1999 Conference Proceedings

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Supporting Disabled Employees in the Public Sector: A Canadian Government Success Story

Mostafa Zommo
Human Resources Development Canada
165 Hotel de Ville, 6th Floor West
Hull, Quebec, K1A 0J2
(819) 994-5543

Andrew M. Costello
Human Resources Development Canada
165 Hotel de Ville, 6th Floor East
Hull, Quebec, K1A 0J2
(819) 997-6856

Andre Demers
Environment Canada
10 Wellington Street
Hull, Quebec, K1A 0H3
(819) 953-2492


Persons with disabilities currently represent approximately 7% of the Canadian population and comprise 3.3% of the Canadian Federal Public Service workforce (1). In 1998 Canada received the Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award at the United Nations in recognition of the progress that it has made in expanding opportunities for people with disabilities. One of the mechanisms that has helped create employment opportunities for disabled Canadians in the Canadian Public Service has been the establishment of Adaptive Computer Technology (ACT) Centers.

Although all Federal Government Departments have extensive Information Technology (IT) support services, most of these services do not specifically address the requirements of disabled employees, who may use various adaptive computer technology products in order to do their jobs. ACT Centers bridge the gap between existing Government IT support services and any additional services required specifically by disabled employees. In doing so, ACT Centers not only help maintain the current population of disabled employees in the Public Service but they also remove barriers that might prevent the hiring of disabled persons in the future.

Our Services

ACT Centers are currently operated out of Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC-ACT) and Environment Canada (EC-ACT). These Centers provide expertise on products, services and other issues related to the use of computer systems by disabled employees. Specifically, ACT Centers:

Critical Success Factors

The principal key to the success of the ACT Centers is that they occupy a very specific niche in the Public Service and they make extensive use of existing Government policies, programs and procedures to assist their clients. ACT Centers merely augment existing Government services - they do not attempt to duplicate them. This approach allows us to operate with very modest budgets and minimal staff while still managing to provide critical, high-impact services to clients across 6 time zones and two official languages (English and French).

HRDC-ACT and EC-ACT Centers provide services to clients all across Canada yet only maintain offices at our respective National Headquarters in Hull, Quebec. This centralized organizational structure requires that we collaborate with existing Government technical support networks at regional and local Federal Government offices throughout Canada. Technical solutions are researched at our Hull offices and forwarded to technical support personnel 'in the field' for integration. Not only does this arrangement allow us to provide cost-effective, rapid response trouble-shooting services remotely across Canada, but it also is crucial in increasing awareness of technical issues related to the use of assistive technology among all Canadian Federal Government IT specialists.

Unlike other assistive technology support organizations, such as the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) at the US Department of Defense, ACT Centers do not purchase assistive technology products for their clients. All equipment expenses incurred by ACT Centers are for the maintenance of computer labs that are used for demonstrations, testing and training. Although ACT Centers work very closely with clients and their Managers to assist in the selection of appropriate assistive technology tools, it is Managers who are solely responsible for the purchase of all recommended products. Not only does this policy allow ACT Centers to operate with a small equipment budget, but it also highlights the responsibility that employers have to accommodate the individual needs of their employees.

A unique partnership exists between ACT Centers. For example, Environment Canada which has been in operation since 1991, was instrumental in the establishment of the HRDC-ACT Center, which opened in June of 1998. EC-ACT Center assisted HRDC in the selection, purchase, and configuration of appropriate assistive technology products and provided all necessary training in the use of this equipment to HRDC-ACT Center staff. The EC-ACT Center continues to assist the HRDC-ACT Center with assessment, technical support and training of HRDC clients. Their expertise has been of great value to the HRDC-ACT Center staff - none of whom had any prior experience with assistive technology. Since it can potentially take months if not years to acquire the necessary expertise and skills required to effectively operate an ACT Center, the mentoring relationship with the EC-ACT Center allowed HRDC to open it's center much sooner, and provide much better services, than would have been possible without them. As a result, HRDC-ACT is now ready to take on a greater role in the expansion of the ACT program to other Canadian Federal Government departments.

Finally, it is important to note that ACT Centers often refer clients to other Government Organizations when the nature of the client's inquiry falls outside of the ACT Center mandate. When an ACT Center does not provide a specific service required by a client, they can often direct clients to internal or external organizations that can. For example, ACT Centers frequently refer clients who have repetitive strain injuries to Health Canada, who provide on-site ergonomic workstation assessments. In addition, ACT Centers also commonly refer clients to the Public Service Commission, who loan assistive technology products out to clients for periods of up to 6 months.

Final Thoughts

ACT Centers have managed to accommodate the needs of hundreds of Canadian Federal Government employees who were previously not adequately served by the traditional IT support. By showing how ACT Centers can be relatively inexpensive and uncomplicated to create and maintain, we have been able to quell the commonly held belief that assistive technology is too expensive and logistically difficult to support in large organizations. With the ACT program, building human capacity is now more possible than ever.


* Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service 1996-97. (available in PDF format at http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/report/empequi/ee96-97e.html).

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