Exploring innovative solutions to tech inclusion for people with visible and invisible disabilities.

Alex Tabony, Executive Director of the Computer Technologies Program (CTP), along with his CTP colleagues attended the Change Catalyst created Tech Inclusion 2015 conference in San Francisco and it provoked a conversation about how diversity and inclusion events can sometimes unintentionally focus primarily on race and gender identity. The event showed CTP that there is a strong commitment within the tech industry to increase workforce diversity and how the sharing of knowledge and best practices can lead to improved results. By spotlighting the undertapped talent of people with disabilities we aim to examine populations that are often left out of the diversity and inclusion narrative. The energetic atmosphere, thought-provoking panel and solo talk discussions; along with the sincere hunger for progressive inclusionary change within the tech industry from diversity program professionals such as Abby Maldonado of Pinterest and Rachel Williams of Yelp was inspiring to say the least.

Since 1974, CTP has prepared people with disabilities for professional employment by providing technical training, coaching and associated services. They also deploy several different comprehensive training programs and services tailored to suit their diverse student population. Every student is treated as an individual ensured that the experience received at CTP is the right path to their vocational goals.

CTP came away from event wondering ‘What If?’

What if CTP and Change Catalyst partnered up to put on an event focused on the best practices in hiring and retaining employees with disabilities in the tech industry? Soon after Tech Inclusion 2015, our ‘What if?’ became a ‘Let’s do it!’  Both organizations united together to create the Ability in Tech Summit.  The one day conference “will address barriers and biases for people with different physical and mental abilities in tech – through workshops, panel discussions, a technology showcase, a career fair and a safe space to learn and meaningfully connect.”

Change Catalyst empowers diverse, inclusive and sustainable tech innovation – through education, mentorship and funding.  Their Tech Inclusion programs explore and develop innovative solutions to tech diversity and inclusion. They partner with the tech community to solve diversity and inclusion together through conferences, career fairs, strategic consulting and training. Our work spans the full tech ecosystem, including: Education, Workplace, Entrepreneurship and Policy.

Change Catalyst is a Certified B Corp, winning the “Best for the World”​ award for community impact in 2014 and “Best in the World”​ overall in 2015.

This inaugural event aims to not only shift the diversity inclusion conversation, but provide realistic first steps for companies to take as they work towards being a part of the solution not the problem in relation to the low employment rates of individuals with disabilities. According to disabilitystatistics.org In 2014, only an estimated 39.5 percent of non-institutionalized people with disabilities ages 21-64, with some college/associates degrees in the United States were employed. In other words, 2,452,900 out of 6,212,800 Americans – non-institutionalized, male or female, ages 21-64, all races, regardless of ethnicity – with a disability and with some college/associates degree in the United States were employed.

People with Disabilities & Degrees Unemployed

These statistics are of course reflecting numbers that only represent the general employment population as many tech companies either aren’t aware of or chose not to disclose/promote their disability employment numbers. Those numbers also don’t include the lack of internship, apprenticeship, and position focused training opportunities offered to transition youth ages 18-24 coming out of high school special education employment programs. Only a few notable disability hiring programs founded by tech companies such as the SAP’s established Autism at Work program or Microsoft’s recently launched pilot called the Autism Program exist.

The event will take place Saturday, May 21st 2016 at the Ed Roberts Campus (ERC) where  CTP is a partner. The Ed Roberts Campus is a nonprofit (501c3) corporation that has been formed by disability organizations that share a common history in the Independent Living Movement of People with Disabilities. The universally designed, transit–oriented campus is located at the Ashby BART Station in South Berkeley.

This symposium will not just be another diversity and inclusion event or even a movement.  It will be a progressive moment in which the topic of disability moves closer to being much more than a topic discussed in passing within the tech industry diversity conversation.