It’s thought that around a billion people, or about 15% of the global population, lives with some form of disability, from mild to debilitating.
In recent years, dramatic developments in Assistive Technology have enabled many people with disabilities to lead a much more fulfilled life, including at work. Here’s a few examples of the way things are changing for disabled employees in the digital age.
‘Smart’ Hearing Aids
Clunky, cumbersome and unattractive hearing devices are just an unpleasant memory.
If you buy a hearing aid now then you can expect it to be so small and discreet that many people may never even realise you’re wearing one – you could even forget it yourself!
But despite their small size, the hearing aids of today are incredibly functional. Some devices can have their settings adjusted with just a few taps on the screen of a tablet or phone, rather than the owner needing to pop into the shop to get them fixed – useful if they lead busy lives or live far from town.
Bluetooth connectors available from specialist providers such as Hidden Hearing let wearers take hands-free phonecalls through their hearing aids while on the move – ideal for salespeople or company directors. Many people are being empowered by video relay systems that come with live sign language interpreters, so that they can communicate in real-time easily with others who can’t follow signing. This would work well for example with people with hearing difficulties who need to give a presentation but are not confident they can speak clearly enough to be understood.
Some smartphones now come equipped with speech recognition software, so that they can be operated by people who are unable to physically use the device. Siri, Apple’s voice-activated operating system, actually saved the life of one able-bodied user in America who managed to call the emergency services when a truck he was working on fell and pinned him to the ground.
Other futuristic software currently on the market includes applications that can be controlled by eye movement alone, so if a person is paralysed, they can still produce documents or perform other work-related functions such as taking notes in meetings, just by focusing their vision. Tech companies have brought to market many advanced forms of equipment that can let someone with mobility impairment play a more active role in the workplace – there are wands, sticks, and sip-and-puff systems so that people without the ability to move their bodies can communicate quickly and effectively,
Rapid advances in technology are prompting some exciting new developments from big-name players in the car industry, as well as some newcomers including Apple and Google. Who will be the first to mass-market a driverless car? Hard to say, but what’s certain is that this kind of tech is going to be a big step in giving disabled people greater independence.
If they don’t need to manually operate the steering wheel, gears or pedals, and can feasibly give instructions by voice command, then potentially people with limited or no mobility could be working as delivery drivers, taxi drivers, on-the-road salespeople. A car that blind people can drive is even being developed – whether it will actually reach the market is debatable, but it just goes to show how much companies are investing in tech that is aimed directly at those with disabilities.
Perhaps the main benefit of technological advancement in society is that it empowers people who might not have had as many opportunities beforehand. Assistive Technology is allowing disabled people to live more fulfilled lives and earn a decent wage, while allowing companies to more easily meet their legal obligations, and tap into new sections of the workforce, as well as retain good employees that have special requirements.
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