Pete Quinn, Independent Consultant

Assistive, not restrictive, software; no longer niche

In the early to mid noughties "assistive software" was the preserve of the Disabled Student or Disabled Employee, now however, technology has its uses for just about everyone in university right through into the workplace. In his blog, Pete Quinn take you through this journey.

In the early to mid noughties "assistive software" was the preserve of the Disabled Student or Disabled Employee who, via Disabled Students Allowances or Access to Work funding was furnished with technology, had training offered and whose success depended on their tenacity and perseverance. The software wasn't transformational; it *took* effort rather than saving it. 

This was a big deal at the University of Oxford, where I worked as Head of Disability at the time. The short intensive terms required massive student tutorial and other academic output in a condensed period of time. Employees who were struggling to deliver reports or large volumes of email weren't necessarily enabled to thrive by clunky voice recognition or tech that didn't work alongside their everyday software.

Not just for Disabled Students

Suddenly, however, I saw software producing results. Talented students optimised the packages to produce high quality academic work *and* had energy left to develop cultural capital (previously working harder for longer was the go-to strategy leaving little room for anything more than eating and sleeping and a snatched social life). Academics and professional support staff started to use the assistive software to deliver, rather than just keep up. 
At Oxford we knew we were making progress when the academic authorities approved 4 software packages for use on university provided exam PCs (Dragon, Jaws, Inspiration and Texthelp’s Read&Write). Given that Oxford's 3 hour exams were as traditional as the Oxford tutorial, this became a catalyst for other universities to whom we showcased our progress. 

Enabling a productive workforce

Those students from the noughties (circa 8-10% of graduates) are now well and truly in the workplace, part of the most intergenerational workforce ever seen. Just as these software packages enabled people with Specific Learning Differences/Difficulties to thrive, they are now essential for many people to enable productivity, achieve life-work balance and use limited and sporadic energy to good effect. This is no longer niche software, and organisations that don’t enable or focus on empowering their employees in this area are rapidly losing ground and talent. In resisting (even inadvertently) use of assistive software; organisations are less efficient, effective and attractive for their talented employees. Investment in embedding assistive tech will likely positively impact on sickness absence costs. 
This is particularly pertinent for organisations, including universities, who weren’t ‘digitally born’ and are continually having to implement fixes to their legacy systems, as technology progresses. Many organisations are focused on the technologies, social networks, and leadership practices that enable employee and thus organisational success in the digital era. This gives employees the means to collaborate and address the complexity of issues arising as a result of technological developments. Working harder for longer is a defunct strategy in universities and in workplaces. The tenacity and perseverance previously needed to use the software is arguably in the same order needed to resist wholescale adaptation.
In my work throughout the UK and Asian pacific countries I see mainstream use of screen reading, text to speech and speech to text across the board. It’s wonderful to see it working as intended, enabling everyone to thrive and excel in their effort, so the rest of their life isn’t encroached on by work, essays or emails. Assistive software should do just that, assist.

About the Author

Pete Quinn is an Independent Consultant adept in managing equality, diversity & inclusion, primarily across the education sector for over 15 years. As an Independent Consultant, he applies his skills, knowledge and expertise in equality, diversity and inclusion. He specialises in the delivery of inclusive teaching and learning reviews, disability confidence reviews, training and consultancy currently works with several Universities in England, Scotland and Wales. 


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