Welcome back to Mixtape, the TechCrunch podcast that explores diversity, inclusion, and the human work that drives technology.
This week, Megan hosted a panel at Sight Tech Global, a conference devoted to promoting discussion among technology pioneers about how advances in AI and related technologies will change the landscape of assistive technology.
The panel consisted of three hits in the area of accessibility: haben Girma (see picture above), the first deaf-blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School and a human rights attorney who works to promote disabled access; Lainey Feingold, a disability rights attorney who was on the team that negotiated the first US Internet Accessibility Agreement in 2000; and George Kerscher, the Chief Innovations Officer of the DAISY consortium.
Some of the topics they discussed included communicating via Zoom and other video platforms in the days of COVID, how tech companies complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the need for culture change if we are to realize significant change.
“It’s about a culture shift to make sure the technology is accessible to all,” Feingold told Megan. “And I don’t think that you can’t achieve cultural change by pounding people. You get a cultural shift when you talk and rely on civil rights laws, but not as a 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 advances and accessibility. But she says that not enough people who build the robots and use AI are having these conversations.
“Don’t blame the robots,” she says. “It is the people who build the robots who bring in their prejudices that lead to a persistence of the awareness of ability and the racism in our society. If designers built robots in collaboration with disabled people using our sidewalks and blind people using these delivery apps, the robots and delivery apps would be fully accessible. So we need the people who are designing the services to have these conversations and to work with us. “