Over the past few years, I’ve often used this platform to discuss accessible technology and its impact on the employment of people with disabilities. From my vantage point, the connection between the two cannot be stressed enough, because when workplace technology is not accessible, it excludes.
When we are unable to perform basic job duties because we can’t access basic workplace tools, it limits our opportunity to thrive in our careers. Equally discouraging is when we are unable to compete for a position in the first place due to an inaccessible online job application.
When technologies are accessible to all users, they become powerful productivity enhancements for all workers. As a person who is blind — who relies on both assistive technology and accessible technology — I live and breathe this issue every day. Like so many others, I dream of the day when universally designed technologies are the norm and technology-related employment barriers become a thing of the past. And while I know this won’t happen overnight, I firmly believe that we can, and must, take steps toward a technology-accessible future, right now.
This concept of collaboration is a topic I’ll be exploring tomorrow when I address the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference sponsored by California State University of Northridge. It’s an event that attracts a trio of stakeholders who hold the key to tackling accessible technology barriers: employers, technology developers/providers and people with disabilities who use and rely on technology innovations.
Whether it’s crowdsourcing through virtual town hall meetings or convening action teams to tackle key issues, most of the Office of Disability Employment Policy‘s current efforts in the technology arena involve collaborative policymaking. A prime example is the online dialogue we’re hosting right now in partnership with the National Council on Disability. Designed to examine the role that social media plays in the lives of those of us with disabilities, this online event invites members of the public to submit their ideas, comments and votes on creative approaches to improving the usability of social media tools. I strongly encourage you to lend your voice to this important conversation by accessing the online dialogue between now and April 4.
And perhaps there is no better example of our engagement with technology stakeholders than the ODEP-funded Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology, which aims to advance the employment, retention and career advancement of people with disabilities through accessible technology. Its new Web portal, PEATworks.org, will feature many tools and opportunities for employers, technology providers and users to engage with us and each other on employment-related technology issues. You can visit PEATworks.org now to sign up for updates, and follow PEAT on Facebook and Twitter.
Like so many of our agency’s efforts, PEAT endeavors to spur dialogue, collaboration and action. So whether you’re a person with a disability, an employer, a technology provider or simply someone interested in shaping a more accessible future, now is your chance to engage and affect change. We hope you will join us. Working together, we can make the dream of a better, more accessible future — one that includes, rather than excludes — a reality.
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.