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Assistive Tech Enables Inclusion for Those with Disabilities as well as Innovation in the Professional Service Sectors

Research on disability in professional services suggests that few firms use assistive technologies to help employees with disabilities. We look at what kinds of tech could be taken up by the sector to improve access for people with disabilities.

Our research on the professional service sectors of law, architecture, accountancy and consultancy found that 68% of companies in the US and 70% of companies in the UK did not use specific technologies to assist employees with disabilities (A Fairer Future, 2022).

Our earlier survey of HR professionals and DEI specialists revealed that only 43.5% were using assistive tech, while 36% of companies were ‘working towards’ using assistive tech.

Why does it matter?

Assistive tech is vital to help people with disabilities participate in employment and to promote equity.

For example, a person with mobility impairments can work just as well as those without if the working environment is organised to enable access. People with brain fog, which is often a feature of invisible illnesses like autoimmune diseases, and which can affect memory, can overcome their impairments through apps which help them organise their diaries and provide prompts for work tasks.

Types of assistive tech

The kinds of tech used depends on individuals’ access needs. Let’s look at some examples:

Physical and motor skillsCognition and learningVisualHearingCommunication
Speech recognition software – ability to use a computer with speech commandsWord prediction softwareScreen magnifiers – increases the size of the text as the mouse moves along the wordCommunication Access Realtime Translation (CART) – adds captions to live eventsVoice amplifiers – increases the volume of voices
Adaptive switches – can be activated using different parts of the body   Sip and puff systems, which are controlled by the mouthMemory aids such as reminders about appointments and instructions on work tasks (see Word 365, which has many of these features as standard).Screen readers – reads text on the computer screen and translates it to braille or soundAlerting – turns audio signals into visual onesAugmentative and Alternative Communication Aids – text-to-speech generating aids
Keyboards & mouse alternatives – split keyboards and trackball mouseDigital assistants, e.g. Alexa – can remind people of tasks and perform functions such as searches, among other possibilitiesSynthesisers – speech-to-text systemsBluetooth hearing aids – can be connected to hearing aids and improves sound via computers and mobile devicesGrammar/writing assistant. Examples include Grammarly, a sophisticated grammar and spell checker, or texthelp, which helps  neurodiversity people to communicate.

There are a wealth of apps that can perform the above functionality. Some examples include:

~ Rogervoice – converts voice to text and text to voice in real-time.

~ Otter – transcribes voice-to-text, so the hearing impaired can access meeting notes quickly.

~ Google Sound Amplifier – helps sound to become more clear.

~ Various apps describe or navigate the environment – examples are Seeing AI, Blindsquare and Lazarillo.

~ Relaxation apps to help with stress, such as Relax Melodies and Headspace. Brown noise can help everyone relax but is specifically useful to help people with ADHD focus.

~ Todoist and other organiser apps – helps prioritise tasks.

Examples like these show how much technology we have to augment any impairments.

Tech for the professional services

Tech can be the great liberator, meaning that we rely less on our physical capabilities and more on our conceptual power. While there are only a few examples of specialist tech for use in professional services, technologies that are in widespread use in the profession can be of benefit to people with disabilities.

Take architecture: AI can rapidly process and analyse data, meaning less work is involved in the preparatory aspects of building design. Generative design allows architects to create many designs from one idea or set of constraints – it also learns from each iteration. All of this saves time and energy. 3D printing can create scale models, while digital sketchbooks make it easier for people with physical disabilities to create drawings.

Another example is in accountancy. Rapidly improving technology, such as cloud-based communication platforms, acts like a secure office environment, allowing for more remote working for everyone – something that can benefit those with disabilities. Automation and machine learning cuts down on laborious data entry.

In law, Dragon Legal Anywhere is a tool that allows documents to be created or edited by voice alone. This software can benefit all lawyers and also means greater efficiency for firms.

Deployed alongside assistive tech so that people with specific disabilities can access them, all these technologies are potentially transformative. The sector needs to research how they can be used to promote an inclusive culture.

Obligation and opportunity

Part of the problem of facilitating assistive tech in the workplace is the need to ask for an assessment. Our research found that many employees in professional services do not self-disclose a disability, particularly if they have invisible disabilities. And if they do not disclose, they cannot be assessed or access assistive tech from their employer.

Universal tech innovations can help those with disabilities as an indirect benefit. The sector, particularly those ins leadership role, must work out how to use these to the advantage of employees with disabilities.

It is also an opportunity, not just an obligation. We know that you can boost innovation through technology. Tech, whether assistive or otherwise, can help everyone to be more efficient and cut time on routine tasks, meaning more time for high-level conceptual thinking, collaboration and creativity.

When it comes to assistive tech in the professional service sector, encouraging diversity is a win-win. 

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