Assistive Technology Helps Employees Keep Pace in the Workplace
By Kevin Curtin
In the past, limited vision, dexterity or cognitive function may have excluded someone with a disability from the working world. Given recent technological advances, this is no longer the case. Instead, assistive technology can help people with disabilities to compete on an even playing field in the workplace.
Every month we are seeing advances in assistive technology. Whether it is new devices for people with low vision or advances in voice recognition software, people with disabilities now have a robust toolbox to help them stay connected.
For example, more and more assistive technology programs are now available on USB flash drives. Previously if someone used assistive technology they were often limited to the one computer at their desk or home that had the appropriate software. Unlike their peers they were not free to work anywhere and anytime. With the advances in technology this is no longer the case.
This means that someone who uses screen magnification software can take a work assignment that will put him or her on the road. If they wind up at a remote worksite, all they have to do is take their USB drive and plug it into an available port and they are ready to work. Likewise, if someone who uses a screen reader goes to their local library, the computer that was inaccessible now becomes accessible when they plug their assistive technology into the USB port. A great example of this technology is the Dolphin Pen.
While mobility is becoming more and more important to today’s workforce, assistive technology continues to redefine the office workstation. For example, I am using voice recognition software right now to create the column that you are reading. I can use this software not only to create a simple Word document, but I can also surf the Web, create a spreadsheet, respond to e-mails, work in a database, or do anything I need to do with my computer.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows about these tools. Likewise, many are not aware that resources exist to help you understand what types of accessible technology can help you in the workplace. At the USDA TARGET Center in Washington, D.C., we evaluate the needs of USDA employees and work with them to integrate assistive technology and worksite accommodations to help them do their jobs.
Many employers will offer similar programs. If your employer does not, you can individually consult with an Assistive Technology Practitioner or contact your local Microsoft Accessibility Resource Center for help finding the right assistive technology product to suit your needs. The TARGET Center also holds the TARGET Discovery Series, a regular series of educational sessions on assistive technology and other issues related to the employment of persons with disabilities. These sessions are available in person and live online via TARGET Web Connect, at no cost to the participant.
Kevin Curtin is the Acting Director of the USDA TARGET Center, an organization dedicated to ensuring that all USDA employees have safe and equal access to electronic and information technology by assessing, educating and advocating for the integration of assistive technology and worksite accommodations.