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NDEAM 2020: Building a Future That Works

This October is the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which happens to fall in the same year as we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. To celebrate, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) held a virtual event this week focused on increasing access and opportunity through accessible technology.

Accessible technology is key to advancing the employment success of people with disabilities and delivering on the promise inherent in the ADA. As our workplaces continue to evolve and advance, we know that new, emerging technologies will play an increasingly central role in how we get to work and how we perform on the job.

During the event, we explored some of those exciting innovations with technology thought leaders, disability advocates, and experts in accessibility, transportation, and emerging technologies. Watch the full program:

 

Some key takeaways from the event include:

  • Having an “accessibility for all” mindset in technology development – known as universal design – is essential and is increasingly starting to take hold.
  • It’s important to have accessibility baked into a product right from the beginning. For example, I used to use an external microphone to power my computer’s voice-to-text capability, but now, that software is built right into my laptop and my smartphone.
  • Artificial intelligence has the potential to increase access to the workplace by eliminating potential bias in traditional job screening tools and methods, which have often been inaccessible for individuals with certain disabilities.
  • Autonomous vehicles will be a game-changer for people with disabilities who cannot drive – but only if they are accessible.
  • More employers are recognizing the skills of neurodiverse individuals and putting in place proactive hiring practices and electronic tools designed to tap into this talent pool.

Through ODEP’s Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology and related efforts, we help employers understand the importance of implementing workplace technology that works for everyone, and teach companies how to build and buy accessible products. Because viewed in a certain light, all technologies are assistive. We’re at a moment of imagining possibilities to improve workplace inclusion for people with disabilities — for example, to cease designing around the idea of the “average” person to instead focus on usability by all.

In this milestone year, the discussion this week was a great reminder of why increasing access and opportunity will be so critical over the next few decades. Success will take ongoing collaboration between tech industry leaders, entrepreneurs, academics, advocates, government leaders, and others. By working together, we can build a future that works for all Americans.

To learn more about ODEP’s accessible technology efforts, please visit https://peatworks.org.

Jennifer Sheehy is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

 

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