In July of 1990, the US Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), requiring schools and workplaces to make their facilities accessible to people living with disabilities. Sunish Gupta, SM ’12, thinks ADA compliance has improved conditions for countless people. But he also believes that investing in accessibility can be good for corporate profits.
“This isn’t just a top-line issue or a legal issue,” says Gupta, who has developed inclusion programs for a variety of corporations. “Companies can also improve their bottom line by making their products accessible. I call it blue investing—after the color of wheelchair-accessible signs.”
Born in Bihar, India, Gupta began his career as a semiconductor engineer. In 2001, when he was working in Silicon Valley, his vision began to fade. Soon he couldn’t discern whether the lines etched into electric semiconductor masks were parallel or not. Doctors diagnosed retinitis pigmentosa.
“My job at the time was very visual,” says Gupta, who holds undergraduate degrees in physics, mathematics, and education and a master’s in microelectronics. “I knew I would lose my sight—and that I needed to rethink my own trajectory.” That trajectory took him to a rehabilitation center in Oregon and then to Boston, where he worked with Ray Kurzweil ’72 on a portable version of the reading machine for the blind that Kurzweil invented in 1976. Desktop and app versions of the device are available today.
In 2008, Gupta enrolled in MIT’s System Design and Management master’s program. “My goal has been to bring mobile and cloud technology to the world of disabled people,” he says. “This program gave me a great platform to do that.”
Upon graduation—by which time he’d welcomed two daughters—Gupta focused on Easy Alliance, an accessibility consultancy he’d founded in 2009. He also consulted with small and large organizations including Microsoft and the World Bank to help them make their products and services accessible. “In many cases, companies were simply responding to lawsuits,” he recalls. “I believe these decisions should be driven by design and not by lawsuits.”
Gupta spent two years in Seattle with Amazon and moved back to Boston in 2021. He continues to focus on Easy Alliance and other consulting work.
“There are about 1 billion people living in the world with disabilities,” he says. “Companies are leaving a lot of money on the table when they don’t think about designing for them.”
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