First and foremost, Assistive Technology is to help people. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is very clear with respect to rights of persons with disabilities and Assistive Technology. Article 4 outlines that governments "To undertake or promote research and development of, and to promote the availability and use of new technologies, including information and communications technologies, mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies, suitable for persons with disabilities, giving priority to technologies at an affordable cost.
The industry for Assistive Technology in Canada is very large and consists of Mobility, Orthotic, Prosthetic, Hearing, and Vision sectors to name a few. Did you know that glasses are the most common form of assistive devices in the world? However it has become normalized and now seen as a fashion product. Similarly, dictation software to make texting easier used to be a "disability" product but now widely used in computers and smartphones by everybody. There is a new push to help innovate the assistive technology industry to change perspectives of other assistive devices as a product for the disabled to a product to enhance function.
Occupational Therapists are considered the most visible service provider recommending assistive technology for people. But other health professionals such as Audiologists, Optometrists, and Opticians also recommend technology for people with disabilities.
Industrial Designers and Product Designers are interested "with bringing artistic form and usability, usually associated with craft design and ergonomics, together in order to mass-produce goods." Wikipedia Some would argue assistive technology and assistive devices look "clinical" which contributes to abandonment. Another barrier facing assistive technology is the technological lag between research and market.
When the environment is designed to accommodate a persons ability, then the goal of human performance, health, and social participation is accomplished. When the environment does not accommodate a person's ability then barriers exist and the design is not accessible. Assistive Technology can help enhance a person's ability but if the environment is not designed with this Assistive Technology in mind, the design can fail the person.
Universal Design considers all abilities on the bell curve while also considering the person and any assistive devices / technology used. No wonder Universal Design is outlined in Article 4 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which clearly outlines the responsibility of countries to engage in research and development of Universal Design principles and application of these principles to maximize inclusion of all including people with disabilities.
The Universal Design Network of Canada is a federally registered non profit organization designed to promote Universal Design through education, research, and displays of best practices and policies. Launched in 2017, UniversalDesign.ca was created to showcase Universal Design best practice and polices in Canada.
It is no surprise that persons with disabilities are under-employed. According to Statistics Canada’s Canadian Survey on Disability (2017), between 600,000 and 700,000 persons with disabilities in Canada who have the potential to work and are not working. Furthermore, persons with disabilities also have lower incomes are also more likely to live in poverty. A multi faceted approach to bridging this gap is required with main goals being:
1. Fostering Disability-confident and inclusive workplaces.
2. Providing comprehensive supports for persons with
Providing employers and persons with disabilities resources to help bridge the gap is key. Much needed are resources for workplace design, workplace accessibility, assistive technology, and vocational assessment / planning.
Occupational Therapists are well trained to identify functional, occupational, and environmental barriers to working. More importantly OTs can offer solutions to overcome these barriers using tools such as functional assessments, Job Site Analysis, Job Matching, Ergonomic Assessments, Accessibility Assessments, and more.
WorkplaceInclusion.ca is a website meant to offer practical resources for employers to help bridge the gap for persons with disabilities entering the workforce.
A publicly funded employer referred an employee with a work related pain disability to a health / rehab clinic with the reason being she could not complete all of her required job demands of a clerical position. Her main issue was back pain and functional limitations included prolonged walking. Walking the long but wide corridors to deliver mail was a challenge. The health care professional completed an analysis of her workplace and discovered walking and standing demands could be minimized with use of a scooter. However the design of the workplace space was insufficient to accommodate a wheelchair let a lone a scooter. Recommendations were provided to increase door widths among others. The employer realized that by changing the workplace design can accommodate this worker but also other people who use a mobility device.