Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help

Susan Nunziata, Director of Editorial | 3/17/2014 | 45 comments

Susan Nunziata
Is your IT organization doing all it can to accommodate employees with special needs?

This isn't a theoretical question. On March 24, 2014, new guidelines take effect under the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These guidelines, found under Section 503 of the act, require Federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to hire, retain, and promote qualified individuals with disabilities. According to the guidelines, "all covered contractors and subcontractors must also include a specific equal opportunity clause in each of their nonexempt contracts and subcontracts."

Research firm Gartner predicts that by 2015, 50% of organizations will have technology projects underway to support the enablement of special needs employees. Andrew Johnson, managing VP at Gartner, highlighted the role of IT in a prepared statement released March 12:

While internal HR staffs may be versed in labor law, they may not be fully aware of the scope and scale of the impact on IT infrastructure. IT will need to work with HR to help determine which assistive technologies can reduce barriers for special-needs candidates and review an internal communication plan that is sensitive to the special-needs employee.

Even if your enterprise doesn't have any federal contracts, considering new ways to enable access to information for disabled employees is worth considering. Patricia A. Shiu, director of the US Department of Labor's Office of Contract Compliance Programs, addressed the issues during a keynote address at a Cornell University conference in October 2013:

Last year, the unemployment rate for working-age people with disabilities was 15%, nearly double the 8% rate for working-age individuals without disabilities. This substantial disparity persists despite years of technological advances that have made it possible for many people with disabilities to apply for and successfully perform a broad array of jobs. Even more troubling, a staggering 4 out of 5 working-age Americans with disabilities are out of the labor force entirely -- that is, they were not employed, and they have stopped even looking for a job. But as you and I know, many of these so-called "discouraged workers" – or, as I prefer to call them, "prospective workers" -- can be valuable assets in workplaces across our county. When we match people with disabilities to jobs aligned with their interests and abilities, when we educate employers about the business case for hiring workers with disabilities and when we set clear targets for hiring people with disabilities, they can make important contributions to our labor force and to the American economy.

According to Gartner's Johnson:

Opening up a position to a disabled job candidate may be as easy as delivering an assistive accessory, modifying an application or changing a workspace. Access to information is critical to empower employees to thrive in their current position and the specific challenges that disabled employees face accessing an organization's systems should not be overlooked. If the IT operations staff doesn't know about or have the resources to assume this work, consider outsourcing it.

Johnson's comments are based on a recent Gartner report titled "What IT Leaders Need to Know About New Rules and Opportunities When Hiring People with Disabilities."

Want to learn more about assistive technologies for disabled workers? The Department of Defense has been operating the Computer/Electronic Accommodation Program since 1990 and has provided more than 130,000 assistive technology solutions to federal employees and members of the armed forces. The US Centers for Disease Control offers a guide entitled "Workplace Personal Assistance Services & Assistive Technology." The Massachusetts-based organization Work Without Limits also offers a list of national resources that can help you learn more about assistive technologies.

What does your IT organization do to accommodate employees with disabilities? What would you like to see happen in the workplace to improve the information technology experiences of those with special needs? Tell us in the comments section below.

— Susan Nunziata, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn pageLike EnterpriseEfficiency on Facebook, Director of Editorial, EnterpriseEfficiency.com

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Page 1 / 5   >   >>
Anand   Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help   3/27/2014 7:42:52 AM
Re : Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help
@ Nomi, what is ironic is that such barriers in the way of disabled people are mostly social barriers instead of their own capabilities. At least I don't have any doubt about their understanding of IT. Surely they should be provided with better educational opportunities and better training for developing professional skills. But social barriers must be eliminated first of all.
singlemud   Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help   3/26/2014 4:33:03 PM
Re: that initial push
Taimoor, can you share some of your experience helping people physically handicapped?
Taimoor Zubair   Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help   3/26/2014 1:52:01 PM
Re: that initial push
Thankyou. I have the pleasure of having a first-hand experience of working with people who were physically handicapped and yet, were some of the most interesting minds I have ever come across.
Taimoor Zubair   Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help   3/26/2014 1:45:44 PM
Re: that initial push
It was good to know about the Act. I looked up some of its clauses after you mentioned it. It looks promising. I wonder how many countries have actually taken this matter so as to enact a law of this sort
Anand   Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help   3/25/2014 7:36:08 AM
Re : Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help
What a great post Susan! Hats off! Doing something for people with disabilities who, whenever and wherever given a chance, have always proved themselves to be at par with people without any disability would be a great service. It will be like enhancing their capabilities. IT no doubt has the biggest role to play to facilitate such people at their work places.
DBK   Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help   3/24/2014 11:09:54 AM
Re: How IT Can Help
@ Angelfuego - As I read your post especially the comment "In a way, we all have some form of difference or disability, which makes us all unique and special", it triggered a thought for me.  We are all broken in some way and some wear it on the outside and some on the inside.  And our inability to accept those with a visible condition may in fact be part of our disability.  I say that because it limits our ability to experience the world in its entirety.  And there is a huge need for grace and respect.  And I agree with your other comment that we can learn more from them than they can from those without visible brokenness.  In many ways or brokenness is what can be our greatest strength and what can help us to take that next step toward being complete.
Henrisha   Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help   3/24/2014 5:31:47 AM
Re: Getting to work
It's a noble thing, giving facilities and policies further thought to make sure that disabled employees enjoy all benefits and are able to work comfortably and without any trouble. Unfortunately, it's going to cost money--money that some firms might not have or are not willing to part with.
Henrisha   Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help   3/24/2014 5:30:47 AM
Re: How IT Can Help
Sometimes, I wonder why they didn't do more to fix this part of the system. Seems like it's putting disabled people at an extra disadvantage. Specific tests and matrices when it comes to grades should be in place but also employed after giving consideration to the student's condition.
Hospice_Houngbo   Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help   3/23/2014 9:32:03 PM
Re: Getting to work
@Hammad: Well said. Companies should promote research and development of tools to meet the specific needs of employees with disabilities, and promote the availability and use of these tools.
angelfuego   Disabled Employees: How IT Can Help   3/23/2014 9:09:25 PM
Re: How IT Can Help
I think the public school system needs to change their policies regarding promotion of Special Education students. Most students with Special Education students in community schools get extra minutes for the Regents exams, but must pass the Regents in order to get their high school promotion. The promotional criteria is not modified for high school students. Many of them repeat the grade and try to take the test over and over until they age out of the school system or drop out of school due to frustration. You are left to feel like a failure, even though you are capable of working. However, most jobs require a high school diploma.
Page 1 / 5   >   >>


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