by Debra Ruh, Chief Marketing Officer
Mary Jean Smith is the Vice President of Public Sector for SSB BART Group. Over the past two decades she has been involved with accessibility and disability issues including employment, Section 504 and section 508. As a clinical social worker, she has worked directly with state and county job programs supporting the employment of persons with disabilities.
In 1997 Mary was involved in the formation of Bartimaeus Group, a company focused on accessibility solutions. In her capacity of Vice President she helped to shape the company mission which included hiring a technical and sales staff of persons with disabilities. In 2005 Bartimaeus Group joined forces with SSB Technologies from San Francisco and today is the SSB BART Group. SSB BART Group provides risk management for section 508 compliance, including testing, audits, remediation and training, as well as section 504 accommodation solutions and JAWS Scripting. One of their areas of expertise that is directly linked to increasing jobs for persons with disabilities is making call centers accessible.
Today, Mary is in charge of sales and sales development for the east coast and federal government, building relationships and networks to support business development. She represents SSB at conferences through presentations and exhibits, and develops partnerships and liaisons with companies, nonprofits and national consumer groups. Mary contributes to the development of the accessibility market space by serving on committees and participating in organizations.
Mary knows first-hand the tremendous amount of talent that is available and the corporate benefit of hiring people from the disability labor pool. Over the years, she has participated in focus groups, and grant funded projects that explored the best practices of companies with successful programs employing persons with disabilities.
At an early age, Mary knew she wanted to help people. She decided to be an inspirational writer at the tender age of 6. When she was 16 years she wanted to be a theologian and a teacher. When she was 26 years old, she decided that she could achieve all her goals by becoming a mental health therapist.
Mary has always loved people and is fascinated with their struggles and victories. She feels she has always been a social worker at heart. She believes in the ability of people to create and recreate themselves, and as she approaches 60 she is still inspired and humbled by the courage and strength that people bring to life.
The field of accessibility was a perfect match for her, and as she looks back it is with gratitude for everything she has gained from the people in this field that she has had the opportunity to interact with.
Mary grew up in Edina Minnesota and attended the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul where she graduated in 1973 and met her now ex-husband, Glenn. At the time they were married, her husband had Retinitis Pigmentosa, and was losing his peripheral vision. Although he still had some useable vision back then, there were increasing challenges as he lost that usable vision.
In the late 1970’s with two young sons in tow, her family moved to Washington DC for a job opportunity for her husband. Not too long after that he was let go by his company because he could no longer drive. Their life started changing in a big way at that point so Mary went back to graduate school to become a mental health therapist. She got her MSW degree from VCU in 1994 so that she could help support the family.
Meanwhile, as her husband traveled his journey of learning to cope without vision, he started to use assistive technologies, and he eventually began training other people with vision loss how to use the technology. Eventually, he had more clients than he could handle and felt there was a need for a larger company that would specialize in selling assistive technologies with a training component. Mary and Glenn felt that people with disabilities should have the same kind of options in technology as people without disabilities and they should have a place that they could go to look at them and try them out. They decided to become that resource, so Mary quit her job as a therapist and in 1997 Bartimaeus Group was born.
Bartimaeus Group was a dealer representative of about a dozen assistive technologies and did section 504 accommodations for people working in both the government and private sectors. It was an exciting time for assistive technology and personal computers and she had the pleasure to work with pioneers in the field like Ted Henter, Jim Fruchterman and Dean Blaizie. Her belief was that they could create access solutions for people with disabilities by persons with disabilities. All of the staff they hired had a college degree, were technology professionals and had a disability.
Mary made the decision in 2005 to merge BART Group with SSB Technologies. That decision brought two companies together that have been highly compatible and grown to be a strong leader in the market space. She is just as excited today about the work that she does as she was the day she visualized a company. She has seen tremendous positive change over the past 15 years and this year as SSB BART Group brought TecAccess into the fold, feels she is still doing what she set out to do in the beginning—create access solutions.
This past year she was part of the ATIA CODE groups and she is passionate about being part of the formation of a professional society for accessibility professionals and a certification process to validate the profession.
Her two boys are now grown and in their 30’s, she has three granddaughters, and Bart, her yellow lab, comes to the office with her every day. She loves to travel and being around water, and is interested in a variety of sports. She owned several horses over the years and competed in local hunter shows, but now she is more likely to be found hiking, swimming or playing a game of tennis.
She is proud to be part of this industry and community. Her life has been a blessing for many reasons but her work in this field has been a big part. She looks forward to working in this community and industry and seeing how we can all work together to assure ICT is fully accessible and people with disabilities are included in every aspect of society.