A new program launched by the B.C. government hopes to result in the highest labour participation rate for people with disabilities in Canada by 2024.
Technology@Work is funded by both the provincial and federal government and provides full or partially funded assistive technology products and services to B.C. employees, volunteers, and self-employed people who have a disability-related barrier.
He says the program has the potential to make an impact as a result of its streamlined process and focus on the clients.
“This is a sign of change from the government to solving an age-old problem on moving the needle on employment of people experiencing disability in the workplace,” says Derek.
“Disability, in the loosest sense, is any sort of barrier related to work performance. If that barrier can be accommodated by the use of technology, we will work with the individual, employer, or service provider to find and implement the best solution.”
People who experience disability in their workplace can call a toll-free number and be put in touch with certified occupational therapist who will work with them to find the right solutions.
Past programs related to supporting people experiencing disability were less focused on employment-related outcomes. Plus, Technology@Work program is staffed by seasoned experts in the use of assistive technology to accommodate disability-related barriers in the workplace.
Another new approach taken by Technology@Work is to promote the program among B.C. employers. Derek says this helps business owners and nonprofits understand the value of hiring people who experience disability, without being stuck on the potential costs to accommodate the new employee.
Eight out of 10 persons with disabilities in Canada use aids and assistive devices, and on average, the total cost to accommodate an employee with a disability is less than $500.
Derek, who is blind, understands first-hand how important technology can be in accommodating disability-related barriers in the workplace. Derek uses text-to-speech software and relies on accessible websites and applications to do his work.
He suggests a future social innovation would be technology companies engaging their potential customers, including people experiencing disability, at the outset of their product design and not restricting their research and development teams to only computer programmers.
In doing so, Derek feels many of the challenges faced by people who have a disability could be solved through innovative applications of technology.
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