1997 Conference Proceedings

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EIGHTY PERCENT UNEMPLOYMENT: RETHINKING ACCESS TO JOBS USING TECHNOLOGY

Mary Ann Glicksman
Computer Access Center
5901 Green Valley Circle #320
Culver City, CA 90230
Voice/(310)338-1597 TTD/FAX (310)338-9318
E-mail: cac@cac.org 
Web: cac.org


The Computer Access Center is a consumer driven, nonprofit organization serving the greater Los Angeles area. The mission of the Computer Access Center is to assist children and adults with disabilities in leading independent and productive lives in their communities through the use of enabling technology.

In September 1996 the Computer Access Center began a computer skills training program for adults with disabilities who have employment goals. The program was begun in response to the increasing requests for this service.

Recent statistics reveal that the unemployment rate for the adult disabled population is around eighty percent. While this shows a slight increase in employment, which may be attributed to the advent of the American's with Disabilities Act, we still clearly must continue to improve this statistic. We must develop a range a services designed to help people shape their future and increase their income opportunities. One of the most powerful tools for independence for adults is a meaningful job.

However, even today in an atmosphere of inclusion, many adults with various disabilities remain isolated with little or minimaljob skills. Some, with developmental disabilities, after leaving school, spend many hours a day in a day program doing activities with no future. Others who have been skilled workers are now unemployed because of newly acquired disabilities. We know from our experience that there is an alternative for these people, and that adaptive technology coupled with skill in using a computer for specific tasks could provide a key to meaningful and gainful employment and an enriched life.

We know that technology is a key enabler for people with disabilities looking for personal extensions of their abilities. It can eliminate many barriers to communication, education and skills development. Through the application of technology, people with disabilities are shattering perceived limitations of their potential. What looked impossible yesterday is clearly possible today. The key is providing people with access to appropriate technology and ongoing support in using it. Against all odds, children with severe disabilities who began using the services of the Computer Access Center ten years ago, are now attending colleges and universities. They are integral parts of their communities and are contributors to the community's wellbeing.

But providing access to adaptive technology and computer skills is only part of the solution. In order for people with developmental and physical disabilities to have better opportunities for shaping their own futures through employment, we must work in three areas.

We must raise expectations. We must look at the reality of the job market. We must provide a curriculum, training and support that fits the job market.

Raising Expectations:

For many people with developmental and physical disabilities, job opportunities have been offered mainly in the service industries and often with little chance of advancement or career change. We liaison with community agencies serving adults in supported work and day programs, sharing with them ideas of expanded expectations for their clients in regard to jobs when computer technology is incorporated into a person's daily life. We meet with family members, counselors and staff in order to explore the kinds of employment that might be available in the community once we look at where and how technology is used in business.

Look at the reality of the job market:

Computers are ubiquitous in our society. The storing, using and exchange of information is the underpinning of every business, and today it is accomplished through computer technology. Almost every business, whether it is run from home, in a single-room office, or multi-acre campus, uses technology. It could be a PC on a kitchen table, or a main frame in its own department.

We know technology is used, but what are the specific tasks done in each business? What are the specific skills needed to accomplish the task? What barriers exist to accomplishing the tasks because of a specific disability? What accommodations are needed? Can adaptive technology be one of the accommodations?

These questions need to be researched and answered in order to match individuals to specific jobs. This reality-based information about computer usage is proving to be the missing link. The CAC is seeking this information through surveys of employers, collaborating with local chambers of commerce, and through individual contacts with employers. As the program develops further, we hope to have one staff person who will gather information from the local business community, who will task analyze computer related jobs, and who will match this information with our students abilities.

Provide a curriculum, training and support that fits the job market: The Computer Access Center wanted to design a curriculum in basic computer skills, in word processing and data entry that would be accessible to students who have a broad range of abilities and disabilities. We began with a basic curriculum used by the California Junior College High Tech Centers, and modified it mainly by providing step by step illustrations. We designed the curriculum and the training process for students with cognitive, learning, perceptual and physical difficulties, who cannot succeed in a large class offered by private companies, community centers, colleges or local schools.

As students are referred, each has an initial consultation to discuss his or her personal employment goal, and to find what accommodations might be necessary for success in learning the skills to be taught. Ongoing consultations occur as needed. Accommodations are designed throughout the class sessions.

Four students are enrolled in each six week session. An instructor and an aide work with students as they move through the curriculum at their own paces. At the six week mark each student receives an written progress report. Some complete the curriculum in six weeks, others continue on into the next session. At the request of the student, the report is shared with support staff from other agencies who are working with the student, and a planning meeting is held. A typical meeting might have a family member, a Department of Rehabilitation Counselor, a supported work manager and job coach, and a Regional Center counselor. At this time we look at next steps: finding other specific training in the community, planning with a prospective employer, designing more specific job related training and practice as a continuation of the session, and training a job coach for support in a new job.

As a student reaches a personal goal, the CAC collaborates with staff from other supporting agencies to provide support to the student and an employer in accommodating the student's technology access needs in a new setting.


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