2003 Conference Proceedings

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DISCUSSION OF FOCUS GROUP RESEARCH DATA COLLECTED BY COMMUNITY DISABILITY LEADERS INVESTIGATING THE USE OF AND ACCESS TO AT FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES.

Presenters
Amy Noakes, BA
CA Foundation for Independent Living Centers
660 J. Street, Suite 270
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-325-1690
Email: anoakes@cfilc.org

K. Sarah Hall, Ph.D.
CSU, Northridge
18111 Nordhoff Street
Northridge, CA 91330-8265
Phone: 818-677-2526
Fax: 818-677-4737
Email: sarah.hall@csun.edu

Myisha Reed
Commmunity Research for AT
Sacramento, CA

This past fall CFILC in collaboration with CSUN conducted focus groups with a wide cross-section of people with disabilities to learn more about the effectiveness of AT. Employment and how AT supports employment were the topics of several focus groups. The presentation will be a chance to discuss the outcome of the focus groups and develop strategies to remove remaining barriers.

Universal design issues

Universal design is an architectural design method intended for the general public in which devices, building etc. are made to be universally accessible. Items such as the grocery store electric doors that open and close by using a sensor are considered universal design. Elevator buttons, bank machines, telephones and information kiosks all have the potential to be universally designed. Elevators that include instructions in Braille, visual floor displays and audio call outs of the floor and the direction the elevator is traveling is an incorporation of universal design, (California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, 2001.) "Another example would be volume amplification on telephones which was originally designed for the hard of hearing, but can be very helpful to everyone in noisy environments such as an airport," (Alliance for Technology Access, 1999.)

Communication related issues at work:

Effective communication is one of the most important aspects of employment. Without communication on the job, employees would not be able to communicate with top management, coworkers, and clients. For those persons who have speech or communication impairment, Assistive Technology exists to bridge the communication gap. Some examples of communication AT on the job would consist of written notes or instant messaging for a hard of hearing or deaf employee. E-mail can be used for someone with a stutter. Augmentative and alternative communication devices can be used for persons with cerebral palsy who have difficult-to-understand speech (Job Accommodation Network, 2002). "Success in the work environment is not only being able to carry out the work tasks, but also requires competence in social skills, which requires having adequate means of communication," (de Jonge, et al, 2001.) Technology can improve the access to communication, however it does not replace the importance of positive attitudes, respect, and understanding.

Telecommunications:

Telecommunications is communicating at a distance, for example using a telephone. Numerous adaptations exist that enables a person with disabilities to communicate effectively with others outside of the workplace. Technology can range from something as simple as a head pointer used to dial the phone to something very high-tech such as voice output.

The most common telephone accommodations include amplifiers, telephone headsets, cordless headsets, speakerphones, extendable phone holders, and programmable and automatic dialing features. Other telephone accommodations that can be implemented are lights and sensor probes for the hearing impaired, large print labels or locator dots for the visually impaired. For persons with speech disabilities, voice output on the phone is a solution. In addition, many hard of hearing and deaf employees utilize closed captioning and email text. For those with visual impairments, audio messaging, talking caller ID, and tape recorders are all examples of Assistive technology that assist in telecommunications in the work place, (Job Accommodation Network, 2002).

Telecommuting is becoming commonplace with all of society. Over 30% of the general workforce participates in some form of telecommuting. Computers have opened up the doors to allow many people to work at home. According to a survey conducted with employers, some of the reasons telecommuting programs begin include the retention of valuable employees which lowers recruitment, training, etc. and responding to employee's needs which keep morale high. In addition, employers were able to fill positions for positions that had previously been difficult to fill (Jarrett, 1996.)

Computer Access and Employment:

As the age of technology advances, microprocessors are used in almost every office in America today. For many persons with disabilities, computers have opened the doors of employment that were previously closed to them before the prevalence of computer technology. Using a computer gives people better access to looking for work, preparing for job search and interviews, better performance on the job and better opportunities for lifelong learning. According to the Chartbook on Work and Disability in the United States, "eighteen percent of those who are working and eleven percent of those who are not currently working reported that they need a personal or laptop computer to be able to work effectively" (Stoddard, et al, 1998.)

Numerous computer access adaptations are available for those with disabilities to conduct their work in a proficient manner. Accommodations for the computer range from very simple to very complex solutions. Examples of low-tech solutions can be as simple as changing the font size or contrasting colors using the display feature built in to the computer. Adding large-print labels to the keyboard or computer can also someone who has problems seeing the small letters on the keyboard. Other input devices that assist persons with mobility impairments include adapted keyboards, keyboard guards, trackballs, touch pads. For example, a keyboard guard keeps a person's fingers from slipping all over the keyboard. It allows the user to concentrate on one key as needed. Other devices such as anti-glare or anti-radiation computer screen guard are used for people who may be chemically sensitive.

In addition, non-AT computer access includes taking frequent breaks to rest eyes when fatigue may be a factor or garnering additional training when needed. High tech solutions include voice input/output software, screen magnification software, larger sized monitors, special computer glass to reduce glare, software programs for self-editing, word prediction, or grammar spell-checkers.

Getting to Work and Moving Around

While telecommuting is becoming a viable option for some people, it does not replace the need to get to the traditional workplace. Getting to the site, entering and using the site can create significant difficulties unless adaptations or universal design features are incorporated.

Mobility in the workplace is a critical issue for those with disabilities. Accessing the entrance to an office, the restrooms, coworkers' desks, files, and storage are all daily activities of employment. Assistive Technology can overcome many of the barriers encountered in the work place for both the employees as well as persons visiting the workplace. For example, power doors, accessible parking, accessible rest rooms, accessible routes of travel to other work areas, lever door handles, ramps, and handrails are all items that can be universally designed to ensure that anyone entering the work place can move around easily and safely. Restrooms can be a problematic area for those with disabilities. For example, a person in a wheelchair must be able to enter the bathroom. If the door is too heavy, or even not enough room in the bathroom itself, they are not able to use the rest room, which is an important function within everyday employment.

Orientation on the job

As people with disabilities enter the workforce, more attention will need to be paid to preparing them to the employment settings. Orientation on the job refers to not only physical access but includes activities such as filling out paperwork, reading the employee handbook, insurance, and many activities that one does not normally think of as work. For many with visual disabilities, this orientation process can be a time of confusion as well as frustration. Employers have a responsibility to provide alternative methods of orientation for new employees. Ways to accommodate those with visual impairments in the orientation process are not too complicated. Some solutions include creating alternative print methods such as Braille, large print, or even having the materials read aloud on audiotape. Braille is the least cost-effective method, whereas audiotape can be done for free in many areas. For example, the Lions' Folsom Project for the Visually Impaired utilizes the Folsom prisoners to do audio recordings for organizations at little or no cost. (Lion's Folsom Project for the Visually Impaired, 2002.)

Alternative Employment

According to the 1993 US Census, 27% of the American population lives in a rural environment, (U.S. Census, 1997.) Rural areas have a limited range of services, less than reliable transportation system, and less specialized services. In addition, rural residents use a higher percentage of their incomes to pay for services in a rural area. The Research and Training Center on Rural Rehabilitation Services identified 44% of people with disabilities who live in rural areas are on employment assistance programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Self-employment and microenterprise are viable options. Self-employment and microenterprise usually require less than $35,000 for start-up. (Mathis, 2002.) Companies such as the Abilities Fund, that assist in connecting people with disabilities to monies for microenterprise and new programs such as the Individual Development Accounts, are making microenterprise a more feasible option for those with disabilities, (World Institute on Disability). A national study indicate that 12% of Vocational Rehabilitation clients needed some type of home-based employment in order to participate in the workforce, (Rumrill, et al, 2000.)

"Telecommuting provides companies with the opportunity to successfully integrate workers with disabilities for whom the traditional workplace presents obstacles," (Virginia Commonwealth).

References:

Alliance for Technology Access (1999). Assistive Technology Connections: Meeting the Needs of Californians with Disabilities. Berkeley, CA: Alliance for Technology Access.

California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, AT Network (2001). Universal Design. Sacramento, CA: CFILC

De Jonge, D., Rodger, S., & Fitzgibbon, H. (2001). Putting Technology to Work: Users perspective on integrating assistive technology into the workplace. Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation, 16, 2, 77-89.

Jarrett, J.E. (1996). Telecommuting for persons with disabilities. ILRU Telecommuting Project. www.muskie.usm.maine.edu.

Job Accommodation Network (2001). JAN's Accommodation Toolbox. Retrieved March 2002 from www.jan.wvu.edu/links/index.htm.

Lion's Folsom Project for the Visually Impaired (2002).

Mathis, C. (2002). Abilities fund: Don't Give Up, Abilities Fund. Retrieved March, 2002 from www.abilitiesfund.org.

Rumrill, P., Fraser, R., & Anderson, J. (2000). New Direction in Home-Based Employment for People with Disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 14, 3-4.

Stoddard, S., Jans, L., Ripple, J.M. & Kraus, L. (1998). Chart Book on Work and Disability in the United States, 1998. An InfoUse Report. Berkeley, CA: Infouse.

US Census (1997).

Virginia Commonwealth University, Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Workplace Supports. "Bridge to Employment: Telecommuting." Retrieved March 2002 from www.worksupport.com/topics/telecoml.asp

World Institute on Disability, online at www.wid.org.


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