by Kim Charlson
On Nov. 7th, I had the opportunity to join Eric Bridges and Tony Stephens at the White House and participate in a summit on inclusive technology for people with disabilities sponsored by the White House Office of Engagement. Technological advancements with the potential to increase the independence and community integration of people with disabilities are moving at breakneck speed. New connected devices, which become part of the Internet of Things, are being brought to the market every day. The White House Disability and Inclusive Technology Summit brought together disability advocates, technology industry representatives, and federal officials to examine approaches to ensure that the Internet of Things is accessible and that inclusive design is central to tech development along the way.
Speakers included Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy and Senior Advisor for Science, Technology and Innovation, White House Office of Science and Technology, Policy and National Economic Council; and Daniel Castro, Vice President of the Information Technology Innovation Foundation and Director of the Center for Data Innovation. Panel topics included: Disability Inclusion in the Internet of Things; Creating an Environment to Promote Accessibility; Promoting Innovation in Assistive Technology & Prosthetics; Embedding Accessibility in STEM Education; and Building Relationships Between Industry and the Disability Community.
ACB Executive Director Eric Bridges spoke on the panel that discussed Creating an Environment to Promote Accessibility with Karen Peltz-Strauss, Deputy Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau at the Federal Communications Commission, and Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft. ACB has a strong working relationship with the FCC and with Microsoft to advance accessibility for people who are blind surrounding technology. It was clear that advocates and industry recognize the important role ACB plays in the technology accessibility arena.
One of the areas discussed that I believe will impact accessibility at a systematic level is the concept of embedding accessibility in STEM education. Larry Goldberg, Director of Accessible Media at Yahoo!, is one of the major leaders of the Teach Access initiative.
The Teach Access Project brings technology companies, academia, and advocates together to make accessibility a part of STEM education at the high-school and college levels. Until we begin to teach the next generation of designers, computer programmers, engineers and researchers to think and build inclusive products and software, we will continue to make access an afterthought. Similarly, academic programs in design, engineering and human-centered interface must seek ways to better prepare students to address the needs of diverse populations, including people with all types of disabilities. To make access fundamental at the design level, we must begin teaching and training students of technology to create accessible experiences at the design level of a project. Industry has recognized that the success of acquiring staff at all levels with the right skill sets in accessibility relies on a technical workforce familiar with and trained on the fundamentals of designing, developing, testing and proliferating accessible technologies, including the common standards and specifications and alternative interfaces used by people with disabilities. These skills should be spread throughout engineering, development and design positions, not just those dedicated full-time to accessibility.
It will take some time, but I believe the rewards are already being demonstrated in industry. The more students learn about accessibility, the more brain power will be dedicated to access issues across the board within technology companies. Sometimes, this broader educational effort will turn to advocates to speak to classes of students working on projects. I would urge you to take advantage of opportunities to speak with students about the accessibility needs of people who are blind or visually impaired, because the amazing solutions to our access challenges will come from these minds. Take the time to encourage and stimulate the intellectual curiosity of students in the area of access. It will be worth the effort for the future. To learn more about the Teach Access Project, visit teachaccess.org.