Assistive technology helps professionals with disabilities by providing them with equitable opportunities to succeed at their jobs. Offering them with access to these assistive technologies is not only the right thing to do for your workforce; it’s required.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an anti-discrimination law which all business owners and HR leaders need to be familiar with to offer equal opportunities to employees with disabilities. For example, providing accessible employee training videos is required by Title I and Title II of the ADA.
It goes so much further than training and the onboarding process though. Title I is designed to prevent employers and government bodies from discriminating against qualified individuals who have a disability. From the job application to the interview to decisions on whether to let someone go, business professionals must be aware of these key requirements and do everything they can to meet them.
Employers, specifically those who employ 15 or more individuals, are required to make accommodations and provide assistive technology software and solutions to meet the disability needs of not just employees, but applicants up to the point that they cause undue hardship on the business.
Disclosure of disabilities & creating an open environment
It’s important to note that it is the employee’s responsibility to disclose their disability and request their employer’s help. While some physical disabilities which may require a wheelchair ramp are more visible, many disabilities are not able to be detected without disclosure per se. Employers can request medical documentation of the issue at hand if necessary, but this often creates a less than ideal situation for the employee. From feeling as though the employer doesn’t believe them to employees who choose not to disclose their disabilities out of fear for repercussions or perceived shortcomings, there are many challenges facing businesses and their HR teams today.
Therefore, offering many of these technologies upfront or enlisting ways to promote them so that employees know that they readily exist and are available to them is typically the best course of action.
“The last thing I ever want to do is have a meeting and then not be subtitled or not be captioned, or not be communicating in a language that someone can hear me,” said Ashley Brundage, the VP of Diversity & Inclusion at a US corporation.
Technology, such as tools built on AI, are specifically designed to help meet these needs and requirements.
“From captioning to texting to screen readers, you name it, all of these things are really powerful in ways to create that inclusive environment, and make people feel like they’re welcome and that they’re going to be a part of the team,” said Brundage.
Therefore, offering assistive technology in the workplace is necessary to meet ADA requirements, foster an inclusive culture and help employees succeed with equitable opportunity. When employees don’t need to specifically ask for these items, but have them provided to them when a business is able, they will be grateful.
Research is critical
There is a full spectrum of accessibility technology available to businesses, which requires organizations to do their homework on their employees’ individual needs as well as what partners and vendors can provide them with. Doing this research will make for happier and more fulfilled employees who are productive and committed to your business goals since they know you are committed to them and their needs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has yet to release 2020 statistics, but in 2019, 19.3 percent of individuals with a disability were employed. The employment-population ratio for individuals without a disability was 66.3 percent. While unemployment decreased overall, it declined by 3.5% for individuals with disabilities, meaning businesses are taking note and investing in forging more diverse workforces.
Causes and missions are important to attract talent
More and more prospective employees aim to work at companies who are invested in their similar interests, missions and in doing good for the world. Offering more diverse workplaces and seats at the table to individuals with disabilities, among others, opens the door to hiring more talent and also helps with employee loyalty.
For example, 83% of all millennials are more likely to be actively engaged if they believe their company stimulates a diverse and inclusive culture. Current employees who see their business employer further investing in diversity and these initiatives are also likely more inclined to stay and feel connected to the business’s goals.
High tech vs. low tech assistive technology
Assistive technology encompasses both high-tech and low-tech equipment, devices and products. Typically, more specialized equipment means more high tech. High tech assistive tech might include a customized seating system with built-in positioning pads for therapy, while a low-tech assistive technology solution might be the use of rolled up towels to support an employee in her chair. Low-tech options are also inclusive of walking canes, binder clips that make it easier to turn pages, sensory input items such as fidgets and squishy balls, and writing things down instead of speaking. Low tech assistive technology may include printing materials in larger fonts, pencil grips, adapted pencils, and the use of colored highlighters to better organize information.
Low-tech options are inarguably less expensive. Companies often look to meet disability needs with low-tech options, however many cannot be met by low-tech. High-tech assistive technologies continue to evolve and are more dynamic and customizable to an individual’s needs. Speech to text technology, which artificially produces human speech, also provides benefits to deaf employees, enabling them to communicate more effectively with those around them. Speech-to-text tools are often the basis for captioning software as well which can make or break a deaf or hard of hearing employee’s ability to participate in an online meeting for example.
Workplace accessibility solutions that can be implemented
There are a plethora of tools which businesses can now enlist to improve their workplace accessibility and make meetings and offices more inclusive. These include:
- Transcription software for note taking and meetings recording
- Live and closed captioning software for events, business training and online courses, which is often critical to prevent lawsuits
- Word prediction software
- Speech recognition and voice control
- Information management and communication software for scheduling, alerts, reminders and more
- Noise cancelling headphones and/or audio enhancing headphones
Verbit is working with businesses to improve their accessibility initiatives by not only providing quality captions and transcripts of meetings, but helping them to foster more inclusive cultures. Additionally, many of Verbit’s tools, as well as additional accessibility technologies designed to help those with disabilities are not helping entire populations of employees.
For example, captions and audio visual translation software can help organizations which are global to better understand each other and communicate more effectively. Transcripts of notes from meetings which are generated by Verbit automatically can help employees to focus on the conversation rather than need to scribble everything down quickly to remember it. Many employees who do not have disabilities are able to take advantage and prosper with the tools a business invests in for specific sets of employees.
With this reality in mind, business leaders can rest assured that their investment in the needs of employees with disabilities can often help their entire workforce to function more effectively.