World employment rates for persons with disabilities or P.W.D. are currently about a third to a half of the employment rates for abled people. Unemployment rates for P.W.D. can reach 80 – 90 percent in some countries. P.W.D. are also at a greater risk for multidimensional poverty, where several factors can make it difficult to earn livable wages for independent living.
Employment is key to ensuring that P.W.D. can successfully integrate into society and contribute their unique talents professionally. The presence of Internet and Communication Technology or ICT in the workplace helps bring out the best in employees who are living with disabilities. Some current examples of people with disabilities who work in a tech-based industry include
- blind programmer Lucas Radaelli (Google)
- blind Accessibility Testing Program Manager, Jyotsna Kaki (Google)
- Vice President of Product Design with dyslexia, Margaret Gould Stewart (Facebook)
- Data Scientist with a learning disability, Jessica Kirkpatrick (Slack)
How technology helps P.W.D.
ICT plays a major part in making a workplace P.W.D.-accessible. It levels the field for P.W.D. at all stages: hiring, retention and promotion. There are many different solutions to assist with different disabilities, such as text-to-speech solutions, braille displays, voice recognition, and remote/online access to work resources. These advancements also support P.W.D. with cognitive or intellectual disabilities to offer them alternate paths in life.
The presence of ICT in the workplace makes communication and dealing with information much easier for P.W.D.. For example, voice recognition and screen readers can help those with visual impairments deal with documents and information more easily.
Those with learning or processing difficulties, such as dyslexia or dyscalculia, can customise their workspaces or work devices with adaptations to assist them in processing information. These can include different or larger fonts on screens,dictation software, different colour schemes for programs, or calculators and schedules.
Technology also helps P.W.D.s connect and interact with their colleagues, particularly through mediums like company intranets, chat groups and instant messaging software. For persons with limited mobility, remote interactions help them stay connected to their team and organisation from wherever they are, Online work processes ensure everyone can contribute and access a common pool of resources and work.
Incorporating technology into work
It’s not difficult to incorporate ICT and assistive technologies into the workplace. Smartphones and computers now also come with pre-installed assistive and accessibility functions. Apps and web services can modify any device into a multi-purpose tool tailored to the P.W.D’s needs. For example, someone might use their phone or tablet’s text-to-speech function to help them go through work documents and communication that they have trouble processing visually.
Assistive technologies and ICT can relieve some of the pressure P.W.D.s might feel about interacting, coping or communicating in a work environment, which makes it easier for them to demonstrate their knowledge or skills to their fullest. By creating a workplace that’s P.W.D.-friendly, we open ourselves to new talent, thought, and perspectives.