1998 Conference Proceedings

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Creating Communities of Assistive Technology Expertise: Systems Change in Vocational Rehabilitation

Kurt L. Johnson, Ph.D., C.R.C., Associate Professor and Head,
Division of Rehabilitation Counseling
Project Director, U.W. Assistive Technology Resource Center
Internet: kjohnson@u.washington.edu

Dagmar Amtmann, M.A., Project Manager
Assistive Technology Resource Center
Internet: dagmara@u.washington.edu

Debbie Cook, Project Director, B.A.
Washington Assistive Technology Alliance
Internet: debcook@u.washington.edu

University of Washington, Box 357920
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and University Affiliated Program
Seattle, WA 09195-7920
Voice/TTY/Message: (206) 685-4181, FAX (206) 543-4779

The University of Washington Assistive Technology Resource Center (UWATRC) is funded in part by the Tech Act Project for the state of Washington, the Washington Assistive Technology Alliance (WATA). Part of the mission of WATA is to effect systems change in state agencies to increase the timeliness and appropriateness of the provision of AT devices and services to people with disabilities. WATA has provided technical assistance to the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to address timeliness iss ues for participants of the DVR program. In the past, DVR had treated requests from counselors to provide computer technology to participants as exceptions to policy which required authorization from a staff member in the central office. This policy had been in effect to ensure that competitive bids were obtained for equipment and that appropriate technology and services were purchased. It became apparent on review by DVR that decentralization would enhance service delivery. Therefore, DVR designated the computer information consultants (CIC) in each region of the state to serve as AT specialists with respect to selection and purchase of computer technology for participants. The CIC's had previously been responsible for supporting the office network and computer workstations of DVR staff in their regions. The UWATRC agreed to provide training to the CIC's to help prepare them for their new assignments.

Because the CIC's had no clinical training and limited experience working with DVR participants directly, the UWATRC agreed to provide intensive training to the CIC's in the area of customizing access to computers for people with various kinds of function al limitations. We designed a two day program to accomplish this with a mixture of didactic instruction and hands-on laboratory workshops. We also initiated a listserv discussion group for the CIC's to provide continuing peer and faculty support and technical assistance. We will describe briefly in this paper both the initial training program and the ongoing support.

Training Program

We began the training by providing an overview of disability issues, the vocational rehabilitation system, and assistive technology, including funding. We then provided information about functional assessment of participants' abilities and functional lim itations, and strategies to match AT with participants.

Following the didactic portion, we provided laboratory experiences to allow the CIC's to try out a variety of customized computer access routes. Our intent was not to train the CIC's to serve as AT specialists with respect to each kind of computer access device, but rather to give them a chance to sample a variety of technologies so they could more effectively learn as they worked over the next year. Work stations included the following access devices and software on both PC and Mac platforms:

We also provided an opportunity for the CIS's to learn first hand about accessibility issues and the WWW since we believe that this represents a significant employment issue for DVR participants. Finally, we took the CIC's to the Washington Department of Services for the Blind AT Center. There, they gained hands on experience with a variety of visual aids including CCTV's, screen enlargement programs, voice output devices, refreshable Braille output, and manual magnification devices.

We subscribed the CIC's to a listserv discussion forum we developed to allow them to share problems they encountered and solutions they discovered with each other and to seek technical assistance from faculty. The CIC's have posted questions and responde d on a number of occasions, but the followup has been a limited success because during this time frame, DVR has moved to a wide area network with Internet access for all counselors. This has required extensive "in house support" efforts from the CIC's an d diverted their energy from the clinical tasks. Nevertheless, the CIC's have expressed considerable satisfaction with both the initial training and ongoing support opportunities.

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