| October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month! To celebrate, AT Program News is reporting on your diverse strategies for promoting assistive technology in the workplace. Thanks for letting us know all these ways you're getting AT to work!|
A NEAT Idea...
The problem: how to reach employers--not just individual end users--with awareness of assistive technology. CT's NEAT Center finds a unique solution...
It started with AT for Employment toolkits back in 2008. These are rolling travel bags stuffed with high- and low-tech devices for accommodating individuals with disabilities at work. That year, the New England Assistive Technology (NEAT) Center at Oak Hill created 5 such toolkits to provide outreach to regional employers. The toolkits were designed to target different needs: vision, mobility, communication, computer access, and ergonomics, and they were deployed through a partnership with the Connecticut Business Leadership Network and marketed through the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. NEAT staff rolled the bags to conventions and conferences, used them for presentations, and generally to educate business leaders on tools that can help retain and hire valuable and qualified employees who also happen to have disabilities.
|NEAT Center visitors explore hand-held gadgets |
Today the project has evolved in an interesting new direction. NEAT is a program of Oak Hill, a private disability-services organization (and CT Tech Act Program community partner) with over 100 years of experience working with individuals with disabilities. Bruce Stovall, NEAT's executive director, originally developed the toolkits with his staff through a Medicaid Infrastructure Grant and Connect-Ability, the state's multi-agency initiative to connect persons with disabilities to employers. Stovall drew on his past experience working as a job developer at Oak Hill, and used the toolkits to demystify issues with employers, helping to take away some of the intimidation he knew was there about how, exactly, it works to have someone on staff with a significant disability, and how they get their work done. Reception, he found, was enthusiastic and it helped that the toolkits were fun; Livescribe pens, screen readers, eventually iPods and iPads. Employers could try gadgets and ask questions. Using the toolkits in different venues inspired Stovall and Oak Hill staff to build on this success, and think about ways to further deepen the experience. They considered ways for employers and others to get comfortable understanding that anyone can have a disability.
|"A Day in the Life..." participant tries out a head pointer.|
The result of this thinking was a broadening of the toolkit concept in 2010. That year, Oak Hill staff created "A Day in the Life..." -- a hands-on tech-driven exhibit targeting employers and others without disabilities to experience what it's like to have specific impairments, and to try the tools that can make work, school, and daily living easier. "We use occluded glasses, hand immobilizers, that sort of thing [to simulate disabilities]," Stovall reports. "And, frankly, the businesses absolutely love it, and schools love it, particularly the colleges who are training special educators. Almost universally, everyone who goes through it says something like 'Oh my goodness, I never knew....' It's very memorable. There's the occasional skinned knee with a power chair, but it's very powerful!"
|"A Day in the Life..." participants|
trying out mobility canes and power chairs.
Along with the exhibit, staff integrate information on disability etiquette, i.e. how to be respectful and ask open-ended questions. Indeed, the equipment and the experience allow staff and participants to break the ice, walk in another's shoes (or ride in another's chair!), and have conversations some have never had before. "The human side is what it's really all about," Stovall notes.
Challenges the program has faced include keeping up with and funding technology. The original toolkits were assembled a year before Apple released the first iPod Touch (painful timing, indeed). Since the grant-funded period has concluded for the toolkits, the program has moved to a fee-for-service model (providing AT evaluations and problem-solving for individuals through VRS and schools, etc). "A Day in the Life...," however, has helped NEAT keep the program fresh and maintain an outreach component to employers and others. Stovall reports that "A Day in the Life" is something private foundations can easily understand. NEAT has been able to refresh equipment and support outreach through micro-grants from Ronald McDonald House, and the Hartford Foundation.
Oak Hill staff set up the "A Day in the Life..." exhibit at the NEAT Marketplace space in Hartford, but they also take it on the road, just as they continue to do with the toolkits--although "A Day in the Life..." doesn't usually fit in a suitcase.
"Staff want a NEAT bus next," Stovall confesses.
Visit the NEAT Web site
Contact Bruce Stovall
Jane Gay's Back Door
Sneaky strategies for promoting assistive technology (AT) for employment from IPAT's executive director
Besides the more common "doors" for getting AT information to employers (think vocational rehabilitation, employment counselors, job developers), the Iowa Program for Assistive Technology (IPAT) is creating interest in AT by slipping through employment's back door.
Case in point: soothing HR
Several years ago IPAT staff member Gary Johnson started doing presentations at the local and state meetings of the State Human Resource Managers organization. Johnson was invited to speak about AT's benefits for retaining older or injured workers, and it was an opportunity he was happy to take. Retention, he understood, was something that addressed their current needs. After all, HR departments want to hang on to trained employees, and talking about retaining employees they already know and value is far less scary than talking about hiring individuals with disabilities they don't yet know, and a lot less scary than talking about complying with the requirements of the ADA.
Once in the door, however, Johnson and IPAT Executive Director Jane Gay realized they could further build trust by providing AT referral information for their employees who are out on Family Medical Leave caring for aging parents or children with disabilities. "In effect, we showed these HR managers that we could help them do their jobs," emphasizes Gay. "We became non-threatening partners, not the cops there to arrest them!"
Developing HR relationships in this way--Gay and Johnson have learned--puts them in a strong position to then move into talking about AT for hiring. Now they are a known and trusted resource, managers have seen accommodations work, and the topic has become more comfortable. "We get in the door on their terms" Gay notes, "and then we get invited back!"
Partnering with Occupational Health and Safety
Last year IPAT slid in another backdoor, this time through Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S). Gay had worked in the field years ago, and those connections lead her to the OH&S nurse at the aeronautics and defense firm, Rockwell Collins. The firm needed technical assistance to improve communications with an employee who is deaf. Little did Gay know the request would eventually lead to the back doors of many employers statewide.
At Rockwell Collins, Gay recommended their employee, "Sarah Peters," wear a simple vibrating pager for emergency notifications. While there, however, Gay learned of a more difficult problem Peters was having: an inability to participate in weekly stand-up team meetings due to a shortage of interpreters. Legally Peters was accommodated, as she was provided with meeting notes later in the afternoon. Gay found, however, that her employer was receptive to learning about better accommodations through voice recognition technology. Indeed, Rockwell was delighted to trial and eventually purchase Interact-AS, software which Peters now uses to communicate in team meetings as well as during one-on-ones--even with colleagues over lunch!
Rockwell's experience learning about, trialing, and selecting technology was so rewarding (Johnson demonstrated both Dragon Naturally Speaking and Interact-AS), Gay was not only invited to talk to staff at another Rockwell plant, but recruited to help present their experience at the 40th Annual Iowa Governor's Safety and Health Conference. Their presentation, "Disabilities: Creating Capabilities in the Workplace," included Gay on a panel with Rockwell's OH&S nurse, Peters, Peter's immediate line supervisor, an ITS staff member, and the safety engineer. Interact-AS was demonstrated by the supervisor and Peters for their portion of the presentation. Gay covered resources available for obtaining assistive technology for workers with disabilities, and again the emphasis was on retention.
Gay is now developing plans for future OH&S conferences. She's thinking of speakers with assistive technology devices that will be attractive to safety engineers and other OH&S staff. She's thinking about their needs, on their terms, confident that when it comes to portals for AT for employment, opportunity knocks at the back door too.
Contact Jane Gay
Nifty Product: Interact-AS
Interact-AS, by Auditory Sciences, is software that allows for face-to-face communication using voice recognition technology. Software may be installed on a PC or a pre-configured hardware system may be purchased. Interact-AS provides immediate closed captions for speech, and will speak type-written or handwritten input. With optional language modules, Interact-AS can also instantly translate conversations to and from over 30 languages. The system will provide transcripts and a synched audio recording, and is advertized as faster than CART. It comes in different editions for different needs and price tags.
Interact-AS was purchased for use by an employee who is deaf at the defense firm Rockwell Collins last year (see "Jane Gay's Back Door" above). About her first Interact experiences, the employee reported to Gay "It was great being part of the team meeting and to be able to ask questions," also that "co-workers have started asking to have breaks or meals with me." Her supervisor was equally enthusiastic, "You should have seen her smile and everyone else's faces when Interact spoke for her at that first meeting. This has given her a voice at work that we all can hear loud and clear."
Learn more at www.speechgear.com
Reminder: AT Program News makes no endorsement, representation, or warranty expressed or implied for any product, device, or information set forth in this newsletter or on its Web site. AT Program News has not examined, reviewed, or tested any product or device referred to in this newsletter or at www.atprogramnews.com.
Advancing Opportunities Presents:
AT for Employment Support Professionals Certificate Program
Fred Tchang explains why the time is right for creating a certificate program in AT for Employment
When employment support professionals work with people with significant physical disabilities, they often look for work that the person can do without accommodation. This tendency comes from a lack of training and experience in developing and implementing accommodations, including the consideration of assistive technology (AT). With funding from the Kessler Foundation, Advancing Opportunities (which partners with the NJ AT Act program) is working to remove that barrier by offering a new certificate program that targets professionals working in employment.
Earning an AT for Employment Certificate will help employment support professions apply the ethical guidelines put forth by the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE). APSE's very first guideline for employment support professionals states:
People receive assistance as unique individuals with varying interests, preferences, and aptitudes. They should not be grouped together on the basis of label, functioning level, or convenience of support.
When job accommodations, including assistive technology, are not used in the process of identifying potential jobs, the interests, preferences, and aptitudes of our consumers are put in the backseat instead of where they belong--as the primary driver. Indeed this lack of accommodation often leaves consumers relying too heavily on other people for assistance. It also results in reassigning some work tasks to co-workers. The result? A worker who is more reliant on others, less valuable to their employer, and less likely to advance.
Our certificate program is designed to train employment support professionals to develop and implement job accommodations and assistive technology supports. An essential component of this training includes loaning assistive technology to participants over a period of 2 months to assist their carrying out trials and applying what they have learned. Students are provided with a kit that includes an iPod Touch pre-loaded with relevant work-oriented apps (and an opportunity to keep the technology for their program).
Helping professionals who are not specialists in AT consider AT is not new. There are many professionals in the K-12 setting, case managers, and vocational rehabilitation counselors, and others who are expected to be able to include AT in a system of supports. While each application is unique, the basic knowledge and skills that are needed for professionals to consider whether or not a consumer can benefit from assistive technology is the same.
With may states proclaiming themselves Employment First states, and with the development of APSE's Certified Employment Support Professional (CESP), the time is right to support these professionals, and support employment first.
Learn more at this Advancing Opportunities Assistive Technology Center Web page.
--Fred Tchang, ATP, director of Assistive Technology Services at Advancing Opportunities in New Jersey
The Employer's Guide to AT: Yours to Localize!
Mada, the assistive technology (AT) center in Qatar, and Enable Ireland have created a downloadable guide to AT for employment, and are making it available free to any AT center for localizing. The guide is available in both English and Arabic versions, and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial.
From the Creative Commons Web site:
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don't have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
"The aim," notes Mada's CEO David Banes, "is to provide a core resource that can be 'flavored' as communities require."
Banes has been at the forefront of the effort to create an AT Leadership Network to share resources, knowledge, and best practices among AT centers around the world. With this guide, Mada and Enable Ireland set the example: create your resources so that others may localize and adopt them, and help AT gain global traction.
"Enable Ireland is delighted to have partnered with Mada to publish this Employer's Guide to AT," remarks Siobhan Long, manager of Enable Ireland's National AT Training Service. "For employers, ready access to appropriate information on the benefits of AT in the workplace can make a real impact on their ability to support employees--whether new recruits, employees who acquire a disability or, significantly, those at risk of acquiring a work related injury such as Repetitive Strain Injury. AT really is a tool for all, and we hope that this guide may go some way towards increasing its profile and effectiveness in employment."
The Employer's Guide to AT provides information on commercial, open-source, and built-in assistive technology options, and covers solutions for sensory and physical impairments, print-disabilities, and issues of ergonomics. It explains what assistive technology is, provides a business case for AT, and discusses implementation. It was first published in November of 2011.
Banes will be helping to lead a pre-conference forum at ATIA Orlando this January, "AT Leadership Forum for AT Centers Around the World." The forum is hosted by the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict) and is intended for executives running assistive technology centers serving persons with disabilities, special educators and rehabilitation professionals.
The Employer's Guide to AT will be posted on the Mada Web site shortly. In the meantime you can download the Employer's Guide to AT (English docx) version here.
Pursuing a Passion for Film in Washington State
The Washington Access Fund shares the story of Michael Duffy
"My life has changed considerably since pursuing this new path with the help of the Access Fund!"
In one form or another, film has been a lifelong passion for Michael Duffy. Through the Washington Access Fund's Business Equipment Loan Program, Michael has been able to see his business, Toonsmith Studios, grow to include many possibilities that he had not foreseen. "With age comes wisdom... and a hard earned knowledge of... life's potholes..."
Diagnosed with bi-polar and high anxiety disorder, Michael's employment opportunities have been limited. But when it comes to video-editing and producing, Michael is one creatively-inclined individual. His talent, however, really comes to fruition and he is most productive when working from the safety and comfort of his home.
While a Film Studies student at Centralia Community College, Michael participated in the Access Fund's small business training webinar and developed a business plan with the goal of eventually becoming self-employed. He now says "happily each day (and quarter of school), brings me closer to that goal." Michael then submitted a business equipment loan application to purchase what he calls the "heart" of his small business - a professional Panasonic digital video camera. The loan was approved, and Michael, now more focused than ever on his passion for film, uses his camera on a daily basis for shooting footage, uploading, editing and studying the day's work.
As Michael explains in his own words: "What I am doing and what I am pursuing really doesn't make much sense to most of the public, but it is just as much a part of the economy as any other business. It's hard work producing entertainment and can be profitable in the long run. But resources are next to non-existent to a disabled person with poor credit. I've been able to have a bit of success through the Access Fund, their moral support, and that of the college where I continue to network and build connections, as well as continuing to learn the craft and technology of producing videos."
With many projects in the making, the Access Fund is excited to see Michael's Toonsmith Studios' continued success!
--Leann Wicklund, program coordinator for the Washington Access Fund. The Access Fund reports that Duffy is currently applying for his second loan to further develop his business.
Satisfying Saddle Biz in Nebraska
Jake VanHorn went from years of working in the saddle to his own business working on saddles, thanks to help from Nebraska's Vocational Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology programs. Check out the world of ergonomic leather-tooling in this YouTube from the Nebraska AT Program.
|Consumer Success - Jake VanHorn|
Save the Date: Employment Summit May 8-9, 2013!
from Paul Galonsky
The RESNA Catalyst Project [which provides technical assistance to initiatives funded under the AT Act] will host an Employment Summit May 8-9, 2013 for all AT Act Entities at the Bethesda, Maryland Hyatt Regency. Two Project Director Meetings will be conducted in conjunction with the Summit. ATAP and the Catalyst Project will co-host a Statewide AT Program Directors May 6-7, 2013. In addition, there will be a Financial Loan Best Practices Institute May 7, 2013 for AFP/Telework/Title 1 loan program staff. The RESNA Catalyst Project will continue to work with an Employment Summit Planning Committee, the Catalyst Steering Committee Subgroup for Statewide AT Programs and the Subgroup for AFP/Telework Programs to plan the three meetings. Mark your calendars now!
Also check out the new
AT for Employers Web Portal! The Portal is designed as a gateway for businesses and employers to increase their understanding and use of AT in the workplace while accessing resources such as AT Act Program services. As a work in progress, feedback is appreciated. Email email@example.com
Upcoming Employment Webinar
Assistive Technology and the Interactive Process of Employee Accommodations
January 23rd, 2013
2 pm to 3:30 pm Eastern
The RESNA Catalyst Project, Southwest ADA Center, and the ADA National Network will present a webinar on how AT demonstrations, equipment loans, and support and technical assistance from the ADA National Network may enhance an interactive employee accommodation process. If your program would like to share information on how you are assisting employers with learning about AT and pursuing accommodations, we would like to include you in our webinar planning.