By Saige Draeger
The nearly departed year 2020 will go down as historic
Jan. 1 marked the beginning of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Signed in 1990, the ADA ushered in a new era of opportunity and inclusion for people with disabilities across the country. Since its passage, the landmark legislation sought to erase barriers to employment by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities.
Despite the protections outlined in the ADA, people with disabilities still face challenges with economic stability, equal opportunity, and inclusion. Today, disability rights advocates carry on the legislation’s legacy by fighting for fair wages and seeking to end labor market discrimination. But what will the next 30 years look like for people with disabilities? The answer may lie in the ever-evolving role that technology plays in our daily lives, both at home and at work. For many advocates, these emerging tools hold potential to help make every workplace inclusive.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. AI-powered platforms are now used to screen job applicants, streamline the application process, and provide on-the-job training. While AI holds tremendous potential for both employers and employees to make workplaces more inclusive, it also carries risks for people with disabilities, and other population groups, related to privacy, ethics, and bias.
Autonomous Vehicles (AV)
Autonomous vehicles are vehicles capable of sensing their environment and moving safely with little or no human input. If developed with accessibility at the forefront, AV offers a renewed opportunity to tackle one of the most difficult issues our society has been attempting to overcome for decades: equitable access to transportation and employment.
With digital devices, platforms, and documents becoming the primary methods used by individuals to execute work and engage in daily life, it’s more important than ever for employers to prioritize digital accessibility for employees and job applicants.
Extended Reality (XR)
Extended reality is an umbrella term for all the immersive technologies. This includes augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR). Extended reality is changing the way we interact with the world around us and will, undoubtedly, shape the future of work. In fact, companies are already using these immersive technologies to train staff, enhance collaboration, and market products and services.
These technologies have the potential to usher in a new tide of employment opportunities for people with disabilities, as advocates build from the foundation offered by the ADA and look toward a future of expanded inclusion.
This piece is part of NCSL’s yearlong celebration of ADA30, and on-going partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy’s State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED). SEED partners with intermediary organizations like NCSL to ensure that state and local policymakers have the tools and resources they need to develop and disseminate meaningful policies related to disability-inclusive workforce development..
Saige Draeger is a research analyst in NCSL's Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.