2013 NCWIT Summit - Flashtalk, "Making Technology More Accessible" by Emily Peed-Brown

August 14, 2013

[music]

Jeffrey Forbes:  We're here at NCWIT. We couldn't do anything without highlighting one of our illustrious national Aspirations winners. Next up, we have Emily Peed‑Brown, who's going to speak about making technology more accessible. [applause]

Emily Peed‑Brown:  Hi, guys. My name is Emily Peed‑Brown and I'm here to speak about accessibility in technology. Accessibility is something that is barring people from pursuing a career or an education in the technology field. When you hear me speak about accessibility, I'm primarily taking a focus on people having access to learning materials. These learning materials can be available online, which is why I take a focus on Internet access as well as how people personally feel about pursuing this field.

If we take a look at Internet access, we see that 78 percent of Americans have it. That leaves roughly 69 million people without access. I can personally speak about the trouble it can be to not have access and pursue a career in technology, well an interest in it.

Most high school technology textbooks are going out of date far too fast for high schools to keep up with. This isn't a negative thing. It's just how our field is. But it does leave our students learning outdated materials and standards.

Rural areas have more accessibility issues than many might think. If you see the images, the blue depicts those who have Internet access. The more rural of these areas is leaving about 20 million people without adequate Internet access.

Efforts on the part of President Obama to increase access in these areas has helped, but until we fully connect this area, we need to focus on getting people excited about technology and to see the benefits of it.

We all know that education and income have an explicit relationship. Those who have a high school diploma or pursue a higher education earn more money, which puts them at a higher chance of using technology or using the Internet to learn.

Some people can be intimidated by things we may not even consider. As an extrovert, I try to imagine what it can be like to be shy and in this field. If your only access to technology is a club after school, then you might have trouble joining if you're shy or you have poor social skills.

Next, I'm going to speak about the things that we tell ourselves in our heads. There are so many of us that when we're about to express ourselves, we shoot ourselves down before we're ever able to speak, and that keeps a lot of people from pursuing this field.

We need to take time to demystify technology. There are still people who firmly believe that technology is some monster that is going to swallow you whole. There are so many people who just look at the metal box in their desk and are intimidated by it.

We can feel that we're not intelligent enough to understand something. When computers first came out, they had to be programmed using assembly. That's tough. That can be intimidating. From then on out, I feel a divergence has been formed ‑‑ those who can play with the computers, and those who build them.

We are one of many. We can be guilty of feeling that the work we do makes such a minuscule difference that it isn't worth pursuing. That's heartbreaking. Every person should be reminded that the work that they do is worthwhile, that their presence in this field can make a difference.

The first thing we should do in our quest to improve diversity in our field is to make sure our attitudes are in sync with our goals. We cannot doubt what a person can do based on our first impressions of them. And we could also take our time and materials that we no longer use and donate them to worthy technology programs.

The computers we can donate can be recycled and they can be refurbished and given to people who truly do deserve the use of them. They could also be disassembled and people could get to play with the internals to get more comfortable with the computers that they're intimidated by.

E‑books could also be an alternative to bulky textbooks that college and high school students alike are supposed to carry. There are grants to eight high schools in providing their students with E‑readers to usher in a new technology age.

Those who think they are not smart enough to understand technology just need a gentle, guiding hand. Someone who is shy just needs a friend to show them the ropes. Everyone learns a little differently and each type of learning needs a different style of encouragement. Encouragement can truly make all the difference.

Sometimes people can be discouraged from their work because they feel like their work doesn't matter. A simple appreciative "thank you" can make someone's day better and make them feel a devotion to their work because they see the direct implications of it in people's lives.

When you go to something technology‑based, don't just invite your friends who you already know are interested in technology. Take a chance of being shot down and invite someone new. You might make a friend out of it, too.

[laughter]

Emily:  Accessibility rears its ugly head in many different forms. If you try and isolate the root of these problems, we can try and increase participation rates overall. The problems in this field could range from accessibility, self‑esteem, and from social skills. Oh, I'm sorry

[laughter]

Emily:  Can I still say my last slide? [laughter]

Emily:  I didn't see it change. I wouldn't be standing here today if it weren't for my involvement with NCWIT. The work has opened up doors for me that personally I would have not known had existed. I firmly believe that if we all work together we can make a field that is open and equal for all.

[applause]



 

Transcription by CastingWords