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e-ACT: A Service Delivery Model for the New Millennium
Mostafa Zommo and Andrew Costello
Human Resources Development Canada
Hull, Quebec, Canada
Over the last decade there has been a sharp increase in the
number of people who use computers and a rapid advancement in
technology for persons with disabilities. These factors have
combined to create a relatively young, but thriving industry -
Adaptive Computer Technology (ACT). This industry consists of
individuals and organizations that specialize in hardware and
software products, education and training, research and
development and other services for persons who cannot use a
computer with traditional input and output devices.
The same technological advances that have helped develop the ACT
Industry have also significantly changed the manner and medium
through which Information Technology (IT) solutions are provided
to clients. The ACT client service model has gradually evolved
from using traditional client service approaches to ones that are
more technology-enhanced. This new model combines innovative
internet technologies and strategic partnerships to provide more
efficient services. We call this new model e-ACT.
This paper will describe this shift in ACT service delivery to
e-ACT and will explain it's key benefits. Finally we will briefly
describe how Human Resources Development Canada plans to apply
e-ACT to a new service called CAN-ACT.
Models of ACT Client Service
In the traditional ACT service model, service providers:
- market themselves primarily to persons with
- provide solutions following a client request or inquiry,
- use a one-way transfer of knowledge - from the service
provider to the client,
- are often in direct competition with other service
- provide services that are constrained by geography and office
hours, and are product-centred.
In the e-ACT service model, service providers:
- market themselves to all IT users,
- anticipate client needs and generate and distribute solutions
- facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge transfer,
- foster strategic alliances and share information,
- allow their services to be accessed from anywhere at anytime,
and are solution-centred.
The Internet as a Service Delivery Tool
The Internet is a very powerful service delivery tool. The
principal business advantage of using the internet (specifically
the World Wide Web or the 'Web') is that it can provide clients
with access to information 24 hours a day from remote locations
around the world. Clients can access information at their own
leisure without having to deal with time zones, long distance
charges, voice mail or office hours. In addition, the Web is an
ideal environment for promoting collaboration among different
service providers since a web site can contain hyperlinks to many
other ACT organizations.
The rise of e-commerce (on-line banking, shopping etc.) has
demonstrated that many people prefer self-serve opportunities
when conducting business or searching for information. The role
of the service provider in this environment is that of the
facilitator, to make sure that users have all the tools necessary
to find a solution on their own. This is ideal for clients who,
for privacy reasons, may not feel comfortable with speaking
directly with an ACT practitioner.
It must be stressed that ACT services cannot be provided
exclusively over the Web. Not only do many persons prefer human
interaction when seeking solutions, but many do not have access
to the internet or a computer. This is particularly true for ACT
clients, since they will often require our services before they
can use a computer or access the Web. The need for ACT has arisen
due to the mistaken assumption that everyone can use computers in
a universal manner using the same input and output devices. In
providing service exclusively over the Web, one risks adopting a
similar universal approach to client service. Since information
provided on a web site cannot cover all possible combinations of
client requirements and preferences, it can only serve to provide
a general overview of ACT products and solutions. Clients will
still often require contact with an ACT practitioner before an
appropriate solution can be found. e-ACT is a service delivery
medium that augments or supplements existing ACT services. It
does not replace them.
Solutions Through Collaboration
Persons best suited to provide expertise on ACT are often those
who use its products the most - ACT users. Users often provide
the most relevant comments about product quality, they provide
useful tips sometimes not considered by vendors and they often
have good troubleshooting experience. They should be an integral
part of the solution and follow-up process, apart from client
satisfaction surveys or suggestion boxes. e-ACT can provide users
with opportunities to contribute their knowledge and experience
to deriving and communicating ACT solutions through email
listserves, discussion groups and on-line chat rooms.
Service providers need not personally provide all solutions to
clients, only opportunities for solutions to be generated. This
can be accomplished by facilitating peer-to-peer communication,
by referring clients to other service providers and by creating
strategic partnerships with service providers, disability
advocates, government officials, IT professionals, research
institutes, hospitals and any other organizations that deal with
technology and persons with disabilities. A key benefit of
strategic partnerships is that service providers can focus their
energy and budgets on providing unique services to clients and
avoid needless duplication as well as competition with other ACT
Who is the Client?
The internet allows service providers to significantly increase
their potential client base by offering information and on-line
services to people throughout the world 24 hours a day. e-ACT not
only changes the number, but also the type of clients a service
provider can reach. We must therefore carefully consider the
question of 'Who is the client?'.
The sustainability of many ACT industries is directly related to
the degree to which mainstream hardware and software products
remain inaccessible for persons with disabilities. For example,
there are many ACT software developers who create software
products (particularly screen magnification and voice output)
that could be incorporated into standard operating systems for
use by all computer users. In addition, there are IT solutions
provided by ACT specialists that could easily be accomplished by
general IT professionals. However, for this to occur the major
players in the IT industry need to be convinced of the need to
consider accessibility issues as part of their general business
philosophy and not to treat ACT as a separate, isolated branch of
the computing industry. It is vital, therefore, that ACT solution
providers work not only with clients who do or potentially could
use ACT products but also with individuals and organizations that
are responsible for creating or fostering inaccessible computer
systems. This pro-active approach not only helps to create
greater awareness of accessibility issues outside of the ACT
community, but it also generates a far-reaching solution without
waiting for ACT users to encounter a problem and request service.
Another issue that arises from the question of "Who is the
client?" deals with how ACT solution providers market themselves.
Many ACT organizations place emphasis on the fact that they
primarily serve persons with disabilities. The problem with this
marketing approach is that most people have a very narrow
definition of what constitutes a disability. As a result, persons
with disabling conditions that could benefit from ACT do not use
ACT services since they do not self-identify as having a
disability. This particular circumstance often occurs among
persons who have repetitive strain injuries. A related client
identification problem is that many people have the mistaken
belief that all persons with disabilities require ACT to use
computer systems. For example, the wheelchair is often used as a
universal disability symbol, yet ironically enough, many persons
in wheelchairs do not require ACT.
The close association with the term 'adaptive' or 'assistive
technology' and 'disabled' or 'disability' has managed to further
isolate the ACT industry from the general computing population
and has clearly limited it's potential client base. Rather than
attempting the tortuous task of clearly defining the term
'disabled' the ACT community should take steps to market
themselves as providing alternative computer solutions for
everyone - either due to personal preference or necessity.
The above issues have led the Adaptive Computer Technology Centre
at Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC-ACT) to initiate the
development of the Canadian Adaptive Computer Technology Network
CAN-ACT aims to be a single point of contact for all persons
requiring ACT services. As a facilitator, its primary function
will be to help clients to identify products, service providers,
legislation and all other relevant information about ACT issues.
Although the service will maintain a strong Web presence, it will
also allow clients to access our services directly using other
media such as the telephone, email and on-site visits.
CAN-ACT will include the following key components:
CAN-ACT will attempt to identify and make available an exhaustive
database of solutions to the most common ACT issues. Information
will include general assessment approaches, product selection
ideas, technical troubleshooting guides, tips and suggestions and
links to ACT service providers (vendors, trainers, clinics,
disability organizations etc.).
CAN-ACT will respond to client inquiries made via email,
telephone/TTY or on-site visits.
Research & Testing
CAN-ACT will evaluate new software and hardware products that are
introduced to the market. They will provide critical, unbiased
reviews and post them in the Cybrary.
CAN-ACT will consult with policy makers, IT professionals,
service delivery agencies and other organizations on how to
implement accessible products and services to the public. The
goal of this section will be to increase awareness of
accessibility issues outside of the disability community.
CAN-ACT will identify and collect publications and written
material on ACT that will be either posted on the CAN-ACT web
site or made accessible via hyperlinks to the original source.
Where necessary, some documentation will be translated and posted
in French (one of the two official languages of Canada).
Internet discussion groups will be created to provide on-line
meeting places where interested user groups will be able to post
and discuss issues of common interest. This will allow more
client input into the solution generation process.
The CAN-ACT initiative represents the convergence of traditional
ACT service delivery and e-business. We are confident that this
project will contribute significantly to the increase of computer
usage by persons with disabilities and will generate greater
awareness of ACT issues within the general population.
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