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For January 2011:

Technological Barriers in the Workplace

It is probably never going to go away but the truth is; disabled employees may always have to face some sort of technological barrier in the workplace. Why is this? Because the evolution of technology is moving at a much faster rate than the development of access technology for disabled users. This is a chronic challenge that disabled persons will probably always have to deal with both at home and in the workplace and it includes both hardware and software as well as access to information. This should not come as a shocker or shaker to anyone who has knowledge of this topic. I will focus my attention on three types of technological barriers: Hardware, software, and access to information.

In the case of hardware: The technological barriers may be a bit less in that keyboards are fairly user friendly to disabled persons but when it comes to using such things as touch screen technology and dealing with flashing indicators on phones for example, then these problems will continue to exist unless there are other hard coded ways to deal with them. Strides continue to be made in this area but as I mentioned above, three steps forward for mainstream technology computes into at best one step forward for access or adaptive technology for the disabled. If we're talking about the workplace, then the hardware to consider would range from computer keyboards to scanners, and from phones to PDAs. If I have missed out on mentioning of any other piece of hardware, then my apologies.

In the case of software: Many of the operating systems that are used today are for the most part accessible to persons with disabilities but the real challenge comes when so-called add-ons are included. Disabled persons, in particular blind and visually impaired persons, often run into problems because of incompatibility between the mainstream software in question and their access or adaptive software. This is mainly due to the graphical interfaces that mainstream software is made up of and the inability of screen reading software to decipher graphical interfaces.

A few examples would be:

  • A piece of mainstream software that needs to be installed and the installation process is made up of a graphical interface.
  • A disabled user tries to use the piece of mainstream software itself and the software is not very user friendly because of icons that need to be clicked on. Blind and visually impaired users are unable to use a mouse to click. Many employees in the workplace are often called upon to install or download software either from the Internet or from CDs. One thing that comes to mind for me is the difficulty that blind and visually impaired persons continue to face in environments that require them to communicate with screens that contain a lot of graphical information. Typically, in help desk and banking types of environments.

Access to information: In the case of blind and visually impaired users and the print disabled as a whole, the problem often occurs when they are unable to access information on the Internet. Some of the primary offenders of this situation come as a result of the following: Websites that are not user friendly or accessible, access or adaptive software that is unable to decipher website content that includes forms and downloads, and websites that do not provide information in alternate formats. I will note here that information provided in PDF format is not considered to be an alternate format.

To summarize: Disabled employees in the workplace will continue to face technological barriers for as long as access or adaptive technology is unable to keep up with evolution of mainstream technology. Technological barriers include access to hardware, software, and access to information. The print disabled in particular blind and visually impaired employees are the most affected.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your free lance writer and roving reporter wishing you a terrific day.
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