2000 Conference Proceedings

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ASSISTIVE WORK TECHNOLOGY – "THE WAY GEORGIA DOES IT"

Jack Gilson
Assistive Work Technology Supervisor
Georgia Division of Rehabilitation Services
3420 Norman Berry Dr., Suite 424
Hapeville, GA 30354-1314
404-669-3904

Beginning in 1995, the Georgia Division of Rehabilitation Services embarked on a major reorganization effort, designed to place greater emphasis on actual job development and job placement for persons with disabilities.

While traditional positions such as the rehabilitation counselor (the case manager) were retained in the organization, other new job classifications were created. An account representative position was designed to work directly with businesses and industry to open new vocational opportunities for persons with disabilities. A work preparation technician became the DRS person responsible for helping the client with job readiness and initial on-the-job assistance.

A new and integral component of the re-designed rehabilitation services in Georgia was a statewide assistive work technology (AWT) unit. The Division readily accepted the proposition that assistive technology could and would play a significant role in the successful placement of some of its clients into employment. In situations where the employer would not be able or willing to purchase technology needed to overcome a barrier on the job site, and where the client was deemed economically eligible, the Division would use case service monies to acquire the needed technology.

It became the responsibility of the AWT team to receive referrals from the case-managing counselor, to evaluate the abilities and needs of the client, and, where necessary, to conduct a job-site survey. Once this was accomplished, the AWT unit would make appropriate recommendations for equipment, software, special modifications, and training. The set-up and initial orientation to special equipment – but not comprehensive training – would also be the responsibility of the AWT team. (Actual training would be out-sourced to private rehabilitation facilities or training consultants.)

Beginning in mid 1998, active recruitment began for the four new positions in the AWT program. Statewide, the following positions were allocated: 5 rehabilitation engineers, 5 occupational therapists, 13 rehabilitation technologists, and 5 rehabilitation technicians. The state was divided into 12 geographic regions grouped together into 4 tri-regions. The tri-regional concept was designed to enable the sharing between regions of engineers, OT’s and technicians. Each region has one rehabilitation technologist (The region containing metro Atlanta gets two.), who has a strong background in computer hardware and software, adaptive systems, and client assessment. This team member acts as the "gate-keeper" of referrals, and helps determine the best person on the team to take the lead in any particular case. The engineer is used primarily for special design or modification situations; the technician assists in equipment set-up and occasional special fabrication. The OT deals with cases involving traditional OT type activities – splinting, positioning, seating assessments, transfers, etc. The key to the roles of these four new positions is the team approach. Home and vehicle modifications and special workstations often involve two, three, or all four of the AWT team members.

This AWT team approach is best explained by discussing several actual cases from the past year. With the focus being on the ultimate DRS goal – a successful employment outcome – the AWT teams in Georgia are beginning to show the positive benefit of the ca

Case No. 1

Latrina’s disability is her size. She is a 19-year-old who is 2’10" tall. As a little person, she has dealt with physical barriers all her life. Upon graduation from high school, she enrolled in a local beauty college to learn to become a nail technician. To be able to reach the 30" tall worktable, Latrina would need special seating. An initial trip to an office supply store revealed that an "off-the-shelf" adjustable secretarial chair would not suffice. While she could adjust the chair height lever, her body weight of just 35 pounds was insufficient to lower the chair, and her short legs did not permit her to "push off" to raise the chair. In addition, the chair seat was too deep, causing her legs to extend straight out when she rested against the back of the chair. Latricia’s next stop was a seating clinic where an OT interviewed and measured her. A special Florida company was located that manufactured chairs especially for little people. Upon delivery, a minor adjustment to the footrest made this $700 chair the perfect "fit" for Latricia. A subsequent visit to her school site revealed that the chair met her needs successfully. A second modification was needed for her access to the pedicure station. In this instance, it was the shortness of her arms that precluded her from using the standard equipment. The rehabilitation technician suggested a $35 auto mechanic’s stool as an inexpensive modification. This was successful. Finally, when the client complained that her shortened walker was digging into the floor, the OT offered forth the "tennis ball solution." Two tennis balls, sliced open and placed over the front legs of the walker, provided the necessary amount of friction to insure smooth traveling. To date, Latricia has completed her formal training, and is awaiting testing for her state license.

Case No. 2

Tina Allgood was traveling back from a beach vacation on I-85 when she swerved to avoid some road debris. Her vehicle went out of control and overturned. Despite wearing her seat belt, Tina fractured her neck and became a C5-6 quadriplegic. Upon release two months later from the Shepherd Spinal Center, Tina returned to her home-based embroidery business. Her desire was to continue to operate her business. The fifteen "industrial strength" embroidery machines are controlled by a personal computer. While Tina would now have to rely on her part-time employees to physically place shirts and caps under the machines, she hoped to be able to continue operating the PC to create the embroidery designs and power the machines.

Her injury greatly reduced her keyboarding skills, so Tina was evaluated on using a Kensington track ball and Dragon Dictate system. These modifications were appropriate, but the AWT team discovered a problem with Tina’s use of the speech recognition software. The system would work well during periods of constant noise, but not with the noisy machines continually turning on and off. Various sound enclosures were tried, but none worked well enough to permit use of the Dragon software.

Finally, the team decided the only option was to add an extension onto the wing of the house used for the business so that an enclosed office could be created. This home modification would also provide a secondary benefit of giving Tina more space in which to navigate her powered wheelchair.

The home modification has been completed, and Tina’s business is back to pre-injury production levels.

Case No. 3

The Carey Limousine Service in Atlanta needed another reservations operator. Eden, a totally blind woman in her 20’s, applied for the position and was hired. The DRS account representative working with this employer requested an assistive work technology assessment to determine the appropriate way to give the new employee access to the PC-based reservations system. An older DOS-based program was being used, so the rehab. engineer recommended the JAWS for DOS screenreading software with a DECtalk Express voice synthesizer.

With 15-20 different screens containing pertinent limo reservation information, Eden needed a number of shortcuts on the keyboard and screen to be able to effectively do the job. After several days of keyboard macro and screen frame design, and instruction, the frustration level of Eden was mounting. It appeared to be far too much information to process via speech output. Eden possessed an excellent braille-reading skill, so the rehab. engineer, in consultation with other team members, authorized the purchase of a PowerBraille 40 paperless braille display. Since both employer and employee were anxious to have a successful resolution to the problem, the AWT team authorized the overnight shipment of the braille display unit. Within four days, Eden was comfortably navigating around the screen, reading reservation information in computer-grade braille off of her 40-cell display.

The Georgia AWT unit is approaching the point of being fully staffed, and hopes to soon be fully equipped with an array of assessment tools and technical evaluation hardware and software packages. The concept of accurately and successfully applying assistive technology to persons with disabilities is one which the Division of Rehabilitation Services fully believes will aid in putting Georgians with disabilities to work.


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