Digital Empowers: Elevating Disability Inclusion at Work

January 7, 2020

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Digital Empowers
© Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The Digital Empowers campaign, a partnership between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Tata Consultancy Services, aims to raise awareness on digital technologies, foster cross-sector partnerships, and explore the art of the possible. This Digital Empowers spotlight features a deep-dive into adaptive and assistive technologies (ATs), and the business case for elevating disability inclusion in the workplace.

Individuals with disabilities are the nation’s largest minority group. However, despite their number, they lag far behind other protected classes with regard to recruitment and retention. According to the recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Report, the labor force participation rate for working age Americans (16-64) living with a recorded physical or mental impairment is 33.3%, compared to 76.9% of working-age Americans without a disability.

Yet technological advancements and renewed corporate commitments to creating inclusive workplaces and communities are paving a path for real change. Leaders are building new ways to foster collaboration between human resources and IT departments, which, alongside the development of ATs, provide enhancements to help people with disabilities perform tasks with greater ease and independence. Successfully doing so will allow these businesses to take advantage of the benefits that a truly inclusive and accessible workplace bring to innovation, culture, and—ultimately—the bottom line.

Spotlight: Adaptive and Assistive Technology in the Workplace

In some capacity, ATs have been on the market for hundreds of years. No longer regarded as solely medical equipment, innovations in this space are developing rapidly. Often customizable, and compatible with commonly owned devices, ATs such as eye-movement tracking, screen readers, speech synthesizers, and prosthetic attachments have provided many individuals with disabilities the tools necessary to better interact with their environments or enhance their capacity to meet a job requirement.

The success of emerging ATs depends on their ability to meet the users’ needs. However, creating and engineering human-computer interaction and cognitive computing systems must also consider such the ability of such technology to integrate with existing technological interfaces and physical environments—particularly in the workplace. For example, Lyft’s mobile app offers hearing accessible features to empower deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers by facilitating easier communication between drivers and riders.

Now, think about how the integration of appropriate ATs could weigh into your company’s culture, facilities, hiring practices, and tech infrastructure.

The economic case for engaging employees with disabilities is strong. According to a study conducted by the Job Accommodation Network for the Department of Labor, employers who embraced disability inclusion in hiring and workplace practices report a 89% increase in employee retention.

Furthermore, a 2018 study by Accenture, American Association of People with Disabilities, and Disability:IN found that businesses leading in areas specific to disability employment and inclusion outperform businesses that do not—and those that do incorporate disability-inclusive practices saw, on average, a 28% increase in revenue, a 30% increase in profit margin, and earned a notable $3 billion more in net income.

While many companies have the capacity to include people with disabilities in their workforce, it is an authentic commitment to inclusion that brings the most value. Incorporating inclusion not only broadens their employee pool, but also rewards them with increased creativity, employee loyalty and business performance.

Many employers involved in Digital Empowers—including Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Microsoft, Aira, National Institutes of Health, Arrow Electronics, and AARP—are developing products and services, and creating best practice resources, in order to build an inclusive talent pipeline. Ultimately, each of these employers are setting an example for the private, public, and nonprofit communities to follow.

Disability Inclusion and Innovation in Action:

  • Established in 2013, SAP’s internationally recognized, Autism at Work initiative has brought on over 160 employees in 13 countries. Watch video overview of their groundbreaking program here.
  • Within the TCS Research and Innovation Unit, the Accessibility Center of Excellence is working to bridge the gap between accessible and mainstream tech, as well as helping clients across industries with technical problems that prevent access to technology and AT compliance. 
  • Microsoft is enhancing the capabilities for more than one million people around the world with a disability through its AI for Accessibility grant program, cross-sector partnerships, training resources, and tech solutions powered by AI. Learn more here.
  • Aira integrates inclusive AT visual solutions at no cost to consumers. The company works with businesses and developers on designing accessible products, facilities, and resources for the blind community. Check out this release, What Your Mobile App Looks Like to Someone Who is Blind.​​​
  • In this article, TCS’ Balaji Ganapathy describes how organizations can foster conscious inclusion and advance diversity by accepting and designing for intersectionality as the new normal.

Resources:

Does your organization’s work leverage technology and innovation for social good? Submit a nomination for the Digital Empowers Awards.

Want to learn more on ATs or the latest tech-for-good trends, events, and best practices? Please contact Alexa Miller or visit Digital Empowers online at us.digitalempowers.org.