For Chris Armistead, the “cool factor” of accessible technology is eclipsed by its ability to help him side-skirt limited hand dexterity caused by multiple sclerosis to perform his job more efficiently. Ditto for Keith Askin, diagnosed with MS more than 20 years ago, whose use of voice recognition software allows him to speak instead of type and keeps him successful in his career.
Both men told the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) how crucial such equipment – also known as assistive technology or AT – has been on the job. While these techy innovations can be used at either home or work, AT really lives up to its reputation as the “great equalizer” for employees with multiple sclerosis dealing with common symptoms such as muscle or voice weakness, vision difficulties or memory impairment.
Accessible technology encompasses a diverse list of devices, software and equipment that’s getting longer every year as new advances are made. But some of the most popular technology helping workers with MS includes:
• Lomak, a Light Operated Mouse and Keyboard designed for people who can’t use a standard computer keyboard and mouse because of dexterity issues. A small laser pointer mounted on the user’s hat or headband operates the Lomak.
• Voice amplifiers that magnify the volume of a person’s voice when speaking into a microphone that’s placed near the lips or vocal cords. This minimizes the effort needed for loud speech while on the phone, in groups or in a noisy room.
• Reading and comprehension tools for those with cognitive impairments that make it difficult to understand conventional print materials or process information.
• Screen magnifiers and readers for those with vision problems that enlarge a portion of the screen or can read onscreen material out loud in a computerized voice.
Many assistive technologies are free or low-cost, but some employers work with employees to integrate these accommodations into the workplace, creating a win-win situation for both. Both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities require employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to help employees with disabilities perform essential job functions so long as doing so doesn’t pose an “undue hardship” to the employer.
So while there’s no guarantee that your employer will spring for accessible technology to help you do your job, there are ways to up the odds that they will. Sara Furguson from the Center for Disability Rights, Inc. suggests these tactics:
• Develop a partnership with your employer and work together to identify the most doable AT.
• Emphasize your abilities, not your disabilities.
• Keep requests simple to avoid confusion.
Do you use any assistive technologies at work? If so, how did you ask your employer for them? Share with us on Facebook.