Technology Forum – June 2018

The June 2018 meeting of the AAPD Tech Forum was held at AT&T, where IBM gave an insightful presentation on AI and data. Here, a future was outlined, not of where computers replace humans through Artificial Intelligence, but where we work together with technology through Augmented Intelligence. Humans and computers have different skillsets and by utilizing each other’s strengths, there can be further innovation.

In 2011, IBM debuted Watson, a computer that competed and won on the show Jeopardy! Now, they are using that same technology to advance fields such as medicine with Watson Health. As a computer, Watson can read through medical journals and clinical trials, and help identify new genetic indicators of diseases and pharmaceutical options better and faster than humans can. By then providing this information to doctors and researchers, humans and computers can work together to have a better outcome for patients.

The forum also discussed the issue of underrepresentation of the disability community in the data used for programs such as AI. IBM utilizes human-centered design solutions, a process of working directly with consumers in order to leverage their experiences and perspectives. By preventing the use of biased data, AI can learn and make decisions that include the viewpoints of all. Conversely, the data the disability community provides may help create ideas and technologies that can benefit everyone, disabled or not.

This forum was an opportunity to see where AI and technology are going in the healthcare sphere, and the incredible work companies like IBM are doing.


* * *

The AAPD Technology Forum, comprised of individuals from the disability community and tech industry, works to advance access to technology to increase the opportunities and independence of all people with disabilities. The September Technology Forum will focus on the “open internet” and telecommunications policy.

Technology Forum – May 2017

May 18, 2017 | Anthony Stephens

This week, on the eve of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, disability advocates and technology leaders joined in a tour of Local Motors office in National Harbor, Maryland. Just down the Potomac from our nation’s capital, advocates and innovators experience the future of transportation, and there was a sense of optimism amongst our group as we listened to IBM’s Watson greet them from inside a scaled down version of the fully autonomous shuttle named Olli.

The name of the revolutionary vehicle comes from the Italian word for Octopus, a nod given from the vehicle’s creator, who pitched the idea to Local Motors after a global crowd-sourcing competition. The vehicle, debuted in National Harbor last summer, was not just revolutionary by being the world’s first cognitively aware fully autonomous shuttle, but using Local Motors innovative 3D printing micro manufacturing model, it was able to go from design to final production in only three months.

Working with IBM and the CTA Foundation, Local Motors is moving forward toward making the next generation of Olli to be the world’s most accessible vehicle in the world. And leveraging their innovative tactics toward design and manufacturing, concepts that once seemed science fiction are becoming reality at a speed similar to that on the Autobahn.

One of the greatest barriers to independence for people with disabilities has been accessible transportation. In the same breath, one of the greatest barrier busters for independence of people with disabilities has been the recent innovations through technology to augment the loss of particular abilities. This is what makes the Olli vehicle so promising for those looking to innovate in a way that can push the envelope for true universal design.

Last year, I had the opportunity to serve on the Department of Transportation’s negotiated rulemaking committee for the Air Carrier Access Act, where advocates and airline industry leaders got together to find ways to make air travel more accessible. The experience was a complete eye-opener (pardon the pun) on the constraints that traditional manufacturing place on innovation around universal design. Trying to make a Boeing 737 fully accessible was like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around on a dime. Of course, Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV) have much fewer constraints than jet aircraft. However, Local Motors demonstrated the process by which a traditional highway vehicle with 2500 parts could be supplanted by a 3D printer in under 44 hours with just 44 parts.

Local Motors achieves its success around innovation using concepts still being developed through the intersection of crowd-sourcing and micro-manufacturing. This method turns traditional manufacturing constraints up-side-down, breaking down barriers to what was often tethered to costly R&D. Such changes in the paradigm of manufacturing holds significant opportunities in the sphere of accessible design.

It’s in this same spirit that Local Motors, IBM, and CTA Foundation are reaching out to accessibility minded groups, in hopes to create a vehicle that can be accessible to everyone. It might not be a car that can fly, but it has the potential of being a vehicle that communicates in multiple mediums including ASL, can tell blind passengers which way to the front door, have self-releasing ramps for wheel chairs, send messages to family members on the travel status of their loved ones with cognitive disabilities, or any other accessibility feature that you can dare to dream. Indeed, that’s where the biggest challenge will lay – not in what we refuse to do, but in what we refuse to imagine.

Click here to learn more about Olli’s pathway toward full universal design.


* * *

Anthony Stephens, an AAPD Technology Forum participant, is the Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs for the American Council of the Blind, a leading grassroots consumer organization for people who are blind and visually impaired in Washington, DC. You can follow him on Twitter @StopThatOr.

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.

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!


* * *

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.

Technology Forum – February 2017

5G and People with Disabilities

February 16, 2017

Verizon, an AAPD Technology Forum partner, hosted the February 2017 meeting of the Technology “Tech” Forum and gave a presentation of the company’s interest in promoting 5G – the next generation of wireless communication. The topic for discussion at the Tech Forum meeting was the future of wireless. Participates focused on how wireless service could facilitate way-finding for people with disabilities navigating an unfamiliar landscape as they go about their day – taking meetings for work, shopping for groceries, or simply trying to find the right theater inside the local multiplex. The advocacy groups challenged companies working on the future of wireless to address these and other barriers people with disabilities encounter.


Uses for 5G Explained in 101 Seconds


The National Science Foundation announced last summer that it will lead a $400 million, seven year initiative to support fundamental wireless research and to develop platforms for advanced wireless research in support of the White House’s Advanced Wireless Research Initiative. The Advanced Wireless Research Initiative will sustain United States leadership in wireless communications and technology, which have become vital to our economic growth and development.

There is a great opportunity here for the development of a public-private partnership between industry and consumer groups to conduct research on how to address barriers to navigation that people with disabilities encounter.


Additional Resources and Information on 5G


* * *

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.

Our Sponsors