Accessibility in the Workplace: Embracing Assistive Tech

The above picture shows the hands of a person in a wheelchair on wheels moving down a hallway.

Accessibility in the Workplace: Embracing Assistive Tech

It is fair to say that huge strides have been made in the last few decades towards making the world a more accessible place, although, of course, there is still a long way to go. Assistive technology has been truly revolutionary for a lot of people in both their personal and professional lives. Accessibility in the workplace has seen massive improvements as of late, and this is largely down to assistive tech; let’s take a look.

The Importance of Assistive Tech

To put it as simply as possible, assistive tech levels the playing field. It allows employees with disabilities to gain and retain employment by removing barriers in the workplace. It can also have psychological benefits because they boost a person’s functioning and offer them independence which in turn does wonders for their well-being. Employers today have a duty of care to their employees, and they need to offer them support across the board regardless of whether anyone in the workforce has disabilities or not.

Employees with disabilities have always been at a disadvantage compared to their able-bodied counterparts, and this continues to hold true in today’s fast-paced professional environment. Assistive tech is designed to reduce and remove these disadvantages by making the job role more accessible and helping workers to perform their responsibilities. It has a number of applications in the workforce and encompasses a lot of different tools. It is an umbrella term that includes things like ergonomic office design, accessible devices, and even speech recognition software. The technology itself doesn’t have to be particularly high-tech; it can even include things like Smallpdf’s PDF compressor making it easier to share files and collaborate.

Who Benefits from Assistive Tech in the Workplace?

The short answer here is everyone. Obviously, the employees themselves will benefit from the use of assistive technology – especially those with disabilities. The tech is designed to make life easier and improve the functional capabilities of whoever is using it. This could mean making the workplace itself more accessible and easier to navigate or making their tasks and responsibilities easier to carry out. In addition to making their job roles easier, assistive tech also helps to safeguard their mental and physical health too.

Assistive technology also benefits employers too. Having the technology in place means that the business should be meeting the standards and requirements set out by HSE – Health and Safety Executive. Employers are legally obligated to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of all of their employees, and this will include providing access to assistive technology. While assistive tech might constitute a bigger upfront expense, it can save money in the long run by reducing the risk of injuries or sick leave and compensation claims. As mentioned above, assistive technology also helps to buoy productivity which is obviously hugely beneficial for employers too.

If you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, assistive technologies obviously also benefit people living with disabilities regardless of whether they use them in the workplace or not. Assistive technology is key to supporting disabled workers. It is only in the last decade or so that the majority of businesses have really decided to make a concerted effort towards building more inclusive and accessible workplaces. This has helped to encourage a lot more disabled people into employment which has also helped to make a more positive shift in societal attitudes too. Your business could also choose to turn this inclusivity mindset outward and consider how you could make your products and services more accessible for disabled consumers.

The Advantages of Assistive Tech

While these points have largely been touched on above, it is worth going into more detail on the advantages of assistive tech. Assistive technology is designed to support workers to get their jobs done as efficiently as possible. For example, if you have an employee whose job role includes a lot of working on a computer, but they have difficulty using a normal keyboard, then getting them a keyboard that they are better able to use will dramatically improve their output. Again, a lot of these technologies can benefit the workforce as a whole. Think about speech-to-text; all employees could use this to dictate emails and correspondence more quickly or while they are doing other things like commuting.

Assistive technology doesn’t just help employees with physical disabilities; they can be used for mental health support too. Workers with mental health issues can have an equally tricky time integrating into the workforce, and assistive technology can help them too. For example, employees with anxiety, ADHD, or autism could use noise-cancelling headphones to reduce the ambient noise of the office, allowing them to focus and concentrate on the tasks in front of them. Supporting your workers’ mental health is key to taking care of their well-being.

Encouraging Independence

As anyone with a disability can attest, the need for independence is immense and assistive tech helps to provide people with some independence by lessening their reliance on other people. It is not simply for the workplace, after all; it often forms the basis of a lot of people with disabilities lifestyles. In terms of work, there are a number of tasks that non-disabled workers are likely to be able to carry out without any assistance, whereas other workers will need a little help, and instead of having to be at the mercy of another person assistive tech allows them to get to work. A need for independence is a unifying human trait, and by providing the tools that an employee needs to be independent, you are much more likely to see higher levels of confidence, self-esteem and job satisfaction too. The work environment and company culture as a whole also benefits from inclusivity and accessibility.

Diversity vs Inclusion

Assistive technology makes a business much more inclusive and promotes diversity. Inclusion refers to the workplace environment as a whole; an inclusive environment strives to make all employees feel valued for their contribution. Respect and support are a given. It is something that all employees deserve as opposed to the outdated mindset that it should be earned. Diversity, conversely, is about the demographics within the workforce and whether it is representative. It is worth pointing out that inclusion and tolerance are not the same thing. Inclusion doesn’t simply mean putting up with someone or something but genuinely appreciating them.

Assistive technology helps to promote diversity in the workforce because businesses can open up their recruitment practices or even embrace blind recruitment processes to hire based on merit and not be dismissive or discount candidates with abilities, which, while illegal, does still happen. Bias does still exist, although not as open, it is still prevalent, and it is insidious. Having a good company culture is paramount to improving staff retention rates, and a diverse and inclusive workforce goes a long way in creating a positive company culture.

To Sum Up

Today’s workforce is more diverse than it has been in decades gone by, but this doesn’t mean that there aren’t still barriers in place which block the way for certain people. Removing those barriers is a societal issue that everyone should work towards; the onerous shouldn’t always be on disabled people. Whilst things are better than they were, embracing assistive technology is key for businesses today, and there are a lot of ways that a business can do this. Making a concerted effort benefits everyone, so consider how accessible your business is and what more you can do.