John Lamb: Assistive technology can create a better workplace for all

john lamb

Organisations with a diverse and inclusive workforce reap vast benefits in terms of access to a wider range of skills, increased staff loyalty and greater customer satisfaction.

One key factor in ensuring accessibility in the workplace is the use of assistive technology to enable d6isabled people to work alongside non-disabled colleagues. In fact, making reasonable adjustments such as the provision of technical fixes is a requirement of the Equality Act 2010.

Assistive technology comes in many forms, reflecting the variety of disabilities. By far the most widely used is software designed to help people with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, to read and write; namely, programmes that speak text out loud, correct spellings and take dictation.

Those with sensory disabilities affecting their hearing and sight have similarly empowering technology. Video relay signing services and text to speech software, for example, are a boon to deaf people, while screen reading and magnification programmes enable those with sight impairments to read printed material.

These technologies are a big help in accessing online information, but websites must be set up to enable assistive technologies to work with them, and to incorporate additional features that make life easier for disabled users.

Assistive technology can be applied in many different settings. In warehouses, for example, voice systems can direct employees to goods, rather than having to rely on printed picking lists, making life easier for those with reading impairments. In addition, automated systems that bring goods to people enable those with mobility impairments to work in warehouses.

Technology also facilitates home working for disabled employees who may have mobility problems and use a wheelchair, or for those who have mental health issues, such as autism.

In office settings, it is important to make assistive technology as unobtrusive as possible by, for example, providing literacy aids to everyone via corporate systems. In any case, the process for identifying and providing assistive technology should be fast and well understood by managers.

Assessments are crucial, especially for new employees or those who acquire a disability. A professional assessor will provide valuable information about what solutions are best for a disabled individual.

The cost of assistive technology is going down, driven by wider use and technical innovation. The app revolution has done much to reduce prices.

Government has also played a part, through the Access to Work programme, which makes grants for technology, travel and other expenses available to employees. Action taken by the government to increase the number of disabled people in work at a time of high employment also includes asking employers to join a Disability Confident programme, increasing the numbers of coaches and mentors.

The number of disabled people in work has risen in recent years, but it is still too low. This is a gap the government has pledged to bridge, by encouraging employers to invest in assistive technology and, in doing so, to benefit their business.

John Lamb is executive director of the British Assistive Technology Association