Knotzland founder Nisha Blackwell with custom bowties she made for Inclusive Innovation week. Image by Pulsus Digital, a MWDBE certified business.

As Pittsburgh’s tech sector has grown, the city’s Department of Innovation and Performance and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) launched the Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation in 2015 to explore the issues of diversity and accessibility that plague the tech industry nationwide.

Now in its third year, Inclusive Innovation Week (IIW) is a spinoff of that “living strategic plan” — a citywide effort to create welcoming, inclusive experiences and highlight the organizations, individuals and businesses making tech accessible throughout our region.

From April 2 – 8, venues in 25 Pittsburgh neighborhoods will host 65 collaborative IIW events, kicking off with “Tackling the World’s Wicked Problems: A Celebration of Social Innovation Champions,” presented in partnership with Robert Morris University and BNY Mellon. The roundtable discussion and breakout sessions will spotlight local social entrepreneurs and leaders, including Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garrett, 412 Food Rescue Executive Director Leah Lizarondo and Zaheen Hussain, director of sustainability at New Sun Rising.

Other events span technology, the arts and disability awareness, including the All-In Silent Disco at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 7 at the Ace Hotel. Guests at the event — sponsored by Thrival and UPMC — will don vibrating backpacks and step on buzzing floor panels that allow them to feel the music and better understand the experiences of people with hearing impairments.

This year will also feature an increased focus on youth programming, including a TEDx talk at noon on Sunday, April 8, where young people will share their visions for an inclusive future alongside performances by the Homewood YMCA Lighthouse Project and jazz group, Funky Fly Project.

Christine Marty, civic innovation specialist for the city’s Department of Innovation and Performance, wants to send a clear message that young people are “invited to the table” at all IIW events.

“Youth will inherit the changes this city adopts,” she says, “and should be part of the creation process as well.”

Image courtesy of Pulsus Digital, a MWDBE certified business.

Organizers are managing the week’s schedule — which includes events at the city’s libraries, universities, museums and more — using the Sched calendar application. Users can create customized IIW schedules, sync them to iCal or Google Calendar, connect with friends on social media and contact event hosts directly through the app.

Beyond IIW, Marty and her team say they’ve noticed a demand for opportunities to discuss inclusion year-round — and businesses are taking notice, planning accessibility and inclusion activities in a more intentional way.

They’re asking, “How do we elevate the conversation into the public realm and continue beyond the week?” says Jennifer Wilhelm, assistant director of the URA’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The ultimate goal, says Marty, is to facilitate meaningful, collaborative relationships with inclusion and accessibility at the forefront. That can mean everything from ensuring that event sites are accessible for wheelchairs and other mobility devices, to leveling the playing field through partnerships with certified minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises (MWDBE). To that end, all IIW events are free to attend, and childcare is provided when possible.

“The City of Pittsburgh is consistently asking the question of how to ensure spaces invite, welcome and include all people and how can that goal be expanded further and incorporate more people and partners,” adds Marty. “We want to connect the dots between generations and provide spaces where we all can have conversations and experiences together to move the city forward.”

Want to learn more? Use (and follow) the #WeInnovatePGH hashtag on social media and check out the short video below.

Emily Stimmel

Emily fell in love with the written word as a teenager, when she published zines and wrote for her school paper. Today, she is a freelance writer with a decade and a half of experience in non-profit communications. She enjoys cooking, reading, crafting and exploring Pittsburgh with her husband and two sons.