Digital accessibility is a right, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Yet a huge majority of websites, applications and other digital platforms remain inaccessible to many of the billion people in the world who live with an auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and/or visual disability. People with disabilities want what most people do: opportunities to learn, to work and to participate in social and civic events.
These activities increasingly take place online or in digital formats, so access to digital technology becomes critical to equal opportunity. Austin, Texas-based Knowbility, founded in 1999, addresses this digital divide through awareness, education and services.
The problem I’m trying to solve
Digital equity means that people with disabilities have the same access to digital technologies as everyone else. That’s important, because so many of our daily activities are based on digital technology — those who are shut out lose so much. During the pandemic, we changed how we went to work, to school, to family events. Most of us found ways to connect despite our isolation. But a lot of conferencing technology was inaccessible to many people with disabilities, so millions were locked out due to design choices built into the technology.
Society has gotten better at making the physical environment work for everyone — by integrating curb cuts for those with mobility issues and audible traffic signals for the blind, for example — but we’re not similarly designing and building tech environments for people with disabilities. When those technologies are not available, people with disabilities are marginalized in a way that has profound impact.
The moment that sparked my passion
I was 50 when we started Knowbility in 1999. My job at the time was to find or create employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Austin was becoming a tech hub around then. The problem was that the technologies the tech pioneers were using to do their innovative work were not accessible. For me, that was really it. Here was our town being transformed by the tech industry, which was crying for people to do this work. And here I had people who were smart and able, and they were excluded by the very tech that was transforming my town and our world.