Policy hearing identifies impacts of technological advancements on disabled community

Conversation included in 2022 Disability Summit at Temple University

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 22 – The House Democratic Policy Committee convened a hearing Thursday afternoon to explore the impacts technological advancements have had on the disabled community. The hearing was hosted by Rep. Joe Hohenstein (D-Philadelphia) at Temple University as part of his 2022 Disability Summit.

“As a member of the disabled community myself, it’s clear from today’s discussion we need to be more involved in the conversations and work to advance technology. As the saying goes: ‘Nothing about us, without us,” said Hohenstein. “Today’s hearing was an important step toward fixing that oversight. We can take the points made in today’s discussion and use that to drive change through legislation in Harrisburg.”

Thursday’s roundtable discussion featured testimony from advocates of the disabled community and technology experts. The conversation focused around three central ideas: the disabled community needs to be more included in technological developments, more funding is needed for organizations that support assistive technology, and legislation should be passed to break down certain barriers.

Neil McDevitt, Executive Director of the Deaf-Hearing Communication Center, noted there is a lack of employment opportunities for the disabled community, especially in the tech world. He said fixing this issue would result in better technology for everyone.

“Increasing the number of employees in with disabilities will represent a powerful shift, not only in the user experience of the technology, but also in developing the standards and requirements for future technology,” said McDevitt. “By changing the person with a disability from a simple end-user to an invested team member - the products will become better and more inclusive in the end.”

Testifiers also recommended increased funding for organizations that develop and support assistive technology for people with disabilities. Debbie Robinson and Suzanne Erb, both Pennsylvanians with disabilities and advocates with Speaking for Ourselves, want to live in a state where they can fully participate and contribute to their communities without issue.

“Imagine a state where we can use tele-medicine, tele-work and online shopping easily.  Imagine a state where anyone who has a disability can live a full life. In order for this picture of Pennsylvania to become a reality, we need to have adequate funding for these organizations so that they can help people with disabilities to communicate, travel, read and write and contribute to our communities,” said Robinson and Erb.

TechOWL, Pennsylvania’s federally designated Assitive Technology Act program, said increasing the organizations line item in the state budget to $550,000 would ensure that every Pennsylvanian with a disability can be supported by assistive technology.

“I want to thank everyone for participating in this important discussion on how we can better benefit and include the disabled community with technological advancements,” said Hohenstein. “I look forward to taking this conversation to Harrisburg and working with my colleagues across the aisle to make a positive impact on our Pennsylvanians.”

Full testimony from Thursday’s hearing can be found here. Photos will be available here.

Information about this hearing and other House Democratic Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy.