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: Have 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.
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 a culture change if we are to see 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 a culture change if you pound people. You get a cultural change if 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 disabled community and people in the AI community are having conversations about technological advancement 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 their prejudices to the table that leads to the continued ability awareness and racism 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, the robots and delivery apps would be fully accessible, so we need the people designing the services to have these conversations and work with us.