I just watched the ODEP Office of Disability and Employment Policy webinar AT Works. The meeting featured a panel of accessibility experts including the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathleen Martinez, Public Affairs Program Director of National Industries for the Blind Brian Hurley, and Associated Professor and Director of the Technology Access Program, Co-PI, RERC on Telecommunications Access, Gallaudet University Christian Vogler.
Here at Knowbility, it is our practice to train and hire people with disabilities, many of them veterans with newly acquired disabilities, so many of the topics discussed were not new to us. I supervise a production crew of AccessWorkers with disabilities who demonstrate daily how valuable employees with disabilities can be and are. Still, it was good to hear different perspectives on the subject. Some really important ideas were explored by the panel, including the fact that employers may be afraid of expensive accommodations. But, as they pointed out, when we look at the issue of accommodation as more of a universal design issue and we examine current trends in mobile technology, we find that many AT solutions are being built in to technologies that many businesses already use.
Some other ideas that were recurring issues were the need to look at the person with a disability as a whole person, and that by talking to employers openly about a disability we can reduce fear and raise the expectations of the work environment.
At the end of the webinar the moderator summed up what many of the panelists were saying by expressing the hope that cultural progress is being made in the general public. As progress continues, employers may better understand people with disabilities and we can be confident that product development will take care of itself as more AT is incorporated into popular technologies. A perfect example is the iPhone that uses the same technology for blind users as for anyone else.
Standards are important, too. Creating accessible websites that adhere to WCAG 2.0 will ensure that employers are taking advantage of some of these recent technological advances. At Knowbility we are opening up our AIR (Accessibility Internet Rally) to non-profits and development teams all over the world. AIR trains both developers and non-profits in accessible design techniques and challenges them to use their skills in a fun competition.