Technology as a Tool of Inclusion

by Kathy Martinez on March 20, 2013 · 8 comments

Technology is a powerful thing.  When applied to how we work and play, it has the ability to optimize, accelerate and transform. Innovations that come to the market universally designed allow all of us to benefit immediately. But when those same tools − such as software, computers, online applications and mobile devices − are not accessible, they exclude key segments of the population, negatively impacting some people’s employability and opportunities for career advancement. 

Kathy Martinez tests accessible software

ODEP's Kathy Martinez tests equipment at the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference with a vendor from information technology company Devis, Feb. 28, 2013.

As a long time user of assistive technology, I’ve watched this conundrum play out time and time again.  I’ve experienced the frustration of technology that is not accessible; but, on the flip side, I’ve seen how accessible technology can empower all of us to excel and fully participate – at work and in life.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking about the state of disability employment in America and accessible technology’s potential to enhance workplace inclusion at the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, hosted by the California State University of Northridge (known as CSUN).  I shared how my agency, the Office of Disability Employment Policy, is establishing a Accessible Technology Action Center to address the regrettable shortage of universally designed technology in the workplace.

I also spoke about the exciting new ways my agency is harnessing technology to transform the nature of federal policy development itself. For instance, ODEP has created an online, collaborative workspace called ePolicyWorks, which empowers national experts to work with us to shape policy and address specific barriers to employment faced by people with disabilities, including inaccessible technology. 

We’ve also been exploring the power of Web-based crowdsourcing tools and online dialogues to save costs and expand the range of input we receive on various issues.  In the process, we’ve been able to test the functionality of these tools, and then work with their creators to improve the accessibility and usability of the tools’ features.  This work is already paying off, with ODEP planning to roll out a new template through ePolicyWorks that our partners can use to host accessible and inclusive online dialogues.  

In addition, ODEP is working closely with the General Services Administration to tackle accessibility issues related to social media content, including creating a toolkit related to this issue. We are actively seeking suggestions for making “tweets” and other social media posts accessible.  To share your ideas and learn more, visit HowTo.gov/Social-Media.

All of our initiatives have something in common:  proactive engagement with the technology community.  Instead of waiting around to see whether technology manufacturers build accessible collaboration and workplace technology, we are providing them with tools they need to do so up front.  We are also testing the accessibility of their existing tools, and then working with their developers to troubleshoot their accessibility challenges. These companies seem ready and willing to make the needed improvements, and the results will speak for themselves:  new and improved accessible technology applications that can be used as tools for inclusion so that all users can participate. It’s a process I hope others will replicate.

Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anna Harris March 21, 2013 at 9:23 am

Today Innovative technology is a part of nearly every department providing benefits to all of us but if they are not accessible due to any reason, it affects the work heavily.

2 Teresa Leahey March 22, 2013 at 4:36 pm

I worked for Georgia VR as a vocational counselor with a general caseload in rural North Georgia. I work with individuals every day who lack basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills and cannot become employed or maintain employment because of these functional limitations. Yet, access to technology that would greatly improve their ability to learn new concepts is greatly lacking. Reading is a basic skill for employment and life, yet most of these individuals do not computers at home and if they did would not know what to do with them. I would love to see more access to teaching software through public libraries and especially in Georgia. Thank you.

3 Regalos Originales March 23, 2013 at 7:46 am

Really interesting. Thanks for the contribution.

4 Jez-Emprendedores March 28, 2013 at 10:04 am

Indeed, today we have to be updated digitally. In the workplace, not only excluded who do not have access to technologies, but who do not know to use them.

5 Anna Kitowska April 11, 2013 at 6:02 am

Providing people with tools and solutions seems to be the best and the fastest way to improve the accessibility of the technology. Good job!

6 Regalos de boda July 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm

I fully agree with what you said about how technology can enable and empower us to excel in life. It amazes me that things that we use on a daily basis now are so mundane and common, but if we look back just 5 years, they were very unusual. Same goes for items that we take for granted but we just couldnt live without and only notice them when they’re not there by an unexpected situation.

7 hacker un compte facebook July 24, 2013 at 11:30 am

It’s going to be finish of mine day, except before finish I am reading this enormous piece of writing to increase my knowledge.

8 Jordan August 24, 2014 at 10:41 pm

we’ve been able to test the functionality of these tools, and then work with their creators to improve the accessibility and usability of the tools’ features.

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