Thursday, July 22, 2010

The 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

This has been a really exciting week in Washington, DC, with the focus of today's 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's hard to imagine a world without the ADA, which was passed during my first year in the disability field. It became a model of civil rights legislation for people with disabilities, and I'm sure paved the way for the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
Kareem Dale on stage, speaking into a microphone, with federal CTO and CIO Aneesh Chopra and Vivek Kundra seatedLast week there was a strong technology focus in the events: I was invited to an event at the White House (actually, the Old Executive Office Building) to hear from senior leaders from the Administration make announcements and talk about the power or technology to help people with disabilities. Kareem Dale, the President's senior disability advisor, was the master of ceremonies, and he got the federal CTO and CIO , an FCC Commissioner, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce overseeing the broadband program, and a senior federal procurement policy guy there. Kareem wrote it up in a blog post about all the policy announcements, entitled The Power of Technology, The Power of Equality.
Hugh Herr bending over to lift his pant legs and show off his biohybrid feetThere were three demonstrations at the end of that session: I was most impressed with Dr. Hugh Herr of the MIT Media Lab, a double amputee who builds smart robotic feet that are better than regular human feet. These feet "know" when he's climbing or descending stairs or a ramp, and adjust the programing accordingly. He can also use his cell phone to reprogram his feet!

Men on stage fiddling with AV, black screenMen on stage fiddling with AV, screen now has image from iPad on it

In terms of geek cred, it was hard to match the federal CTO Aneesh Chopra leaping into action to help the AV for the Apple iPad demo: above is my two picture sequence of him succeeding in getting it to work!
Paul Scroeder of AFB speaking, Susan Mazrui in background
We then moved to the Commerce Department to see a bunch of tech demonstrations, which was followed by a brainstorming session that I particularly enjoyed. We discussed ideas about web accessibility as well as how to make physical accessibility information available using GIS (imagine a Yelp for accessibility information for each building).
Greg Elin speakingAneesh Chopra, the CIO of HHS and Greg Elin, the Chief Data Officer of the FCC (and former CTO of United Cerebral Palsy) led the brainstorm. I think it's an example of the convening power the administration has to bring people together around addressing challenges.

We're so excited about all this action that we announced today that we're celebrating the ADA by making Bookshare available free for three months to all Americans with qualifying disabilities (not just students). I think there are tons of veterans and adult people with disabilities who need what Bookshare has.
Jim Fruchterman squinting into sun, with White House in backgroundAnd, the big finale is today, the actual 20th anniversary of the ADA. I'm in DC waiting to head over to the actual White House for an event with President Obama (and I have to assume, hundreds of the leading disability advocates) this afternoon. Hope to have more to report on that soon!