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How Artificial Intelligence Can Improve Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Efforts

America’s diversity has always been our nation’s greatest strength and we must continue to leverage capabilities from all people. People with disabilities have long strengthened our economy and expanded our Nation’s possibilities.

The growing popularity of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is opening new doors that are enhancing the work capabilities and performance for persons with disabilities. In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the Department of Commerce hosted a panel discussion on the intersectionality of AI and neurodiversity and the impact of AI on hiring persons with disabilities as well as promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility by all employees.

During the discussion, panelists stressed how AI can shape careers and improve day to day learning through neurodivergence, machine learning, and technology.

Panelist and Chief Information Officer André Mendes commented that some of the most significant contributions in fields like science, technology, and the performing arts have been given to us by individuals with neurodivergent characteristics.

“Humanity is a spectrum, and that spectrum applies to all of us,” said Mr.  Mendes. “Some of us have challenges that do not fit the norm. However, we all have intersectionality, and we all are more than our job.”

Panelist Victoria Houed, Director of AI Policy and Strategy at the Department of Commerce’s Office of the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, commented on the importance of making data more accessible to persons with disabilities, particularly among unrepresented communities.

“As a black woman, it is important to me to be the voice in the room and get data into the hands of unrepresented communities and people that are just different than the stereotypical community,” she said.

Ms. Elham Tabassi, NIST Associate Director for Emerging Technologies, participated in the panel discussion and stressed that AI systems can serve all people and that it is a shared responsibility for all of us.

“We have a responsibility to make sure our technologies are fair and just,” said Ms. Tabassi. “When we increase the diversity of thoughts and thought process, magic happens.”

Ms. Tabassi was nominated by Time Magazine as one of the most influential people in AI.

Making Commerce services, science, and data more accessible is a top priority for several agencies within Commerce that are utilizing AI to complete their missions. The inventory of Commerce AI Use Cases shows how AI is enhancing the department’s mission and promoting the use of trustworthy artificial intelligence in the Federal Government.

The mission of the Department of Commerce is to help create economic opportunities for all communities, including people with disabilities. Internal to that goal is hiring and retaining more people with disabilities. At 10.9% percent, Commerce falls below the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC) benchmark for federal agencies to have 12% of their total workforce made up of people with disabilities. Yet, at 2.49 percent, Commerce exceeds the EEOC benchmark to have two percent of their workforce be made of up people with targeted disabilities which include persons with blindness, mobility impairments, or are deaf and hard of hearing.

The Biden Administration and the Commerce Department are committed to the equality and diversity of all Americans and creating a workplace and an economy that works for all Americans.