Apple Partners with Nonprofit to Teach Coding to Blind Learners

Apple Partners with Nonprofit to Teach Coding to Blind Learners

Apple has formed a partnership with the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired to teach people with visual impairments how to code, the Chicago Tribune’s Ally Marotti reported last week:

Hadley plans to start by developing a series of free instructional videos that teach the audience how to use Apple’s Swift Playground app. The app was developed as part of Apple’s Everyone Can Code campaign, which teaches the Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s programming language, Swift. …

“For a person that’s blind, (a device) is just a piece of glass,” said [Douglas Walker, Hadley’s director of assistive technology], who has only peripheral vision. “You have to learn a gesture-based system to move through it.”

Walker swiped right on his iPhone to trigger a feature that read aloud the apps he dragged his finger over — Clock, Maps, NOAA Weather. That’s where Hadley’s videos come in: They teach viewers those gestures, allowing them access to their iPhones or other Apple devices.

The institute has been teaching Braille and other skills to visually impaired people through distance learning since it was founded nearly 100 years ago. Today, Hadley’s free tutorials on how to use the accessibility features on Apple devices are more popular than its Braille offerings. A new series of videos to be released this fall will walk users through navigating the Swift Playground app, which teaches the language through coding games.

In the US, fewer than 44 percent of people with visual impairments are employed, Marotti notes, citing data from Cornell University, while bureau of Labor Statistics data show that only 2 percent of employed Americans with disabilities are working in mathematical or computer-related professions. Teaching coding skills to people who are blind or visually impaired could therefore expand opportunities for good jobs among a severely underserved segment of US adults. This initiative also stands to benefit Apple and other employers of coders by expanding the talent pool.

Last month, Fast Company‘s Lydia Dishman interviewed blind software engineer Michael Forzano, who has been working for Amazon since 2013 after getting hired through one of the company’s campus recruiting programs (he used his laptop instead of a whiteboard to write his code during the interview). Amazon also profiled Forzano in a post on its blog earlier this year, and here is a segment from an accompanying video the company produced in which he demonstrated how he writes code:

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For Disabled Employees, Remote Work Is an Increasingly Reasonable Accommodation

For Disabled Employees, Remote Work Is an Increasingly Reasonable Accommodation

Last month, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Mosby-Meachem v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, which expanded on the court’s view of when remote work qualifies as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act for an employee who is unable to come into work. Back in 2015, in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission vs. Ford Motor Company, the same court had ruled that telecommuting was not a reasonable ADA accommodation unless the employee could demonstrate that regular on-site attendance was not an essential part of their job.

Workforce employment law columnist Jon Hyman, a critic of the Sixth Circuit’s decision in EEOC v. Ford, highlighted the Mosby-Meachem case last month as a welcome sign that case law may be shifting in favor of remote work as a reasonable accommodation:

The plaintiff, Andrea Mosby-Meachem, worked as an in-house labor and employment attorney for Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division. Her boss, MLG&W’s general counsel, Cheryl Patterson, had a written policy requiring strict attendance at work for all who worked in her office. Yet despite that policy, employees often worked from home, including Mosby-Meachem. She had telecommuted for two weeks, without incident, while recovering from neck surgery.

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UK ‘Fit for Work’ Program Deemed Unfit for Service

UK ‘Fit for Work’ Program Deemed Unfit for Service

The UK’s Fit for Work program was established as a free, national service to offer work-related health advice and information to employees, employers, doctors, and the public. With a view to helping Britons get back to work sooner after a serious illness or injury, the scheme also enables general practitioners to refer patients who have been, or who are likely to be, off sick for four weeks or more to an occupational health professional to assess the obstacles preventing them from returning to work and create a unique Return to Work Plan for them. In 2015, the scheme was expanded to allow employers to also refer employees who have not yet been referred by their GP after four weeks of absence.

“However,” Marianne Calnan writes at People Management, “the scheme has been beset by poor take-up and complaints from employers that felt it either replicated their own occupational health efforts or was too poorly publicised to have a significant impact on long-term illness,” and so the government is phasing out the referral scheme in favor of new approaches to occupational health policy:

A new paper, Improving lives: the future of work, health and disability, states that Fit for Work’s assessment services will end in England and Wales on 31 March 2018 and 31 May in Scotland, following “low” referral rates. Employers, employees and GPs will still have access to its helpline, website and web chat service, which offer general health and work advice, as well as sickness absence support. …

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Is the Opioid Epidemic Driving a Decline of the US Workforce?

Is the Opioid Epidemic Driving a Decline of the US Workforce?

In a paper last year on the disappearance of many prime-age men from the US workforce, Princeton economist Alan Krueger presented the unsettling finding that 44 percent of working-age men who were not in the labor force reported taking pain medication on a regular basis, and two-thirds of these men were taking prescription pain medication. While improvements in video game technology may be contributing to these men’s lower workforce participation by making long-term unemployment more bearable, Krueger wrote, their high rates of poor health and use of narcotic painkillers are much more disconcerting.

In the Fall 2017 edition of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Krueger publishes an update of that research with new data, homing in on the impact of opioid epidemic on the labor market. That impact, he finds, is even more significant than previously thought, accounting for some 20 percent of the decrease in men’s labor force participation between 1999 and 2015, and 25 percent of the decrease among women, Brookings editor Fred Dews explains:

Krueger’s paper suggests that, though much of the decline can be attributed to an aging population and other trends that pre-date the Great Recession (for example, increased school enrollment of younger workers), an increase in opioid prescription rates might also play an important role in the decline, and undoubtedly compounds the problem as many people who are out of the labor force find it difficult to return to work because of reliance on pain medication.

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Mass. High Court Rules in Favor of Employee Fired for Medical Marijuana Use

Mass. High Court Rules in Favor of Employee Fired for Medical Marijuana Use

Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court became the first court in the US to rule in favor of an employee who uses medical marijuana and claimed unfair dismissal after being fired from her job for failing a drug test, the Boston Globe‘s Dan Adams reported:

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said a California sales and marketing firm discriminated against an employee of its Massachusetts operation who uses marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease when it fired her for flunking a drug test. In Massachusetts, Gants wrote, “the use and possession of medically prescribed marijuana by a qualifying patient is as lawful as the use and possession of any other prescribed medication.”

Therefore, he said, employers can’t use blanket anti-marijuana policies to dismiss workers whose doctors have prescribed the drug to treat their illnesses. Instead, antidiscrimination laws require companies to attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable arrangement with each medical marijuana patient they employ, such as exploring alternative medications or allowing use of the drug only outside of work hours.

The court overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Cristina Barbuto against her employer, Advantage Sales and Marketing, which fired her after just one day on the job when she tested positive for marijuana, even though Barbuto said she had told the company during her job interviews that she used it medicinally after work hours to treat her condition and her hiring manager had said it would not be an issue. The lower court will now retry Barbuto’s case under the guidelines established by the high court. (Read the full ruling here.)

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Ernst & Young’s Neurodiversity Program Treats Autism as a Strength

Ernst & Young’s Neurodiversity Program Treats Autism as a Strength

In a sign of growing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, a growing number of organizations have started programs to help people with autism get jobs and succeed in the workforce. Workforce intern Nidhi Madhavan profiles the neurodiversity initiative at Ernst & Young, which aims to take advantage of the strengths and sensitivities commonly associated with people on the spectrum:

The company piloted the EY Neurodiversity program in its Philadelphia office over the past year to recruit and train individuals with high functioning autism in order to streamline its process of compiling and analyzing client data and reduce the workload of client-facing employees. “We needed to divert this work to individuals who were particularly good at data crunching, pattern recognition and paying close attention to detail,” said Lori Golden, abilities strategy leader for the Americas talent team at EY, as the company is now known. “We know that individuals who are neuro-diverse tend to have a lot of the characteristics we’re looking for.”

Working alongside their “neuro-typical” colleagues over the past six months, Golden said the account support associates hired through the program have achieved higher-than-average levels of work productivity, quality and innovation.

While this effort to increase neurodiversity is a positive step, one expert points out to Claire Zillman at Fortune that it benefits only a small fraction of the many autistic individuals who are able and willing to work:

Corporate programs such as EY’s are one sign that the“winds are shifting” when it comes to finding disabled people “meaningful work in the community,” said Paul Shattuck, director of the life course outcomes program at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. … Still, Shattuck has concerns, chiefly that companies are engaging in “cream skimming” by focusing their initiatives on high-functioning autism, not all disabilities. He understands the reasoning: As for-profit companies, businesses want to hire people who qualify for initiatives aimed at people with disabilities but who also help contribute to the bottom line. “It’s a tricky situation,” he said.

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Neglecting People with Disabilities Is Bad for Business

Neglecting People with Disabilities Is Bad for Business

On the occasion of the Paralympic Games, which concluded in Rio de Janeiro last week, US News and World Report’s Devon Haynie took a look at the employment situation of people with disabilities around the world. Sadly, the news is not encouraging:

According to most experts, the employment rate of working age people with disabilities in the U.S. has fallen almost continuously since the late 1980s. In 2014, only 34 percent of working age citizens with disabilities were employed – that’s compared to 75 percent of their non-disabled peers. Employment rates are often considered a better measure than unemployment figures, which don’t factor in people who have stopped looking for work. …

Among 29 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the late 2000s, seven had lower employment rates for citizens with disabilities than the U.S., according to a 2010 OECD report with the most recent figures. Hungary, Ireland and Poland have particularly low employment rates for their citizens with disabilities, while the Nordic countries, Mexico and Switzerland have the highest rates. … Low employment rates are concerning for several reasons. As more unemployed people join disability rolls, national budgets feel the pinch. In the U.S., for example, the Social Security’s disability trust fund was set to run out in 2016, and was saved only by temporarily diverting funds from another program. It’s now on track to go bust in 2023.

The lack of employment of people with disabilities is a distressing trend—even more so considering how many of them live in acute poverty. The lack of inclusion of this cohort in the workplace is especially frustrating since CEB research shows that there is a strong business case for hiring them.

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