According to the ADA (2001), assistive technology was first defined in the Technology related assistance for individuals with disabilities act of 1988. The act defined assistive technologies as “any item, piece of equipment or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities” (ADA, p. 1). Assistive technology was developed to help promote greater functioning and greater equality for persons with disabilities. Originally developed for greater ability in daily living and in the educational context, assistive technology or AT can also be used in the workplace environment.
The use of an assistive technology may be a form of accommodation. AT can be vital to the success of an employee on the job, not just in daily living. For example, an employee benefits from ramps or rails that allow an employee greater access to a building, but may also benefit from specialized equipment on the job that enables an employee to perform optimally on the job (ADA, 2011). Further, AT such as a magnifier, or Braille note taking on a computer may allow an employee to work faster, or more efficiently on a job, taking less time to perform menial tasks so the employee can focus more on the essential functions of a job (ADA, 2011). AT services are also available, that can include the coordination and use of therapies or interventions that can allow certain employees with disabilities to return to work, or engage in positions or employment the employee may not otherwise have been engaged in.
Baker, Moon & Ward (2006) note that there are barriers and opportunities of workplace accommodation policies; often further integration of disabled individuals requires greater incorporation of AT in the workplace. Teleworking is one way that more individuals can engage in employment, and can increase employment for people with disabilities. However, telework can also be combined with the greater use of AT, including the incorporation of communication technologies and assistive technologies that would allow employees to function better and more systematically in the workplace. What needs to happen is a systematic review of the constraints that many employees have with disabilities in the workplace. Once these constraints are identified, then a rehabilitation specialist can work with employees to identify the specific accommodation that is necessary to facilitate greater workplace success.
When employees feel they have the support necessary to succeed, they are much less likely to give up on work, and on themselves (ADA, 2011). In the future, if the disabled individual is to succeed, literature needs to be written with the disabled individual in mind. Thus, disabled persons, and agencies including the ADA, need to work with greater diligence toward advocacy toward promoting the best interests of those that need it most. The more education that people with disabilities receive toward their rights, and the services that are available for them, the more likely they are to receive the services they need to succeed in the workplace. There are a wealth of assistive technologies available, and agencies that can pay for these technologies, to ensure that everyone has the support they need to succeed in the workplace. Only then can everyone have a fair chance at enjoying work, and realizing the benefits the workplace has to offer.
- ADA. (2001) Assistive Technology, Accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Cornell University. Retrieved from: http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/extension/files/download/Assistive_Tech.pdf
- Baker, P.M., Moon, N.W. & Ward, A.C. (2006). Virtual Exclusion and Telework: Barriers and Opportunities of Technocentric Workplace Accommodation Policy. Work: Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation, 27(4): 421-430.