Advocates say that advances in technology are positively transforming the lives of people with a disability. Although technology continues to break new ground, accessible features are not consistently prioritized in product development.
Eric Kaika, Director of Public Relations for Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc.
, discusses the importance of driving innovation in accessible tech.
Hong: By 2023, more than 72 million connected cars will be sold across the globe, triple the amount recorded in 2015. While consumers are attracted to the convenience afforded by new technologies, advocates in the accessibility community are raising concerns. Hello. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Ellee Pai Hong. Joining me to discuss how new tech impacts the accessibility community is Eric Kaika, director of public relations for TDI, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Incorporated, and his interpreter, Adriana Featherstone. Thank you so much for being here.
Kaika: Thank you for having me here today.
Hong: Hearing about all the technological advances happening today, it must be such an exciting time for the disabled community to think about all the possibilities.
Kaika: Yeah, I would agree with you. I think it´s wonderful with the technological advancements. It gives people who are disabled an opportunity to participate with the greater community at large.
Hong: One of the advancements that I know that you guys are very excited about are self-driving cars.
Kaika: Right, exactly. So, I think I´m really looking forward to that, because I think it would give other people with disabilities, for instance, people who use wheelchairs or blind people, more independence or ability to travel or to be able to be self-drivers. They could just get into the car and go. So, it´s just wonderful.
Hong: But it´s not as simple as that. There are some issues that arise with having those technological advancements.
Kaika: Right, so, with the issue of how the car would be able to community with the driver, so to speak. So, people want to make sure that if they´re tactile, and, you know, with wheelchairs, just making sure that they have enough space and mobility in the car so they can be seated comfortably and move about. But for deaf people, how they´ll be able to communicate with the driver in the car, if it´s spoken, or if there´s an operator that´s remote, or they´re remote from the car.
Hong: So, I would assume that captioning would be a huge component to addressing that issue.
Kaika: Well, you would assume that, but it really depends on the makers of the vehicle, whether or not they think about that accessibility feature. And that´s really one of the challenges with technology, because the people who are the developers, sometimes they forget about the fact that they need to think of these people, this group of people. And some companies are very good with inclusion, just like our company, TDI. But we can help counsel them and advise them for their technology just to make sure it´s accessible for everyone in general.
Hong: And sometimes those unintended consequences can be quite tragic.
Kaika: Right, yeah, so, a good example of that is, like, the fob. So, with the keyless fobs that they have and the keyless ignitions, there´s been so many people that are driving, they´re accustomed to just putting their key in the car and going in and just hanging their key on the hook. And the thing is with the fob, is that you still kind of have this thing that´s there, but the car and the engine itself can still be running. So, people are really in the habit of having that key and knowing that the key is used to turn the car off, but that´s not so with the fob, so the car is still running. And there´s about 20 deaf and hard of hearing people who have actually died within a five-year span from carbon monoxide poisoning, because they put the car in the garage, and it´s still running. The smoke and everything, the carbon monoxide, goes into the house, and they die in their sleep.
Hong: But car manufacturers are responding in terms of trying to come up with something to make sure that doesn´t happen again.
Kaika: Right, so, they´re aware of it, and they know it, and we´ve already brought it up. And this has been a thing since 2009, But it´s not just deaf and hard of hearing people that it affects, but it can affect hearing people, as well. So, the thing is is that it´s just -- The technology is changing, and they´re really not including people who are disabled within that. So they have to retrofit their technology. And so how they´re able to do that is still a work in progress, so we´re really trying to work with them.
Hong: Obviously, that would be a reactive approach to something that´s happened, but you really want the tech community to be more proactive in terms of the research.
Kaika: Yeah, right, and so, with automated vehicles, I know that there´s one company that´s truly including the disability organizations, and they´re working with us and people who are deaf-blind and making sure that the automated vehicles are actually including all of these features, because they´re thinking of us before we actually go ahead and start building that car. So, that´s wonderful that we´re able to have that involvement in the build-up process of the new technology. And so that´s where we really see the greatest impact on the greater community.
Hong: And real quick, tell me about some of the other technologies that you´re excited about but also concerned about.
Kaika: So, one of them is the text to 911 feature. So, I thought that was really a game-changer for everyone. So, for instance, if someone was to break in to my house or something, obviously, I wouldn´t be able to call 911, but I´d have to go into a secret hiding spot and text them. So, that´s just really cool. It´s a cool feature to give deaf people an opportunity to contact 911, as well, but the problem is is only 11% of the 911 centers have actually implemented the text to 911 feature. So, it´s really slow. It´s a slow implementation process.
Hong: Well, that would be a feature that would help everyone, not just the disabled community, so that would be a plus for everyone. Well, thank you so much for your time, Eric. It was great to have you here, and Adriana, as well.
Kaika: Thank you.
Hong: And thank you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Ellee Pai Hong.