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Assistive Tech Helps Soften A Harsh Job Market

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Wheelchair user with laptop

This is a question often asked: Does the shaky economy make it harder for people with disabilities to find a job? Undoubtedly, yes. The job marketplace is more competitive, and frankly, it’s easier for an employer to hire someone who doesn’t need an accommodation.

Though the American with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination of the disabled, it still happens indirectly — and more so when the hiring pool is larger. In June 2010, the unemployment rate of persons with a disability was 14.4 percent, compared with 9.4 percent for persons with no disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The good news is assistive technologies can help level the playing field and open more employment opportunities for workers with disabilities. Assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, or product system — whether acquired commercially or off the shelf, modified or customized — that increases, maintains, or improves the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

All assistive technology items are either considered low-tech or high-tech. Low-tech might include pencil grips or for those with motor impairments; reaching aids for people with short stature; or magnifying glasses for people with visual impairments.

High-tech examples include a keyboard with large keys or a special mouse tor workers with physical impairments; a screen reader for the blind, which is a piece of software that reads computer text and menus out loud in a computer-generated voice; or a handheld speech-generating device for people with speech disorders that speaks out loud as they enter text via a keyboard.

In many cases, higher-tech assistive technology is more expensive, harder to find and requires a learning curve, but the results can be extraordinarily successful in the sense that they’re life-changing devices.

Still, many assistive technology gadgets used in today’s workplace cost $500 or less, and some are free, according to a recent survey conducted by the Job Accommodation Network. Look at instant messaging, a popular text-messaging platform that cost nothing to install or use and is a great communications tool for the deaf and hearing impaired.

Even if there’s a cost involved, you can get some help with funding. First, you should realize that companies who hire qualified people with disabilities will work to provide them with a “reasonable accommodation” if it will help them better perform their job; assistive technology is one such accommodation recognized by the ADA. A couple of conditions: This rule does not apply to businesses with fewer than 15 employees, and you must disclose your disability in order to be eligible for an accommodation.

Another place to get funding is through state agencies. Under the Tech Act, agencies will provide people with disabilities with assistive technologies if they are needed for a job.

Small businesses may also be able to receive tax credits towards the cost of assistive technologies under a provision known as the Disabled Access Credit. Companies can receive a maximum credit of $5,000 a year.

So there you have it: Many accommodations are already in use in the workplace, and most cost less than $500 or are free to use. If you have a disability, brush up on your assistive technology knowledge and make it clear to employers that these tools are the key to success in your  job.

This article was repurposed for Hire Disability Solutions by abledbody.com