Technology in the workplace is evolving to make businesses more efficient and to make jobs easier to do for everyone. The use of assistive technology (AT) in the workplace can support people with disability to achieve their full potential - as employees and as business owners themselves.
- Assistive technology can help people with disability to reach their full potential at work
- Software, hardware, workspace adaptations and vehicle modifications can make working easier, more comfortable and more accessible
- The Employment Assistance Fund covers the cost of workplace assistive technology for those who are eligible
The types of AT which can be used in the workplace vary widely from text to speech software programs to adjustable desks or even work vehicle modifications.
This article gives examples of how AT can be beneficial in the workplace, as well as tips for people who might use AT and information about funding.
Many forms of assistive technology which are helpful in the workplace revolve around communication.
This can involve software like instant messaging services or email which are used across businesses - not just by people with disability - but can be a handy tool for people who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment to use to communicate efficiently with colleagues.
With working remotely becoming more and more common, instant messaging software can be used instead of phone calls as well.
Commonly used software built into word processing programs can help people with learning disabilities or dyslexia to create and edit documents. For example, spell checkers, grammar checkers and dictation software that can allow someone to speak what they want to have typed out and the computer will type it out automatically.
Many of these types of software are available for free or are part of subscriptions to other programs used in almost every office environment.
Other less common functions include text to speech software, which reads highlighted text out loud and can be useful for people with visual impairment as well as those with dyslexia, or voice command tools which allow you to use a computer to do tasks like creating documents with just your voice.
Voice command tools are beneficial for people with limited hand or arm movements and without the fine motor skills which are used to type on keyboards.
AT hardware options vary greatly in price and use but cover every piece of technology found in an office as well as many found in more labour intensive workplaces.
A simple tablet can be a useful, portable device for people with visual impairment to use to read electronic material as every device has a built-in zoom function.
For printed material magnifying sheets can be used to enlarge text, or an electronic screen magnifier, which uses a camera to magnify printed information and documents onto a computer screen.
Portable Braille displays and keyboards are also available, some of which have in-built diary and alarm reminders and can work with screen reader software.
More simple large print keyboards with high contrast colours can also be helpful.
For people with physical disability keyboards also come in more ergonomic designs, as do computer mouses, for example mouses which look like a joystick and are easier to control.
There are lots of variations of telephones for people who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment, including phones which amplify the sound coming through the earpiece, connect to a hearing aid or turn words another person is saying over the phone into live captions which can be read.
Workspace set ups
Comfort is important at your workstation because it allows you to be as engaged in your work as possible, to sit or stand in a position that doesn’t have a negative effect on your mobility or posture and to be as productive as you can be.
You might benefit from an adjustable desk, computer or laptop stand or an adjustable office chair. There are also stools that might suit you better than office chairs and foot rests, arm rests and wrist supports which can be used to set up your desk in the most comfortable and ergonomic way.
Document holders can also be added on top of a desk to support pages or books on an angle which makes it easier for you to read them.
If you use a work vehicle and would benefit from vehicle modifications there are a range of options that could make a vehicle more accessible, some of which can even be easily removed if a colleague is using the vehicle instead of you.
Accessible toilets, building access ramps and lifts for multi-storey workplaces are also considered assistive technology supports.
Tips and advice
Do your research. Finding the most beneficial AT for you as an individual is important.
It might also help to have a list of the different brands available of the product that will best suit you and to compare them based on price, quality and availability.
There are lots of options out there when it comes to technology more broadly, as well as lots of assistive technology options which are designed specifically for people with certain disabilities.
Technology that is not designed with people with disability in mind might still be exactly what you’re looking for, so considering all the options available is part of choosing the best product for you.
Make sure you communicate with your employer about what kind of AT will best help you to do your job well. The more it will help the more likely it is to be funded, plus explaining why the AT will help you might give your employer a better understanding of how to support you to achieve the best outcomes for the business and for you as an employee.
If you own your business or are self-employed, don’t set the idea of purchasing AT to help yourself aside. AT could help you to run your business more efficiently, with less stress or for longer periods of time or it could make your workspace more comfortable so you can protect your mobility and posture.
People who are self employed or business owners can still get AT funding through the same channels as employees.
The Employment Assistance Fund provides funding for eligible people with disability to pay for work-related AT such as adjustments to your physical workplace, modifications to work vehicles, special equipment and information and communication devices.
You can apply for financial support for workplace AT through the Employment Assistance Fund if you are about to start a job, are currently employed or are self-employed.
For AT which costs more than $1,000 to be covered by the Employment Assistance Fund you will likely need a Workplace Modification Assessment.
This assessment is free and is done by a professional who will look at your workplace and talk to you and your employer to help find out what AT will suit your situation.
To be eligible for financial assistance through the Fund you have to:
- Be an Australian resident
- Be in a job that is expected to continue for at least 13 weeks
- Be working at least eight hours per week
- Have a disability that will last at least two years and will impact your work
If you are self-employed you must have worked at least eight hours per week for at least the past 13 weeks and have earned an hourly income of at least the minimum wage.
While the Employment Assistance Fund is the main way AT is funded for the workplace in Australia, it may also be funded through the Department of Veterans Affairs or State and Territory Government funding schemes, depending on the type of AT and how much personal use you may also get out of it.
If you will use the AT at home as well as in your workplace then you may be able to get funding through the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
JobAccess advisers should be able to tell you what funding you should apply for.
Do you use assistive technology in your workplace? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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