Adaptive technology can provide answers

At the ILRC’s Community Access Room, Michelle Murdoch (L) demonstrates the use of a smart card with a computer equipped with such adaptive technology as a breath control device while Dr. Diana Gustafson and Mary Reid look on.

Unemployment affects about half of all working-age Canadians with disabilities and an even larger number of women with disabilities find themselves either unemployed, underemployed, or living below the poverty line.

Michelle Murdoch, a master's student in Women's Studies, is conducting a one-year study to document and explore how these women could benefit from adaptive technology. She is conducting her research under the supervision of Dr. Diana Gustafson, Community Health, and in co-operation with Mary Reid, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Centre (ILRC) in St. John's.

Adaptive technology is often associated with computers and accessing the Web through sight, sound and touch. The computer may have a large touch screen monitor, a height adjustable workstation, text enlargement programs, or voice input and output programs. Alternative keyboards, alternative mouse systems, Braille embossers and text to Braille conversion are other examples of adaptive technology. A smart card can allows the user to store their preferences – when that card is inserted into a card reader, the attached work station is configured accordingly.

Ms. Murdoch's goal is to see how this type of technology could help women with disabilities. “The study will provide a venue where women will gather information and identify ways to use the knowledge about adaptive technology in their search for sustained employment,” she explained.

The study, funded by the Canadian Centre for Disabilities Studies, is taking place through the Independent Living resource Centre. “One goal of this project is to identify and develop a mechanism for providing women with information about adaptive technology in ways that will enhance the opportunity to be included in the workplace,” said Ms. Murdoch. “We also want to identify how we can inform other potential users about the value of adaptive technology in accommodating the needs of women with disabilities.”

By exploring and documenting the experience and perspectives of unemployed, underemployed and employed women with disabilities and their knowledge of, and perceived needs, for adaptive technology, Ms. Murdoch and Dr. Gustafson hope to create sustainable collaborate relationships between the ILRC, academics and potential employers. “We want to support transition into sustained employment for women with disabilities by investigating how computers and adaptive technologies influence women's experience of employment and seeking employment,” said Ms. Murdoch.

Another goal of the study is to evaluate the value of the ILRC's Community Access Program, which offers free internet access with three high speed computers and a variety of adaptive technologies, as well as helpful volunteers and on-site support.

Ms. Murdoch is delighted to be involved in participatory action research. “The benefits of partnering and collaborating with an identified community such as the ILRC include improved research designs, enhanced implementation, increased community ownership of health initiatives and increased credibility and sustainability of outcomes for women with disabilities.”