2000 Conference Proceedings

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Assistive Technology Centers: Making the Center Useful to Your Customers

Dinah F. B. Cohen, Director
Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program
Department of Defense
5111 Leesburg Pike, Suite 810
Falls Church, VA 22041
703-681-3976 (Voice/TTY) 703-681-9075 (Fax) 

Ophelia Y. Falls, Director
Accessible Technology Program/TARGET Center
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave. 1006-S
Washington, DC 20250
202-720-2600 (Voice/TTY) 202-720-2681 (Fax) 

Derek S. Shields, Program Manager
Conwal Incorporated
5111 Leesburg Pike, Suite 702
Falls Church, VA 22041
703-575-0670 (Voice) 703-845-1658 (TTY) 703-575-0686 (Fax)

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Accessible Technology Program (ATP) and the Department of Defense (DoD) Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) were developed to ensure accessible work environments for people with disabilities. The ATP Technology Accessible Resources Gives Employment Today (TARGET) Center and the CAP Technology Evaluation Center (CAPTEC) both serve as links that bring valuable resources closer to people who require accessible technologies and improved access to the electronic and information environment.

The concept behind the centers is to provide assistive technology services to managers, supervisors, employees and educators throughout the country. These services include how to obtain assistive technology information, demonstrations, and evaluations regarding the use of technologies that enhance the accessibility of our information infrastructure. The centers range in size depending on the customer base being served, facilities and equipment available, and funding. In order to understand the development of the USDA and DoD centers, a short review of the ATP and CAP missions and services is required.

The ATP mission is to support USDA's workforce diversity and the Federal workforce 2000 policies. The USDA TARGET Centers provide technology and information services to assure equal access to electronic technology and automated systems essential to today's jobs. The centers assist in making electronic and information technology accessible to persons with disabilities for career enhancements. The Centers serve as focal points in USDA for conducting needs assessments, demonstrations, evaluations, training, and acquisitions support for accommodations and technologies. The ATP staff is available to service employees and the public using agricultural information with sight, hearing, speech, or mobility disabilities

The CAP mission is to provide assistive technology to DoD employees with disabilities. The mission also includes making DoD programs and activities accessible for employees and beneficiaries with disabilities, including military retirees, family members, and hospital patients. For example, CAP purchases equipment that helps blind people access computers and printed materials, allows deaf people to use the telephone, and lets people with dexterity impairments access the information environment with voice recognition systems. The CAP services make the DoD work environments more accessible to DoD employees with visual, hearing, dexterity, and cognitive impairments. 

DoD also manages one of the largest school systems in the world. CAP provides the assistive technology for children with disabilities to ensure compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). CAP provides the assistive technology to students in the DoD Education Activity, which includes over 300 schools in the United States and overseas. When a disabled student is enrolled in the educational activity, CAP provides assistance in obtaining the appropriate auxiliary aids. CAP conducts annual training for the special education instructors, administrators, and resource specialists to ensure utilization of services. The CAP staff is available to assist the DoD, Federal, and general communities. 

Since managers and educators need to be familiar with the various types of assistive technologies available for people with disabilities, the centers play a crucial role in meeting larger program objectives. The growth of computers and technology in today's environment has provided opportunities for people with disabilities. Developing accessible resource centers is the next step in the information age that is required to make information easily available for all people. Assistive technology demonstration and evaluation centers provide the information to link individuals with needed accommodations and resource information. As with any initiative, the success of a center depends upon the work completed up-front to identify your customer base, determine requirements, solicit management support, and obtain sufficient funding.

The TARGET and CAPTEC Centers display accommodations and technologies in the office work environment that can aid people with disabling conditions. The services provided by the centers facilitate the evaluation and assessment of various accommodations and technologies. The staff assist in identifying solutions that will best meet the needs of an individual. The centers' hands-on techniques are a benefit to employees and managers by ensuring the best and most cost effective accommodations are evaluated. Technologies in the centers have been tested and proven to meet the needs of the documented requirements of the solution. Senior and mid-level managers are enlightened of the capabilities technology can provide to people with disabilities. The benefits include a decrease in resources (time and dollars) for a manager to accommodate an employee, improved productivity, and assistance in career enhancements and promotions. The managers of the centers are working to incorporate techniques in their Departments for information system designs to include accessibility that will provide the environment for universal design of information systems. Universal design ensures information systems' design include features to provide solutions for a variety of limitations for people with disabilities and those who will become disabled in the future.

This document provides guidance for managers, supervisors, employees, and educators participating in the assistive technology center establishment process. The following guidelines outline a process to utilize during the review, planning, and creation stages of developing an assistive technology center:

These guidelines were developed by the USDA ATP and DoD CAP to provide initial guidance to those interested in developing an assistive technology center. It is expected that as more technology centers are established, these guidelines will be updated to reflect lessons learned and improvements identified. This type of commitment to accessibility is recognized as a model in the United States government. The USDA and DoD assistive technology evaluation centers are available for all people and organizations to visit, both in person or on the WWW, to discover the possibilities of technology in increasing employment and opportunities of people with disabilities.

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