2004 Conference Proceedings

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DELIVERING ON THE PROMISE: GETTING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY TO THE CUSTOMER

Presenter(s)
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)
703-681-0881 (TTY)
703-681-9075 (Fax)
Website: www.tricare.osd.mil/cap 
Email: Dinah.Cohen@tma.osd.mil 

Derek Shields, Program Manager
Axiom Resource Management, Inc.
Accessibility Services Division
5109 Leesburg Pike, Suite 819
Falls Church, VA 22041
703-998-0800 x16 (Voice)
703-681-0881 (TTY)
703-931-9483 (Fax)
Website: www.axiom-rm.com 
Email: Derek.Shields@axiom-rm.com 

Providing assistive technology to the end user in a timely and professional manner should be the goal of every assistive technology provider and vendor. The Department of Defense Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) is the United States federal government's centrally-funded program to provide assistive technology and accommodation services to federal employees with disabilities. Using CAP's experience of providing over 35,000 accommodations, and related training services, from over 1,000 vendors, the presenters will focus on the following key elements:

Overview of Assistive Technology Trends

The United States federal government is the largest buyer of electronic and information technology in the country. This buying power enables the government to leverage its position to influence the direction and focus of the marketplace. The impact the federal government has on the economy is a powerful component that all sectors must realize and understand. From a disability and technology perspective, it is critical to understand that the federal government is both a powerful economic force and also the leader in employing people with disabilities. As recruiting, hiring, and retaining people with disabilities is a federal focus, so is the reasonable accommodation process and procedures. As the government's centrally-funded program to provide assistive technology for employees with disabilities, CAP provides the tools for employees to access the fast-changing electronic and information technology environment. Since the programs inception in 1990, CAP's mission and role has been to provide real solutions for real needs.

During this past decade, CAP has been a link between government, industry, and people with disabilities in determining requirements and building plans for the future. Specific trends in assistive technology assist CAP and other disability/accessibility stakeholders in understanding where we were, and where we are headed:

As CAP and assistive technology evolves, it is important to recognize the importance of the mainstream environment. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act has played a key factor in increasing access of the electronic and information technology environment and opportunities for people with disabilities. Since the legislation was signed into law in 1998, significant focus, attention, and changes have been achieved.

The United States Access Board published an online tool to assist programmers and developers in understanding the accessibility provision of Section 508. The Guide to the Standards (http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/guide/index.htm) has details for each item with best practices. This tool has been used by federal agencies and vendors to ensure their respective conformance and compliance.

Furthermore, the United States General Services Administration, in conjunction with other federal agencies, created the http://www.section508.gov website as a portal to Section 508 information and training. One key feature of the site is Buy Accessible. Buy Accessible represents a partnership between government and industry to provide a service to federal procurement staff. It assists government personnel in completing market research necessary to ensure that they are buying the most accessible electronic and information technology products and services available in order to conform to Section 508. By providing a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template to vendors, and then posting the information in a common location, GSA enables federal procurement personnel to conduct proper acquisition planning and market research. These aspects of Buy Accessible highlight real progress in providing education and knowledge requiring officials and purchasing agents in order to ensure acquisitions of accessible products are executed.

Section 508 has created some real improvements. From the improvements on Website accessibility, to large scale application and office machine acquisitions, there are recognizable. However, real success lies in the ability for the federal government to hire more employees with disabilities who will be more productive because the information technology was designed with them in mind. The federal government strives to improve the connection between system accessibility (Section 508) and individual accommodation (Section 501/504 of the Rehabilitation Act) as it realizes more ways to create a more user-friendly environment.

The reality of these trends mean that CAP has an increased role in moving employment issues forward throughout the federal government. It also means that CAP works to ensure its vendors and service providers recognize the links between individual accommodation, system accessibility, and how the changing environment will impact federal employees with disabilities. Recognizing this interconnectedness and the changing environment will enable both CAP and its vendors and service providers to meet the federal employees with disabilities assistive technology needs.

CAP's Role

CAP serves as the federal government's largest buyer of assistive technology. With annual procurements of approximately $3,000,000, CAP supplies assistive technologies throughout the Department of Defense and over 58 other federal agencies. The challenge for the AT vendors that CAP selects is to keep up with the demand of its customers and the changes in the federal workplace. Making the match between our customers, employees with disabilities, and the appropriate assistive technology/service provider is CAP's role.

CAP works directly with employees via an accommodation process to identify the appropriate assistive technology. Outlined below, this three-step accommodation process ensures an employee-focused approach to accommodation selection:

Step 1: Needs Assessment Process:

Choosing appropriate accommodations is best done on a case-by-case basis. It is important to recognize that people with disabilities have different capabilities and varying degrees of disabling conditions. Accommodation needs must be evaluated in light of a person's job functions and technical environment (e.g., workstation configuration). To ensure that the appropriate accommodations will be provided, CAP conducts a needs assessment addressing three areas: The Job, The Individual, and The Solution. This entire process is outlined in CAP's Online Accommodation Process:

When looking at The Job, CAP requires the customers to answer the following questions:

When reviewing The Individual, CAP staff members request the customers to look closely at specific functional capabilities. Knowing the task and the individual's abilities and needs results in identifying the best tools to help people with disabilities.

Step 2: Accommodation Selection Process

Successful accommodation of people with disabilities can be achieved by reviewing the current position, identifying the potential barriers and providing the appropriate accommodations. It is essential that the employee being accommodated and their supervisor work together to evaluate the worksite and determine the most effective accommodation. CAP accommodation specialists assist in:

The Online Accommodation Process assists CAP customers in finding the assistive technology they need in order to perform their job duties. With that information, and a required justification, the employees then move forward to submit their request for accommodation.

Step 3: Request Submission Process

Once the assistive technology has been identified, the procurement of the assistive technology is done with the submission of a CAP Request Form.

CAP processes the request by following the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), the Clinger-Cohen Act, the Government Paperwork Reduction Act (GPEA) and other federal regulations. By using federal government credit cards, CAP is able to quickly purchase assistive technology and related services. This procurement process, from an approved request form and order to the actual delivery, should take no more than 3-8 working days. If CAP has also ordered installation, integration and/or training services, it is expected clear and open communication between the end customer (federal employee with a disability), the CAP office and the vendor will establish and maintain appropriate and reasonable expectations.

CAP/Vendor/Service Provider Partnership

The CAP/Vendor/Service Provider partnership is key to the successful employment of people with disabilities. After the assistive technology is properly provided, training must be conducted by a qualified, certified trainer. Recognizing the limits of technology throughout the training experience, employees with disabilities and the trainers begin to recognize the need for advancements and those are relayed back to CAP and to the product's design team.

To ensure this partnership between CAP, the assistive technology vendor, and the service provider works smoothly for customers and their local employers, the following actions are required:

CAP manages its partnerships with Vendors and Service Providers by implementing a Performance Standards Agreement upon the placement of an order. When accepted, it provides a clear understanding to ensure the performance standards are met, quality communication channels exist, and end-customer expectations are satisfied to the highest possible level. This process exists to ensure the federal government is able to meet its objectives to hire and accommodate more people with disabilities at higher employee grades than even before. It also exists to hold CAP's business partners accountable for the products and services requested.

Getting the right assistive technology to the customer in a timely manner allows federal employees with disabilities the opportunity to be productive members of the federal workforce. It also ensures that CAP delivers on its promise to provide real solutions for real needs.


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