What next for assistive technology in the workplace?
That was the question put to the panel for the Technology Taskforce’s Assistive Technology webinar, co-hosted with the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) on 12 January 2017.
Representatives from Atos, Barclays, Microlink and TextHelp joined 83 delegates to discuss how assistive technology (AT) can work well and how the delivery of it might change with innovations and developments.
One of the major topics for discussion was the range of challenges facing AT at present.
Neil Milliken of Atos identified the gap between AT and the office environment, pointing to incompatibility between AT and the kinds of software used by organisations, such as network computing and compact workstations. Paul Smyth of Barclays added that conventional IT tends to outpace AT as it develops, leading to further compatibility issues with modern software.
Dr. Nasser Siabi OBE of Microlink highlighted the role of workplace culture in integrating AT solutions into the business, such as the need to change attitudes among IT professionals towards integrating new hardware and software.
Lastly, Mark McCusker of Texthelp talked about the issues that are faced by the publishers of the AT software. He highlighted that 60% of issues with their software are faced at the activation and installation stage of the process. Only 9% of reported issues actually relate to the operating of the software.
The speakers all pointed to making the most of trends in technology and office working as a key way to overcome the challenges associated with AT.
They looked both to the increasing mobility and portability that went with more flexible working and also to increasing customisability and personalisation.
Neil Milliken said customisability was key to changing the image of AT from that of a specialist solution to something that was easy-to-use and universally applicable.
This could be backed up with the creation of staff support networks and by making training on AT available to all employees. This was a view echoed by Paul Smyth, who said this encouraged the whole organisation to approach AT together, as opposed to a few select staff.
Paul added that the arrival of more portable office devices allowed for a merging of AT with conventional IT, as seen in products such as smartphones and tablets, and made using AT easier for remote workers.
Mark McCusker said that the AT industry needed to seize this opportunity to move from traditional ideas of one program being installed on one machine towards AT being automatically available across multiple platforms. Mark identified a major goal as ensuring that users had the same experience on all platforms and establishing a standard policy on updates, security and installation.
The webinar concluded with BATA and BDF pledging to work together to promote closer working between corporate organisations and AT vendors and publishers, and participants identifying a need to create a best practice framework to guide organisations in buying AT from vendors.
If you are a BDF Member you can find the full audio of the webinar, along with copies of the presentations used by the speakers, on the Member Hub.