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The Ahead Journal

#AHEADjournal

A Review of Inclusive Education
& Employment Practices ISSN 2009-8286

Can I Bring my Robot to Work?

Lorraine Gallagher

Information and Training Officer, AHEAD

About the Author

The benefits of assistive technology for people with disabilities are well known. The fact that they can be low cost and available at all hours can make a real difference to people’s lives, ranging from enabling them to live independently to ‘leveling the playing field’ in education and the world of work.

The WAM Programme at AHEAD ran a free training event hosted by WAM Employers Dell and ESB as part of Engineers Week in March. Using the format of a debate we examined the concerns that can arise as to how this new technology fits into our lives, with particular emphasis on the learning and working environment. A pertinent topic in light of the new National Skills Strategy 2025, which outlines the future skills necessary to keep our economy growing and the increasing demand for graduates with backgrounds in areas such as manufacturing, construction, hospitality and STEM. Indeed the demand is now so great that companies like Dell are often engaged in ‘talent wars’ because there simply aren’t enough suitably qualified individuals to meet demand. With this in mind, it’s really important that graduates with disabilities are empowered to have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers in this growing, competitive market.

The motion for discussion was titled - Should employees have unlimited access to assistive technology in the workplace? Both sides made some really good points. The ‘yes’ side took a pragmatic, impassioned approach citing some very interesting statistics from research carried out by Gartner Inc in 2013. According to Gartner, 15 percent of the world’s population have a disability, representing 8 trillion dollars in spending power. The other 85 percent are referred to not as non-disabled but rather ‘situationally or occasionally disabled’. For example, road traffic laws have made it illegal to physically use a mobile phone while driving, making the driver ‘situationally’ disabled from using their phone. However, through the development of voice recognition and Bluetooth it is possible to make a call hands free. Another interesting statistic is that 85% of disabilities are acquired during our working lives, and coupled with the fact that the world has an aging population, our dependence on assistive technology is set to increase in the coming years. But of course technology is not just about disability, it benefits everybody. With the majority of us using technology and multiple devices on a daily basis, we should be allowed unlimited access.

Employers should be supporting talented employees regardless of disability.

It’s important to state from the outset that the ‘no’ side were not anti-assistive technology but rather took issue with the notion of ‘unlimited access’. As outlined by one of the ‘no’ side debaters, many people working in the company he works for bring their own device to work, but they have to be mindful of the security of the network as any breach of this could cost the company millions. This means that access has to be limited to what the company can realistically facilitate, and while the developments in technology might be increasing exponentially, the ability to work across or within multiple platforms is not there yet, so it’s about collaboration - understanding user needs and coming up with a solution that works for everyone.

Another very interesting point raised by the ‘no’ side was that, if it were left up to individuals to bring in their own AT, the responsibility for its cost and maintenance would rest with the individual rather than their employer. It might, for example, be an older version than is currently available, it might not be compatible or it might not be the best fit. The onus shouldn’t be on the employee to bring their own device.

Closing remarks from both sides acknowledged the benefits of technology and that there needs to be more work on making assistive technology compatible so that you can ‘plug and play’ across different platforms. Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking whether I can bring my robot to work but rather, do you have a robot I can use in work?

AHEAD would like to thank Dell for hosting the event and everyone who took part in the debate. If you would like more information about upcoming AHEAD events join our mailing list, see our website for information or email ahead@ahead.ie.

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This article appeared in the AHEAD Journal. Visit www.ahead.ie/journal for more information