Technology Forum – March 2017

March 23, 2017

AT&T, an AAPD Technology Forum partner, hosted the March 2017 meeting of the Technology “Tech” Forum. During this month’s meeting, Jeff Weiland, Head of Accessibility Engineering for Facebook, and Larry Goldberg, Accessible Media Expert for Yahoo, facilitated a discussion on data and the disability experience, specifically on how gathering better data and building data-sets on the needs people with disabilities can drive innovation.


Building Better Data-sets around the Needs of People with Disabilities

Jeff Weiland, Facebook & Larry Goldberg, Yahoo!

Larry stated that Yahoo! is heavily involved around accessibility – they are working on ways to collect data to determine who is and who is not using accessible services. As of now, their research doesn’t take a deep dive on specifically what types of accessible services people are using (voice over, high contrast, magnification, etc.), but Yahoo! wants to learn how to get access to better information on what services are utilized more frequently by their users.

Jeff mentioned that he recently attended the California State University, Northridge (CSUN) conference where presenter Tim Springer, CEO of SSB Bart posed two relevant questions to this discussion: 1) Who are our users in the dimensions of accessibility and disability? 2) What are the most important accessibility issues that our users face? Facebook wants to be data-driven and able to use information to make well-informed decisions and create better products. Many technology companies have these natural questions about the communities we are trying to serve.  How can our companies be more effective and efficient in producing our products? What are the best ways to collect this information? Where does the data live and how can we access it?

Ultimately, Larry and Jeff suspect that customers other than those with disabilities are using accessibility features. As these businesses devote resources to making services and products accessible, it is important to understand who is using accessibility features and how they can continue to enhance the overall experience. As the population of the United States ages and the preferences for data input and output change, it is critical to understand how the accessibility features are being used. Additional market and other types of research are needed to build the business case that accessibility is a benefit to potentially all customers using technology.


Additional Concerns

Along with accessibility, the group briefly discussed data sharing to foreshadow a future meeting of the tech forum. Issues raised were:

If an individual is using a screen reader to interact with an employer’s online job profile or application and finds that it is inaccessible to screen readers, is the individual opening themselves up to potential discrimination? Is there a way for companies to screen for applicants using accessible technology?

Privacy concerns are always paramount. There are both legal protections and industry standards around any kind of data collection, and that would certainly hold in the aforementioned scenario. There are also protections mandated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). If data is going to be used for purposes other than for the original exchange, it must be de-identified to ensure privacy.


Moving Forward on the use of Accessibility Features:

Next steps to consider:

  • Advocacy organizations are in a good position to support efforts to make the business case that accessibility benefits others than those with disabilities. The AAPD Technology Forum will pull together a task force of disability rights organizations to delve deeper into these issues. Thus far ANCOR, the American Council of the Blind, the National Association of the Deaf, the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology, and the National Council on Independent Living have agreed to join;
  • Begin drafting and framing our messaging to appeal to the broader audience that includes users who do not consider themselves a person with a disability and individuals who use these accessible features for convenience;
  • Access research on the workforce and people with disabilities – surveys like the American Community Survey (ACS) and government entities have research and statistics on people with disabilities and the workforce.


Next Meeting

The April meeting of the Technology Forum will focus ride sharing and autonomous vehicles. Stay tuned for the next update!


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The AAPD Technology Forum serves as a strategic meeting of national disability advocacy organizations and representatives from the technology industry with a mission to holistically drive and accelerate innovations to advance the interests of underrepresented groups. The accessibility of various technologies, devices, and applications continues to be an essential part of the forum’s deliberations.

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