"Assistive technology has leveled the playing field. Many of my employees, who are brilliant software developers or work in accounting, do so because of the assistive technology available today."
Joyce Bender, President & CEO, Bender Consulting Services
Assistive Technology Defined
Assistive technology (AT) helps employees with disabilities perform job tasks that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. AT includes products such as walkers and wheelchairs, as well as hardware, software, and peripherals that assist employees with disabilities in accessing computers or other information technology (IT) products and services. Examples of AT products and devices utilized in the workplace include:
- A keyboard with large keys or a special mouse that allows a sales executive with limited hand function to operate a computer.
- Software that reads text on a screen, in a computer-generated voice, for a database developer who is blind.
- Computer software that enlarges screen content for a recruiter with low vision.
- A TTY (text telephone) device for a Chief Financial Officer who is deaf.
- A device that speaks text out loud for a researcher with speech impairments as he or she types.
More and more businesses competing for candidates are recruiting people with disabilities for highly skilled jobs. To prepare for them, smart employers are incorporating AT into their overall plans for designing and upgrading IT. The adoption of design principles that benefit all employees commonly called universal design and the availability of multiple and diverse AT products create a work environment that is welcoming and inclusive of qualified job candidates with disabilities.
The Future of Assistive Technology
In today's fast-moving, technology-driven marketplace, the AT and IT industries are collaborating to create products with greater interoperability in order to expand their consumer markets. As a result, they are also producing more and better solutions to help businesses tap into the talent pool of candidates with disabilities.
The Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor is working with the business community to advance understanding of how AT can improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities. As part of this, business leaders across a range of company sizes and industry sectors have identified four key strategies that enhance the employment of persons with disabilities through AT:
- Establishing a network of internal "champions" that includes top corporate leadership to promote disability employment through AT.
- Making the business case for employing people with disabilities and investing in AT.
- Refining and advancing corporate policies, practices, and programs to include people with disabilities.
- Implementing infrastructures and strategies that enable companies to realize the prom-ises reflected in these policies, practices, and programs.
Computer Electronic Accommodations Program<http://www.tricare.mil/cap/>
The Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) provides assistive technology and services to people with disabilities, federal managers, supervisors, and IT professionals. CAP increases access to information and works to remove barriers to employment opportunities by eliminating the costs of assistive technology and accommodation solutions in the Department of Defense (DoD) and throughout the Federal government.
Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design<http://www.uiaccess.com/accessucd/index.html>
This books provides information to help organizations improve their products—websites, software, hardware, and consumer products—to remove accessibility barriers and avoid adding new barriers.
The General Services Adminstration’s IT Accessibility and Workforce (ITAW) provides assistive technology solutions to eliminate barriers for people with disabilities. ITAW’s Assistive Technology (AT) Showcase displays state-of-the-art assistive technologies and ergonomic solutions. ITAW is the government's principal advocate and coordinator for Section 508 implementation that requires agencies to make information technology accessible for people with disabilities.
Accessible Tech <http://accessibletech.org/index.php>
Accessible Tech is a project of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network. The organization provides information, problem solving assistance, and referrals to businesses for implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Accessible Information Technology.
The BuyAccessible program is part of General Service Administration’s commitment to provide standard processes and tools to support government-wide compliance with Section 508. These tools and processes were developed by industry stakeholders’ determination on how to best implement the Section 508 standards. Their website is useful for federal employers, state or local government agencies, or private employers interested in purchasing accessibility products.
Business and Education Resources for Accessible Technology<http://www.microsoft.com/enable/business/default.aspx>
This Microsoft resource provides information on the value to organizations of integrating accessible technology into their technology plans and guidance on effective implementation processes.
WebAIM provides comprehensive web accessibility solutions and is one of the leading providers of web accessibility expertise internationally.They provide knowledge, technical skills, tools, and organizational leadership strategies to assist organization in making their content accessible for people with disabilities.
USDA: TARGET Demonstration Center<http://www.dm.usda.gov/oo/target/services/techdemos.html>
TARGET works with employers, employees, managers, IT professionals, and procurement officials to find appropriate, cost-effective solutions for employees with disabilities and ergonomic related needs. Expert staff are available to provide demonstrations, assessments, equipment loans, web accessibility training, and disability legislation education.
Framework for Designing and Implementing Accessible Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Strategic Plans <http://www.dol.gov/odep/pdf/20120224FDIA-ICT-StrategicPlans.pdf >
This resource from the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor provides a framework to assist organizations in developing a comprehensive strategic plan for adopting and implementing accessible ICT policies, practices and procedures for assessing progress made over time and ensuring continuous improvement. It also includes a comprehensive Benchmarking Tool.
Accommodations for Employees with Specific Disabilities<http://AskJan.org>
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations, assistive technology in the workplace and disability employment issues. JAN’s trusted consultants offer one-on-one guidance on assistive technology and accommodations as well as searchable resources and tools about accommodations and AT that are available on their website at www.askjan.org. Find JAN materials by disability or topic under A - Z of disabilities.
AT Works Events<http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/Technology.htm>
The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, hosts a series of free webcasts, webinars and podcasts to explore the connection between accessible technology and the employment of people with disabilities. From panel discussions to educational presentations, these AT Works events feature prominent thought leaders and insightful dialogues on accessible technology issues.
Tips for Building Accessible Websites <http://askjan.org/media/webpages.html>
This Job Accommodation Network guide provides an overview of 10 vital tips to consider when designing a website, including quick, testing, and design tips to ensure that online application systems are accessible.