As technology evolves and innovation is beginning to change our lives for the better, can technology advancements be key to further adjusting the workplace for those with disabilities?
"Some employers don’t know how to make workplace adjustments – from IT adaptations to working with someone who has a PA or interpreter – they don’t have access to ready advice on how best to accommodate individuals.” – Liz Sayce, Chief Executive, Disability Rights UK
All workplaces are legally required to accommodate workers of all abilities, including physical disabilities, mental health and people with learning difficulties. The workplace can have a major effect on your self-esteem and work/life balance, and so business leaders have a unique opportunity to create a working environment which caters for a diverse workforce, and ensures all workers feel welcomed and supported in their daily responsibilities.
How can technology help?
Technology already plays a major part in assisting people with disabilities and is being increasingly used to good effect in the workplace. With the continued advancements in mobility, mobile devices, virtual and augmented reality, voice integration and facial recognition, the capacity to make office life more accessible to everyone is certainly on the rise.
According to the World Health Organisation, there are more than a million people with disabilities globally – clearly, this type of innovation is very much needed. If a million more disabled people could work, the UK economy alone would grow 1.7%, or £45bn ($64bn) – Scope
But how exactly is technology assisting us? What are the new inventions and innovations that are aiding us in our working lives? Here are some prominent examples:
A product that can assist people with limited body movements. This technology allows the user to operate a device with their eye movements. Since its development, over 12 books have been written using this device.
In case you were curious, here’s a selection of those books: Joe Martin, a retired banking vice president, wrote On Any Given Day (published by John F. Blair), and Fire in the Rock (Ballantine Books). Jack Orchard is the author of Extra Hands, published by Lulu.com. Philippe Vigand penned Only the Eyes Say Yes, and Australian Ergün Hüseyin wrote his memoir, A Life Worth Living. All via the Eyegaze Edge.
Developed by Stephen Hicks, a Neuroscientist at Oxford University, can help blind or partially sighted people by accentuating the contrast between light and dark objects.
Created by Nicholas Caporusso, it allows those with deafblindness to use a smartphone. Deafblind people utilise a tactical alphabet by pressing or pinching different parts of the hand, which then represent different letters. Nicholas has turned the movements into electronic signals via a specially designed digital glove.
Exploits the advancements in 3D printing, prosthetics and their integration with smart technology, giving people with a physical disability more accessibility. The Myo is an armband developed by Thalmic Labs, allowing the user to control a computer by combining the electrodes and their own skeletal muscles.
(otherwise known as Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Hey Google) can assist with multiple tasks, and plays a big part in facilitating workplace responsibilities in particular. With over 40,000 available functions, including managing lights and other electrical devices, booking taxis, ordering food, there is also the business side available; Cortana is fully integrated with Office 365, and Alexa can manage your diary and book appointments, among other things. Our product development team recently created an integrated prototype using Alexa, allowing the user to book meeting spaces via Condeco software, using just voice instruction.
Then there is ambient computing...
So much more than just a simple piece of technology, ambient computing brings together your entire digital ecosystem and manages your own personal environment, whether at home or at work. Essentially invisible, because it’s behind the scenes understanding, learning and managing, ambient computing manages your mobile devices, smart buildings, the Internet of Things (IoT) and any connected device to enhance your desired environment. Think controlling your lighting, heating, switching on your computer, accessing buildings and guiding you to your destination. For people with disabilities, the opportunity to leverage ambient computing within the workplace is extremely exciting.
Ambient computing has been described by Narain Jashanmal, Product Marketing @ Facebook, as “A guided evolution — making conscious choices about the direction in which we want to see computing go.”
"The NHS is now taking concrete action to employ people with a learning disability. Hospitals and community health services are increasingly realising that if we get our recruitment and employment of people with learning disabilities right, it’s everyone who benefits.” - Simon Stevens, Chief Executive, NHS
Why is it important to have a diverse workforce?
Having a diverse workforce, regardless of the generation gap, gender, race, religion or disability, is vital to successful people management. Valuing everyone in the business as an individual, and allowing them to achieve their potential will increase productivity, innovation and collaboration within the workforce.
“You end up being a healthier company from a lot of different perspectives: innovation, engagement, morale, productivity.” – AMC’s chief people speaking to Bloomberg, about the chain's collaboration with the Autism Society.
Everyone should be given the opportunity to shine in the workplace, and they should have access to the tools that give them the best chance to do so. The ever-evolving world of technology, and the vast array of new possibilities that can bring, is exciting for all of us.