Remote Work and Accessibility: Assistive Technology

Published September 7, 2021

With all the technological advancements we see today, it’s not surprising that the assistive technology market has continued to see exponential growth. However, for employers, it can be hard to keep track of the devices employees might need. We review assistive technology and its implications for employers below. 

What Is assistive technology?

According to the United States Access Board, Assistive Technology is defined as:

Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

The objective of assistive technology is to make information, programs and services, and facilities more accessible to the equipment user. For example, a person who is blind may use a screen reader to access information online to apply for a job or inquire about a service. Categorically speaking, assistive technology can be anything from mobility devices to screen magnification software. Assistive technology is anything that improves the user’s ability to access or enjoy a program, service, activity, or facility.

Employees may request their employer provide assistive technology as a reasonable accommodation. Assistive technology such as text-to-speech software, screen-readers, and even something as simple as a five-dollar magnifier, all fall into the "reasonable" category in most cases. However, some employees may use other types of assistive technology in their everyday lives, such as hearing aids or adaptations to their vehicles. With so many different types of assistive technology and uses, employers question what is required and what is reasonable. 

What does the law say?

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, including recruitment, hiring, pay, and other related aspects. Employers with 15 or more employees, and state and local governments, are covered by ADA Title I.

Regarding assistive technology, under Title I, employers are also required to provide reasonable accommodations, which the ADA stipulates may include:

  • Job restructuring
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices
  • Providing accessible toilets
  • Providing accessible transportation or parking
  • Flexible hours, start/end times, or allowing remote working
  • Allowing the use of service animals

"Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices," in other words, means employers may be required to procure assistive technology as a reasonable accommodation. 

Types of assistive technology

For someone living with a disability, it’s relatively easy to figure out which devices are available and which ones will work best for them. However, for employers, the sheer variety of options is overwhelming. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the types of assistive technology common in office spaces and remote working locations:

  • Mobility aids: there are many different mobility aids out there, such as wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs.
  • Hearing aids, speech-to-text: hearing aids, cochlear implants, white noise machines, and auto-captioning or speech-to-text software.
  • Cognitive aids: some employees may require cognitive aids to help with their memory or concentration. Others may simply need to use an alarm clock to remind them of meetings or medications.
  • Software: voice-to-text, text-to-speech, auto-captioning, voice recognition, screen readers, screen enlargement devices, etc.
  • Ergonomic tools: many people living with disabilities find items like adapted pencil grips, automatic page-turners, and book holders beneficial.
  • Adaptive switches: people with limited motor skills may find adaptive and single switches helpful.

When providing assistive technology as a reasonable accommodation it is important to give primary consideration to the person making the request, unless the request would cause undue burden on the organization or alter its programs or services. 

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