Technology in employment – it’s not all bad news!

Morecrofts Liverpool.Images by Gareth Jones

There have been huge advances in technology over the last decade which has impacted on the world of work in a number of ways.

We are told that we are on the brink of a “fourth industrial revolution” with increased plans for AI (artificial intelligence), automation and robotics in the workplace affecting how we work and in some cases whether we work at all.

But is all technology bad?

We were recently very lucky in Morecrofts to have a session delivered to us by the Merseyside Society for Deaf People (MSDP). We received an introduction to British sign language (BSL) and also an awareness session giving us valuable insight into the experiences of those who are deaf or who are hard of hearing. We learned how difficult it can be to get into the world of work, or how workers may be discriminated against if they develop hearing problems at a later stage in life.

We learned about how important it was for autonomy and independence and it made us consider barriers and inclusivity. It was a really positive session as we learnt about the steps people and organisations can take and the range of support services out there. This includes technology.

It is important to note that some people in the deaf community do not consider themselves to have a ‘disability’ and reject, therefore, the legal and medical definitions of disability and ‘impairment’ finding the terminology reductive. However, under the Equality Act 2010 someone who is deaf would be legally-defined as having a ‘disability’ and would therefore have protection under the Act. An employer has a legal duty to make a reasonable adjustment for an employee with a disability.

The duty can also arise before the employment relationship is formed (i.e. during the recruitment process)

I realised, on reflection, that as far as I was aware I have worked with colleagues who have developed deafness during the course of their employment but had never met a worker who was deaf at the time they were recruited. Is this because employers are deliberately discriminatory? Is it that organisations don’t think ‘outside the box’ on how an adjustment can facilitate the recruitment of someone who is deaf? Is it that those who are deaf don’t apply for roles because they don’t believe the employer could or would accommodate adjustments for them?  ACAS recently reported that 42% of disabled people seeking work found the biggest barrier to employment was ‘misconceptions around what they could do’. ACAS also reported that most adjustments were inexpensive averaging about £184 per employee who needed one.

Assistive technologies can be used to facilitate recruitment and employment and help employers comply with their duty to make reasonable adjustment. They range from the low-tech and familiar to high-tech solutions. High-tech solutions however can be really inexpensive. The government-funded Access to Work service can also support adjustments for employees in the workplace.

Facetime and other social media apps can aid communication for those who are deaf as people can sign to each other online. There are also speech-to-text services and other visual aids that can aid participation in the workplace. Uber (who often get a bad reputation in the press in relation to employment) employs hundreds of drivers who are deaf. This is assisted through the use of technology and Apps such as Lingoing. Tech enables them to disable voice-calling to their drivers but enables the passenger to communicate to the driver though an app and a notepad on the back of the passenger seat.

Microsoft, and other tech companies, have introduced functions such as subtitling, captioning and audio tracks which assists MS Office users who are blind or deaf. Seeing AI is also being developed via smartphones which assists users who can tap an image on the screen to hear a description of that image. It also can enable the reading of text on menus, street signs and hand-written notes. Dragon and other speech-activated software can also assist users.

There is a huge amount of inexpensive assistive technology out there which can aid accessibility, inclusivity and autonomy for people (and employees) with disabilities. When considering recruiting someone who has a disability, employers may be surprised at what is out there or what they already have in place.

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