Welcome back to Mixtape, the TechCrunch podcast that examines diversity, inclusion and the human labor that drives tech.
This week, Megan moderated a panel at Sight Tech Global, a conference dedicated to fostering discussion among technology pioneers on how advances in AI and related technologies will alter the landscape of assistive technology.
The panel featured three heavy hitters in the accessibility space: Haben Girma (pictured above), the first deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School and who is a human rights lawyer advancing disability justice; Lainey Feingold, a disability rights lawyer who was on the team that negotiated the first web accessibility agreement in the U.S. in 2000; and George Kerscher, the chief innovations officer for the DAISY Consortium.
Among the topics they discussed were communicating via Zoom and other video platforms in the days of COVID, how tech companies have adhered to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the need for a culture shift if we’re going to realize any significant change.
“It’s all about a culture change to really make sure technology is accessible for everyone,” Feingold told Megan. “And you can’t get a culture change, I don’t believe, by hammering people. You get a cultural change by having conversation and relying on civil rights laws, but not as the hammer.”
And then there are the robots. Girma acknowledges that people in the disability community and people in the AI community are having conversations about technological advancements and accessibility. But she says that not enough of the people how are building the robots and using AI are having these conversations.
“Don’t blame the robots,” she says. “It’s the people who build the robots who are inserting their biases that are causing ableism and racism to continue in our society. If designers built robots in collaboration with disabled people who use our sidewalks and blind people who would Use these delivery apps, then the robots and the delivery apps would be fully accessible. So we need the people designing the services to have these conversations and work with us.”
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