In this article, we will consider a shift of perspective regarding assistive technology and business. Rather than viewing assistive technology as a strategy for helping someone with barriers within the workplace related to disability, we will consider assistive technology as a strategy for boosting productivity and fostering a more creative working environment.
Let us start with the disability perspective first.
The UK Government talks about their definition of assistive technology as follows:
“The phrase ‘assistive technology’ is often used to describe products or systems that support and assist individuals with disabilities, restricted mobility or other impairments to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible.”
Source - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/assistive-technology-definition-and-safe-use/assistive-technology-definition-and-safe-use
Here in the UK, employees with disability can access the UK Government’s Access To Work Scheme to gain assistance in delivering on their job expectations. The scheme itself provides coaching support as well as assistive technology training and provision.
In the Business Disability Forum’s response to the Work and Pensions Committee’s Inquiry on Assistive Technology in Employment they share the following insight:
“ A senior civil servant who has been an AT user for ten years described how her adjustments are not purely about fulfilling each component of her job description, but they have been provided to the extent that she can exceed the expectations of her role.”
The provision of assistive technology to support an employee’s needs can have a positive benefit on the productivity of the employee, provided they get the training that they need to use it.
A great way for an employee to maintain their knowledge of their assistive technology is to use an e-learning platform such as ‘atWork’.
One of the challenges that comes with supporting the individual needs of an employee with assistive technology is that it means that the company as a whole doesn’t fully embrace disability, especially within their IT policy, and sometimes there can be clashes with installing bespoke software onto IT systems that are not compatible thus the end-user gets to be limited in how much they could use that software.
Within the Business Disability Forum’s inquiry, it was found that this could be a problem when employees get promoted into different departments where there is a difference in how the IT structure has been developed.
The indications in the inquiry suggest that in some organisations there is not a ‘top down’ approach to embracing disability within the workplace and so there can be situations taking place that limit those who receive assistive technology being able to perform at their best.
Assistive Technology as a way of boosting productivity within the workplace for all?
In previous articles, we have mentioned how some companies are increasingly embracing disability (especially neurodiversity) as a way to get an ‘edge’ on the competition and as such have started to design workplace environments in such a way as to foster the benefits of thinking differently. It is in designing workplace environments that take into account the needs of all employees inclusively, that our employees can start to develop greater psychological safety within the workplace, and with that comes increased motivation and productivity. IT managers could make assistive technology available on a systemic level so that all can access it regardless of their disability status. It has long been demonstrated that the use of text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and mind mapping technology not only brings benefit to the neurodiverse but also to those who are neurotypical.
Having the choice and access available to all may mean less need for individual intervention releasing resources for those with complex needs. Students coming out of university who have previously had Disabled Students’ Allowance support could simply ‘hit the ground running’ when they finally get into the workplace if AT was available at an organisational level.
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