by Albert J. Rizzi

I was honored to speak at the recent TEDxMidAtlantic 2019 “Unbreakable” event held at the end of March in Washington, D.C. It was jam-packed with many distinguished speakers offering their views, including Representative Elijah Cummings and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams as well as an up and coming future leader, Ethan Lindenberger. I was humbled to be in the company of such an accomplished and thought provoking group of individuals.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Unbreakable.” Speakers were asked to address what it means to be “strong” and how can we make our systems, structures, and institutions stronger.

I shared my life’s journey about how I became a man who lost his sight but not his vision for all things possible. When I first lost my eyesight at 42, I had to draw on my own strength and that of my family and friends to overcome the physical and virtual hurdles that I endured to assimilate back into society and corporate America. Many people across the ability spectrum continue to deal with the same challenges every single day.

In my Eldunarí or my heart of hearts, the answer about how we become stronger is simple. We can make America stronger when we realize its vision of true inclusion for all its citizens. Through digital inclusion or digital equity, we ensure that people of ALL abilities have access and use of those technologies relied upon in the 21st century. People can only fully participate in our democracy when we, as a nation, achieve authentic inclusion. That is why Ability must be included and celebrated alongside Race, Gender, Orientation, and Religion in our social and corporate cultures. More than that, it must be baked into our psyches and not be treated as an afterthought. America has always succeeded when challenged by audacious goals. The same is doable for digital equity and authentic inclusion for people of all abilities. We should not limit our challenges, but instead challenge our limits. The United States had the ability to land a man on the moon 50 years ago, so we should be able to grant access to technologies to millions of people using the internet today! Regardless of politics, we need to have a national conversation about coding our digital platforms, websites, mobile apps, and software programs so that access and use of these things are open to all people. Then we need to take action.

All too often I hear how organizations assert that true digital inclusion is both unrealistic and too costly to implement. I wholeheartedly disagree. We got the same argument and push back when the Americans with Disabilities Act was proposed and ultimately enacted into law. We still have a long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction. I said during my Ted Talk and will continue to say that this is doable. I hope that you agree and will join me on my mission of advancing digital equity and authentic inclusion for people of ALL abilities.

Stay tuned for the release of my TEDx Talk in the coming weeks.