In the 25 years since the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we have lived through a technological revolution. We have seen technology empower people with disabilities in all aspects of life. This is especially true in the workplace, as the tremendous advance of technology has been the great equalizer for people with disabilities who are employees or job seekers. The department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy has focused on promoting universal design in information technology, and on increasing the availability of accessible technology for use in the workplace.
But technology isn’t just important at work; it’s essential to getting to work. The best employment program is of little help if people cannot access reliable, independent and affordable transportation. The recent innovation in wayfinding and other technologies has greatly enhanced the ability of millions of Americans with mobility challenges to get to and from their jobs − but we aren’t done yet.
Our colleagues at the Department of Transportation recently created an exciting new program known as the Accessible Transportation Technology Research Initiative, known as ATTRI. ATTRI focuses on research to improve the mobility of people with disabilities through the use of intelligent transportation, such as driverless cars and wearable technology for pedestrians.
to gather new and innovative ideas to help transform the future of transportation, particularly as it relates to employment, ODEP and ATTRI are currently co-hosting an online dialogue focused on the future generation of accessible transportation solutions. We would love to hear your ideas! Register for the dialogue at TransportationInnovationChallenge.ePolicyWorks.org/.
We’ll also be co-hosting a Twitter chat on Monday, Feb. 1, from 2-3 p.m. ET to discuss the current state of accessible transportation, accessible transportation experiences and what improvements must be made. Use the hashtag #ePWchat to join.
And on Tuesday, Feb. 2, from 1-2:30 p.m. ET, DOT will host a public webinar on accessible transportation technologies, including a discussion of the upcoming State of the Practice and Innovation reports as well as the Assessment of Relevant Research, which will include recommendations regarding key opportunities on emerging technologies. To register, please visit http://www.itsa.org/attristateofthepracticewebinar.
This initiative is going to help people like a Labor Department employee named Diana, who has cerebral palsy. Diana is smart, analytical and incredibly efficient, but her disability limits her mobility and dexterity. Like most of us, Diana’s workplace productivity is dependent upon technology, but even a short memo would take her hours to put together on a regular keyboard. Give her a typical telephone, and an important caller would likely hang up before she could answer it.
But with voice-activated software and hands-free telephones – both modest investments – such difficulties have become a thing of the past for her. That is increasingly becoming the case for her transportation needs, as well. She depends on real-time alerts to let her know when there is an elevator outage at her metro stop; she takes advantage of automated, multi-modal trip planning when she needs to leave town for business-related trips; and she uses GPS technology to get to local work meetings. Diana, of course, benefits from the technology, but – just as importantly – so do we as her employer.
As a nation, we have to recognize that there are tens of thousands of Dianas out there, but many are still not able to get to work and be productive there because the technology simply doesn’t exist yet. That’s why we need you. We are proud to partner with DOT to advance the role of technology in the employment of people with disabilities.
Jennifer Sheehy is the deputy assistant secretary for disability employment policy