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Business as Usual Featuring Paul O'Hanlon and Aaron Steinfeld with Carnegie Mellon University - Robotics Institute

Business as Usual

July 26, 2020 was the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so today we are going to explore what has changed over the last three decades, what else needs to be done and look at locally developed technologies to help those with disabilities. Joining us at noon is Paul O’Hanlon, a retired attorney, who has been an advocate for low income housing, and disability issues around city planning and services, public transit and voting. We will also welcome Aaron Steinfeld, an Associate Research Professor in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. His research focuses on human interaction with technology, with an eye towards solutions that help people with diverse abilities.

Good afternoon. This is Andre Russo. Welcome to a Monday and this is business as usual with the tech Council. And I'm joined here today by my partner in crime on all good things. That's Jonathan kersting. He's vice president of media and all things related to marketing and storytelling. So today is yesterday actually marks 30 years from the signing of the American Disabilities Act. And today within a finite period of time, we're trying to do a little bit of a deep dive with two people who are going to provide us with some interesting perspective. But before we get started, I want to give a shout out to our sponsors and that sheetz, Huntington and Deloitte, they've been partners of ours for a long time. Sheetz has an innovation center now in Pittsburgh. And Deloitte has been very, very active in the tech community as well as their participation in many things in terms of technology and innovation.

Same thing as Huntington bank, our partners right from the onset. So we thank them. I also want to point out as we proceed, that we actually have closed caption today, and we're very excited about that. So for anyone who is hearing impaired, there is an opportunity for you to just turn on your closed caption, captioning, and it's right at the bottom of your screen next to reactions. So really appreciate that service. And we're glad we have Gloria here with us today. She's the magician behind the scenes making this possible. So I also want to tell everyone, we've muted you, and we've done that on purpose so that we can make sure that there's no noise in the background and we can hear our guests and I also want to tell you that there is a chat please use the chat This will be a great opportunity to exchange questions and I want to launch right into our guests because there's a lot of information to cover and lots of opportunities to hopefully ask some questions.

We have two guests today. One is Paul O'Hanlon. And the other is Aaron Steinfeld. And Paul is, you know, Paul is a little self deprecating, but he's been doing a lot of amazing things over the journey of his professional life. And he's been involved in advocacy in, in housing in he's a lawyer, he is someone who has deep knowledge about lots of things that have happened inside our region in terms of people with disabilities as well as what's happened even nationally. I think you're really going to be interested yesterday in the Pittsburgh post because that there was an op ed, that he wrote, and we'll dive a little bit into that in terms of his perspective. On the American Disability Act and what what it means to be inclusive and how well we've done. So thank you, Paul, for being here. And then I'm also joining us today is Aaron Steinfeld. And he is with the robotics Institute. He's a professor there at the robotics Institute, which is in the School of computer science. And many of us know, we have deep relationships over there. And it was thrilling to be able to reach out to Aaron, and because of his expertise in innovation and technology, so I want to thank them both for being here. So we're going to bring first to the screen is Paul O'Hanlon. And I could talk to Paul about a lot of things. And I really want to start out by first of all, thank you so much for taking the time with us and for your work over a long period of time in your career, being an advocate, and even for what you wrote yesterday in the Pittsburgh post Gazette, many people might think that 30 years, you know, the signing The American Disability Act and Okay, we've done our jobs. And now we can proceed accordingly. But I think you have a very different view of that. And so on that note, I'd like to give the floor to you so that you can, you know, share with us your perspective, as well as some of the things you articulated about yesterday in the post Gazette. Um,

I actually was Friday, but Friday's post is that but, um, and, um, but thank you. And, um, the funny thing about being on Facebook is that it reminds you what you did or said a year ago or five years ago and I, I was reminded that a year ago, I said in a speech that perhaps the greatest attitudinal barrier for people with disabilities in Pittsburgh today is the attitude that we're doing a good job with accessibility. I think that the sense is that, um, you know, couple curb cuts here and there and, you know, it's all good, we're accessible now and, and and there's not really an appreciation for just the breadth of disabilities, you know, the, the fact that I have a mobility impairment, but somebody who's blind has a whole different set of challenges someone who's deaf as a completely different set of challenges. And so, you know, as you kind of play out all the different arm possible disabilities and look for, you know, what are we really doing to accommodate people? Um, it seems a little bit like, you know, so that's, that's kind of my, my overall impression. Um, but yeah, and the other part of it that I guess, that I'm, you know, I think people struggle with is understanding the breadth of the Yeah, you know that most people kind of think about issues like steps and buildings and things like that. But really what got me involved in disability issues was on accessible buses, that when when Pittsburgh started to get accessible buses for the really the first time in my life, I saw disability advocacy as being important, because I could see that there wasn't, there was a possible impact for my advocacy. So, um, so in a certain sense on it, that's, I guess, my my brief introduction, which is that the ad is a whole lot broader and bigger than most people think. And that there's a lot that we really kind of gloss over with respect to all the different disabilities and and The thing that I guess I want to emphasize too is that, um, what what what I would on assert Is that pretty much every time there's a evaluation of the accessibility of a system, and there are modifications made that what I would assert Is that pretty much everybody after that actually has a better arm experience of it that usually, you know, um, you know, people people without disabilities are using curb ramps all the time for, you know, pulling on a suitcases up sidewalks and things like that. And there's just, you know, you sort of become used to accessibility and, you know, at some point I think people stopped even understanding that it's accessibility, things like texting was started as a Accessibility tool for deaf people. So it's just sort of, you know, an ongoing evolution of kind of discovering what's needed and moving forward.

Well, it's very, it's very complex. When people use the word disabilities, there is an array of understandings and misunderstandings, I think about what that means. And you have, and we'll get to some of your points soon. But can I ask you quickly? Sure, are you 30 years ago when the ADA was signed?

Well, I was a lawyer I was a housing on landlord tenant, public housing, section eight, sort of specialist and, um, I kind of joke that I was going about my life minding my own business, when these accessible buses started showing up on the kind of periphery my vision and I started thinking, well, damn, I mean, I had never really had an opportunity before. beyond a bus. So, um, I was joking to a friend that I was tempted to just get on and ride for a couple of blocks. And she said, Well, Port Authority won't pick you up, if that's not a designated accessible route, because there'll be afraid that they'll take you somewhere and you won't be able to get back. And I said, Why are you planning to go a couple blocks anyway? Shouldn't that be my decision? And that's what kind of got me to start to get involved that I could, I could see that there were decisions being made that people with disabilities would make different decisions if they were enrolled.

So person centered. Absolutely. So let's let's jump to Aaron and I introduced him a moment ago. He's in the robotics Institute, which is part of the computer science department and he is on the innovation and technology side. So thanks Aaron, for being with us today. And your your work is really expansive and support Focus obviously on technology and innovation. But if you talk about the premise of your work and some of your research, I think that will be really interesting to our listeners today. Sure.

So, as a quick background, I grew up around disability research. My father did a lot of doesn't still does a lot of research on the architectural side of accessibility. And it was involved in some of the original standards that then got rolled into the a DAG. That's the architectural accessibility parts of the ADA. I see a comment in here about universal design. This is actually a core part of the work that me and my team do. We focus heavily on technologies and new technologies that will enhance people's lives who have disabilities, but we try to do it in a way that includes benefits to people in other communities. So in the disability space, we talked about assistive technology, so it's like a wheelchair, or a white cane or something. He's blind, and a universal design, which is something that has value to a large part of the population that removes a barrier to people with disabilities. And so Paul mentioned curb cuts. That's the kind of the classic example of that. And so our team has been looking at things, everything from information systems like transit, bus transit, information systems, all the way up to robotic systems, such as robots that will help people move through a complex transportation hub or building. And we don't really narrow ourselves on a specific kind of technology. Instead, we focus on problems, and specifically problems that come up from the disability community. And if you're in the technology space, you always hear stories about you know, listen to the users, you're not the user. gather input early, keep maintaining contact with your users throughout the process of development. We do the same thing in research. You know, our research problems are driven by problems that are identified by the by the community and then we work up towards an interesting solution. And many times, there's a really fascinating research question behind there. It's not just design a new product, it's more about let's find a way of solving a problem that doesn't quite doesn't quite have a solution yet. And then we try and get that information and knowledge out to companies to turn those into actual real products or to the community to be adopted by the rest of the technology community.

So can you talk about a project or two?

Sure. So some of you may actually use the tiramisu transit app. That's actually our recent one of our research test beds. The current version does not include crowd sourced vehicle fullness, but that is actually in the early versions. We did that primarily because one of our participants who use a wheelchair was, you know, quite happy with some of the work we were doing. But they rightfully pointed out that if the bus is full, they're not getting on and it doesn't really matter. The other stuff we're working on And so we looked at how to provide the information about foulness. There was no easy way of doing that at the time. So we decided to try and crowdsource that. We rolled that out here in Pittsburgh, it was used by a large number of people for a while, as the technology on buses got to the point where it was possible to query the systems on the buses about how awful they were, and feed that up to servers, and then back down through mobile phones. We were involved in some of the specification, work being done by the community. And now and many cities when you open up Google transit or some other apps, you will see an estimation of the fullness of the buses. And some of those labels are actually the same labels that we used back in the day. And we've done some work with others to help translate the measurements that are taken by the boss to these human understanding. Double labels. And so that's an example of a research effort that was motivated by people with disabilities. That then kind of worked its way through the technology community to become a standard or de facto standard, and is now being rolled out across the world. What's interesting is people are now also starting to take advantage of this for COVID work, to try and get a census to social distancing on the buses and trains for the same types of applications.

So trying to figure out who's asked how many people are on that vehicle and not not going on? It took? Yeah, so they use light sensors on the buses at the doors. And that's how they keep the counts.

Really interesting and said, who would have anticipated that? So I will get back to you in a second to talk about some more material opportunities here and the work that you're doing so so Paul, much of the adaptive technologies If that's needed is paid for through government programs, right?
A big chunk of it. Yeah,

a big chunk of it. So what does that mean in terms of of access? And how has that changed over the last 30 years? And how has that impacted people? Like, who need tools to be moved, you know, mobile? Um,

well, I should, I should start off by saying, there has been huge changes. And I don't want to minimize the changes that the ad has made on the part of what happens though, is that like everything else, Ada happens in the context of a whole lot that's happened before. And and so one of the things that you see, as far as I'm, I'm a data geek, I'm a policy kind of a person. And when you look at the data of disability The thing that you're forced to kind of concede is that as a society we have confused thinking about disabilities. So on one hand, you see in terms of like some federal data, you're only a person with a disability if you're not working as a result of some disability. So disability is sort of synonymous with, I'm too disabled to work. And so there's a lot of categories that define your disability by your inability to work. And then there's people like me who have a lifelong disability, I use a power wheelchair, and yet, you know, I worked full time and and so on. You know, there's a lot of sort of noise and confusion that you see all over as to whether people are disabled or what we as a society will do with it. them. So, for example, on some government programs will provide me with adaptive technology, but only in my home. Because the assumption is, I'm too disabled to work, why would I need to go out? Therefore, you know, I only need things to, you know, keep me happy in my home. And so all of this ends up with, to some extent, a lot of confusion and noise about government programs because we don't have one definition of disability. We have a number of competing definitions, and depending on what department it it kind of gets weird and bizarre. So but but the short answer is usually, yeah, I would say state by you know, state payers are probably some of the most common but the other thing that I would say is that a lot of texting knology is on purchased as a result of employment. And and often those decisions are actually made by the employer as to what technology to buy, so they hire an employee who's deaf or who's blind, then there's going to be some accommodations needed for that worker. And often it's the employer making those decisions. So those wouldn't necessarily be government purchase kind of technologies.

So really, I mean, the importance of being a self advocate is even probably more important than for those of us who are referred to as temporarily able bodied. Yeah. So this really this work of the ABA really applies to all of us. That's sort of the way I look at it. And I see that bill Fraser said that too in the chat. If we don't have a disability now, it's helpful. to think of ourselves as only temporarily abled. And that's one of the reasons why I thought it was pretty important to have both of you on the show today is to is to remind everyone that advocacy and self advocacy while difficult, it's gotta be embroiled into all of our worlds, whether we're leading companies or we're working alongside people. And that's one of the things that I've learned from talking to you, Paul, you made one comment that I just want to just state that that really made me think differently all weekend is as people are having outdoor seating, for example, in the outdoor eating that we've been having right now, so that during COVID and and I love outdoor eating, and that's awesome. But when you put those tables and chairs in places that in the past would be accessible for people who you know need different kinds of mobility Now becomes really tough to try to navigate. And we've also lost some parking spots in terms of, you know, quote unquote, the handicap parking spots. And those are things that decisions are made without any kind of input from people who need to navigate differently.

Right? Yeah, yeah, I mean that just just moving a handicapped parking spot, what you discover is that there's somebody that was depending on that spot being there, you know, that, um, and most people kind of, I think aren't aware that there are so many people who, you know, depend on that.

So let's let's jump to Eric in acumen center design is the essence of all innovation, but it's highly overlooked. When technology is designed. Give us some examples of problems with technology solutions, that many who are Currently disabled widow overlook? Yeah.

So this is this is as with most technology situations, this is varied in spread across a wide range. But one of the byproducts of the Silicon Valley move fast break things kind of model is that quite often, you know, the minimum viable product is released. And quite often what that typically means is that the minimum viable product does not include any disability features. And this is of course, problematic, especially when those features completely prohibit use by someone with a disability. The reality is that there are many ways of making things accessible from the beginning, even under a minimum viable product approach. You know, for example, if you're pushing an app out to the App Store, both Apple and Google provide a lot of opportunities to make sure that your system is going to be accessible from the beginning with not a lot of work. It's when people start trying strange things that quite often you run into problems. Similarly, the web accessibility is not as hard as, as most people would like to think. And you know, there's been standards out there for web accessibility for quite a long time now from the WCC. And we're seeing a lot of websites pop up, you know, daily without any real adherence to these standards. The reason why this is important to also consider as a technology provider is not just that the person with a disability has problems getting access to your system. But this also impacts their friends, their families, and so forth. So for example, if you make a communication app, and you're trying to get users to join the anyone who has who uses a screen reader and can't use your app, they're going to be resistant to using it and like why is the people who interact with them are going to be resistant to moving over as well. So you have this sort of network effect. And so it's really important to think about not just the fact There's a population with a disability. But there's also the population adjacent and attached to them that you have to think about as well. You know, you're not going to bring a microwave that can't be used by one person of the house into the house. Instead, you're going to buy a microwave that can be used by everyone in the house. So this is the sort of thing that if you're a company you need to start thinking about from the beginning. Likewise, if you're building buildings, and you're like a building owner, you should be thinking about things like visibility, access, without having to go around back or through a service entrance. These sorts of things don't just think about it looks pretty to have a bunch of steps leading up into my building, or this reminds me of tenement buildings in New York City. Instead, you should be thinking about things like, okay, that you can't get into. And if you can't get a wheelchair in there, you also can't get a stroller and you also can't get a delivery card. So think about universal design approaches to buildings and products from the beginning.

Yeah, that's a really that's a really great thing. Jonathan, you want to ask a question?

Yeah, that's the one I just put into the chat myself believe it or not, I'm just curious how Pittsburgh kind of ranks compared to other cities as far as creating more accessibility throughout our infrastructure.

So it's, it's good and bad.

We have built in problems. So for example, if you have a steep hill, it's very hard to safely board a bus on a rant, you know, through a bus ramp on a steep hill when you know the terrain is just the geometries are just making it very hard. On the flip side, there has been a fair amount of effort by different parts of the city to make things accessible. We do see initiatives like the visibility initiative, and installing talking crosswalk signs throughout a large part of the city. The downside is of course, We have a lot of old buildings, and it's very hard to retrofit old buildings. We have a lot of older equipment, and it's very expensive to retrofit some of those things. And then there's been some choices that have long term repercussions that are still being dealt with. And Paul can talk more about those.

Absolutely. Another question from from Bill here real fast. What's Paul's sense of how well Pittsburgh is doing with regard to employment for people with disabilities, both in general and in the tech sector?

Um, I know that the arm national figures indicate that one of the areas the ADA, so far has not really made much of an impact on is employment of people with disabilities and I'm, I'm not sure I have a fine enough sense of Pittsburgh versus the national to be honest with you, it seems arm, it seems that it's still quite challenging for people with disabilities in the area of employment. I mean, employment over the last 20 years is, I mean, everything's, you know, in flux in the sense that, um, you know, we're much more into a gig economy these days, there's, there's been all kinds of changes, but I think that, in general, people with disabilities are still struggling in the area of employment.

Right. I think some of this is also outright discrimination, and misconceptions about the abilities of the people that they're who are applying for jobs.
It's a it's a fear of the unknown as well. lack of experience and perspective.

Or it's a why No, I know, I remember this person who is you know, who has a disability from when I was a kid and they couldn't do this job and they don't stop to think you know, well, could they and the answer is quite often Yes, they could.

Those are those biases are real. And so what what would the both of you like to tell the tech community and the people who are listening if there's a kernel of, of advice or guidance that you would like to be able to say to the people who are listening and share with the tech community in Pittsburgh?
like to say anything, either of you?

Well, I mean, I'll start. I mean, my sense is that the tech community by its nature, I see as both as one of our potential allies because, um, in general, as a person with a disability, new is better. You know, that when you look at everything that was built before, it was clear that there was absolutely no attention to disability and accessibility. And so in general, my bias is newest better and so, you know, technology is certainly by, by design and by necessity constantly, you know, a fight for the new and innovative. And so in that sense on I think the technology is is sort of our friend. I think that what Aaron brought up before though is that it's there's also countervailing kind of pressures on technology to be the first get it out first cut the corners to get it to the market and that sometimes that leaves people with disabilities behind but um, but generally speaking I'm I'm I see technology as being a key to our future.

And in the current scenario we're in with COVID is actually a great example of this, you know, prior to COVID. The idea of working remotely or working from home was probably something that a lot of people didn't consider viable. But now we're We're seeing a lot of businesses can pull this off. Well, that actually makes a huge impact on your pool of people with disabilities who are eligible to work for you. Because quite often, the biggest challenge they have to getting to work for you is just getting to work, you know, the transportation of getting to your, to your site. And now that you all started figuring out how to work remotely, that opens the door to potential employees that you in the past may not have may not have had access to.

Well, I can't thank you both enough for for the time that you've spent with us today. And you can see there's lots of people thanking you for for being here. And how do you solve the big global issues? I know that we could, I knew that we could have spent an hour with you easily. But we're you know, you're both of you are fairly easy to have access to. So I'm assuming that if there are people who are interested and want to reach out we can share your contact information. And thank you, Paul, for being advocate for so many years, and reminding us that we need to build an inclusive region needs to be at the forefront of everything that we do. And Aaron, thank you for the research that you do and the passion that you take in terms of this work and you're right here. Sometimes we just don't know all the rock stars that are sitting right around us and things that we try to do. So in a nutshell, the American Disability Act 30 years let's let's see what happens in the next 30 years. And what's really changed and and that's that's the exciting part. And I think Aaron's right as Paul technology is going to make make a difference for the future. There are tech companies that are in our membership that are also rock stars like Tobii Dynavox does a lot with the system technologies and abator just released their I think they have their 360 access that they just released yesterday. Right and bender consulting Does placement for people with an array of disabilities that are placing them in technology jobs, and maybe huge partnership with Highmark as well. So there are good things that are happening. But we won't rest on our laurels. So thank you, Paul O'Hanlon and thank you Aaron Steinfeld. And we will see everyone here tomorrow at the same time, who's on tomorrow, Jonathan.

David King, ethical intruder. It's all about cybersecurity, be there or get hacked.

That's great. Well, thank you both. And I can see here that Laura said two rock stars. So thank you both. And everyone. Let's not forget 30 years was only the beginning. Thank you both. Thank you.

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