View from The Helm

Disability Claims and the Smartphone Question

Disability Claims and the Smartphone Question

Those who handle disability claims may be familiar with the following scenario. You receive a call from a nurse or vocational specialist asking you to confirm the type of cellphone the claimant uses. If you’ve ever questioned why this matters, you may have been told that smartphone use can correlate to additional transferable skills.

This criteria is increasingly common when evaluating claimants’ return to work readiness. However, we should be careful in determining transferable skills based on this information, and for which occupations.

Smartphones - Who's on the Bandwagon?

In today’s age of rapidly evolving technology, the good majority of cellphone users have a smartphone. In fact, 77% of U.S. adults who own a cellphone are currently using smartphones[1]. Most households also have additional touch screen devices like tablets, iPads, etc.  There’s no doubt that these devices are deeply immersed into our day-to-day lives, for better or worse.

However, if you look at most work places, smart technology is still highly uncommon. Those that have this technology tend to be retail or foodservice where rapid transactions can occur easily on a touchscreen. For office-based work, a keyboard and mouse are still the default work setup. Those using smart technology may use it for supplementing work (a tablet for note-taking purposes for example) but not as a primary means of doing their jobs.

Smartphones and Transferable Skills

Most would agree computer use requires a different level of exertion and motor skills than typing with one finger on a cellphone or tablet screen. While some individuals with joint issues and other medical conditions may be able to use a touch screen for a few hours, this likely does not equate to the ability to type and mouse for 8 hours a day.

Beyond identifying whether they’re using touchscreens, analysts should focus on the claimant’s level of computer use (duration and proficiency, as well as the programs they’ve used such as Word and Excel), and typing skills to better gauge their transferable skill set for office-based occupations.

When looking at smartphone use for transferable skills, we should also consider competency in using touchscreen or other smart technology. Let’s consider my 80 year-old grandmother. She has a smartphone but she also doesn’t realize it needs to be on in order to receive phone calls. It’s only “smart” if you can figure out how to use it that way.

Meanwhile, my 4 year-old is more proficient than I am in touchscreen technology. She can navigate a phone much quicker than I ever could. However neither my daughter nor grandmother technically possess transferable skills to an office-based job using standard computer equipment. The context of the claimant’s skill set is just as important when considering their ability to meet certain job requirements.

In Our View

In short, while claim analysts should review all aspects of a disability claim to understand what the claimant is capable of doing as far as activities of daily living, simply relating smartphone use to transferable skills for office-based work could be a stretch. Asking questions centered on computer and typing skills will offer analysts a more accurate picture in the long run. Until technology in the work place moves forward, we need to adjust our expectations around what constitutes transferable skills in order to generate successful return to work outcomes.


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