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Tech Conference For People With Disabilities Underway In San Diego

Tech Conference For People With Disabilities Underway In San Diego
GUESTS:Christopher P. Lu, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Sandy Plotin, managing director, Cal State University Northridge Center on Disabilities

This is KPBS midday edition the is Maureen Cavanaugh. The impact of new technology is seldom more powerful as when it can improve the lives of people with disabilities. A conference of high tech developers from around the world gathers in San Diego this week to discuss new advances in assistive technology. Recently KPBS health reported Kenny Goldberg spoke with the conference keynote speaker Christopher Lu with the secretary of labor and Sandy Plotin the managing director of the Center for disabilities at Cal state Northridge. There's an interview. So Deputy Secretary Lou, what is the Labor Department's role vis-à-vis people with disabilities and technology in the workplace? Kenny thank you for having me, the Department of Labor our mission is to provide greater economic opportunity for everyone in the country. So as we think about the opportunity for the 21st century it is important for us to ensure that we feel a full team and we're not fielding a full team with regard to people with disabilities and so one of our missions is to provide more opportunities to them. One of the powerful ways we can do that is through technology. What is the department doing to promote more accessible technology for people with disabilities? We provide a lot of assistance to employers to help them understand the different types of technology that are available to them. We also provide information to employees so they understand what their rights are to that technology and we speak at conferences, as I am doing in San Diego to talk about our commitment to these issues. Sandy Plotin give us an idea of the range of assistive devices that are available to help people with disabilities. Well Kenny it can be anything, assistive technology is any device, equipment, device anything as simple as they came to motorized wheelchair, to hire techs at does apps, printers that produce tactile maps and more. A lot of pregnancy we have pretty much everything that represents assistive technology in our exhibit hall and I will have to advertise here that it is open and free to the public. Is an assistance dog considered a low-tech device? A service dog is I would say considered a necessity for some. Is it technology? Not exactly. It is something yes in a sense it is because it is used by a person with a disability. In what ways can technology help people with disabilities overcome some of the barriers that they face in work and even in the classroom? Line For small the lady of technology, assistive technology is to give people access and independent spirit -- independents. If you are not on a level playing field from the beginning they knew have obstacles overcome and that is what technology does. Something as simple, like Chris talks about, employment, if I cannot access a website to apply for a job how am I going to get a job? If I can't access a physical building how can I work there? And the same goes for student, we have everything in place before they get here at CSUN and hopefully there are no barriers and our students are veterans. Our point is have things in place ahead of time you are not backtracking to repair the obstacles. You should have this in advance. How many workplaces do you think in this day and age, Sandy, do have them in advance and are ready for people with disabilities? I don't have exact statistics that I can tell you of one example where an employee was denied a promotion because he could not access the software that other all in the department had. This obviously led to a lawsuit. This is a major corporation so of course I am not going to name it, but, anything as simple as not having software for an employee is a barrier. Christopher Lu, one of the topics you will address at the conference is tech companies and their willingness to improve the accessibility of their products. How do you see the whole equation? When I go around and travel I talked to many tech companies that understand the importance of making their products more accessible not only to help other employers hire people but also because they want to diversify their own work was as well. To give you an example to piggyback off what is Sandy just said, one of the free tools that we are going to be rolling out at the comp onto something called challenge works. It is based on the principle of making hiring and recruiting more accessible online. In this day and age where people are not just applying and mailing paper resumes more people are searching and applying for jobs online it is critical that we ensure that those avenues for all of line for jobs are accessible for people with technologies and a new initiative on this we will announce and we are very excited about it. What is the legality of that issue? I don't know if there is a particular legality but we know there are ops goals there. We did a national survey of people with disabilities and we found that 56% of people with disabilities search for a job on a mobile device and about the 7% were asked to complete preemployment assessments on the Internet. Yet when you go back and ask people with disabilities about what their experience at and applying online 46% said that applying for a job online was difficult to impossible. So well technology can be a powerful tool to help hire and recruit the best possible people, we want to make sure that the tool is accessible to everybody. Sandy Plotin, you have some mobility issues I understand what kind of innovations would you like to help people like you that have some of these mobility challenges? I would like to see something as simple as every door being automatic yesterday I got a scooter for the first time, I could not get through a door where I am and I shouldn't say where I am, but little things like is the elevator big enough for me? You have to edit me out, some of the mobility issues that I am doing now are doing simple tasks that in the past were easy for me but doing something as simple as the laundry is something I have to plan out. How many times do I have to bend over the machine, how many times I have to go up and down this there's? There are things that companies can do and we're not just talking about tech companies, things that companies should do to make things easier for people with any type of disability not just mobility. Can a blind person using a washing machine can someone with a mobility issue use it? These things are not being manufactured at start of Road with universal design in mind. There only being added afterward and people with disabilities bring it up and complain and start to advocate for it. I think if these companies would be more proactive and take the step at the very beginning when they are designing we would not have these issues. Christopher Lu, how would you assess the general accessibility of people with disabilities in the United states compared to some of our Western counterparts? We have certainly made a lot of progress over the last 25 years. Last year we celebrated the quarter-century of the Americans with disability act and that was aimed at bringing down walls. A lot of the physical barriers that prevent of people with disabilities from engaging fully in society. While I think we have made great progress over the last 25 years we need to realize that there are still virtual walls remaining. That is one of the reasons why we at the Department of Labor are so committed. When I look at what we have done more broadly in the economy, the unemployment rate right now across the board is for .9% but then when you look at the unemployment rate among people with disabilities it is more than double, is about 12 1/2% and that number itself is even Ms. meeting because there is a far smaller percentage of people with disabilities that are in the work horse right now. If we are serious in this country about competing in a 21st-century economy with other countries we need to ensure that everybody has a chance to six the that especially means people with disabilities. Thank you very much. I've been speaking with Christopher P Lu the U. S. jeopardy secretary of labor and Sandy Plotin managing director of the Center for disabilities at the Cal State Northridge campus. I am Kenny Goldberg and this is midday edition.

Technology is an indispensable part of modern life. But it can be challenging for people with disabilities to access it, especially in the workplace.

That's the underlying theme of the 31st annual International Technology and People With Disabilities Conference that began Wednesday at San Diego's Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Organized by the Cal State Northridge Center on Disabilities, the conference continues through Friday and features dozens of breakout sessions and highlights some of the latest assistive technology.

“The whole idea of assistive technology is to give people access and independence,” Sandy Plotin, managing director of CSUN's Center on Disabilities, said on Midday Edition Wednesday. “If I can't access a website to apply for a job, how am I going to get a job?”

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Christopher P. Lu said that the agency has been committed to improving accessibility since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“While I think we've made great progress over the last 25 years, we need to realize that ... virtual walls remain,” Lu said.