Assistive technology in the workplace blog from celebrating disability website

Assistive Technology in the Workplace

In This Blog: Assistive technology consists of systems and equipment; including physical devices and software. They are designed to maintain or increase performance for disabled people.

Disabled people in the UK face disproportionately high unemployment rates, with 53% unemployed compared to only 23% of non-disabled people.

Looking to leadership positions, the situation is even more stark – a survey of 1000 business leaders showed that 89% were apprehensive about recruiting disabled people to senior positions. The same survey found that two thirds did not know any disabled people in leadership roles. This is despite the fact that nearly 20% of the working-age population has some form of disability.

Accessibility and assistive technology

A major reason for this is that many workplaces do not set disabled people up to succeed. Accessibility issues are a significant barrier to work, including a lack of special aids and equipment.  Given the pivotal role that IT plays in most jobs, it is vital that computer workstations are made accessible for people with a range of disabilities.

Assistive technology can help to bridge the gap. 

Just as technology across the board has improved exponentially in recent years, so too has assistive technology. With proper implementation, this can open many new doors for disabled people in the workplace, regardless of impairment. 

Physical Disability and Motor Skills Impairment

Conditions that limit range of movement and muscular control, including quadriplegia, paraplegia, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, tendonitis, arthritis and amputations.

Speech recognition software

This software can replace conventional peripherals for individuals with dexterity limitations. The user can navigate a computer using only speech commands to access documents, programs and applications.

Alternative keyboards and pointing devices

There are a wide variety of keyboards and alternative pointing devices (used instead of a standard mouse) to aid computer accessibility. Common variants include split keyboards, keyboards that allow key activation via sliding rather than pressing. Also, the trackball mouse. This is controlled through a movable ball on top of the device.

Adaptive switches 

Often used in concord with the above, adaptive switches aid in using computers and other technology. These can be activated using the head, mouth, arms, legs, or whatever suits the capabilities of the individual. Common options include the head wand and mouth stick.

Sip-and-puff systems

Sip-and-puff systems behave much like a joystick, controlling movement in any direction via the mouth. They are a highly versatile option for people with paralysis or fine motor disabilities, and in addition to wheelchair movement can be used to type and operate a computer or mobile device.

Cognition and Learning Disabilities 

Conditions which impact cognitive capabilities such as memory, concentration and organisation, including dyslexia, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, stroke and traumatic brain injury. 

Cueing/memory aids

These are used to aid individuals who have trouble recalling certain information and provide reminders about events like appointments (when to do something) and steps to complete work tasks (how to do something). 

Word prediction software

This software helps individuals to select or recall appropriate language. It predicts logical words, corrects grammar and can even improve sentence structure by analysing the contextual meaning within a piece of writing. 

Blindness and Visual Impairment

Conditions which impact vision, including glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, retinopathy; ranging from partial visual impairment to total blindness. 

Screen magnifiers 

Screen magnification systems follow the mouse cursor as it moves along the screen and enlarges the text and images around it. Certain variants also magnify the mouse pointer, text cursor and icons. 

Screen readers 

Screen readers interpret data that is being displayed on a computer screen and represent it as braille, text-to-speech or sound icons. They are highly configurable and can be adjusted to meet their user’s needs, including the option to announce punctuation or ignore it. Some screen readers also have scripting capabilities, meaning they can be optimised to function with individual programmes or applications. 

Speech synthesisers 

Speech synthesisers are text-to-speech systems, and are available in many forms, including as a portable device that can be attached to a computer or as software that uses a PC’s built-in sound card. While commonly associated with flat and robotic voices, advancing technology – including the ability to interpret phonemes and all grammatical rules – have enabled increasingly lifelike language reproduction.

Deaf and Hearing Impairment 

Conditions which impact hearing, including otosclerosis and tinnitus; ranging from inability to hear certain volumes, tones and frequencies to total deafness.

Alerting devices

These devices translate audio signals (such as alarms or notification sounds) into visual ones like flashing lights, tactile ones like vibrations, or a combination of both. 

Bluetooth hearing aids

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology that can be installed in hearing aid and cochlear implants. This substantially improves audibility when directly connected to a computer or mobile device.

Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)

CART involves adding real-time captions to live events (i.e. that are not pre-scripted). While the setup is generally too costly at present for day-to-day proceedings, it’s a fantastic way to make video conferences or seminars more accessible, both for internal events and those available to the public.

Communication Impairments

Conditions that limit or prohibit speech, including stuttering, voice impairments, and articulation impairments.

Voice Amplifiers 

Voice amplifiers are used by individuals who are able to articulate, but not at an easily audible level. They amplify the volume of the user’s voice and can be used in-person or connected to a computer.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication aids (AAC)

There are a wide range of technologies which aid in communication, including Speech Generating Devices. A common and versatile option uses text-to-speech, where the user types messages, often accelerated by word prediction and abbreviation expansion, and the device converts the text to speech. This can be used for in-person or online meetings. 

While computer accessibility is currently a challenge for many disabled people, the latest assistive technologies have the power to invert the situation. Such technologies can augment existing capabilities and enable each individual to properly utilise their unique talents. In the past, many barriers to work for disabled people seemed insurmountable. Today, truly equal opportunity employment – including in leadership positions – is finally realisable. 

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