#NQ6: Assistive Technology: help or hindrance?

Please pause for approximately three and a half minutes before reading anything further. When you begin to read, do so very slowly, then very quickly, with long pauses in the middle for no apparent reason.

If you are able to do this, then you would have some experience of working with Dragon NaturallySpeaking when completing work-related duties.  This occurred this morning when I was asked to write about my own experiences of using Assistive Technology in an NPS environment (using Dragon to dictate this piece).

Having turned on the voice-activated software and giving clear instructions to begin dictation, there was a three and a half minute gap before the dictation box presented itself, thereafter, as I began to dictate clearly and efficiently, there would be long delays from me speaking to the text actually hitting the page, whilst at other times, it is almost instantaneous.

Using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to navigate is equally hit and miss.  Some parts of the system can be navigated using voice commands, most however, cannot.

This simply means that I can be left in situ, not being able to move up or down in a document or even get to a place where I need to dictate text because the system doesn’t recognise voice commands. This is not equal access.

To overcome difficulties using Assistive Technology in a probation environment, oftentimes I rely on the assistance of a dedicated disability support worker.  But aside from the identified difficulties above, what is less easily explained, is the stress and frustration that is caused when working every day, in a notably frustrating and inefficient way, be that navigating and completing work in NDelius, OASys, or any other application using Firefox.

Aside from the difficulties with Assistive Technology is a need for those responsible for the design of documents and applications to consider wholly and equitably the needs of disabled workers.

For the most part, the difficulties experienced by Assistive Technology users are not the result of problems with voice-activated or other related software, but the poor design of documents, the choice of browser, and failing to test (in a real world environment by actual practitioners), the efficiency or otherwise of any intended rollout.

Having been a probation officer for close to 15 years, it is fair to say that the initial obstacles experienced when I joined the service still remain, despite some genuinely expressed desires by those within the organisation to bring about notable change for disabled staff reliant on Assistive Technology to complete work-related tasks.

Within the organisation, I am sure there are competent and capable practitioners with a wealth of experience working with voice-activated software and other related applications that could assist the organisation in the design of applications, documents, referrals etc to enable all staff, but particularly the disadvantaged/disabled to be able to work efficiently in the spirit of E3, rather than to continue to experience a disproportionately poor service and only limited access to probation computer systems and related documents.

I understand that there is a PI in the pipeline to address the disadvantage that Assistive Technology users face, if this can include a mandatory requirement for all documents to be equally accessible, this would be a great start in overcoming the disadvantage faced by Assistive Technology users.

Lawrence Baker
Napo Member


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