Human Performance

Human Performance

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6130-1.ch013
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This chapter looks into horizontal issues in ICT advances and discusses how the factor of human performance could help in increasing the impact of eAccessibility and assistive technologies in the future. More specifically, it revisits some of the ideas presented in earlier chapters looking at them from a different angle. The one of maximizing the audience and target group for assistive technologies through the increase in human performance, issues related with exoskeletons for working environments and dual use of assistive technology, sports as a motivator, aesthetics and fashion of prosthetics are discussed from this same perspective. Human performance could be a critical factor for the future of assistive technologies, and today's people with disabilities could become tomorrow's people with super-abilities and leaders in human performance issues.
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According to the French Institut de l'Accessibilité Numérique (IAN) there are more than 600 million handicapped people in the world today. That means almost 100 million in Europe and about 12 million in France alone. This is the number of people excluded at least partially from many of the benefits of ICT as an enabler of communication, content, commerce, entertainment, health, social networking and work productivity tools and services.

It sounds like a large market but in reality is a highly fragmented group. Fragmentation arises due to the fact that different people are handicapped in different ways. People have problems with vision, hearing and memory loss with different levels of severity. Many who experience difficulty severe enough to cause discomfort or to have a tangible impact on work their productivity, are not formally considered to have a disability because their condition is not acute enough.

Others have “access” problems due to language, geography or mobility infrastructure, experience the same problems, though the origin of the problem may be different. Further fragmentation of these markets occurs due to the great number of different technology platforms, their ever-evolving nature and the need to keep them updated and maintained.

In reality companies, and that includes technology companies, think of “accessibility” technologies as being only for small markets of people with severe handicaps, such as blindness from birth. The market is small, the cost of addressing it is low, and the return on investment in accessibility solutions, very hard to justify.

While meaning well, the identification of this technology sector with relatively small populations of users, ignores the fact that significant benefits are available for a much larger population of users, and now seems to pose a barrier to the widespread adoption of what could in many cases be considered a much larger family of general productivity tools.

Bonnie Kearney (Microsoft, 2013), Director of Accessibility Marketing at Microsoft pointed out that 57% of adults can benefit from accessibility technologies. She claims that there are 74.2 million computer users in the US with some kind of impairment. She also claims that by 2050 in the US, 45% of the working population will be over 65.

With age the incidence and severity of a disability goes up. It starts as a low level of difficulty in seeing, hearing or moving. It gradually becomes more severe over time until it is eventually classified as a handicap or impairment. At all stages of this process, people can benefit from accessibility technologies. These have a positive effect on their comfort, quality of life and professional productivity.

Very little research has been done on the productivity gains afforded by accessibility technologies. Microsoft (MS) has done some studies where they compare the performance of normal users with that of users having some kind of disability. Using small samples and comparing the performance of both groups on basic tasks such as composing a document, saving a document or sending an email, MS found that those with a severe form of disability can take up to 6 times longer to complete these tasks. MS is quick to point out that these were not very scientific studies. They were exploratory first attempts, can be improved, and need follow-up. Their initial results however indicate that 1 in 4 people have trouble with vision and 1 in 5 people have trouble hearing.

There seems to be a need for further research on personal productivity issues. At what point does a productivity start to decline and how much. How much productivity is lost before one realizes that a decline has set in or before one employs an aid? What impact does this have on work, on the employer and on the future employability of the employee?

The tentative results reported above by Microsoft indicate that this could be a fruitful direction for future research. We could expect that this kind of research could have an important impact on:

  • Attitudes towards disability,

  • The employment of people with disabilities,

  • The careers of older workers

  • The adoption of e-assistive technologies and ultimately

  • The employer’s bottom line.

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