Symposium shows how tech can help people with disabilities find work

looking for a job. (Picture: Twitter/@TheBaxterBean)

A symposium held in Amersfoort last week showcased technological solutions that can help people with occupational disabilities find and keep a job. The symposium included technologies ranging from an augmented reality app that can show people with mild intellectual disabilities exactly how to disassemble and repair a ship's propellor shaft, for example, to an exoskeleton that enables users with physical disabilities to move their limbs and increase their strength, NRC reports.

The symposium was held in response to two recent studies by benefits agency UWV. The first study looked at eight technological developments that could increase the employment rate of people with physical or psychological disabilities. The second study looked at four technological developments that could help people with mild intellectual disabilities find a place in the labor market. 

Ton Wilthagen, professor of employment at Tilburg University, finds it great that the Netherlands is now looking at how technology can help more people into the workplace, as the usual first association of technology in the workplace is job loss. "It is good that this theme is now put on the map", he said to NRC. "There must be an acceleration of the influx of people with an occupational disability in the labor market. Technology can be an important impulse in this."

He added that more thought should be given to how to make the purchase of such technologies attractive for employers. "If someone with an occupational disability can work with the aid of an exoskeleton, you ultimately save on healthcare costs and a benefit. But now it is the employer who has to invest at least 40 thousand euros." Wilthagen thinks that the UWV could maybe subsidize such an exoskeleton with, for example, the tax money saved, and the profit created because people who work rely less on healthcare than people who can't, he said to the newspaper.

In 2015 the Netherlands counted 1.7 million people of working age - between 15 and 75 years - who could not work because of a long-term illness, disorder or disability, according to figures from Statistics Netherlands. Only 29.3 percent of people with a disability in the Netherlands have a paid job.