According to the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, Assistive technology (AT), which is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of people with disabilities, is playing a substantial role in creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Wide-ranging technology is used to support essential job functions, including communication and organization, and often enables employees with disabilities to work independently.
Assistive technology accommodations within the workplace vary based on the needs of each person and the job requirements. While AT devices and software have drastically improved throughout the years as technology overall has advanced, more recent innovations in the following areas are bridging the employment gap between people with and without disabilities.
Stay in the know: What are the top assistive technology trends in the workplace?
1. Accessible Technology – Accessible technology includes any mainstream technology that has been designed with the needs of various users in mind and generally incorporates assistive technology solutions.
Today, tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google are garnering much recognition for designing their products and services with built-in customization features that allow people with disabilities to individualize their experiences.
In the workplace, many businesses are incorporating accessible technology to meet the needs of their employees with disabilities. For example, last year TD Bank introduced Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10 to all employees, which offers various customizable apps and accessibility tools such as the Narrator and Magnifier.
Google’s developers have focused on ensuring its various systems address the needs of people with vision, hearing, dexterity, and cognitive needs. This includes their ChromeVox screen reader and adjustable magnification/contrast aid, and a keyboard guide.
Apple’s renown smartphone accessibility includes features like Switch Control, Voice Over, and Live Listen integrated into all of their devices. Ultimately, while many of these customizations were developed to benefit people with disabilities, their universal designs can benefit anyone.
2. Artificial Intelligence – Significant innovations within the world of artificial intelligence (AI) are improving workplace experiences for employees with disabilities as well.
What began as developments in predictive text, visual recognition, and speech-to-text transcription now serves as an impetus for numerous other products and features that are expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Apps such as Microsoft’s Seeing AI describe people, text, and objects aloud for people with low vision. Prologuo2Go is a customizable Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) app that allows people without speech to easily communicate using symbols. The IntelliGaze is a communication system that enables people with physical disabilities and dexterity needs to operate their computers using eye control. From facial recognition, to live captioning, and more, AI advancements prove beneficial for employees with disabilities, employers, and workplaces overall.
Moreover, corporations are investing in more innovations. In 2018, Microsoft launched the AI for Accessibility program to provide technology-focused seed grants to developers, universities, nongovernmental organizations, and inventors that aim to focus on AI.
3. Intelligent Voice Assistants – Although voice assistants can generally be classified as a form of artificial intelligence, the widespread use of voice recognition technology deserves its own mention.
With devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, and built-in personal software like Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby, Microsoft Cortana, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, countless options can be connected to tools within the workplace to make the environment accessible. Voice assistants incorporate voice response that simulates conversations and integration with various applications and platforms to create an interactive virtual identity. Software allows everything from making calls, to scheduling appointments, to turning on or adjusting electric devices (i.e. a thermostat or light bulb), and much more.
Funding for assistive technology can be found through a variety of sources, both public and private. The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA)’s Funding Resource Guide is a great place to start your funding research. Employers may also choose to take advantage of tax incentives for hiring and retaining employees with disabilities (also mentioned in the resource guide). Additionally, many states and universities house lending libraries, which allow people with disabilities and organizations to try out various technologies before permanently investing in them.
Guidance and additional resources
For detailed ideas on AT accommodations, check out the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), the leading source on workplace accommodations. JAN houses a variety of resources on AT, including a Workplace Accommodation Toolkit.
For even more guidance on how to incorporate assistive technology in your workplace, contact the Getting Hired team.