Last week, I had a brush with a bona fide music legend—the great Stevie Wonder. Was I starstruck? Of course. I’ve long admired his musical accomplishments and advocacy for people with disabilities. His appearance at the Grammy Awards(link is external) in February highlighted once again the need to improve accessible technology, particularly in the workplace.
What brought me, Stevie Wonder and hundreds of other accessibility advocates together was the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference(link is external). Commonly known as “CSUN” in honor of its sponsor, California State University, Northridge, the event is a who’s who of people leading the charge on accessible information and communications technology (ICT). I was honored to serve as this year’s keynote speaker, which gave me the chance to share why the Labor Department sees the need for accessible ICT in the workplace.
To put it simply, our commitment to accessible technology is about basic civil rights, as well as the collective productivity of America’s workforce. That’s because inaccessible technology—from websites, to software applications, to online job applications—is preventing many people with disabilities from doing their jobs effectively, or even applying for jobs in the first place.
On the other hand, when technologies are accessible to everyone, they become powerful tools of productivity, enabling all of us to apply for and obtain employment and perform to our full potential on the job.
During my remarks, I announced the launch of TalentWorks,(link is external) a free tool created by the Labor Department-funded Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT(link is external)) that helps employers ensure that their web-based job applications and other recruiting technologies are accessible to job seekers with disabilities.
At CSUN, I toured an exhibit hall filled with cutting edge innovations, most of which have direct applications in the workplace for people with disabilities. Some of them have the potential to increase the productivity of all workers regardless of whether they have a disability. I also met with industry leaders to discuss key issues impacting the creation and adoption of universally designed ICT, and to learn what their organizations are doing to drive change.
Perhaps most importantly, I led a PEAT-sponsored roundtable discussion that captured the insights and experiences of leading voices in the accessibility field−the largest technology companies, IT and Web accessibility professionals, college and university accessibility experts, and, of course, users of workplace technologies.
The key takeaways from this discussion centered around awareness, regulation and collaboration. We heard over and over that employers, technology vendors and tech users with disabilities must all work together to raise awareness and educate one another about accessible workplace technology issues, most of which can be easily solved.
At the same time, we were reminded that strong, clear government regulations can play a powerful role in mandating the creation and procurement of accessible products—and that industry and government collaboration hold the key to making it all happen.
The dedicated leaders I met at CSUN showed me that there is power in numbers, and that advancing accessibility is a collective effort. Meeting Stevie Wonder was an absolute thrill, of course, but there are hundreds of accessibility “stars” out there powering inclusion and innovation. At the Labor Department, we often say that America works best when we field a full team, and that people with disabilities are some of our most valuable players. Making sure workplace technology is accessible to everyone is essential to moving people with disabilities off of the sidelines and into the game.
This post originally appeared on the Department of Labor blog(link is external) on April 1, 2016.