Any leading employer can tell you about the importance of being “tech savvy.” From desktop software to smart phones providing employees the technology they need is key to business success. However, not all employers understand the importance of making that technology accessible to all of their workers.
My agency, the Office of Disability Employment Policy, is deeply invested in the issue of accessible technology. Why? Because the development and adoption of accessible, universally designed technology is critical to ensuring that people with disabilities succeed at work and deliver for their employers. Think about it – could you do your job if it wasn’t possible to read your emails? If you can’t access the tools and technologies you need to perform your job, your productivity suffers. So it’s easy to understand why inaccessible technology can be a major barrier to employment.
ODEP’s Accessible Technology in the Workplace Initiative has long explored policies that will advance the development and adoption of accessible, interoperable and usable workplace technology. We want technology to include. And this year, we are building on our previous work to educate employers, individuals with disabilities and other key audiences.
Last month, we told you about the Labor Department’s Disability Employment App Challenge. I want to remind you that the deadline for entry is August 23 and fast approaching. The challenge is to use publicly available information, resources and data to build a technology tool that promotes the employment of people with disabilities. Remember, there are cash prizes, including a grand prize of $5,000.
We’re also proud of AT Works – ODEP’s current series of free webcasts, webinars and podcasts that explore the connection between accessible technology and the employment of people with disabilities. Our next AT Works event, scheduled for 2 p.m. EST on August 16th, is a webcast and panel discussion titled “Accessibility and Emerging Technology – Keys to Improving the Employment of People with Disabilities.” Panelists will include Jim Tobias, President of Inclusive Technologies, and Vint Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google. I hope you’ll tune in.
In addition, we’ve partnered with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on a variety of accessible technology activities, including the Developing with Accessibility (DevAcc) event on September 6-7. Hosted by FCC’s Accessibility and Innovation Initiative, DevAcc is designed to spur unprecedented collaboration on accessibility among developers from industry, consumer and government sectors.
All of these efforts are helping to redefine the concept of “tech savvy.” It’s not enough to make employees with disabilities find “bolt-on” solutions to make their technology usable. We want universal design to be the norm, not the exception. We want accessibility to be discussed from the start, not as an afterthought. And we want businesses to recognize the value of having a comprehensive plan for ensuring an accessible workplace from a technology perspective. Such strategies make great business sense, empowering employers to fully tap into the talent and skills of ALL Americans.
Kathy Martinez is Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy.