technology

My Fight With a Sidewalk Robot

A life-threatening encounter with AI technology convinced me that the needs of people with disabilities need to be engineered into our autonomous future.

A mid-sized robot on a sidewalk
A Starship Technologies commercial delivery robot navigates a sidewalk. Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters
PERSPECTIVE

By EMILY ACKERMAN

One afternoon last month, as I was crossing a busy four-lane street that runs through the University of Pittsburgh campus, I looked up to see a robot blocking my path.

This wasn’t unexpected. Over the summer, several four-wheeled, knee-high robots had been roaming campus, unmarked and usually with a human handler several feet behind. Recently they’d multiplied, and now they were flying solo. They belonged to Starship Technologies, I learned, an autonomous delivery service rolling out on college campuses across America.

As a chemical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh who uses a power wheelchair, I figured it wouldn’t be long before I met one of these bots in a frustrating face-off on a narrow sidewalk. What I didn’t realize was how dangerous, and dehumanizing, that scenario might be.

The robot was sitting motionless on the curb cut on the other side of Forbes Avenue. It wasn’t crossing with the rest of the pedestrians, and when I reached the curb, it didn’t move as the walk signal was ending. I found myself sitting in the street as the traffic light turned green, blocked by a non-sentient being incapable of understanding the consequences of its actions.

I managed to squeeze myself up on the sidewalk in a panic, climbing the curb outside the curb cut in fear of staying in the street any longer—a move that causes a painful jolt and could leave me stuck halfway up if I’m not careful.

Then I did what a lot of upset people do: I sent off a thread of angry tweets about the experience.

Read the full article here: https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2019/11/autonomous-technology-ai-robot-delivery-disability-rights/602209/

Toyota’s $4 million competition to re-invent the wheelchair

Phoenix Ai is an ultra-lightweight, self-balancing, smart wheelchair
Phoenix Ai, a finalist in the competition, is an ultra-lightweight, self-balancing, intelligent wheelchair.

Toyota announced five finalists for its Mobility Unlimited Challenge at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas yesterday. Launched in 2017, the Mobility Unlimited Challenge is a contest that invites engineers, inventors, and designers from around the world to rethink the conventional wheelchair and develop a new way for people with lower-limb paralysis to get around. Each of the finalists will receive a grant of $500,000 to develop their concept further, with the final winner receiving $1 million in Tokyo in 2020.

Click here to read more about the competition online, or click here to download a PDF file of Toyota’s press release.

April 25 NCDJ workshop trains Arizona PIOs about basics of #DisabilityComm

On Wednesday, April 25 the National Center for Disability and Journalism partnered with Ability 360 and the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to host a workshop titled “Improving Disability Communication” for local public information officers.

The goal of the workshop was to introduce public service employees to disability communication topics, styles and perspectives.

Activities included tutorials about disability language style and tips on making digital media accessible. Participants heard insightful testimonies from people with a variety of disabilities as well as local reporters who shape mass media stories.

Agency representatives at the workshop came from Department of Economic Security, Department of Transportation, State Parks and Trails, Department of Health Services and many others. A similar workshop is planned for September 21 at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix and host local journalists and public relations executives.

NCDJ Director Kristin Gilger introduces participants and event coordinators at the start of the April 25, 2018 "Improving Disability Communication" workshop at Ability 360. About 30 workshop attendees sit around a horseshoe-shaped table facing three large projection screens.
NCDJ Director Kristin Gilger introduces participants and event coordinators at the start of the April 25, 2018 “Improving Disability Communication” workshop at Ability 360.
30 participants in the "Improving Disability Communication" workshop sit around a large horseshoe table listening to NCDJ Director Kristin Gilger, a petite blonde executive, explain the upcoming activities.
Attendees of the “Improving Disability Communication” workshop on April 25, 2018.
Tessa Ringo, a brunette woman in a blue dress, and her adolescent son Aiden, who has brunette hair and glasses and uses a wheelchair, describe their experiences discussing disabilities with acquaintances and reporters. They sit amongst a row of panelists and Tessa holds a portable microphone near her mouth.
Tessa Ringo and her son Aiden, who uses a wheelchair, describe their experiences discussing disabilities with acquaintances and reporters.
NCDJ Director Kristin Gilger stands in front of 3 project screens leading a tutorial about disability language styles.
NCDJ Director Kristin Gilger leads a workshop tutorial about disability language styles. A complete list of preferred language is available on the NCDJ’s website.
Loren Worthington (left) and Jennifer Longdon lead a tutorial on digital media accessibility and appropriate visual elements for disability stories.
Loren Worthington (left) and Jennifer Longdon lead a tutorial on digital media accessibility and appropriate visual elements for disability stories.
Local reporters sit together behind a large table speaking towards the workshop participants. Panelists include including Maria Polletta, Amy Silverman, Kathy Ritchie and Morgan Loew.
Local reporters (left to right) Maria Polletta, Amy Silverman, Kathy Ritchie and Morgan Loew share their experiences covering disability stories. Taken April 25, 2018 at the “Improving Disability Communication” workshop hosted by NCDJ, Ability 360 and Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

Medical schools heighten focus on undergraduate accessibility

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) published a report today outlining common barriers to medical education faced by med school students with disabilities. The research on this topic was prompted by the AAMC‘s desire to promote diversity among its student, faculty and professional membership, and facilitate the standardization of accommodations. The report suggests that, although more medical school students are self-identifying as having disabilities, a culture of competition still promotes stigma around disability. Philadelphia public radio’s (WHYY) Elana Gordon wrote a short article summarizing the AAMC report and the responses it prompted from disability rights advocates.

Self-driving shuttle “Accessible Olli” debuts at CES 2018

CNET.com covered this year’s Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas from many angles. One of the featured products was “Accessible Olli,” a self-driving, electric shuttle designed by and for people with disabilities. As CNET reports, the vehicle has a retractable wheelchair ramp, software that can read sign language and a computer powered by IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence. Read the full CNET article here.