Development of an Assessment Methodology for identifying accessibility issues for people with disabilities in a manufacturing environment

Puneet Taneja and Scott A. Haynes

Center for Assistive Technology & Environmental Access-Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332


ABSTRACT

With the increase in automation in the manufacturing world there are a growing number of opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. However, since their performance may be constrained by their physical or mental abilities they cannot function very efficiently without a proper workplace design. The objective of this research is to develop a tool in the form of an assessment methodology to assist with work measurement and workplace design tasks. The assessment methodology will help in identifying areas in manufacturing facilities where people with various disabilities may have accessibility issues or difficulties in performing the tasks efficiently. This paper discusses the process of drawing the assessment methodology by using some existing checklists.

KEYWORDS

Assessment Methodology, Accessibility issues, Safety, Ergonomics, Functional abilities

BACKGROUND

With the increase in globalization, there has been an increased competition amongst the various industries in the manufacturing world. Each company wants to be the market leader in its industry to beat out the competition. To do so, they aim to produce their products with a high level of efficiency within minimum time. They employ skilled and qualified workers, who have a high level of expertise in their areas. They feel that a person with a physical or mental disability may not be able to perform the job efficiently. For this, these people are more likely to be unemployed than their non-disabled counterparts. The research conducted at Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access at Georgia Tech, looks at various such issues. One of these research projects, titled Universal Design in a Manufacturing Environment, consists of developing tools that will assist people with disabilities to work in a manufacturing facility.

RESEARCH QUESTION

The use of automation has opened many doors for people with disabilities in manufacturing facilities. CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) equipment is being widely used to provide precision machining with greater efficiency and at a lower cost. The use of this technology provides a growing number of opportunities for people with disabilities. However, features in physical and social environment can impact the employment opportunities for these people. With this project we hope to provide universal access to CNC equipment in a manufacturing environment by adapting existing equipment to include accommodations for people with disabilities. For this, we decided to develop an assessment methodology to help employers identify those machines and processes that are most suitable for accommodating people with disabilities.

METHOD

The first stage of work on this project involved compilation of Assessment Methodologies and Checklists from four different perspectives: People: Functional abilities of employees; Environment: Safety issues; Task: Ergonomic factors; Tools: Machine & equipment design features

A number of existing checklists, some of which are currently being used in various occupational settings, have been compiled from the above-mentioned point of views. The methods used to draw these checklists included investigation of existing regulations and checklists, journals specific to Human Factors in industrial environment, journals specific to Assistive Technology and people with disabilities, journals related to safety, ergonomics and industrial manufacturing processes. The compiled checklists will be used to develop a single assessment methodology. Each of the checklists will be considered in light of the needs of a person with: 1) Visual Impairment 2) Hearing Impairment 3) Cognitive Impairment 4) Mobility Impairment

RESULTS

People (Functional abilities of employees)

The aim of this portion is to help quantify the abilities of a particular potential employee as they relate to the production process and/or the equipment being used. A list of 8 checklists was collected to draw this part of the assessment methodology. Apart from the checklists collected, many questions have been drawn from various articles.

Environment (Safety Issues)

Even though the process of automation has improved safety of worker in the workplace, there are some areas of concern that have started to appear with this new technology. It is required that a person who has been injured or has a disability doesn't injure himself more or aggravate the preexisting condition. For this, it has to be made sure that the workplace is free of any hazard. The safety portion, which has been compiled from a list of 17 already existing checklists, seeks to ensure that the safety requirements and guidelines associated with a particular production process are adequate to meet the special needs of people with specific disabilities.

Task (Ergonomics)

Neglect of ergonomic principles brings inefficiency and pain to the employees. An ergonomically deficient workplace can cause physical and emotional stress, low productivity and poor quality work. This portion, which has been compiled from a list of 25 already existing checklists, seeks to ensure that the ergonomic requirements and guidelines associated with a particular production process are adequate to meet the special needs of people with specific disabilities.

Tools (Machine & Equipment)

The primary concern of this portion is the evaluation of machines, controls, tools and other equipment used in the manufacturing facilities for use by disabled workers. This portion has been compiled from a list of 12 already existing checklists. The aim is to identify areas where modification in design is required, given an individual's disabilities and at a given cost, such that the worker output will be maximized while maintaining job content.

All the checklists that were collected from each perspective mentioned above had a lot of common or similar questions. This is because these are the minimum requirements that a facility should fulfill for proper functioning. However, each checklist had some uncommon questions as well. The idea of drawing a single assessment methodology is to put all these (common and uncommon) questions together. Also, a facility may fulfill all the requirements of a checklist but a person with some kind of disability may still have accessibility issues with it (e.g. a facility may have all the required warning signs posted but for a personal with visual impairment, it may not be useful). So some of these questions will be modified or branched into sub questions to identify the accessibility issues that people with various disabilities may have.

DISCUSSION

The methodology, drawn from the above four perspectives, will assist people who are already familiar with assistive technology and workplace accommodations, to have a better understanding of the safety and ergonomic requirements that are so familiar to production managers. Similarly, the methodology will help production managers to develop an eye toward the barriers, which their facilities poses to people with disabilities and the assistive technology they may need to do the job adequately.

REFERENCES

1. Shikdar, A., Al-Araimi, S., Omurtag, B., "Development of a software package for ergonomic assessment of manufacturing industry." Computers & Industrial Engineering 43 (2002) 485-493

2. Chen, J., "Development of vision impaired task and assignment lexicon via an ergonomics and expert system approach." International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 10 (1992) 225-240

3. Chen, J., Ko, M., "The Disability Index analysis system via an ergonomics, expert systems, and multiple attribute decision-making process." International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 13 (1994) 317-335

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This study was funded by NIDRR Workplace Accommodations RERC, Grant # H133E020720

Author Contact Information:
Puneet Taneja, Graduate Student, CATEA, Georgia Tech, 490 10th Street, Atlanta, GA 30332,
Office Phone (404) 894-4960 Email: gtg707p@mail.gatech.edu, ptaneja@isye.gatech.edu

NIDRR

CATEA