How education can learn from the world of work in enabling opportunities for all?
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is reported to be twice as high than the average, yet with the advances in modern technologies does this mean that the employment future for students with disabilities needs to be so bleak?
This article originally appeared the March 2017 edition of UKEdMagazine
With the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI), along with other advances in technology that are making accessibility more wide-spread, what are the barriers in schools, work-places and society which are still holding people with disabilities back? Fundamentally, some of the main barriers to full-accessibility seems to be cultural, beliefs and prejudices, yet more companies and services are now pushing to thinking about how technology, websites and products can enable more people to work in a fulfilling role.
The proliferation of technological advances that are currently evident are making work more accessible to people with disabilities, and the opportunities educators can exploit in creating positive and vital skills, which can be translated into the workplace.
Advances in voice recognition technologies have advanced exponentially in the last few years – driven by many different factors – allowing accessibility of services and devices more widely available. Most Smartphone devices now can listen to your dictation, transcribing what you said (most of the time), and sending a message over to the recipient in a text format. Equally, the opposite is also possible (mainly propelled by the requirement for drivers to hear messages whilst they are driving), now allowing people with visual impairments accessibility to content which would be less accessible previously. OCR (optical character recognition) technology has also advanced in previous years, allowing for online documents to be converted into a voice file, with Alexa and Siri now sounding even more human-like when reading. E-mails, word documents, and other digital files are now more accessible to more people thanks to these advances in technology.
YouTube has the ability to automatically recognise words within uploaded videos, creating captioning to accompany the video. Look carefully, and you can spot people on public transport, who do not have any hearing impairment, watching videos with subtitles. Again, the advance in the technology is allowing entertainment channels to cater for needs of those who can use it to improve their access.
The advances, mentioned above, were not initiated solely for the benefit and accessibility of people with disabilities, yet many identified the opportunities to allow greater functionality. Imagine the freedoms of driver-less cars (once all statutory laws and rules have been ironed out) for people with visual impairments. Along with medical advances in implanting hearing devices, just look at the advances in voice-to-text technologies that have made the world more accessible to people with hearing impairments. The challenge is that educators, and individuals working with pupils with specific needs, explore and exploit the technological advances evident to see how young people can work with, and access the work market for the benefit of everyone involved.
It makes good economic sense to make products which make usage and accessibility available more widely. It also makes good sense that schools, leaders, teachers and parents also explore emerging technologies that can assist and support students with disabilities. When products are made with intuitive user interfaces and more accessible, it doesn’t take much creativity to think and explore how the technologies can be made even more desirable for teaching and learning.
Fundamentally, we need to be thinking about technology, websites, products and cultures that enable inclusive training and hiring, so we can enable people everywhere to live full and creative lives.
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