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Assistive technology can transform people's lives - but it's not the be-all and end-all

26 Jun 2018

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By Helen MacMillan, Senior assessor, Remploy

Eye gaze technology, voice recognition, outdoor navigation apps and digital hearing
systems - there are so many fantastic assistive products on the market these days
that it’s tempting to throw a whole raft of hi-tech solutions at employees needing
support. Yet, in a technological world, it can be easy to forget the individual and the
organisation they work for. Ignoring the operational needs of the employer, viability
of the solutions and a person’s specific needs can leave individuals lost, under
scrutiny and potentially at a disadvantage.

Requests for the latest and greatest bits of assistive software or hardware are
regular occurrences in workplace assessments, with employees and managers often
hoping for that silver bullet.

Dragon Professional speech recognition software might sound like the dream
solution to someone who can no longer use their hands to type, but what if the
software isn’t compatible with the systems they use or some of the information they
need to dictate is highly confidential? Supposing the individual has also lost the
ability to process and remember new information, or needs to work from multiple
shared machines?

It’s important for assessors to challenge assumptions, ask the appropriate questions
and come up with the right solution, with soft adjustments built in where needed.
Perhaps software scripting could be arranged to establish system compatibility.
Potentially the individual could work in a booth or have some of their work
reallocated to a colleague. Operational targets could be adjusted or human support
for data input may be required.

Perhaps an individual has a progressive condition. Thinking about how they can be
supported to remain in the workplace in the coming months and years, with planned
reviews and future interventions introduced in a timely manner, is equally important.
In some cases an individual may be working for a manager who has no experience
of managing someone with a disability and cannot see beyond the barriers. In this
instance, the assessor plays a pivotal role in removing their bias or concern. This
might involve describing funding sources, detailing processes for the delivery of
adjustments and their anticipated outcomes, or highlighting their duty to the staff
member and the wider organisation in terms of implementing reasonable
adjustments. When a manager expresses concern that an adjustment may not be
operationally viable, the assessor needs to fully scrutinise the situation to ensure that
is the case before looking at alternative solutions. For example, is it really impossible
for an individual to work away from their team, take additional breaks or
digitally record a phone call or meeting? Can policies and procedures be tweaked or
the impact of adjustments on others minimised?

Individuals using assistive technology often describe how its use, while highly
beneficial, can also have a negative impact. Wearing associated headphones,
headsets or earpieces can be uncomfortable, isolating or a barrier to completing
other aspects of the role. Many users describe frustrations with the complexity of the
software and difficulties in learning and remembering all the functions. For others,
using assistive software can be exhausting due to the levels of concentration
required. A good holistic assessment will take all these factors into account,
providing solutions and adjustments which complement the use of the technology;
such as enhanced screen breaks, desk microphones, bone conduction headphones,
switching devices or modified training delivery.

It is crucial therefore that assessors have a thorough understanding of an
employee's barriers to working, the benefits and pitfalls of solutions, and the
organisation’s needs, to implement successful adjustments.

Remploy assessors are trained to work objectively with both the employer and employee,
fully examining the situation and exploring the practicality of a wide range of potential
solutions.

Visit our workplace adjustment page, or contact us to start a conversation.

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About Helen 
I am passionate about delivering quality workplace adjustment services in order to
drive inclusion, equality and promote a diverse and valued workforce.  

Working as a support worker for the independent living sector and the BBC initially lead
to my determination to make a real difference. I threw myself into pan-disability
learning and the many associated issues relating to staff employment to become an
assessor and case manager. 

Having been instrumental in the set up and development of the BBC Access Services’
centre of excellence and a DWP contracted Access to Work assessment service covering
the Central, North East and North West areas of England, I moved to Remploy in 2016. 

Now, working as an Access Services Consultant, with over 22 years’ experience in the
field of disability, I specialise in neurodiversity and mental health.  I continue to provide
frontline assessments, disability related consultancy and advice, while supporting the
set-up and smooth delivery of a range of quality services. 

About Remploy
Remploy deliver a workplace adjustments service across both the public and private
sector. We help employers such as BT, BBC and GCHQ to protect and develop their
greatest assets, whilst enabling thousands of talented individuals to reach their
true potential.

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You may also be interested to read:
Part one - Why are workplace adjustments important and why should I care?
Part two - Workplace adjustments... where do I start and what have I got to gain?
Part three - Workplace adjustments… how do I find the right approach for
my organisation?

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