Katharine Quarmby

Creating an inclusive workplace with Assistive Technology

Originally posted in the Diversity & Inclusion supplement in The Times, Texthelp provides leadership on how Assistive Technology can help create an inclusive workplace.

Effective communications are at the core of every successful organisation – with clients and also within the organisation itself. Colleagues should be able to communicate with one another with ease. However, more than one in ten people in the United Kingdom are affected by dyslexia and conditions which impairs their ability to read and write effectively in the workplace. 

Dyslexia is known as a hidden disability, and many sufferers conceal their condition from their employers, fearing stigma and prejudice. They develop their own coping strategies where there is no workplace support: working longer hours, or getting family members to help. This is stressful, often resulting in increased absenteeism, low morale and reduced productivity. It makes good economic sense for employers to help staff with hidden conditions, with the use of Assistive Technology (AT). 

For Texthelp, who specialise in the provision of literacy support software...  

- ensuring each employee is supported in the workplace is of paramount importance. Established in 1996, it works with leading technology companies including Google and Microsoft to provide literacy support solutions to public, private and voluntary sector organisations worldwide. It is Google’s Technology Partner of the Year 2016

Texthelp’s easy-to-use support technologies can help everyone read and write with confidence and independence. Jacqui Burns, Texthelp’s lead on diversity and inclusion, explains its ethos: “We believe that effective communication - reading and writing -  is our passport to academic, social and professional success.”

She encourages organisations to create inclusive digital workplaces where assistive technology is openly available for all staff to access and use. “AT benefits everyone by enabling people to work smarter, processing information in their preferred style and format – from audio to mind maps to tinted screens. AT is an enabler to help us all improve our efficiency and quality of work, additionally it benefits colleagues on the neurodiverse spectrum including those with dyslexia, or English language challenges, people with mild visual impairment or eye fatigue.” She stresses the importance of technology being available for the whole organisation. “It’s important to normalise the use of assistive technology. Nobody wants to stand out as having different software, and our technology helps everyone work smarter.” 

Texthelp stresses the need for support to be available right from the start of the online recruitment process, which must be made more accessible. Digital inclusion software, such as Texthelp’s product Browsealoud, can read web pages out loud and translate the information into multiple languages, both written and audio, making online content much more accessible. Texthelp’s software also offers intuitive and advanced spellcheckers and word prediction, to help users create error-free text quickly and effectively. 

AT can completely change people’s lives

Ms Burns says: “AT can completely change people’s lives, helping them reach their full potential. One fireman, struggling to pass promotion exams because of his dyslexia, eventually admitted his condition to his boss. With our software in place, he’s achieved multiple promotions and is now writing fire safety policy at a national level.” 

She also recalls an urgent call from ITV, which needed AT software to convert text to audio, to help actors learn their lines for Coronation Street. 

UK organisations driving workplace inclusion include... 

- many health organisations, such as NHS England, Guys & St Thomas’ Hospital, also Network Rail, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Wirral Council and Transport for London, as well as national and local government. Organisations such as ITV, BBC and GCHQ increasingly seek to recruit people with neurodiversity, recognising the valuable skills they offer.

The bottom line profits too. A recent report from the British Assistive Technology Association found that 78 per cent of organisations providing AT reported improved productivity and up to 50 per cent reduction in sickness absence, across the workplace. It’s a win-win for everyone says Ms Burns “Create an inclusive workforce by putting support technology in place - you’ll have happier, more productive staff, whilst cutting absence and workplace assessment costs.” 


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