[Athen] Fascinating article: Why tech needs more designers with disabilities

Shelley Haven ShelleyHaven at techpotential.net
Mon Nov 25 22:05:39 PST 2019

I came across this article and want to share it with y’all (apologies for any cross-posts):

My Fight With a Sidewalk Robot
A life-threatening encounter with AI technology convinced me that the needs of people with disabilities need to be engineered into our autonomous future.
https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2019/11/autonomous-technology-ai-robot-delivery-disability-rights/602209/ <https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2019/11/autonomous-technology-ai-robot-delivery-disability-rights/602209/>

The writer, Emily Ackerman, is a chemical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh who uses a power wheelchair. She described being trapped in the crosswalk on a busy street by an autonomous AI delivery robot which blocked the curbcut (waiting for the light to turn) — a non-sentient being incapable of understanding the consequences of its actions.

But Emily is also a disability advocate. She met with the company’s leadership teams, discussed what went wrong, and changes and improvements they could make to avoid problems in the future.

Toward the end of the article, she makes this statement which is key (emphasis is mine):

"Companies must practice accountability from their positions of power. The most critical step is increasing participation—not only by opening feedback channels with their users but also by hiring disabled engineers and programmers in all stages of the development process. Accessible design should not depend on the ability of an able-bodied design team to understand someone else’s experience or foresee problems that they’ve never had."

As a fellow engineer, I wholeheartedly agree. And development of those disabled engineers and programmers will depend heavily on accessible STEM education, not only to level the academic playing field for such students, but to ensure that they aren’t unduly discouraged from pursuing STEM careers.

My two cents for the evening… ;-)

- Shelley

Shelley Haven ATP, RET
Assistive Technology Consultant
www.TechPotential.net <http://www.techpotential.net/>

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