ad info
   personal technology

 custom news
 Headline News brief
 daily almanac
 CNN networks
 CNN programs
 on-air transcripts
 news quiz

CNN Websites
 video on demand
 video archive
 audio on demand
 news email services
 free email accounts
 desktop headlines

 message boards




PC World

Technology levels the field for people with disabilities

October 28, 1999
Web posted at: 9:24 a.m. EDT (1324 GMT)

by Alexandra Krasne

(IDG) -- The biggest obstacles people with disabilities face when trying to get and keep jobs are not the disabilities themselves, but people's attitudes.

"There isn't a whole lot I can do for work because of the severity of my disability, at least that's what I keep hearing," says Doug Kemp, 26, who has a form of muscular dystrophy called spinal muscular atrophy. Because of this, Kemp can move only a few muscles in his body.

Kemp uses a single microswitch attached to one finger as an input device -- which plugs into an external hardware unit -- and taps out Morse code on his switch. Another adaptive device emulates a mouse and keyboard and sends his commands to his PC, which runs Windows 95.

  PC World home page
  Disability adds to the difficulty of hunting for a job
  Hitachi develops audio-based screen for blind users
  Net tips: Web pages for the disabled
 Reviews & in-depth info at
 *'s desktop PC page's portable PC page's Windows software page's personal news page
  Year 2000 World
  Questions about computers? Let's editors help you
  Subscribe to's free daily newsletter for computer geniuses (& newbies)
  Search in 12 languages
 News Radio
 * Fusion audio primers
 * Computerworld Minute

Kemp plans to become a financial adviser when he graduates from California State University at Fullerton with a degree in Finance. But social attitudes have prompted him to not seek work until he finishes school.

Still, corporate consciousness is being raised. About two dozen tech and nontech companies on Monday formed the Able to Work consortium.

They're turning to technology to help employ the estimated 8.5 million people with disabilities who want to work. More than 70 percent of working-age individuals with disabilities are unemployed, although they'd like to work, according to Bill Gates, Microsoft's chair, who announced the Able to Work consortium. He spoke at the National Business and Disabilities Council's 22nd annual conference, hosted this year on the Microsoft campus.

"We firmly believe that if enough members of the business community step forward, applying positive employment policies in their own workforce and mentoring other companies, that fact will change," Gates says.

Along with NBDC, Microsoft founded the Able to Work effort with the idea of creating new programs and to give people with disabilities more job opportunities. One program is an interactive Web site,, for job-matching and resources. Job hunters can post resumes, and 21 participating companies -- including AT&T, Caterpillar, Ford, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, and Merrill Lynch -- will post job openings.

Selected for their leadership in hiring employees with disabilities, the 21 companies involved in the consortium will participate in member roundtables and share ideas for accommodating and hiring.

For Meg O'Connell, assistant vice president at Crestar Bank in Richmond, Virginia, Able to Work provides an open forum and an open exchange.

"As we move forward, we'd like to see more and more companies involved to establish change," O'Connell says.

Help in Windows 2000

Aside from cofounding Able to Work, Microsoft builds into its software some functions intended to make the programs easier for people with disabilities to use.

Windows 2000 includes a Magnifier feature that can enlarge a part of the screen. Narrator is a text-to-speech utility that reads what's on the screen. Also, On-Screen Keyboard helps those with limited movement type using a pointing device.

These new features will help not only individuals with disabilities, but also their employers, says Gary Moulton, product manager for Microsoft's accessibility and disabilities group.

Businesses have asked Microsoft to accommodate people with disabilities in its software design and to urge PC vendors to make changes, Moulton says.

Getting jobs for people who have disabilities is another part of the struggle. But, he says, accessibility features open the door.

"Technology levels the playing field," Moulton says.

Technology may help people with disabilities get jobs, but the biggest obstacle is changing employers' attitudes, says Dr. William E. Kiernan, director of the Institute for Community Inclusion and author of Beyond Demographics: Strategic Responses to a Changing Workforce.

Kemp couldn't agree more.

He doesn't expect employers would have to buy special equipment for him, other than entrance ramps or wider doorways. But he still doesn't think he can get work.

"I think society as a whole discriminates against us," he says. "And while this [Able to Work] council means well, I don't think it will be of much help to people with disabilities until the attitude of society is changed."

People with disabilities reach for Web access
(PC World Online)
IBM ships browser for the blind
(PC World Online)
Hitachi develops audio-based screen for blind users
(PC World Online)
Disability adds to the difficulty of hunting for a job
IT offers opportunities for workers with disabilities
Net tips: Web pages for the disabled
(PC World Online)
Profile: The world at his fingertips
(PC World Online)
Year 2000 World
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Microsoft Accessibility
Microsoft Accessibility Training
Microsoft Products & Aids
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
Enter keyword(s)   go    help

Back to the top   © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.