Citizen engagement is at the heart of our democracy. It’s one of the many things that make me proud to be an American. In fact, since its earliest days, America has been well known the world over for its involved and energetic electorate.
But of course, citizen engagement extends beyond the polling booth. It means government and the public working together — on an ongoing basis — for the betterment of our nation. Reflecting this, federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), have been seeking new and innovative ways to partner with the private sector to advance opportunities for all citizens, in particular through the development of innovative technology tools.
In this spirit, DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) recently sponsored a Disability Employment App Challenge that sought innovative technology tools to improve employment opportunities and outcomes for people with disabilities. In a nutshell, the charge was to use publicly available information, resources and data to build an application that promotes the employment of people with disabilities. How entrants interpreted this was wide open, and I couldn’t wait to see what innovative ideas people came up with.
I’m pleased to say that they did not disappoint! We received some amazingly innovative and creative entries. In fact, selecting the winners turned out to be a challenge itself. But, in the end, there were some that stood out.
In addition to generating new tools for citizen use, this challenge helped illustrate the importance of technology – specifically, accessible technology – in advancing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. In fact, almost 2,500 people followed the contest online, and we received an influx of comments on the various entries. It was a great catalyst for advancing and important dialogue.
As a long-time user of accessible technology, this dialogue is near and dear to me. When it comes to disability employment, technology is a game changer – if it’s accessible, that is. But when it’s not, it excludes. That is the premise behind ODEP’s AT Works educational series. The fourth and final event of this series is a podcast audio discussion on encouraging innovation in the development of accessible technology. This discussion will take place Tuesday, September 5 at 2:00pm, and everyone is encouraged to tune in.
Of course, we at ODEP are not the only ones addressing this issue. In fact, we are partnering with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) on next week’s Developing with Accessibility (DevAcc) event, where Xavier Hughes, DOL’s Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of Labor, will join our App Challenge winners in a demonstration of their creations. Events like DevAcc are truly what it’s all about -raising awareness about accessible technology and government, industry and citizens working together to advance the aims of all. It’s citizen engagement in action.
Kathy Martinez is Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy.