Fri, October 04, 2002

Enabling the disabled

High-Tech Tools Lower Barriers for Disabled says an article in the October issue of HR Magazine. It makes the point that technology continues to improve the job possibilities for the disabled. As assistive technologies such as voice recognition and alternative input devices go mainstream, the cost of these products has dropped dramatically. The article explains:

“The more other companies move toward [the paperless office], the more it opens the workplace up to people with mobility impairments,” says Glenn Higgins, an insurance company vice president and medical director, who cannot manually operate a keyboard or a mouse. He uses a speech recognition system on his office PC as well as a breath-activated device to control his electric wheelchair.

“There are many wonderful assistive-technology gizmos now available that ease access and increase productivity,” Higgins adds, “but the first step is to be flexible and open enough to consider using these tools to expose the workplace to talent that has heretofore been untapped….”

“The disabled workforce represents the greatest opportunity for employers,” says Sears Recruitment Director Bill Donahue. “A large percentage of people with disabilities are unemployed, but no one will give them a chance.” That’s a mistake, because disabled workers are “loyal and committed to being there every day,” he says.

The article goes on to describe various assistive technologies and assess how much it really costs to employ workers with disablements. This was particularly fascinating to me because a co-worker was injured in a bicycle accident that yielded a serious, but thankfully temporary, disability. He was able to continue working effecively, even while recovering, with the help of various assistive technologies. He was thankful that the building and his work area had already been designed to accomodate those in a wheelchair. We should be careful to help those with disabilities; we may be one of them someday.

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