Thursday, October 14, 2010

Learning and Working with Disability in the Digital Age

Models for remote learning have been long utilized and proven effective. I have participated in such programs, engaged at the very beginning of virtual classroom interactivity since the early 1990's. The ability to train at my pace and interact with others at the same time has been empowering. And with increasing efficiency in technology, remote models for learning can be used even more effectively, not just for the classroom, but the office as well.

Employing digital technology has proven an effective means to further one's education and skill set, if it is available and affordable. This includes broadband access.

With the furthering of technology in the last decade we have seen a great increase of formally available jobs now going abroad; as in outsourcing. With the advances of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) a once greatly available job market has moved away from the handicapped workforce. The attractiveness of cheap overseas labor has sent the "teleworker" to the unemployment office. However, this same labor force is still available, and can be made a more efficient and less expensive by utilizing the virtual classroom at home and employing the willing worker in their den's and living rooms.

I have recently blogged about Linda Wilson. She found "telework" before the term was coined. Her household depended on this income. Now 25 years later I have also found work doing the same, although not from my home but from the office.

But consider this. Without the office, the employer would not have to pay a lease; no power or water bill. This should be attractive to corporate America, as it is the ultimate "downsizing." Continuing this train of thought, if this model were made available to everyone, opportunities could be created here and now by "onshoring", by bringing back the outsourced labor to the more affordable virtual office.

Taking a further step to integrating the handicapped workforce into this model of the virtual office also takes the step of anonymity. I have stated before that I have never received an offer letter from a potential employer after I informed them of my disability. This anonymity removes the perceived "trouble" of integrating an individual with a handicap into the office. With a certain amount of anonymity, the disabled individual can be seen only as another worker, evaluated as they should be, by their skills. 
How does one without opportunity develop these skills? In the same room that they will use to do the work, with the same equipment they will use to do the work, which will require a leap towards positivity, and a faith in the people that are looking towards opportunity.

The American with Disabilities Act guarantees individual a right to learn a useful skill. To this end, the government offers various vocational rehabilitation programs, but these programs still cost money, and some can be expensive. I recall seeing my bill for just one day of transportation, over $120 cab fare.

Through advancements in digital technology—broadband access—remote learning and working addresses many of these challenges, while still making viable, useful training available to a much larger base of talent.

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