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February/March 2010

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Managing

At Citigroup, Deloris K. Mathis is VP of ADA technology

Working on the cutting edge, she handles assistive technology for thousands of company employees with disabilities in a hundred countries


Deloris K. Mathis: “It’s wonderful that Citi is visionary about ADA and lets me do what I’m passionate about.”Capping an IT career that started in 1967, Deloris K. Mathis is VP of ADA technology at Citigroup (Louisville, KY). She loves her work of developing IT tools for employees with disabilities and making sure the company stays up to date with their needs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

She alone handles all technology for thousands of Citigroup employees with disabilities in a hundred countries. She’s been on the cutting edge of such initiatives, and even developed them herself, since the mid-1980s.

She was recently appointed by the governor of Kentucky to represent business and labor on the board and commissions of the state’s office for the blind rehab council.

Passionate about it
“I’m very passionate about what I do,” Mathis declares. “I feel as if everything I did in the past has led me to what I do today. It’s wonderful that Citi is visionary in doing ADA and lets me do what I’m passionate about.”

Citi’s ADA technology group was designed to help employees with disabilities worldwide, evaluating and even originating compliance efforts. Its work complies with the U.S. ADA and with similar laws in other countries.

Mathis lists some of her group’s main goals at Citi’s ADA: to research and identify software and hardware standards that apply to Citigroup, work with the application development group on existing and new developments in accessibility compliance, provide ongoing training to meet the needs of individuals, and work with people with disabilities who apply for jobs at Citigroup.

A variety of apps
“I have a lab in my office with a variety of apps from a variety of platforms from all different parts of Citi,” Mathis says. “We build and install whatever application is needed at the drop
of a hat.

“I keep up with the most predominant applications at Citi, and most of us know about the apps and can assist if need be.” Of course, her group works with the company’s medical accommodation team to make sure the right accommodation is used from the beginning.

Mathis spends a lot of her time communicating with HR people and the employees themselves all around the globe. She works with them via email, IM or phone. “Regardless of where they’re located, I will assist them,” she says.

She also interfaces with the application development people to be sure current and new employees can work with programs and external customers can use the ADA website.

Meeting many needs
Mathis’ group works to accommodate a variety of disabilities: dyslexia, Parkinson’s, paraplegia, low vision, blindness, color blindness, and partial or complete hearing loss. “We have a variety of hardware like special keyboards, mice and monitors. One of our ADA techies uses a wheelchair equipped with a Bluetooth headset and an onscreen keyboard,” Mathis says. She notes the increased use of neurostimulant technology for war-wounded veterans.

Starting out
As a kid, Mathis had a best friend with cerebral palsy. “I didn’t realize she had a disability. I knew she used a wheelchair, of course, but in my nine-year-old brain, I thought she rated a chair with wheels as a special treat because her family had money!” She notes sadly that her friend never went to college, partly because most colleges back then weren’t equipped to accommodate students with severe disabilities.

Mathis herself went to Jefferson Community College (Louisville, KY), but dropped out due to lack of funds. She got a job at Shoppers Charge Services (Louisville, KY), entering credit card information in the unwieldy computer system of that era.

“They were all mainframes with CRTs. There were huge rolls of magnetic tape and we would keypunch payments and credit card sales as they came in,” Mathis says. In 1967, when she started working, there weren’t many women in management. But by the time she left she had worked up to credit manager.

On to ops manager
After a year’s stint as a high school basketball coach, Mathis moved to Liberty National Bank as ops manager in 1971. At the time, Master Charge (now MasterCard) was an East Coast credit card company and Visa was the West Coast company. The bank asked her to start a credit card portfolio with them.

In the beginning she was formally signed on as a file clerk because women could not be hired into management. In fact, in that era before equal credit opportunity women couldn’t even have credit cards in their own names, she says.

“When I wrote letters in connection with my work I had to use just my initials so no one would realize the letters were from a woman,” Mathis adds.

She learned from two mentors: Jack Shipman, who brought her into the credit card industry, and Richard Blaise, who was at the ops center and taught her about mainframes and the credit card processor.

Regional manager and on
In 1985 Mathis became regional technology manager at Discover Card (Deerfield, IL). This
was where she had her first chance to develop accessibility technology.

Discover was owned by Sears and spun off into SPS (Sears Payment Systems, Layton, UT), where Mathis was field IT/facility manager from 1991 to 1999. The ADA became law in 1990.

Mathis moved up to field IT manager for Sears Credit Cards (Louisville, KY) with a staff of IT support specialists across three states, and also managed a national support team for ADA hardware/software covering all Sears locations, including retail and distribution centers.

In 2003 Sears Credit Cards was purchased by Citi, and relocated to a new facility. Mathis became a desktop technician responsible for 2,000 desktop computers. But the Citi applications were not compatible with the assistive technology that visually impaired users from the Sears side needed.

On her own time, Mathis researched and developed a desktop configuration that worked with the Citi applications. As word of her success spread, other Citi sites and businesses asked for her help.

Eventually, with the support of management, Mathis segued to do ADA technology fulltime for Citi, first in its North America Information Technology ADA group and now for Citigroup Architecture and Engineering. “ADA was a niche that I carved out for myself, but it’s now completely supported by the company,” she says. She can’t imagine doing any other work.

“Not only do I have a job that’s truly fulfilling in the day, but I feel wonderful when I go home at night!”

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