Next week’s 2015 M-Enabling Summit(link is external) on June 1-2 will provide a forum for all who create and contribute to the development and implementation of accessible mobile technologies. We hope to see you there! At last year’s event, we were honored to welcome CTIA – The Wireless Association(link is external) into the PEAT Network as a founding member, and are delighted to feature their guest post this month. CTIA represents the wireless communications industry, and has long provided strong leadership on mobile accessibility issues.

No matter your industry, the technological tools we use to accomplish our work today are more advanced than the tools we used even just a few years ago, and this is especially true for people with disabilities. New technologies are fundamentally changing the workplace, and rapidly evolving technologies and workplace policies both play into a new way of doing business.

A key driver of this change has been consumer and mobile technologies. Before the technology revolution took off, companies adhered to fairly rigid policies surrounding the types of devices their employees used and the software they could access. Where employees work and when, the business processes they follow how they communicate—these things have historically been addressed conservatively.

Accessible and assistive technologies and “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policies have given employers and employees an array of new tools to get their work done. Now, instead of relying solely on more traditional workplace technologies and software, people are much more likely to use their work-issued and/or personal mobile devices to check work email, manage projects, and conduct other work-related tasks. Mobile technology enables a flexible work environment  and allows for increased access to employment opportunities.

Mobile technology can also be a great equalizer in ensuring that people with disabilities can obtain, retain and advance in employment. Consider the many Bluetooth devices that are on the market that provide assistance to use mobile phones. They provide wireless connectivity between hearing-aids and Bluetooth-capable mobile phones or listening devices. Some have multiple capabilities, such as providing better access to meetings and other workplace activities. Devices such as portable Braille displays are compatible with most mobile communication devices, including smartphones and tablets. The Braille keyboard enables reading and writing in both text and Braille. There are a variety of applications that can be used in the workplace for communications and access to computer-based print.

Mobile applications are another example of where mobile can benefit people with disabilities in the workplace. These apps — both accessible and assistive — are showing great potential for improving the lives of people with disabilities. Screen-reading apps such as Android’s Classic Text-to-Speech and Voice Recognition Apps such as Pro (available for iOS & Android) offer users greater independence and customization features. Moreover, the portability of a mobile device means that people can work from anywhere at any time. Incorporating universal design principles and raising the level of accessibility in mobile technology are leading to increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities — and a wider talent pool for employers. As the FCC has noted(link is external), apps are continually being developed to improve productivity across almost every profession.

Location technologies also have capabilities that can empower individuals with disabilities in the workplace. Traveling alone can be a challenge for some people with visual impairments, whether it’s navigating the inside of an office building or traveling across town.  Location technologies enable people who are blind and/or low-vision to get turn-by-turn directions within their offices or even traveling to and from their offices to other destinations. Take for example the mobile app PERCEPT(link is external), an indoor navigation system that enables commuters who have visual impairments to make their way through a transit station by listening to step-by-step directions on their smartphones, which leads them to electronic sensors or “tags” throughout the building. Apps like these can be a very important supplement to help people with vision impairments and other disabilities navigate independently.

The impacts of mobile technology are significant for all of us – whether we have a disability or not – and this is also true for the workplace. By allowing employees to take advantage of the kinds of tools they prefer, businesses can maximize productivity. CTIA and our member companies recognize the benefits of mobile and consumer technologies in the workplace. We see enormous potential for companies that embrace the benefits of accessible mobile technology solutions. Already, the wireless industry has accounted for $33 billion in productivity improvements(link is external) for U.S. businesses. As companies continue to embrace the use of mobile devices in the workplace, we expect to see greater adoption—and even more dramatic employment gains for people with disabilities.

To learn more about implementing BYOD, please see the PEAT article “Bring Your Own Device” and Accessibility(link is external).

Please note that publication of this blog does not imply endorsement by PEAT or the U.S. Department of Labor of any specific company, device, or product.