Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Google Used a Black, Deaf Worker to Tout Its Diversity. Now She’s Suing for Discrimination

Hall says when she has access to an interpreter, they are rotated throughout the week, forcing her to repeatedly explain some technical concepts. “Google is going the cheap route,” Hall claims, saying her interpreters in university were more literate in tech jargon.

Kathy Kaufman, director of coordinating services at DSPA, says it pays above market rates, dedicates a small pool to each company so the vocabulary becomes familiar, hires tech specialists, and trains those who are not. Kaufman also declined to confirm that Google is a client or comment on its policies.

Google’s Hawkins says that the company is trying to make improvements. Google’s accommodations team is currently seeking employees to join a new working group to smooth over policies and procedures related to disabilities.

Beside Hall’s concerns, Deaf workers over the past two years have complained about Google’s plans—shelved, for now—to switch away from DSPA without providing assurances that a new interpreter provider would be better, according to a former Google employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect their job prospects. Blind employees have had the human guides they rely on excluded from internal systems due to confidentiality concerns in recent years, and they have long complained that key internal tools, like a widely used assignment tracker, are incompatible with screen readers, according to a second former employee.

Advocates for disabled workers try to hold out hope but are discouraged. “The premise that everyone deserves a shot at every role rests on the company doing whatever it takes to provide accommodations,” says Stephanie Parker, a former senior strategist at YouTube who helped Hall navigate the Google bureaucracy. “From my experience with Google, there is a pretty glaring lack of commitment to accessibility.”

Not Recorded

Hall has been left to watch as colleagues hired alongside her as content moderators got promoted. More than three years after joining Google, she remains a level 2 employee on its internal ranking, defined as someone who receives significant oversight from a manager, making her ineligible for Google peer support and retention programs. Internal data shows that most L2 employees reach L3 within three years.

Last August, Hall started her own community, the Black Googler Network Deaf Alliance, teaching its members sign language and sharing videos and articles about the Black Deaf community. “This is still a hearing world, and the Deaf and hearing have to come together,” she says.

On the responsible AI team, Hall has been compiling research that would help people at Google working on AI services such as virtual assistants understand how to make them accessible to the Black Deaf community. She personally recruited 20 Black Deaf users to discuss their views on the future of technology for about 90 minutes in exchange for up to $100 each; Google, which reported nearly $74 billion in profit last year, would only pay for 13. The project was further derailed by an unexpected flaw in Google Meet, the company’s video chat service.

Hall’s first interview was with someone who is Deaf and Blind. The 90-minute call, which included two interpreters to help her and the subject converse, went well. But when Hall pulled up the recording to begin putting together her report, it was almost entirely blank. Only when Hall’s interpreter spoke did the video include any visuals. The signing between everyone on the call was missing, preventing her from fully transcribing the interview. It turned out that Google Meet doesn’t record video of people who aren’t vocalizing, even when their microphones are unmuted.

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