Assistive Technology In The Workplace
By Erika Villafane
Presenter and Assistive Technology Cafe Host Peggy Martinez (second from right) with conference particpants.
The latest innovations in assistive technology have contributed enormously to improving the quality of life for people with hearing and visual disabilities and helped facilitate their integration into the labor force. Peggy Martínez, owner of Eureka Assistive Technologies, Matt Myrick, AT&T channel manager for relay services, and Colin Petheram, director of regulatory and constituency relations for AT&T came together at the Bridges to Employment conference to discuss the uses of assistive technology.
Martínez, who has had a visual disability since birth, has been fully involved in this arena since 1988. She is a consultant for people with disabilities searching for work and for businesses that seek to incorporate this group into their labor force. Martínez said that technological progress has been enormous in the past 20 years. New software products allow users with visual disabilities to “read” files in Word, “view” Internet pages, or write and respond to e-mail messages. However, she added, there is still a whole lot to do in this realm.
But technological progress is not only useful for those with visual disabilities. Joanna Lindsay, representing the Florida Alliance for Assistive Technology Services (FAAST), described equipment designed for people with motor disabilities. There are keyboards designed for people with small fingers that can help eliminate typing mistakes, software that operates by way of voice commands, and new technology that can replace a conventional mouse with switches or joysticks.
For people with hearing impediments, AT&T offers communication services through their integrated Internet and video systems (relay services), said Myrick, whose hearing disability has not been a barrier to him as executive manager of relay services at AT&T in Richmond, Virginia. He emphasized that it is very important for the Latino community with disabilities to understand that there indeed is technology for improving quality of life, and that products are constantly being improved.
Petheram, who also works for AT&T, believes the company is unique in its goal to maintain a close relationship with and provide excellent service to their clients with disabilities. This, he explains, has resulted not only in bigger sales, but also in hiring and retaining highly qualified employees. Research has identified people with disabilities as an important market segment for their business.
Finally, Petheram explained that it is the individual’s task to reach beyond his or her disability and get an education and skills that will make them competitive in the labor market. Education plus the available technological support should be an incentive to managers and business owners for hiring and retaining more people with disabilities.
For further information:
Peggy Martínez, Eureka Assistive Technologies, www.eurekaat.com or 707-826-1312.
AT&T Relay Services, www.att.com/relay
Florida Alliance for Assistive Technology Services (FAAST), www.faast.org