Meet Dustin Snowadzky, AAPD/Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies Fellow

January 24, 2019 | Dustin Snowadzky, AAPD/Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies Fellow

Greetings! My name is Dustin Snowadzky and I am excited to join The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) as the first Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies Fellow.

The purpose of the Fellowship is to lead a national legislative initiative and facilitate collaboration among AAPD stakeholders and local and state disability inclusive emergency management coalitions, emergency management personnel and other stakeholders.

My Fellowship was established to advance legislative and community organizing initiatives affecting disaster impacted individuals with disabilities and emergency preparedness. I am focusing on the use of technology to maximize nationwide engagement towards passage and implementation of disability inclusive emergency management legislative initiatives.

My overall goal is to contribute to AAPD’s partnerships with disability organizations and other stakeholders committed to equal access to emergency and disaster services and programs for people with disabilities — before, during, and after disasters

I am joining AAPD for six months after two years as the Chief Technology Officer for the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies. The Partnership was originally formed by Paul Timmons, Board Chair of Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies. For those of you that know my mother, Marcie Roth, or my sister, Jessa Steinbeck (now Specht), you know that I’ve been involved with the disability rights movement since I was born. Jessa was Helena Berger’s and Andy Imparato’s Administrative Assistant at AAPD almost 20 years ago, so my Fellowship at AAPD is, in many ways, among family.

While at the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies I was the organizational lead for rapid and sustained national emergency response and recovery, providing technical assistance in support of federally declared disasters. I created and implemented internal and external tools for web and electronic support in disaster response. This included leading rapid development and deployment of technology solutions including a disaster hotline, information collection, distribution and management, community engagement, including Section 508 electronic and web accessibility compliance, management of medical supplies and durable medical equipment collection and distribution database, volunteer recruitment, training and organizational troubleshooting, and solutions for complex technology problems.

Another passion of mine is in game design. I have worked as a quality control technician and my college degree is in computer gaming and simulation. Last year, I was part of a team that won a national contest for designing and developing an educational game (with climate change as a theme) in 48 hours.

I am excited to bring some of my game design skills to AAPD and plan to work on a game that will be very educational and informative for emergency preparedness. I am engaged to a wonderful and very talented artist who is the Office Manager for the Partnership. Jessica and I will be married in a botanical garden in Juneau, Alaska next September.

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.


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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 – August 2017

September 13, 2017 | Chris Corsi, AAPD Intern

On Wednesday, August 23rd AAPD hosted the August Technology forum, a space where leaders from the technology industry can collaborate with leaders from the disability community to advance accessibility in current technology and set the path for future advances in the tech industry to pave the way for a more accessible future. The August forum brought technology representatives from Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, IBM, CTIA, and others, as well as disability representatives from the National Council on Independent Living, United Spinal Association, the National Association of the Deaf, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Hearing Loss Association of America, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, and others.

The meeting in August functioned as a planning session to inform the focus of the AAPD Technology Forum’s work moving forward. While a broad range of issues were discussed, the meeting hoped to tackle and address two central questions:

  1. What are some of the issues that are currently facing the disability community and how is technology currently hindering or helping to overcome those?
  2. What future advances in technology will affect the way people with disabilities live, and how can we ensure that individuals with disabilities are included in these advancements?

Below is a brief summary of the topics discussed during this meeting.

A question was raised as to whether technology might be able to supplant the lack of support supplied to individuals needing Personal Care Assistants (PCAs). This is a vital resource for many, demand for which is expected to rise 37% in the next 5 years. However, the Disability Equality Index, a joint initiative of AAPD and the US Business Leadership Network to measure the disability inclusion policies and practices of participating companies, shows that only 8% of companies offer PCAs as an accommodation. The future of robotics and mobility devices may offer more affordable options for businesses. A paper published in the Journal of Intelligent Robots and Systems presents research focused on developing applications to assist individuals with dressing.

Advancements in speech-to-text have created new avenues of accessibility for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHOH) individuals. For example, it is being considered that the same technology that allows someone to voice-type a text message could be used in an airplane to transcribe what the pilot is saying to Deaf passengers. While this is a good idea for future advancement, it was noted that many DHOH individuals currently do not trust speech to text technologies. The current transcriptions on YouTube videos by Google’s automatic speech recognition often have numerous substantial errors. Working to improve speech-to-text technology can reduce these mistakes and improve accessibility for the DHOH community. IBM’s Watson’s speech recognition can recognize different speakers in a conversation, breaking down barriers in multi-person communications. Many newer artificial intelligence (AI) personal assistant devices are not accessible as well, as they focus on text-to-speech and listening. For instance, Alexa and Google Home require activation and interaction through voice.

Additional issues were raised from the cognitive community in the advancement of “simple language,” particularly within online platforms and personalization of all technology. Although great strides have been made during recent years, advancements in technology have remained stagnate for the cognitive community. As machine learning continues to gain traction, the technology industry needs to ensure it is inclusive of all people with disabilities.

Access to basic household appliances is still an issue for some in the blind community. For example, certain laundry machines might be better adapted for blind individuals if they were equipped with text-to-speech. Motivating businesses working within the world of IoT (Internet of Things) to increase accessibility could improve this area, especially considering that blind and low-vision individuals comprise 2% of the population.

One of the most pressing issues facing people with disabilities across the spectrum of disability is the digital divide. While 81% of adults without disabilities use the internet, only 54% of adults with disabilities use the internet. Of those, 69% of adults without disabilities have broadband at home, compared to only 41% of adults with disabilities. This divide contributes to the economic oppression of people with disabilities and keeps people with disabilities from being as connected as they should be to the world around them. As Congress has begun discussing the idea of a new wireless infrastructure bill, this creates an opportunity to advocate to lawmakers the needs of discreet populations. For example, when 5G rolls out, how will advocates be sure this technology is delivered to rural areas and people with disabilities, as well as urban areas?

Looking forward to the future of technology, the August Forum also discussed mobility as it relates to self-driving cars. As cars become more autonomous, drivers will transition from the roles of “operators” to that of “riders,” and this will greatly benefit individuals with disabilities who may not currently be able to drive, but would be permitted to in a fully autonomous vehicle. The Forum hopes to ensure that people with disabilities are not left out of this transition (perhaps by states arguing there must be a cognitive requirement to be the primary rider in an autonomous vehicle). Ridesharing also presents its own challenges. Blind individuals have reported being passed over when they order an Uber or LYFT. There have also been issues where people with service animals are being denied service because the driver will not permit them, even though in 2016 it became Uber policy that drivers must allow service animals. While there are still issues in many areas for wheelchair users obtaining service, Uber has begun to roll out UberWAV (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles) in a number of metropolitan areas. These advancements increase the accessibility of current rideshare technology and sets the path for the future of ridesharing development as it becomes increasingly autonomous.

Wayfinding has been another topic of discussion regarding one’s ability to be independently mobile. Perhaps an autonomous vehicle drops someone off who is blind or otherwise has trouble with navigation a block or two away from their desired location; how can they find their way to their desired path? Ideas with augmented reality were discussed, which overlays virtual landscapes over the visual field in order to change (or augment) the way we experience the world. This could provide new ways of wayfinding that are more useful and accurate than GPS.

One step, among many, advocates can take to improve accessible transportation would be to ensure that the future Hyperloop (a proposed mode of transportation that would travel at 670 mph across long distances) offers accessibility features. While this seems like a faraway phenomenon, Tesla is currently testing pods for production, and we could see the first Hyperloop in the next five to ten years.


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Chris Corsi is the fall 2017 AAPD In-House Intern. He is a senior at the University of North Carolina.

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.


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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!


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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.

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


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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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