“Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” Declaration Commentary by William “Bill” T. Coleman
This was the motto of the French Revolution, but in a broader sense these are the basic values of our democracy. These values are reflected in the Constitution of the United States, but their application has continued to evolve along with our society. The abolition of slavery, woman’s suffrage, the right to education for individuals with disabilities and the current gay rights movement are prime examples of this evolution. In the United States today, there are over 28 million people who are in danger of becoming marginalized and disenfranchised by their inability to effectively access and use information and communication technology. The irony is that the promise of these technologies for people with cognitive disabilities could free them from many limitations.
At of the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities our mission is to catalyze and integrate advances in science, engineering, and technology to promote the quality of life and independent living of people with cognitive disabilities. When we conceived of the Institute fifteen years ago we envisioned a future where the convergence of information technology and communications would allow our physical and virtual lives to come together and enable the emergence of new capabilities for everyone. The result could eventually be a “prosthesis for life,” enhancing all of our abilities and overcoming all of our disabilities. This vision is coming into focus as the Internet evolves to connect, measure, monitor, report and when appropriate control everything with new capabilities such as Cloud Computing, The Internet of Things, Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning.
If these technologies are made affordable, accessible and adaptable for people with cognitive disabilities, everything about their lives will improve. Think of a world where your identity is protected but in which everything can adapt to your abilities and disabilities in the context of where you are, what you need, and what you are doing or planning to do. For those with cognitive disabilities, this world holds the promise of being able to live mostly independent lives, to work and become productive, contributing members of society.
Unfortunately this world is not likely to be a reality for people with cognitive disabilities unless the technology is made accessible, affordable and adaptable for them. As society becomes more dependent on technology, people with cognitive disabilities are in danger of being even further isolated and disenfranchised. Even simple things that we depend today on such as ATMs, Google Maps, and Airline Online Check-In are not accessible for many people with cognitive disabilities. Making technology available and accessible for them will greatly benefit society and directly reflects the values of our democracy by giving them the liberty and equality to which we are all entitled. Now is the time for us to evolve our application of human rights to those with cognitive disabilities. The longer we wait the harder it will be to do, please support the Declaration of Rights for People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access.
Bill Coleman is the Founding Donor of the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities and is the Chief Executive Officer at Veritas.