times. Yeah,
Michael Hingson ** 47:31
it’s too bad that you even have to think about it, right? Because you are who you are. And there shouldn’t be a problem with that. And unfortunately, all too often, all too many people do think it’s a problem. And it’s it’s so unfortunate that we tend to be so judgmental at times.
Garrett Tomasek ** 47:51
Oh, for sure. And it was a growing up in the south and south of us that we have a very strong relation to religion, and I’m a big promoter of religion, I think it really helps people make meaning of things that don’t really make sense. So I really, I think, I promote religion. I’ve really liked it. But I think it at times has hindered people from being who they truly are. And it’s prevented me like you had said that I have to kind of second guess, the environments. I go into how I’m dressing how I act, how I talk. And it’s it’s frustrating at times, but I’m, I’m so fortunate to be in this situation I am because I do have that option. I do have that way that I guess that backdoor exit at times and not everyone has that, unfortunately. So.
Michael Hingson ** 49:05
Yeah. Well, I too, have a very deep belief in God and so on. And I believe in Christianity, but I also know that it’s amazing how many people decide to be judgmental, which goes absolutely against the teachings of Jesus and it it doesn’t matter what the Bible says about being gay or whatever word you want to use or not. The issue is it’s still a relationship between you and God and it’s not up to us to judge that and that’s where the problem comes in.
Garrett Tomasek ** 49:42
Oh, for sure. And that’s, um, I grew up a Lutheran all my life I went through confirmation and it because of certain groups and certain people at times and certain judge judgmental people. but it’s really affected my faith, it’s it’s affected my belief and religion and and it’s affected my relationship with the church or with God. And I’m and it’s just because of a couple of collective people unfortunately.
Michael Hingson ** 50:17
Well, the reality, of course is to really look at it, there are two different things, there’s a relationship with the church, and then it’s a relationship with God. And the church is really composed of people. They can say what they want, but there are so many times that the relationship with God becomes affected by the judgmental pneus of people, which is, which is too bad? Yeah. Well, if you were to give some advice to somebody starting out in the whole world of nonprofits, and so what kind of advice would you give to somebody starting out? And what would you suggest that they do? How would you help them move along in the process?
Garrett Tomasek ** 51:00
You know, I always hear this, and it’s maybe a cliche at this point, but write your y down and hold on to it revisit to it as much as you can. advocacy work is not easy. It’s not designed to be easy. That’s why you’re here. There’s a reason why you’re here. There’s a reason why you’re advocating for a specific reason or specific mission. But your y will be your anchor at times. And it’s oftentimes your last barrier, keeping you in the fight, you will get exhausted. Like I said, it’s not easy, but we need you the mission that you were fighting for, or that you were advocating for, needs you. And without you. We can’t make a difference. It’s a collective change. It can no one individual can can make that that change. So it’s a collective group and knowing your why and staying true to your why helps fuel your abilities of making that change and advocating for others and creating more inclusive, accessible environments.
Michael Hingson ** 52:18
I have been in the position of being a strong advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities for many years, I joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1972. And my story, in a sense is really similar to yours. When I was first approached, I had absolutely no interest in doing it. And finally, they kept calling and calling and I went to a meeting. And it took several meetings before I decided, well, maybe there’s something to be said for this. And I became involved with I’ve been doing it ever since. But you know, there are a lot of people who say, Well, I’m not really a fighter I support but I’m not really a fighter. What do you say to people like that?
Garrett Tomasek ** 52:59
Well, I think I’m I agree, I don’t I think fighting at times can come off very aggressive. Yeah.
Michael Hingson ** 53:06
And I don’t mean fighting in this. Yeah.
Garrett Tomasek ** 53:09
Yeah, I, I know what you mean. But I also know what and other people’s context. And I think it’s can come off as like, it’s too much work, or it’s too hard. But and people are busy, people are exhausted, they are going to work, they come home, and they repeat day in and day out. And at times, you feel like you don’t have time to go volunteer for a nonprofit, or you don’t have time to go advocate for others. But doing something small makes a huge difference. So whether that’s you devoting five minutes, to sending an email to your friends and family about an organization that you have found really passionate about, you’re making a difference because you’re spreading that mission, you’re spreading that that organization’s word, and you’re making that difference, it’s theirs doesn’t have to be you devoting hundreds of 1000s of hours for helping set up an event to fundraise a bunch of money. You don’t have to always donate a bunch of money. It’s whatever you can do is perfect. And there’s it’s your you’re part of moving that needle, you’re part of making that change. And whatever you can of that organization, whoever you devote that time and that effort to is and should be internally grateful for your, your support.
Michael Hingson ** 54:48
We’re all role models or can be and the reality is if you can live your life in a very positive way and don’t let people beat you down whether you’re doing all sorts of volunteer hours or not. The fact that you live your life, and we all can live our lives to a large degree on our own terms. And yes, sometimes things come along. But if we persevere and go through it, by definition, we’re helping move the needle, as you would say. What do organizations lose? Do you think when they don’t have accessibility or accessible priorities in their existence?
Garrett Tomasek ** 55:30
They’re losing opportunities. They’re, they’re taking on extra costs that they don’t need to be taking on. They’re not running their firm or organization as efficiently as they could. They are essentially discriminating against certain individuals, and they’re missing out on opportunities.
Michael Hingson ** 55:50
Yeah, no doubt about it. And they’re, they’re missing out on a whole segment of the population that they’ve never perhaps come in contact with, that could truly enrich their lives.
Garrett Tomasek ** 56:05
Oh, yeah. I mean, I believe I saw the number a couple of days ago, it puts the disability community at a purchase purchasing power globally, about $8 trillion. Just from a consumer, if I was a company, and I wanted as many people as possible to purchase my product, that’s a big purchasing power, that’s a big population that could be purchasing my product or packaging, packaging, my surfaces. Or that’s a big population that I should be hiring and be bringing into my workforce, so that I can make sure that I’m having an accessible or inclusive work and product and services.
Michael Hingson ** 56:49
The Center for Disease Control, says that 25%, roughly, of all people in the United States have some sort of disability, if you carry that across to places that don’t include accessibility, or make a welcoming environment for persons with disabilities, they’re losing out on 25% of their potential business. And the other side of that is or the other part of that is, and this is something that comes from a survey that was done by the Nielsen Company, the people who do all the ratings in 2016, where they said that people who have disabilities are extremely much more brand loyal to organizations that do provide inclusion and do welcome them in. So Oh, yeah, companies, some companies get it.
Garrett Tomasek ** 57:47
Oh, yeah, I mean, um, Pottery Barn, just recently released a, an accessible line of furniture and their furniture isn’t cheap. It’s really nice furniture. And it’s pretty pricey. But that is a role model of that industry of it starts with one company, and it moves on from there, and other companies start noticing that there is opportunity within this community that they are missing out on, and they adapt, and they change because if they don’t adapt and change, then they’re gonna, they’re not gonna be able to run efficiently and they’re losing out on opportunities to to be successful.
Michael Hingson ** 58:33
How do you involve inclusion and accessibility and these ideas you’re talking about in your daily just personal life,
Garrett Tomasek ** 58:43
advocacy at your work or in the day to day life? I mean, it can be as simple as, for example, at work, my previous job, when I was an undergrad, we had some renovations in our we had like, piano practice rooms that students could check out, and they were being renovated and usually or before they were being renovated. They were accessible to individuals with a physical disability, meaning that they there was a elevator, or a ramp that individuals with a disability could access to gain access to those practice rooms. But during the construction when they were remodeling, and they moved the piano rooms to an area that word was inaccessible. So work, I advocated and I told my employers, I said, Hey, this is no longer accessible. What are we going to do to change this or where what other opportunities can we create so that if a person that comes up to the dust that asked for a practice room, we are able to provide that to them and we’re not turning them away just because they have a disability and we ended up creating alternative opportunities. And we made a couple of rooms accessible so that they could practice if they, if a person with a disability came to the desk and wanted to use the practice room.
Michael Hingson ** 1:00:15
There you go. You’re, you’re putting in practice what you preach.
Garrett Tomasek ** 1:00:19
There you go. Yeah. And it’s it’s simple stuff like that. It’s, it’s just saying something. It’s, it’s advocating, because the the person that came up to the desk and asked for the practice room, use a mobility device, a wheelchair, and they I said, Give me one second, I have to ask my supervisor to unlock the other room. And they were ready just to walk away, because they thought it was going to be too difficult. But I was I informed them that like, no, no, it’s okay. It’s a super easy process will actually start showing you where the room is right away. And just saying something makes a huge difference.
Michael Hingson ** 1:01:05
Yeah. That makes perfect sense. Yeah. Well, tell me if people want to contact you or learn more about Best Buddies, or remember more about you and just learn more about accessibility in general, how can they do that?
Well, you can find me on LinkedIn, or Instagram, most social media, you can search my name, it’s G A R E T T  T O M A S E K, , on LinkedIn, and Instagram. But for Best Buddies, we are in all social media platforms. So you just type in Best Buddies. B E S T  B U D D I E S.org. That’s our website. Or you just type in our name into any social media platform. And you can follow us we have a bunch of different newsletters that we send out monthly, the national or international headquarters office sends out information all the time on ways to get involved and learn more on the different things that we’re making, the impact that we’re making on the IDD community. But if you want to get involved in your local community or your local area, go to that same website, best buddies.org. You can search for the state or city that you’re in, and you can contact your office, you can sign up for their local newsletter, and they will tell you all the different ways for you to get involved. If you want to get involved in a Chapter, a citizen program, however you want to be involved, we would love to have you there. We want you to be a part of the mission of making the universal accessible worlds and make inclusion a reality for everyone.
Michael Hingson ** 1:02:49
And, you know, that’s as good as it gets. And you talked earlier about your challenge of as people become involved becoming good speakers, you certainly have demonstrated that you can be a good speaker at this.
Garrett Tomasek ** 1:03:00
Well, thank you so much. Well, I
want to thank you for being with us today. And I want to thank you for listening. hope that you’ve enjoyed this and you’ve learned a lot. Reach out to Garrett reach out to Best Buddies learn a little bit more about the whole idea of inclusion and accessibility. Of course, you can listen to other episodes of unstoppable mindset and learn that as well. I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to Michaelhi M i c h e l h i accessibe A C C E S S I  B E.com. Love to hear from you. You can also go to our podcast web page www dot Michael hingson M I C H A E L H I N G S O N .com/podcast. And we’d love to hear your thoughts and we’d love it. If you listen to more of the podcasts. If you haven’t, we do want to hear your thoughts. We do want to hear your opinions, we value them very highly. And I would ask that if you would please do so please give us a five star rating wherever you’re listening to the podcast. We really appreciate your ratings. And of course, we would like to have those great five star ratings whenever possible. So thank you again for being here with us today on unstoppable mindset. And Garrett especially you thank you very much for being here. And we’ll have to do this and talk some more in the future.
Garrett Tomasek ** 1:04:16
I would love it. Thank you so much for having me.
**Michael Hingson ** 1:04:23
You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit www.accessibe.com. accessiBe is spelled a c c e s s i b e. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.

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