Beyond the frontiers of disabilities

The possibilities unleashed by technology are practically limitless. And in the coming years, more opportunities will arise


The past two decades ignited the technological revolution we are living today. However, even though companies embraced it in public, most of them have been slow in adapting their workplaces. We’ve all heard about the famous paperless office, but employees are still drowning in a sea of paper.

Process re-engineering was another buzz word, but customers still face manual systems with time-consuming processes at the backend. Remote working was the cornerstone of our technological advancement, yet employers were afraid of losing control, and their doubts extinguished these excellent initiatives.

Then the pandemic happened. Everyone was in shock and panic seeped in. The only solution was to switch online, quickly digitise our paperwork and start rethinking our processes. And companies realised that things weren’t so bad after all. As a matter of fact, before the pandemic, only 10% of the workforce primarily worked from home. When it finally passes, this number will increase to 25%. Furthermore, employers are more open to this alternative form of work because it carries several benefits such as downsizing office space, decreasing meeting hours,  reducing business travel, and making office hours more flexible.

But there’s another benefit which many employers do not realise. The talent pool of potential employees suddenly increased by several folds. Workers do not need to reside in the country where they are working (if they can work remotely). Some countries like Bermuda, Croatia and many others are even offering working visas. But this pandemic is also opening up new horizons for another sector which has a lot of untapped potential; people with disabilities.

Data is the fuel which modern computer systems consume, but it might be challenging to obtain. Because of this, the demand for data workers who collect, store, manage and analyse data is on the rise. This work can range from simple to specialised manual processing. Some companies use people to extract textual information (like a list of events from a website) and turn it into structured data (like an excel sheet) which can then be processed automatically. This job would be ideal for someone having a mild cognitive disability. Other organisations might need people to go through audio recordings and transcribe the text or mark different features (such as who is speaking and in which section). Anyone with a visual disability can efficiently perform such a task. Many hospitals have specialised nurses whose job is to draw boundaries in medical images. Someone with a physical disability and adequate training can do this.

Once the data is in a usable form, knowledge workers manipulate it and process it further. In this case; physical, auditory or visual disabilities are not a stumbling block for these tasks since most of the work is performed via a computer. Call centre personnel with visual impairments can quickly service clients from the comfort of their homes. Factory workers with auditory or physical disabilities can monitor machines from their work station, perform changes via the software and request engineering maintenance when needed. All this without leaving their work or home office.

Manual work can be slightly more challenging. However, today we are witnessing a rise in computer-mediated physical work where the computer acts as an intermediary between the human and the task at hand. In the UK, a company is providing remote fork lifter services. Essentially, a person sits at a desk and operates a remote-controlled fork lifter located in a warehouse somewhere around the world. Several screens provide a wide field of view so the operator can see what is around the vehicle and a joystick (or steering wheel) with floor pedals is used to control the fork lifter. The cars have microphones which provide ambience noise to the operator and alert him if something goes wrong.

The USA is testing a robot to pull over suspect cars. Unfortunately, many cops get shot, or run-over in traffic stops. By using this go-between robot, the police officer stays safely in his vehicle and operates a robot which speaks with the driver of the stopped car. It checks the car, requests identification and even places a spike strip in front of the car’s rear wheels (to prevent the motorist from driving away).

In a Japan cafe, robot workers are controlled remotely by paralysed people. They can move, observe, talk to customers, carry objects, just from the eye movements of the operator. In this way, people who are housebound because of conditions such as spinal cord injuries or progressive neurodegenerative diseases like ALS can still earn a living.

The possibilities unleashed by technology are practically limitless. And in the coming years, more opportunities will arise. These technologies are providing employers with a new pool of talent, one which was not available before. They are also providing people with new opportunities which take them beyond their limits while also allowing them to earn a decent living. More important than money, work gives dignity to people together with the hope of a better future, both for them and their families.

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