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We invite you to stand with us as leaders of nonprofits, Disability Persons’ Organizations, Business-to-Business groups, Market Influencers, and Leaders of the Disabilities and Aging Communities to join our coalition of professionals.
Our focus is to proactively raise awareness among legislators about how our communities have become more independent by using smart speakers and related devices, also to help our legislators develop better technology-based policies that do not inadvertently affect our communities.
(For more information on this topic, please reference Debra Ruh’s recent article titled: “Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly are positively impacted by Voice Tech.”)
We ask you to please stand with us, together as leaders of non-profits, NGOs, disability persons’ organizations, business-to-business organizations, market influencers, and leaders in the disabilities and aging communities, to sign onto the attached letter of this coalition. Our goals are to raise awareness with legislators about how our communities have come to rely daily on smart speakers and related devices. This positive collaborative will ensure that legislators include us as a preferred resource in the early stages of policy as stakeholders and consult with us when legislation is pursued and developed to regulate these critical smart devices.
For more information, please contact Richard J. Streitz, Ruh Global IMPACT, COO at [email protected].
Thank you for your consideration
Of course, the security and privacy of voice technologies are essential to our communities. However, when legislators attempt to regulate voice technologies without proper awareness or understanding or do not consider the details of how and why the persons with disabilities and aging communities rely on them, there are bound to be unintended consequences. Poorly conceived regulation of voice technologies will disenfranchise persons with disabilities and the aging communities. We can prevent this.
Members of the California Assembly/Senate:
The undersigned coalition of non-profit organizations and advocates for persons with disabilities, including seniors aging into disabilities, respectfully ask that you include us as stakeholders in any discussions or efforts to legislate voice technologies.
Smart speakers have eliminated barriers to independence for the millions of us living with disabilities. They have empowered us to perform tasks otherwise provided by a caregiver, such as calling others for assistance, adjusting the temperature in our homes, shopping online, locking and unlocking doors to receive deliveries, setting security alarms, turning on and off lights, and raising and lowering blinds.
We value our privacy as much as anyone – and support well-informed privacy protections for smart speaker devices. However, we need legislators to understand that as smart devices enable us to live independently in our own homes – this reduces our reliance on family, friends, and caregivers to perform basic tasks – given this, smart speakers truly create privacy for us.
Further, the current COVID-19 pandemic highlights how voice-activated devices provide a critical lifeline for seniors and persons with disabilities who are isolated. Smart speakers have been vital in combatting loneliness by ensuring continued communication with families, loved ones and allowing us to listen to radio stations, music, audiobooks, have our eBooks read to us, and activate our televisions.
We are concerned that misunderstanding of how this technology works could lead to legislation that impairs its functioning, such as banning the sharing of smart speaker recordings or transcriptions with third parties. Ultimately, smart speakers are mostly a means for using third party services by voice that are already available through traditional means, like websites and apps on mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. The fact that we can now conduct these actions via voice rather than through physical manipulation of controls or screened devices is precisely what makes them great accessibility tools for our communities.
For too long, online services have been overly reliant on vision and physical control (touching and typing) as prerequisites for access. Recent innovations in voice technology and smart speakers have started to change that. Those of us with a brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, or cerebral palsy may speak in a way that is difficult for voice recognition technology to understand at first. A speaker that is “smart” will be able to adapt to our patterns of speech or our accents over time, but only if it has access to a growing library of utterances to improve its understanding.
As stakeholders in this technology, we are happy to collectively work with you to ensure legislative proposals contain inclusive language for the persons with disabilities and aging communities. We believe working together with legislators on well-conceived policy can protect privacy without unnecessarily blocking access to voice recognition technologies that preserve independence and provide accessibility.
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