1999 Conference Proceedings

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Promoting Competitive Employment by Infusing Technology into Vocational Rehabilitation

Meira L. Orentlicher, MA, OTR/L
Coordinator

S. Carol Fuhrer, MA, OT/L, ATP
Occupational Therapist
Nathaniel H. Kornreich Technology Center
National Center for Disability Services
201 I.U. Willets Road
Albertson, NY 11507
Telephone: (516) 465-1632
Fax: (516) 465-3744
E-mail: morentlicher@ncds.org

Technology appears on the horizon as the "great equalizer" for individuals with disabilities, particularly for those individuals with the most severe disabilities. The creation of an accessible work environment, or simple worksite accommodations, can lead to opportunities that did not exist previously. The use of technology has the potential to empower individuals with significant disabilities to live more productive, independent lives.

The constant changes and advancements in the field of assistive technology, although beneficial to individuals with disabilities, have caused problems as well. One of the most serious problems is the lack of coordination of current technology knowledge into the rehabilitation system. Unfortunately, to date most vocational rehabilitation training programs have failed to address the issue of assistive technology in any phase of the rehabilitation and/or placement process. As a result many persons with the most severe disabilities have been found ineligible for competitive employment, underemployed, and/or placed in situations where they were not successful in maintaining employment.

The Nathaniel H. Kornreich Technology Center, a state-of-the-art technology demonstration and evaluation center, and the Career and Employment Institute (CEI) of the National Center for Disability Services are responsible for carrying out the National Center’s Vision "to create a world in which people with disabilities will live simply as people. In this world, people with disabilities have the same opportunities as all other people, be treated with dignity and respect, and have access to all the benefits of our society." Each year the CEI places more than 540 individuals with disabilities into integrated competitive employment (the majority of which are classified by NYS VR office as "severely disabled").

The Kornreich Technology Center and CEI have started a unique collaboration creating a model for infusing assistive technology into an already existing comprehensive vocational rehabilitation program.

Occupational therapists together with employment specialists evaluate the assistive technology needs of individuals with severe disabilities to determine the efficacy of assistive technology in terms of training and employment. Based on interests, special skills, stamina, endurance, functional limitations, and potential workplace accommodations the individual may require, the team creatively works with VR counselors, employers and consumers to create situations that will maximize the individual’s talents, while simultaneously minimizing the manifestation of his or her functional limitations. All solutions strive to be mutually beneficial to both the consumer and the employer.

This presentation will serve as a skill-building opportunity in the areas of technology and employment. Program staff will describe

Both successes and future challenges will be discussed. The project under discussion served as a viable means of field-testing a model for infusing assistive technology into an already existing comprehensive vocational rehabilitation program. Presenters will describe workable solutions and strategies they utilized to increase the use of assistive technology in vocational rehabilitation programs. Participants will have the opportunity to learn from the National Center’s experience. In addition, they will be encouraged to raise practical and clinical questions and brainstorm, as well as share their expertise in better methods to infuse assistive technology into various vocational programs.


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