Technology that enables participation is key to productivity

By ahhb
Tuesday, 28 October, 2014





It seems like ‘productivity’ is once again the talk of the town. Since being elected late last year the new Commonwealth government has frequently talked about the need to boost productivity to help us get the federal budget back on track.


State governments similarly seem to talk about productivity as an important way of competing with other states and attracting foreign companies to invest in their own states, while companies talk endlessly about getting the work place settings right to ensure productivity and positivity for staff.
The strict definition of productivity is an economic one:
An economic measure of output per unit of input. Inputs include labour and capital, while output is typically measured in revenues and other GDP components such as business inventories.
There is, however, more to productivity than just economic gain and growth in GDP. And for us in the health sector it is important to highlight this. It’s important to look at a holistic understanding of productivity that includes non-traditional economic outputs. For example, there are number of health related aspects to productivity.
For many individuals contributing to and engaging in meaningful activity, be it paid work or volunteering, contributes purpose and meaning to life. Being involved in community, interacting with others, and being included in a cause or a task are all vital aspects to good mental health.
Similarly, being active and physically engaged by traveling to work and in activities at work are also good for a person’s physical health.
Were it not for assistive technology however, many people would be excluded from meaningful participation in the workforce and in their broader community life. And that’s because technology has drastically changed the way we live. From working, to how we shop, work, and interact with others - there seems to be no area of our lives that is untouched by technology.
Assistive technology includes a wide range of equipment from simple and cheap commercially available items such as a large handled potato peeler to disability specific products such as a long handled pick-up stick to highly complex integrated controls for powered wheelchairs, enabling the user to not only access the driving controls for the powered wheelchair but also use the same control to operate their home entertainment unit and a complex electronic speech generating device for  communication.
And, it’s an important issue for occupational therapists. As a profession concerned with promoting health and wellbeing through occupation, the primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life.
From a health perspective, advancement in technology has delivered incredible developments in patient assessment and diagnosis tools and patient treatment. But it has also done wonders for patient rehabilitation and keeping people healthy, active and engaged in their communities post hospitalisation.
This is nothing new. All through history different forms of equipment and technology, such as the walking cane, basic prosthetics and the wheelchair, have been used to better integrate people back into society as part of recovering after operations.
Fast forward to the digital revolution and assistive technology has advanced in leaps and bounds.
Today, more people than ever before - whether they are born with a disability or acquire one - depend on  technology to engage in their communities and to work and live independently.
Mobile technology has been a game-changer for assistive technologies. As devices have shrunk and been simplified those dependent on technology have been freed from the cumbersome tools that require lengthy training or have tricky compatibility issues.
Add to this developments such as SMS text messaging, which have had a huge impact on communication for the deaf and hearing impaired community, smartphones which have taken assistive technology to the next level by including accessibility features such as screen readers, speech recognition and screen magnifiers in their operating systems and the developments in the variety of assistive mobile apps - and it’s clear that assistive technology is now enabling more people than ever before.
And that’s one of the reasons technology is so important.  Because by connecting so many people to the workforce and their communities, assistive technology has a significant role to play in productivity.
The international literature provides firm evidence for the practical outcomes assistive technology achieves in the work place.  That includes:

  • Preserved independence, decreased functional decline and reduced hospital admission rates and absenteeism;

  • Prevention of secondary medical complications and future hospitalisation;

  • Prevention of falls; maintenance of occupational roles via enabling environments and creating safe work places;

  • Alleviating carer burdens and saving costs on supervisory structures;

  • Enabled activity and participation in specific life domains;

  • Overall health and community life outcomes;

  • Quality of life.

  • Prolonged participation in the workforce


All of these things contribute to involvement, inclusion and participation in the workplace, which also means all of these things lead to increased workplace productivity.
It is important then, for the government to involve employers, those with disabilities, consumer advocates, technology designers and the broader community in the conversation to get the public policy settings right, to ensure access to and utilisation of assistive technology.
The reality however, for many consumers, is that the Commonwealth Government, and many of Australia’s state government’s do not adequately support assistive technology needs of consumers.
A number of policy settings need to be addressed to better make this equipment more accessible and better utilised.
For example many state funders are so under-resourced that many known supports remain unfunded for people with disabilities. Subsidy rates in many of the schemes remain virtually unchanged since the 1980s causing major shortfalls of 75 per cent or more for devices such as power wheelchairs and home modifications.
Let’s hope while productivity remains central to the political agenda, those of us in the health sector can use the debate to lobby for more policy settings around access to and funding of assistive technology.
Rachel-NorrisBecause all of society benefits when productivity lifts, more growth is generated and jobs created, which provides opportunities for government to provide more services.
From a health perspective, advancement in technology has delivered incredible developments in patient assessment and diagnosis tools and patient treatment. But it has also done wonders for patient rehabilitation and keeping people healthy, active and engaged in their communities post hospitalisation.
Rachel Norris, CEO
Rachel Norris is CEO of Occupational Therapy Australia, the professional association and peak representative body for occupational therapists in Australia.
A recent accident while trekking reminded her very directly of the benefits of using assistive technology to get her back in the office and keep her mobile.



“From a health perspective, advancement in technology has delivered incredible developments in patient assessment and diagnosis tools and patient treatment. But it has also done wonders for patient rehabilitation and keeping people healthy, active and engaged in their communities post hospitalisation.”
RACHEL NORRIS



OCCUPATIONAL-THERAPY-AUSTRALIA
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