What is Assistive Technology?
The United States Assistive Technology Act of 1998 defines assistive technology, sometimes called, adaptive technology, as any “product, device, or equipment, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized, that is used to maintain, increase, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”
According to the World Health Organization, assistive technology refers to any product that helps maintain or improve an individual function. Common examples include hearing aids, wheelchairs, eyeglasses, and prosthetic limbs.
Like all technology, these products have evolved over time, both in capability and in adoption and use. Advances such as speech to text, predictive text, and spell checkers are just a few examples of tools initially developed to assist people with a disability. Today, these features often come standard in all personal computers and mobile devices, due to the incredible benefits that impact all users.
From College to the Workforce
One of the most successful applications of assistive technology is in the domain of higher education. For example, transcription and captioning tools help students with hearing impairments as well as those who are not native speakers of the language of instruction fully participate in class and be more engaged with course materials. These technologies augment the learning experience for all students and enable new possibilities for better instruction and engagement.
Entering the workforce post-college is a stressful time for anyone, but even more so for individuals with disabilities. The use of assistive technologies in the workplace can help ease this transition. Although assistive technology does not completely eliminate the challenges, it can level the playing field so that individuals with disabilities can participate more fully in the same activities as their nondisabled peers.
Unfortunately, the use of assistive technology in the workplace is nowhere near as prevalent as in academia. One reason for this is that legislation governing accommodations in the workplace is not as clear as those that pertain to higher education. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide “reasonable accommodations” to assist employees that self-identify as having a disability in performing the essential functions of their job. However, the definition of what exactly is considered a “reasonable accommodation” is unclear. In addition, putting the onus on the employee to disclose their disability and request assistive technology as an accommodation can lead to lower levels of reporting, due to fear of being stigmatized as a result of their condition.
Innovation Benefits All
The benefits of offering assistive technologies in the workplace are clear. But, beyond the benefits to individuals with disabilities themselves, incorporating assistive technology into the workplace offers advantages for or companies and organizations in many ways.
Nearly one in five Americans have some kind of disability. Incorporating assistive technology in the workplace gives companies a competitive advantage by being able to hire from a larger pool of qualified people by not excluding any candidates. By removing barriers, organizations can be sure to hire the best and most talented person for the job.
There are approximately 18.6 million people with disabilities currently working. Given this vast number of people, the potential for assistive technology (AT) to increase productivity is great. Furthermore, employees may acquire or develop disabilities over time. Companies that want to support their employees as they age to retain their skills, talent and experience must invest in state of the art assistive technology to do so.
When technology is developed to address the most complex of needs, it ends up benefiting everyone. Many of the technologies that were initially developed for people with disabilities have gone on to become widely used by the general population. AI innovations such as image recognition, speech-to-text, chatbots, and self-driving vehicles are technologies that benefit all individuals, as well as society as a whole.
This principle makes sense from a product engineering perspective as well. Designing with accessibility in mind means creating a product that is more intuitive, feature-rich and, ultimately, able to reach and impact more people. By enhancing capabilities and leveling the playing field, assistive technologies, particularly those that are AI-enhanced, help individuals with disabilities to not only successfully transition from college to the workplace, but thrive in their working environments.
Verbit at the CUNY Accessibility Conference
Interested in learning more about AI-driven transcription and captioning technology? Verbit’s smart solution harnesses the power of artificial and human intelligence to generate the most detailed speech-to-text files, providing over 99% accuracy and the fastest turnaround time in the industry. Stop by to learn how organizations can provide equal access to course content, increase engagement, and boost academic success for all students.