White House Disability and Inclusive Technology Summit

December 20, 2016 | Fiona McFarland

On November 7th 2016, the White House and AAPD co-hosted a Disability and Inclusive Technology Summit at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC. The Summit convened representatives of the technology industry, disability advocates, and federal officials. Moreover, the Summit connected a diverse group of speakers who shared their experiences and ideas to catalyze technology inclusiveness and accessibility.

The Summit began with opening remarks from Andrew Coy, Megan Smith, and Tom Kalil. Coy, the Senior Advisor for Making in the White House, explained how the Nation of Makers initiative, connects opportunities to more people by convening the makers community at local Maker spaces and at Maker Fairs.

The “Maker Movement” or “Maker Culture” is a technology-based extension of DIY (do it yourself) culture where individuals (or groups of individuals) create and market products that are recreated and assembled using unused, discarded, or broken electronic, plastic, silicon or other raw materials and/or products from computer-related devices.

As such, the Makers Movement “allows for the production and the creation of solutions to be more democratized.” For example, Coy described how Nova Labs collaborated with an international organization called Tom Global to run a hackathon focused on individuals with disabilities. This hackathon was different because it involved people with disabilities to participate in making inclusive technology alongside programmers and designers.

Smith, the United States Chief Technology Officer, mirrored Coy’s optimistic tone on the future of inclusive technology. Smith explained that innovations in technology should be seen as an opportunity for everyone – including people with disabilities – so long as we “get everyone in the room, everyone capable, everyone confident…in bringing their passion and skills to any given topic,” such as inclusive technology.

Lastly, Kalil, the Deputy Director for Policy and Senior Advisor for Science, Technology and Innovation at the White House, spoke of his role during the Clinton Administration to support the web content accessibility initiative. In order to achieve the goals of the initiative, he collaborated with the disability community, the National Science Foundation, leading IT companies, and others. Overall, the opening remarks highlighted the importance of all individuals participating and all industries working together to create inclusive technology.

The Keynote Address was delivered by Daniel Castro, the Vice President of the Information Technology Innovation Foundation and Director of the Center for Data Innovation. Castro’s speech focused on the “Internet of Things” (IoT) and its potential role in advancing technology inclusiveness. The Internet of Things is the inter-networking of devices that are embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity, which enables the devices to collect and exchange data. Castro identified health, safety, independence, and convenience as the four main areas in which the Internet of Things can empower the disability community. By acknowledging the value that all industries have in developing inclusive technology, Castro’s keynote address inspired collaboration.

Following the opening remarks and keynote address were five panels that focused on specific areas within the topic of inclusive technology.


Disability Inclusion in the Internet of Things

Axel Leblois – Moderator
President and Executive Director
The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs

John Godfrey
Senior Vice President of Public Policy
Samsung Electronics America

Peter Korn
Accessibility Architect

Christian Vogler
Director of the Technology Access Program
Gallaudet University

This panel discussed how to work with device manufacturers to build universal design into their connected devices. The panelists considered what it would take to develop a more strategic approach to achieve universal accessibility and disability inclusion in the design and development of devices and applications.

The first panel discussed disability inclusion within the Internet of Things (IoT). The panelists gave their insights on how device manufacturers and the disability community can work together to build universal design. Korn declared that he wants to “make products with people with disabilities for everyone.” Two of the panelists represented the tech industry and presented their company’s IoT devices. Korn played a video of the Amazon Echo, also known as Alexa, which showed how it gave Jonathan Ko, a quadriplegic, the freedom to live alone. Another IoT device that was mentioned was Samsung’s smartthings, which also helps people with disabilities in the four aspects that Castro identified. Vogler asserted that one inclusive technology product might be inclusive to one type of disability, but not to another. Vogler brought up an important point that the second panel further elaborated on.


Creating an Environment to Promote Accessibility

Anil Lewis – Moderator
Executive Director
National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute

Karen Peltz-Strauss
Deputy Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Federal Communications Commission

Jenny Lay-Flurrie
Chief Accessibility Officer

Eric Bridges
Executive Director
American Council of the Blind

The second panel discussed the best approach to creating an environment to promote accessibility and universal design. Software/application developers operate in an environment responsive to a number of influences, such as regulations and consumer advocacy. The panelists presented ways in which disability advocates and regulators can influence and promote accessibility.


Promoting Innovation in Assistive Technology & Prosthetics

Emily Shea Tanis – Moderator
Associate Director of Research
Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities at the University of Colorado

Alexis Kashar
Board Chair
National Association of the Deaf

Dr. Cathy Bodine
Associate Director and Executive Director
Department of Bioengineering and Department of Pediatrics
University of Colorado

Therese Willhomm
Director of New Hampshire’s State
Assistive Technology Program
Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire

The third panel considered ways to promote innovation in assistive technology and prosthetics. In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machine tools. This, in combination with freely available information about how to use, modify, and build upon these technologies is enabling more Americans to design and build almost anything. As Coy discussed earlier, empowering students and adults to make their ideas and solutions into reality is at the heart of the Maker Movement. Currently, there are opportunities to provide those with limb loss or other disabilities to create and use options that better meet their specific needs and enable them to express themselves as individuals. Such designs include new materials, new patterns, or new art for more creative approaches to standard titanium lower limb prostheses and assistive technology. Examples of the human impact of these devices include children, who are constantly outgrowing their devices, are making their own low-cost superhero-inspired hands. And, female veterans, who currently have trouble finding prostheses that fit, could make custom designs to their anatomy and liking.


Embedding Accessibility in STEM Education

Larry Goldberg – Moderator
Director of Accessible Media

Bruce Walker
Professor of Psychology & Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology

Matt Huenerfauth
Associate Professor
Rochester Institute of Technology

The fourth panel discussed how the current STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curricula within institutions of higher education does not integrate instruction on accessibility. The lack of accessibility related content within STEM curricula, and the lack of accessibility within the curricula itself, creates a significant talent gap as the need for STEM professionals with knowledge of accessible design is growing. Integrating accessibility into mainstream STEM curricula helps to address the issues related to accessibility as an afterthought in product design. This panel highlighted the educators who have embraced accessibility within their curricula and discussed the outcomes they are witnessing as a result of this inclusion.


Building Relationships Between Industry & the Disability Community

Julie Kearney – Moderator
Vice President of Regulatory Affairs
Consumer Technology Association

Kristen “KR” Liu
Director of Accessibility and Advocacy
Doppler Labs

Mark Balsano
Deputy Chief Accessibility Officer
Assistant Vice President of the Corporate Accessibility Technology Office

Thomas Wlodkowski
Vice President of Accessibility

The final panel of the Summit highlighted companies from different sectors (device manufacturers, service providers, and software and application developers) that excel at incorporating universal accessibility features into their device designs, services platforms and applications prior to bringing them to market.


The Summit examined the current obstacles in developing inclusive technology and how they can be eliminated. By convening a wide range of industries, the Summit fostered collaboration between a diverse group of companies that are usually competitors. In conclusion, technology inclusiveness will only be achieved when all industries work together and everyone brings their own inherent skills to the table.

A video recording of the entire Summit is available here.


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Fiona McFarland is a Fall 2017 AAPD Intern.

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