Assistive technologies can level the employment playing field for disabled people

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology published a report into accessible employment for disabled individuals over the summer.

Talent and Technology – Building Bridges to Employment for Disabled People recommends the steps the government should take to ensure equal access in employment processes, and how this can be done through the use of assistive technologies (AT).

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The key findings should come as no surprise to the disabled community, with many struggling to access employment and a working life independently via digital means.

The core issues centre around “employers [not having] sufficient understanding of the importance of digital accessibility and how AT can remove barriers”, as well as current AT systems in employment processes not being accessible enough for disabled first-time jobseekers who have left education, who know little about the provisions available to them.

The report recommends that employers must make themselves aware of the AT systems, and implement them when necessary.

The Equality Act 2010 includes a proactive duty on employers to ameliorate the disadvantage experienced by disabled employees – under Section 21, employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure that one’s ability to work is not impeded by their disability.

As one example, the report highlights the lengthy time it takes for AT to be delivered and then integrated into an organisation’s work practices. If AT provisions are ordered in response to hiring a disabled individual, their work will likely begin without access to the necessary support, leading to poorer work performance and distress.

Zeroing in on recruitment practices, the report looks at encouraging employers to consider assistive technology in job applications and interviews, and accessibility technology for individuals whose disabilities impede their use of computer/digital interfaces.

Assistive technologies represent an essential opportunity to improve both access and progression in the workplace for disabled employees. Used effectively, they can benefit all and equip disabled employees with the tools to fully participate in the modern workplace, breaking down barriers and increasing diversity.

The report urges the government to appoint a National Assistive Technology Champion, who would work alongside disabled members of the public to understand common difficulties and develop a framework on how assistive technologies can be implemented across all businesses.

This process can be followed by individual businesses having a disability adviser in the room when planning recruitment strategies. This can be an effective method to ensure that all procedures are fully compliant and free from discrimination, as well as deepening one’s own understanding into how other areas of the business can be inclusive.

Ultimately, this shouldn’t be seen as a laborious box-ticking exercise.

The cultural and financial benefits of an inclusive and diverse workforce have been long documented, and any steps towards this are (and should be recognised as) positive actions.

These steps must also be reflected in inclusive working practices available to employees too – frequent consultation and communication with employees is necessary to understand their occupational health, to understand their needs and implement a method of working to cater for this, both to the benefit of the individual and the firm.

Accessible provisions for disabled recruits and current employees is something that must be put in practice, and not just paid lip service. It’s a breath of fresh air to see disability access high on the legislative agenda, but we must wait until next year to see if the government effectively implements and commits to practical, positive change.

Elaine Banton is a barrister at 7BR