The Stream

Can tech break barriers for people with disabilities?

The Stream concludes its week at the 2018 SXSW Conference & Festivals with a look at innovations in disability and assistive technology.

For disability rights advocate Haben Girma, it was about knowing there was chocolate cake in the university cafeteria. As a deafblind student at Lewis and Clark College, Girma said cafeteria workers often forgot to e-mail her the day’s menu, putting an unnecessary barrier between her and what she wanted to eat that day. For a long time, she thought it would be another inconvenience to which she’d have to become accustomed.

“Those menus, at that cafeteria, was a pivotal moment for me that I should do something, for myself and for future blind students who came to that college – or anyone else who needed menus in alternative formats”, she said.

But “after several incidents of missed chocolate cake”, Girma asserted her civil rights, calling on the school to adhere to a US law that requires businesses to make accommodations for people with disabilities. “They started providing the menu in accessible formats”, she said. “The following year, another blind student came to the college – he didn’t have to fight for access.” 

Girma’s story isn’t unique. According to the World Bank, there are at least one billion people living with disability around the globe, with many encountering similar barriers due to a lack of assistive technologies both in their communities and online. While there exists technology to assist people with their mobility or communication, accessibility remains a key issue in many areas, including education, employment, and transportation.

So, what assitive technology is being developed to improve accessibility and break down societal barriers for people living with disability?

In our final look at this year’s SXSW Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas, The Stream speaks with disability rights advocates, including Haben Girma, to learn about innovations in assistive technology.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Haben Girma @HabenGirma
Disability rights lawyer

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos @maryangel_ 
Inclusion and communications specialist, Tecnológico de Monterrey

Erin Swann @MDTAP
Assistive technology specialist

Corinne Weible @PEATWorks
Deputy Project Director, Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology

Read more:

What would a truly disabled-accessible city look like? – The Guardian
Eritrean-American Woman Became 1st Blind, Deaf Graduate of Harvard Law School – The Root
For People With Disabilities, New Technology Can Be Life Changing – NPR

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.