In 2013, government in the United Kingdom launched an initiative to increase employment for the disabled. The Disability Confident scheme was designed to help employers recruit and retain disabled people and people with health conditions.

Perhaps as a result of the initiative, from 2013 to 2017 the UK saw employment numbers for the disabled rise by 600,000.

Ensuring disabled people have access to employment opportunities isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for the economy.

According to a 2017 report by the UK Department for Health and Social Care, ill health that keeps people out of work costs the economy an estimated £100 billion a year, including £7 billion in costs to the National Health Service. The UK government has set a new goal of finding employment for one million more disabled workers by 2027.

Technology is helping to make this goal a reality. Low-cost smartphone apps can transcribe conversations for the hearing impaired. There are eyeglasses that can help the visually impaired by converting visual information into audio. And speech recognition software helps those with motor skill impairments use computers.

These are just a few of the new innovations helping disabled workers access job opportunities. Here are three fields where assistive technology is putting the disabled to work.

Farming

Despite, advancements in technology, farming remains a very physical and manual profession, especially on smaller farms. But, according to a report released this year by the American Society of Agriculture and Biological Engineers, one in every five farmers suffers from some kind of disability or impairment.

For decades, Purdue University has been working to ensure farmers in the United States aren’t hindered because of their disabilities. The university’s Breaking New Ground program, founded in 1979 serves farmers with a variety of disabilities ranging from spinal cord injuries and amputations to arthritis and back impairments. In the 1990s, the federal government launched a national initiative to help disabled farmers and Purdue is now responsible for leading the state of Indiana’s program.

To date, the federal AgrAbility Project has built prosthetic limbs to help farmers continue working in the fields after injuries. It has supplied a variety of mechanical lifts for farmers who can no longer climb into their tractors. And it’s fitted farmers with arm cuffs that counteract arthritic pain when using certain farming tools.

Design

For years, artists and architects have been using computer-aided design software to create designs with a keyboard and mouse. While originally seen as cumbersome, this technology has actually led to increased productivity and quality in the design industry.

And now, thanks to advancements in CAD technology, this software is being used in design by those with mobility impairments. Newer CAD technology gives disabled users the ability to use a pen mouse or head mouse as opposed to a traditional mouse that often requires users to press multiple buttons simultaneously.

Many non-disabled designers have experience using a pen mouse because it mimics the traditional pen to paper style of design while giving users the added functionality of 3D modeling technology. But a head mouse is a newer invention, primarily used by those who have been paralyzed. This technology tracks head movement and translates it into mouse pointer movement. Now more developers are creating CAD software with these two tools in mind to make them more accessible to disabled designers.

Technology

Technology has been used to create a number of assistive technologies from driverless cars that can help the disabled get to work to virtual assistants that help disabled employees complete a variety of tasks. But disabled workers aren’t just finding jobs as a result of tech innovations, they’re also finding jobs helping to advance tech innovation.

Many jobs in the tech field reduce barriers for disabled workers because they’re less manual and often done using a computer which can be adapted to become more accessible for those with visual or hearing impairments or mobility issues. And there are other jobs that might be better suited to those with disabilities due to the very nature of their impairment.

For example, in Texas disabled veterans are working to identify drone photos as part of an AI training program. And at Amazon, a software engineer who has been blind since birth, works to make the retail site more accessible.

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These examples demonstrate the benefits technology can have in helping the disabled in the workplace. And it’s not only a social issue - it also makes good business sense.

A report released in October by management consulting and professional services firm Accenture found that those companies leading the way in disability inclusion are also more successful.

Accenture identified 45 companies that stood out for their leadership in areas specific to disability employment and inclusion. Over a four-year period, these companies registered 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income, and 30 percent higher economic profit margins than their peers.


Photo by Ariel Pilotto on Unsplash.

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