Name one piece of technology you couldn’t do your job without? Mine is my iPhone. I couldn’t get nearly as much done without it. Now, imagine needing technology to help you do almost every part of your job. Assistive technology helps people with disabilities do their jobs and have a career using their full range of skills and abilities.
If the goal is to hire the people with valuable skills and knowledge, why not employ people with disabilities? Part of tapping into different talent pools is providing tools that enable flexibility in how work is done.
“I have some vision so all I need to do my job is Zoom Text, a program that increases the size of text and images on a computer screen and a hand-held magnifying device for printed material,” says Matt Breen, an Edmonton-based financial advisor at TD who is legally blind. “This technology makes the difference between having a job that allows me to use only a few skills and having a meaningful career where I use my full range of business and communication skills.”
Often, assistive technology is cost effective and simple to use, although it does depend on the complexity of your company’s technology systems. For example, VRI (video remote interpretation) is a technology that lets deaf employees use an off-the-shelf webcam and messenger software such as Microsoft’s Office Communicator to tap into the services of a sign-language interpreter who may not be in the same location. This allows deaf employees to have better conversations with their managers and colleagues, and greater flexibility around when and where those conversations take place.
Assistive technologies can also help people with learning disabilities. Speech recognition software, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, helps people who have difficulties in writing or reading to dictate emails or reports, rather than struggling to type them using a keyboard.
However, making assistive technology work takes commitment. Employers need to create an environment where employees feel safe and comfortable asking for support and tools to help them do their job. Employees also have a role to play by being open and willing to help their employers understand their goals, aspirations and challenges and giving the manager permission to seek support from their colleagues.
Investing in assistive technologies not only removes barriers to a fulfilling career for employees, but also allows employers to draw on the skills and experience of a wider talent pool.
Acknowledgement: Mary O’Hara, Financial Post · Apr. 27, 2011. Mary is senior vice president of corporate people strategies and TD Bank group human resource.