2001 Conference Proceedings

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Lessons Learned from ACETS: Augmentative Communication Employment Training and Supports

Kevin J Cohen
423 Ritter Hall Annex
Temple University, Philadelphia 19130
E-mail: kcohen@nimbus.temple.edu

The unemployment rate of people with disabilities continues to be grim. More than two-thirds (67%) of men and women with disabilities (ages 16 through 64) are unemployed despite their overwhelming desire to work; despite 20 years since the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, despite the passage of the "tech act" in 1988, despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, despite improvements in employer attitudes since the passage of the ADA (Harris et al., 1991), and despite the lowest unemployment rates in history. The picture appears to be even grimmer for adults who use augmented communication systems where only 15% of individuals who use augmented communication are employed (Blackstone, 1993). There are many barriers to the employment of adults who use augmentative communication including poor preparation for the world of work Bryen & Moulton, 1998), limited employment-related vocabulary preprogrammed into their communication devices (Stump, 1993; Bryen & Moulton, 1998), financial disincentives to work (National Council on Disabilities, 1997), and limited opportunities to experience first job experiences as young adults (Bryen, 1996).

Technology has enabled many individuals with significant speech disabilities to "gain a voice." More and more individuals who rely of augmentative communication are comfortable and skillful with computer technology. They routinely use dedicated talking computers (augmented communication devices), use generic computers for word processing and to access the Internet and the world wide web (Slesaransky-Poe, 1997). In fact, many of the 300 subscribers to ACOLUG have their own Web pages. The potential of technology for supporting the communication needs of people with significant communication disabilities has already been demonstrated.

ACETS (Augmentative Communication Employment & Training Supports): Pronounced ASSETS is a five-year project funded by NIDRR as part of the AAC-RERC to demonstrate the potential of technology as one employment solution for selected individuals who use augmentative communication.

The specific purposes of this project are to:

  1. Develop and implement ACETS (Augmentative Communication Employment & Training Supports): Pronounced ASSETS which will focus exclusively on becoming job ready for employment in the job world that more and more relies on computer-based telecommunication
  2. Develop employment-related vocabulary and symbol sets that can be imported into existing and future communication devices
  3. In collaboration with private business, design and implement a six-month to one-year job internship for selected graduates of ACETS
  4. To replicate Advanced ACES with selected high school students as part of their Individualized Transition Plan during years 4 and 5
  5. To research the outcomes and impact of ACETS
  6. To aggressively disseminate the process, curriculum, and outcomes/impact of Advanced ACES in a variety of accessible formats so that others can replicate it.

The following research questions will be addressed during the five years of this project:

At the end of 5 years, minimally 25 augmented communicators will have graduated from ACETS and will have significantly increased vocabulary, knowledge and skills related to competitive employment in the field of telecommunications. In addition, 10 graduates of ACETS and the Internship will have the work-related skills and experiences to be employed (or self employed) in the field of telecommunications. It is expected that not only will these 10 graduate have the prerequisite skills to be employed, but will, in fact, be employed.

To date having completed the first year of ACETS, 6 ACETS graduates from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California are well on their way to advancing their employment status. They have are more powerful technology users, have better job seeking skills (resume, interviewing, job searching), are better able to afford to work (know about SSI and Work Incentives, managing their personnel finances), know their rights and responsibilities as employees with significant disabilities (ADA, job etiquette, managing their disability on the job), have better job-related communication skills and necessary vocabulary, have personalized career action plans and the supports to implement them, and have expanded employment networks through ACETS.

The data collected from year one will be presented along with the following recommendations for an augmented communicator who would like to find a job:

  1. Develop a top-level resume and get it on the Web
  2. Know the job market of the future
  3. Master your communication system
  4. Learn how to network
  5. Develop excellent literacy and math skills
  6. Become a power computer and Internet user
  7. Know how to manage your disability, including disability-related transportation issues, personal assistance and technology issues
  8. Know what job accommodations you will need, and
  9. Develop skills, skills, and skills.

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