Access to Technology in the Workplace: In Our Own Words

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In a blurry image, skyscrapers tower overhead.
[Narrator] Every day, it's a bit of a miracle. Millions of people go to work, interacting in a complex web of interdependency. We communicate across cubicles and across country with equal speed. In a world of technology-based global connections, equal access defines success.
[Mia] Having assistive technology available makes it possible to have people on your workforce who may not have been able to work before, not because they weren't qualified, but because the necessary tools weren't available.
[Narrator] And now they are. These are the stories of four people who make technology work for them.
With a keyboard in the background, a title reads: "Access to Technology in The Workplace: In Our Own Words" A woman works at a computer. With writer Nan Hawthorne...
[Nan] I have my dream job. I have the job I've wanted and loved since I knew how to write. I mean, I wrote my first short story at 7, that's how much I've loved writing.
[Narrator] Nan Hawthorne is a freelance writer. She works at home, but not really alone.
[Nan] The people I work with are terrific, and it's all Internet, I've never laid eyes on any of them. The main office is in Manhattan, and my editor is in Baraboo, Wisconsin; we have our meetings via Yahoo Messenger, which works for him because he has cerebral palsy and doesn't speak well.
[Narrator] Nan has a form of macular degeneration which left her with no central vision from an early age.
[Nan] Generally, in my experience, people think about blindness in terms of how it would impact them, not how you experience it. And they assume they would not be able to do their jobs, but these days, with computers and high technology and the Internet, that's really not an issue anymore, simply because your eyes are not always necessary for everything, there's quite often another way of doing it.
At a computer
[Narrator] Nan uses several types of assistive technology, including screen magnification software and products that read the text on the screen aloud.
[Computer] "Keeping up to date with present technologies available to the blind..."
She puts a magazine on a scanner.
She uses a scanner for printed materials such as magazine articles, then listens as her screen reader delivers the content with a synthesized voice.
[Computer] "Scanning..."
[Nan] The independence of having equipment like that is really wonderful. I use it for books, I use it for articles, I use it for web sites. I use this magnification to look around a Web site to find what it is I want to read, and then I use a screen reader to read it.
[Terry] Most graphic Web browsers have built-in features that help people with low vision. They allow fonts to be resized so that users can view Web content in a font that works best for their eyesight and screen resolution. This benefits everyone, but Web designers have to support it by using fonts that are resizable, rather than fixed font sizes.
[Narrator] Nan also uses a closed circuit TV monitor to read papers or to fill out forms.
[Nan] I came up with a saying once that disability isn't a problem, it's a solution in progress. And I think that's very accurate.
[Terry] Nan is quite right: solutions are in progress. More and more mainstream products have built-in features such as the assistive technology Nan uses, and often these features are used by people with and without disabilities.
In an office another woman works on a laptop computer.
[Narrator] Mia Lipner is a software tester at Microsoft.
[Mia] What Microsoft does, and what I think is a best practice for any company, is when you're interviewing a potential employee, employee, and they are a person with a disability, that you are paying attention to their strengths and talents and the reason you were interested in them in the first place. And have less attention to what might be perceived as drawbacks or limitations. Assistive technology allows a user with a disability to access elements of a software application, especially if they can't use the standard modes of interacting with the software.
[Computer talking fast]
[Mia] I use a screen reader; If I need to read a document, I can use the screen reader and it speaks it aloud with a synthesized speech output.
[Computer talking fast]
[Mia] I have a Braille display that also works as a notetaker, so it's more like a little notebook computer, but it also has a single-line Braille display that I can use either as a stand-alone device to take to meetings so that I can write notes without speech output. The other things that are possible with this device is that I can hook it up to my computer and have it actually be a Braille display.
[Terry] Again, it's important for everyone to consider accessibility, including employers who are making purchasing decisions; and mainstream software and Web developers must create products and content that are compatible with assistive technology. Thinking about these issues from the beginning helps avoid costly redesigns later.
[Sound of door code.]
A door with a Microsoft logo reads, "Accessibility Lab"
[Mia] It's been improving, really; I've seen many more companies, many more Web sites starting to think about it a little more. But As far as accessibility is concerned, there's room for improvement for everybody.
[Terry] For some organizations, technology has to be accessible by law. For example, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government must be accessible. This includes Web sites, computer hardware and software, information kiosks, and virtually everything else you can think of as electronic and information technology.
A man uses sign language at his computer.
[Mark] You can feel lost, lost in the communication environment; you know, everybody's talking, you're not hearing what they're saying; you can't hear what's happening on TV, you can't hear the radio, you know, just average conversations in the hall, ambient conversations; I wish we'd had some technology for that when I was younger.
[Narrator] Today, Mark Tauscher is an Account Manager at Sprint. He covers three western states, monitoring contracts, providing customer support, and offering outreach information. His favorite technology is the video relay service, a way of making phone calls through his computer.
[Mark] The video relay service allows me to use sign language with an interpreter, through the computer. And we have a web cam set up, the interpreter can see me and I can see the interpreter. The interpreter calls to a hearing person and I sign to them my message and he voices what I say and then he responds, he signs it back to me. Technical issues that come up with the video relay service, there are, you know, a lot of different things that can cause some kind of technical glitches, for example firewalls, firewall issues, that would block me from seeing the interpreter. So we have to work around the firewalls sometimes to resolve that issue. That's one possibility. Another one is that the picture quality may not be as good as it could be, we have to tweak it a little bit and set it up right, check the line; there's a lot of troubleshooting involved there.
[Narrator] The video relay service requires a high speed internet connection and a web cam.
[Phone ringing]
A monitor reads, "connecting to relay"
[Narrator] Mark also uses Sprint Relay On-line, which needs only a phone and a computer. He uses it with his laptop while traveling.
[Mark] If I need to make a call, I just have an operator there, I can call to a hearing person and have a conversation. I just have to type. And then they'll read what I type to the hearing person, the hearing person will respond, and the relay will type that to me, through the computer.
[Voice on speaker phone:] I think the team pulled together and did an excellent job..."
[Narrator] For meetings or for conference calls, Mark may use an interpreter. And for quick access, his pager is always available.
[Mark] This pager is an alpha-numeric pager, I can use it to communicate with other team members, we can go back and forth and it has a keyboard on it which I can type, and it sends an e-mail; other people tend to use cell phones; I use my pager as my cell phone.
[Terry] One problem Mark has is with video, which is not accessible to him unless captions are provided. For federal government offices, this is a requirement under Section 508; and many state governments, schools, and universities require that multimedia be captioned as well. Captions are also helpful for people who are working in noisy environments, or for those whose first language is different than the one spoken in the video. And captioning helps in indexing and archiving multimedia, so that it can be searched in the same way as text documents.
A man at a desk puts on a headset.
[Narrator] Mark Fristo is a rights and responsibilities counselor for students at Renton Technical College.
[Mark] It's not the fact that I'm in the wheelchair, or that I have a disability, that prevents me or anybody else with a disability from being part of the greater work force if you will; I think it's more about people's attitudes and the ability for those individuals to see us, to see people with disabilities as being equals.
[Mark] "A number of students..."
He works at a computer.
[Narrator] Since Mark has limited use of his hands, he prefers using speech recognition software rather than a keyboard. He uses a headset both for talking to his computer and talking on the telephone.
[Mark] I would consider that assistive technology, considering at one time nobody used headsets. Even if you don't have a disability problem, if you're trying to do this with the telephone and trying to write stuff, you know, and then the thing's falling down and all that kind of stuff all the time.
Outside. He goes to the front door.
Many of the accommodations or technology innovations, if you will, that were originally for people with disabilities, have actually helped the public in general. Automatic door openers help people when their arms are full. Ramps, so that you can get things in and out of buildings, probably have been as great a help as anything.
[Narrator] In the office, shared equipment is within Mark's reach.
[Mark] You want the copier machine at least at a level that you can reach all the controls on. Also be able to lift up the plate where the copy goes and things of that nature. Those are all important things.
[Terry] Copiers with easy-to-access controls and a light-weight lid, captioned multimedia, software that's compatible with a wide variety of input and output devices, and Web sites with resizable fonts are some of the many good design practices. They make technology accessible to people with disabilities, and they benefit other workers as well. Built-in accessibility features make everyone's job easier.
[Mark] You really can't talk about being a diverse workplace, and all those kinds of things, if you don't have the ability to accommodate a variety of different things. And disability just happens to be one of them.
Mark sits in his office.