In the U.S., about 54 million people have disabilities. "The rate of growth of this population will be greater than usual in the next decade due to the baby boomers," says Michael Janger, who runs a consulting firm that helps companies understand the disability market.
As boomers delay retirement, experts say companies will need to accommodate employees with a range of abilities. Rapid advancements in technology are making it possible for people with limited vision, hearing loss, and other challenges to remain in the workplace. Read on to see 10 products that are helping people work more effectively.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 Premium
From: Nuance Price: $179.99
Visually impaired employees can turn speech into text for e-mail, reports, spreadsheets, presentations, and even Facebook updates with this software from Nuance (NUAN). It's also useful in a pinch for hearing-impaired people who are trying to communicate with those speaking to them, says Michael Janger, who is deaf and runs a consulting firm that helps companies understand the market for people with disabilities.
From: Origin Instruments Price: $995
People with limited or no use of their hands can employ this wireless head-tracking device that takes the place of a mouse by translating the movements of a user's head into computer-mouse movements on screen.
From: Freedom Scientific Price: $1,095
This screen-reading software for visually impaired people, from Freedom Scientific, works with frequently used workplace applications such as the Microsoft (MSFT) Office suite, MSN Messenger, Adobe (ADBE) Acrobat, Internet Explorer, and Firefox.
From: TecEar Price: $39-$49
These alternatives to stereo headphones give people with hearing loss clear sound without feedback and background noise. They work with personal computers, as well as devices such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod from Apple (AAPL).
From: Ten One Design Price: $14.95
IPhones and iPads are touch devices for which some people may lack the requisite finger dexterity. The Pogo Stylus looks like a pen, but can be gripped with a fist and used on an iPhone's touchscreen. If a user is paralyzed, the stylus can be attached to a person's head.
Proloquo2Go IPad App
From: AssistiveWare Price: $189
People with difficulty speaking—those who are recovering from a stroke or who have cerebral palsy, for example—can more easily communicate with others by using this iPad app. The user taps on phrases that are then spoken in natural-sounding text-to-speech voices.
From: Skype Price: $4.49 per month
For deaf people who need to communicate with others using sign language, this video-communication service from Skype is useful.
From: Ginger Labs Price: $4.99
This iPhone application lets people discreetly amplify the world around them to augment their hearing. For example, soundAMP R can be used when sitting in a meeting with numerous people gathered around a table. Sounds are sent to ear buds and can also be recorded.
From: VGo Communications Price: About $5,000
Transportation can be difficult for people with disabilities, and being able to work remotely is helpful, says Jonathan Avila, SSB Bart Group's chief accessibility officer. This telepresence robot from VGo Communications can be powered remotely by a user at home to communicate more effectively with colleagues who are in the office.
From: Ai Squared Price: $595-$995
This screen-magnification and reading software for visually impaired workers from Ai Squared features NeoSpeech—human-sounding male and female voices. It will automatically read documents, Web pages, and e-mail.