Google Accessibility Executive Eve Andersson Talks Amplifying The Disability Community And Three Decades Of The ‘Landmark’ ADA – Forbes


The Americans with Disabilities Act turns 32 years old this week.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, commonly known as the ADA, turns 32 years old this week. The landmark piece of legislation was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26 1990, and is effectively the Civil Rights Act for disabled people. I interviewed Tony Coelho (D-CA), the former congressman widely considered the pioneer and author of the bill, about his life and the law’s history in this space back in 2020. On the ADA’s impact, he said it was written to regulate the physical world. Three decades ago, no one foresaw how technology would eventually come to dominate virtually every aspect of human life. Coelho believes the ADA is rather antiquated when it comes to the protections it affords the digital realm. Disabled people use the internet too; the ADA should be revised so as to regulate how tech is and can be used to make the world more accessible.
“When the ADA was enacted, the internet was not as pervasive as it is today, so the ADA did not specifically cover it. I feel strongly that digital accessibility should be included in the ADA,” Coelho said, adding “I’ve made this argument over and over again… I’ve testified that the ADA does apply to digital accessibility.”
Like its Big Tech peers in Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and others, Mountain View-based Google invests considerable resources into making its products—and by extension, the internet—as accessible as possible to disabled people. One of the people responsible for leading these efforts is Eve Andersson, who’s the company’s Senior Director of Product Inclusion, Equity, and Accessibility. “Accessibility is written into Google’s mission statement and is foundational to our value as a company to build for everyone,” Andersson said in a recent interview with me done via email. “While I’ve been at Google for over 15 years, I started leading the company’s accessibility team in 2013 and helped turn it from a grassroots to a company-wide effort and an area of focus for hundreds of employees.”
Accessibility, Andersson told me, is a “core consideration” of the product development process at Google, whether it be for hardware or software products. Much of the planning involve collaborative efforts with members of the disability community, who offer input on usability and other factors when making design choices. One example Andersson cited is the development of the Lookout software, which assists people in understanding items in the physical world such as food labels and other documents. Google solicited feedback from members of the Blind and low vision community because “we saw there was an opportunity to leverage advances in AI to make the physical world more accessible,” she said.
But Google’s commitment to furthering diversity and inclusion vis-a-vis accessibility goes beyond mere technological baubles. The company works hard to ensure Google is a welcoming place internally for disabled Googlers, as employees are colloquially known. They do this with the overarching goal of “identifying areas for improvement in the holistic experience,” according to Andersson. There’s an institutional belief that products can only be made truly accessible if they’re worked on by people who are most likely to derive direct benefit from them. There are numerous ways Google supports disabled employees; they offer sign language interpretation services, as well as so-called controlled sensory environments on campuses that are in the early stages of development. Additionally, there’s a dedicated hiring site for disabled workers seeking career opportunities with Google, and the company had a hand in creating the Neurodiversity Career Connector alongside Microsoft, Salesforce, Bank of America, and others.
“In the disability community, people often say ‘nothing about us without us.’ It’s a sentiment that I find sums up what disability inclusion means,” Andersson said of the importance of equal access. “The types of barriers that people with disabilities face in society vary depending on who they are, where they live, and what resources they have access to. No one’s experience is universal, which is why having a diversity of perspectives from the community is always key.”
As for the aforementioned ADA, Andersson described its raison d’être as “creating equitable experiences for people with disabilities, including prohibiting discrimination in employment and ensuring physical spaces are accessible.” The unstoppable march of time (and of technological progress) has afforded companies like Google to harness technology in innovative ways to “[deconstruct] the barriers” in the digital arena as tech’s influence has grown. “The legacy of the ADA can not only be seen in the changes that have been made in the physical world, like the prevalence of curb cuts in sidewalks, but also as a result of advances in digital technologies,” Andersson said. “The advocacy that brought about the ADA, and the awareness it created in the general public, helped drive innovation.”
As ever with accessibility awareness and disability advocacy, however, there always will be more work yet to be done. The mission is evergreen. Andersson believes the ADA has “without question” led to more equity of access for disabled people, which is why she is such a staunch supporter of not only Google’s policies, but also of broader societal policies that open even more doors for disabled people. Andersson believes there’s an “increased prevalence”societally amongst abled people to be more empathetic towards the disability community by adopting such accommodations as captions in videos, Braille signage, and more. “As a society, we have to continue to recognize that accessibility is about more than just checking a box,” she said. “It’s about ensuring that when someone with a disability uses a product or service, they have a useful and equitable experience.”
There’s more to be done, and Andersson is committed to doing her part.
“I’m committed to building more [accessible tools at Google] with and for the disability community so that we can continue to work towards a more equitable, accessible world,” she said.

source


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.