Personal Skills & Technology – A Perfect Partnership to Assist Special Needs People in the Workforce

Science and technology continue to produce a wealth of creative assistive devices, specialized products and unique services that make work and life easier for all people, especially the challenged. As a result, a previously somewhat marginalized group of the workforce is now able to operate on an almost equal footing with the rest of the working population. Combine enhanced personal skills with the assistive devices and the combination is very powerful.

It is now possible for many disabled and challenged people to enter the workforce and do almost anything that a “normal” person does. There is a growing number of employees who have learning disabilities, reactions, syndromes, and other physical and mental challenges but their assistive devices allow them to operate at a high level despite their difficulties. Assistive technology allows them to put more time and energy into thinking and producing instead of just surviving.

Businesses and corporations often choose to have employees engage in staff development. However, learning must be selected carefully because so much of current knowledge, facts, methods and processes is outdated and obsolete. The best choice for staff development is personal skills training. This is especially true for those employees with physical and mental challenges.

The workforce can conceivably expand dramatically if a difficult question is posed, “How can special needs people be helped to better fit into the whole scheme of things?” There is a positive answer.

Skills are more valuable than ever in the struggle to get people to work more efficiently, rebuild and revamp our economies, and save the planet in general. Skills don’t get old and obsolete. Advanced technology and personal skills become perfect partners in helping special needs people contribute positively despite challenges.

For challenged and disabled people, emphasis should be on determining and strengthening their skill set. Assistive devices can then be used to help the skills grow.

Analytical skills, creativity and problem-solving are strongly empowering and are prized abilities in all areas of the workforce. Having a head full of facts and figures has become of lesser value. Knowing “how to” do things is more important. The above skills are not just for able people. They can be taught to anybody at any age and at almost any ability. The difference between being able or disabled is far less when assistive devices are employed.

Personal skills training produces competency and helps people become independent, self-directed learners. When processing skills are strengthened and applied to knowledge and facts, the result is better products and outcomes. Assistive technology enables and extends the expression of learned skills. It can greatly increase speed of acquisition, expression in various media forms, and ultimately the value of outcomes or products.

Educators are vital in discovering and nurturing physical and intellectual skill sets of young children. Special education students learn to use learned skills and technology to achieve many more goals and compete more effectively for their place in the upcoming “new” revamped world. With assistive devices, more can dream of becoming proud, full-fledged, viable members of the workforce. Assistive devices give the most severely challenged people increased mobility and more ways to communicate their ideas more effectively.

The following are some of the personal skills that every person – challenged or not – needs to ensure he/she can survive and thrive in the future. Technology can assist at all stages to ensure the learning is maximized.

Innovation Skills
How to: invent new products/services. Canada needs to continue to be a breeding ground for innovative and valuable new inventions and ideas. Anybody can be an inventor of assistive devices or other useful products or services!

Communication Skills
How to: speak/present professionally, write effectively, read/use body language. We truly do live in a global village and should be prepared to interface with others anywhere in the world. Properly selected assistive devices allow disabled and challenged workers to do the above.

Higher-Level Thinking Skills
How to: analyze, problem-solve, assess little ideas to find the hidden BIG ones, think in an enhanced way, think logically, use inductive/deductive thinking methods. These personal skills are not limited to any particular segment of society.

Self-Awareness Skills
“How to: increase levels of perception, relax, de-stress, self-motivate, re-energize, recognize success, keep up the spirits despite intense challenges and competition. All people need to know themselves better in order to be the best they can be. These personal skills can be learned by all people including many who are challenged and disabled.

Leadership Skills
How to: be a leader, develop teams and think tanks, achieve win-win outcomes, handle criticism, improve emotional maturity, determine levels of success. Disabilities and challenges do not have the limitations anymore. Assistive devices help many more people participate effectively in society in leadership roles.

The world is changing dramatically. A very positive aspect is that new technology and assistive devices enhance inclusiveness because they allow almost anybody to be more expressive and therefore more productive. The new Age of Creativity demands people be producers of new learning, not just consumers. Skills training and advanced assistive technology, create a great partnership that helps challenged and disabled people strive, survive and thrive.

Contact me for professional development with a difference. I specialize in skills training. Participants in my workshops WILL be more creative, perceptive, better communicators.

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Technology’s Effect on Commercial Real Estate in a Recession

Though there seems to be an endless supply of other shoes to drop into the current economic chasm, there seems to be a general consensus that commercial real estate is going to take a significant hit. The shoe that could end up kicking commercial real estate down further and is relatively unknown or just not thought about is technology. Developed countries around the world, save a few, have never gone through such a potentially devastating economic cycle with the amount of technology we have at our disposal. What that technology allows for will greatly affect the length of the commercial real estate recession and its effects on the overall economy.

With our daily dose of eye popping layoffs, the top question on every company’s agenda is how to cut costs. When looking to cut costs the typical first question is how many people can be cut and how much of a cut in productivity can be tolerated. But with all of this technology, there is now the possibility to cut costs and keep the same amount of productivity. This wasn’t a viable option in previous recessions, but this time around companies can start sending people home to work, which is all made possible by the giant leaps in communication. People have been telecommuting for years, but with the great expansion of communications technology coupled with a downward economy, the cost cutting choice between cutting a group of employees and cutting out leased floors in a building has become a whole lot easier. The last time we saw a boom in telecommuting was the September, 11th attacks and the catalyst was the fear of travel and a shaky economy. Audio and video conferencing sales soared and using the technology was all the rage. The big problem back then was that the technology was a bit more difficult to use and everyone went back to their old ways of working after the crisis.

The difference now is that the technology has come very far and the new catalyst is a crashing economy that, in my opinion, will be an even stronger catalyst than September 11th. Fickleness and discomfort around the use of technology for basic operational issues is gone. I recently spoke at a conference about this and I asked a very simple question. Has anyone ever sent an email to the person in the office next to them? Everyone looked around like it was a trick question, but the reality is that there is no difference between sending an email to the next cubicle or around the world. This is now the same for almost all types of communicating including voice, video, text, Instant Messaging, etc., and connecting them all together in 2009′s buzzword called, unified communications. In the telecommunications arms race between the Telco’s and the cable companies, there has been such a huge push for mega bandwidth to the end customer to try and own them, that they have inadvertently made millions of households viable for high speed telecommuting. In addition to the end user having the capacity, most applications that company employees need access to have moved to secured web based applications that can be accessed through the internet over these super networks. With the actual communication media being so robust, an employer’s largest concern about sending an employee home is the potential for slacking and a loss of productivity. However, there are very sophisticated systems available to track employee’s progress and activity remotely that can resolve this issue as well. Even though this is not viable for every office worker, the ones that are allowed to do this end up being more productive; think less water cooler conversations, coffee breaks, and long lunches. There is an argument that the employees lose some of the social aspects that bind an office together, but the employees become less stressed without long commutes and early wake-ups, and they end up being happier all around with their job.

So, what does all of this have to do with the real estate market? Simply stated, with all of the supply in the technology arena the demand for physical office space is going to be reduced. Office space has always been a property type that is less desirable due to its susceptibility to economic pressures. Now more than ever companies are looking to chop space and get lean, and office space is going to take an even harder hit. With more space on the market, rinse and repeat and you will have a serious glut of space. The glut of space will end up deflating rental rates reducing cash flow and reducing market value of the properties. If the past 12 months have shown us anything, examining past trends do not help us in this market. Investor’s buying commercial real estate trying to use past trends to make future gains are going to get crushed short term. Why? Because even after the economy recovers companies are not going to take on an expense for space that they have done without through telecommuting. The Gartner Group’s last estimate was that there was 137 million teleworkers worldwide and, “This growth will mushroom as companies learn more about telework benefits and its highly advantageous return on investment, and the proliferation and use of online job boards and virtual hiring,” according to a report in Innovisions Canada.

So that is the argument for office space, but what else will technology affect? On the retail front, there is an entire generation that is getting used to conducting their lives online and that includes buying products. People that were born in the late 60′s and throughout the 70′s are a generation that has one foot in the past bricks generation and another in the future clicks generation. If I look at myself, I would say that there are some things I am not comfortable buying online but my younger colleagues and friends have no problem buying everything needed online. It’s a generational shift and it’s going to add strain on the retail property market during a downward economic cycle. Take Blockbuster for instance and their huge initiative to follow Netflix in the online ordering of movies. Right now those services are sending the DVD’s to your house without ever setting foot in a store. Many of the big cable and satellite providers in the industry are trying to make it viable to download 1000′s of titles from their cable and satellite boxes, and so far the On Demand services are on the forefront but lack in volume of titles. On another front, Telco’s are developing a robust broadband solution over IP, and in Microsoft’s case they are trying to enable downloads right into their Xbox entertainment system via the web. How many empty Blockbuster stores and other video stores is that going to push onto the market? Okay, so that’s digital media and one could argue it is an exception due to ease, but technology is enabling the ordering of many other services to be delivered right to our front doors. Are people still going to go out and shop? I would say yes because it seems that many people have turned shopping into a hobby (think better times), but with our youth becoming more introverted and more accustomed to everything being at their fingertips, maybe less than before on a per-capita basis.

Mobile technology efficiencies are not going to destroy office space or retail spaces on a whole, however it is important to understand that in an evolving technological economy, as well as a down economy, they start becoming a lot less necessary. Commercial real estate has always been a sound alternative investment but the last 12 months have proven that investing in these types of properties takes a lot of experience and more importantly, an open mind about what’s to come to gauge future cash flow and value. Betting against technology has never been a very sound investment strategy and this is definitely not the time for anyone to put their head in the proverbial sand. Perhaps you’re reminded of the story about the close minded man who opened up a typewriter store because he thought computers were just a fad for pimply faced kids?

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How Technology Can Ease Our Stress

My previous article looked at how technology has evolved to the extent that we are now easily contactable regardless of where we are. We can now access workplace computers from home, from the pub or from across the other side of the world. Technology however has a number of ways that can reduce our stress, the very technology that may be adding to our stress levels currently can be used to reduce them too. This article will consider a number of ways in which technology can be used to reduce stress and how we can use technology wisely.

Mobile Phones

By far one of the greatest advancements in technology is that we have this small phone in our pocket that can not only allow us to make calls but also to download items from the internet, check our e-mails and get directions. The downside of mobile phones is that people can very easily get a hold of us, and so we can be distracted from a task or have work related issues invading our personal time.

Most mobile phone contracts now come with an option for voicemail. Allowing voicemail to pickup all our calls, can mean that we can concentrate on a task or indeed select the calls that we respond to as a matter of urgency. So if your boss regularly calls you on your personal time about minor work related issues, you can chose not to take that call. User ID can also assist in the selection of who which calls to pick up or let voicemail take. For example, if you are working on an important work task, and someone calls who regularly is just looking for a chat, you can allow voicemail to pick up and return the call at a more appropriate time. Likewise this can apply to regular phones if you have an answerphone and caller ID.

If you feel that you always have to answer your phone immediately when it rings, it may be a better idea to actually turn it off when working on important tasks. Many people reject this idea with the reasoning that “what if an emergency happens?” In the case of an emergency, people will find a way to contact you through other means, granted it will make the task much harder for them to do so, but the ease of using a phone is often why we receive so many calls that are minor and cause a great distraction. People are less likely to go out of their way for minor things if a bit more effort is required on their part – for example, the colleague a few doors down often may pick up the phone for a minor question but if they had to walk to see you and talk to you in person they would perhaps think twice.

Likewise how we use our text facility on the phone can also be an area for consideration. Texts can be used as a means of passing a message on and keeping the conversation brief, so if you wish to avoid a long call, that may be off topic, texting can be used as an alternative.

If you receive ‘spam’ texts from friends or colleagues along the lines of “pass this on to X people” then it would perhaps be wise to speak to the offenders diplomatically asking them not to include your in these texts – perhaps citing that your phone only has a limited memory. If someone regularly continues, you have to option of blocking the number .

E-mail

This form of communication can be a difficult area, for some people it is a formal means of communicating like a letter, to others it is as informal as a text message, having the benefit of fast and easy communication.

Before sending an e-mail, you should consider if the message could be misunderstood by the recipient… is it direct and to the point? If you have typed the e-mail in reply very quickly it would be wise to save the message to a draft for a short time and then go back and look at the message anew a short time later. Many people often find that they type something and send it before thinking through what they were saying, and this can lead to stress, so taking the time to think before sending can prevent this stress.

If you are the type of person that feels that they have to check their e-mail constantly or need to read an e-mail the moment it comes in, you should be aware that this can distract you from the tasks at hand. If you find you fall into this category, you should limit the amount of times that you check your e-mail throughout the day.

Some people find that letting colleagues know that they only check their e-mail for example twice a day at set times, their colleagues will not expect replies out with those times. Likewise if you are working on a task that requires your total concentration, do not check your e-mail at all while doing the task – if need be set your out of office to produce an automated message explaining that you cannot be contacted via e-mail at that time and perhaps offering an alternative means of communication for emergency or important questions that require an answer then and there.

Reducing the amount of e-mail you receive, and thus need to check, will reduce your stress. How can you do that you ask – firstly eliminate all forms of spam mail. Many e-mail packages have a spam filter moving spam directly to your deleted items. If you regularly receive spam mails from colleagues or friends ‘passing on humour’ or ‘please forward to ten friends and return this to me’, either use rules in your mail package to filter these to a folder to be checked later, speak to the friend or check if your e-mail can filter out certain words and move items containing those words to the deleted items immediately.

Using a separate e-mail address for personal rather than business e-mails can also help filter out the unimportant from the important messages.

Messenger and IRC programs

Many organisations have banned the use of these in the workplace due to the fact that many employees are distracted from their work and thus productivity has been significantly reduced.

Advice in general (whether at home or in the workplace) is that if you are working on something important, do not have these running (or at least appear as signed out). This will again cut down on the distraction and enable you to finish your task sooner.

Information Technology

IT can be used in a variety of ways to make your life easier… however only if you use the right tools for the job. It is no use trying to hammer a nail in a wall with feather. The right tools for the job can make our lives easier. For example, word processors can use a feature of mail merge, meaning that a letter need only be typed once and can be sent to many people. If you have calculations to do, a spreadsheet can be the tool that will help you. Needless to say that you should be given appropriate training for the software.

IT can also be used in other ways to reduce stress directly – from playing relaxing music to using a screen saver with affirmations.

Do you take a laptop with you everywhere? Do you really need to carry it with you so often? Do you really need to be in constant contact? Are you using it to connect to the office from home? Are you sitting on the train or in the airport working on work documents regularly? How is your posture… do you find that you suffer from pains of carrying the laptop and working from it?

Having said the above, the ability to access work from home can be a good thing if used wisely. If for example you need to spend a day working on an important task and do not want any distractions (and if you have a workplace that is in agreement), you could work remotely – this would mean that people would find it harder to contact you, and so the work distractions would be less. Likewise if you work in a noisy environment this ability to move from the main hubbub of the noise to either a different office or from home can help you concentrate. Many people who work remotely have found that their productivity increases significantly due to this elimination of distractions, meaning that their tasks are done more efficiently, and often quicker, which in turn reduces their stress levels too. BE aware however that this way of working does not suit everyone.

MP3 players

These can be used to reduce your stress, while carrying out tasks you can play music – this can cut out distractions from the workplace – it is also amazing how many people will not disturb a person that appear to be listening to music.

You can use them to listen to relaxing music on your bus or train journey to work, to play affirmations, to listen to guided meditations… and much more.

Television

Yes this can be a distraction… but it can also be a great way of relieving stress!! How often do you find watching a favourite television programme or a good film can have an effect on your moods? Likewise, it can be used to help you unwind at the end of your day, to bring humour, or just enjoyment. Yes television can reduce your stress… just don’t watch it while you are trying to do a task, nor in bed at night (as this can keep you awake).

Be careful what you watch before going to bed, as something that will keep your mind racing will keep you awake… so if you need to be at work the next day… record the horror film, or watch it on catch up TV.

Perhaps the ideas from the 1950s and 60s is not as far off as it originally seems… we may not have hover cars, robotic housekeepers but we do have technology that will serve us if we use it well, and in turn our stress is reduced.

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