2004 Conference Proceedings

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ACCOMMODATING EMPLOYEES WITH A VISUAL IMPAIRMENT THROUGH SERVICES TO MEET THEIR WORK NEEDS

Presenter(s)
Mark Rew
Phone: (703) 681-8812 ext6020
Email: mark.rew@tma.osd.mil

When we think of accommodation for individuals who are visually impaired we often think of providing speech or Braille equipment. How ever individuals who are visually impaired are a large and diverse population and the accommodation needs are often as individual as the people requiring the accommodation. This presentation will examine CAP's process for providing work accommodations to people with blind or low vision through needs assessment, equipment and training.

The Department of Defense established CAP in 1990 to eliminate employment barriers for people with visual, hearing, dexterity and cognitive disabilities. CAP is the Federal government's centrally funded accommodations program, providing assistive technology solutions at no cost to the requesting agency. Much of CAP's success lies in the ability to provide reasonable accommodations to employees quickly and easily, which can increase employment and retention which ensures an accessible future for people with disabilities. Based on CAP's success, on Oct 30, 2000, the program was granted additional funding and authorization to provide accommodations and services to all federal agencies. Currently CAP has 58 Partner agencies and has provided 35,000 accommodations since it's inception in 1990. This presentation will focus on CAP's accommodation process and employment initiatives that encourage the recruitment, placement and retention of individuals with disabilities.

An important part of the accommodation process is the needs assessment and technology evaluation for the individual with a visual impairment to perform their work requirements. this paper will focus on methods of performing a needs assessment for employees with a visual impairment.

Looking at the person

To Form a partnership: Employer and the employee with a visual impairment must first become an accommodation team. The employee will be the best resource for exploring and choosing the accommodation tools.

Determine usable vision: Next, visual use must be determined. Since persons with visual impairments do not see alike, the tools chosen will depend on whether or not the employee has usable vision, how the residual vision is used and the type of skills and abilities needed to perform the essential job tasks.

Individuality: The assessment should determine such issues as

With a profile of the individual's condition the assessment can proceed focusing on the abilities of the person as they relate to the needs of the job.

Job Needs

Function: It is important to match the needs of the work place with the appropriate accommodations. First the assessment needs to establish the type of work and the functionality of the duties of the job. Here the focus is on the needs of the job duties. An assessment will need to determine how much reading from printed material is required, how much and in what ways is the computer used, and what other type of equipment needs to be used or operated.

Duties: The needs assessment should identify the objectives of the person's position, and the time frame in which the person needs to perform tasks. If a job requires large amounts of reading, identify how much of the reading can be done by different methods. A person with low vision may read fine, but their eyes be come tired faster than a person without a low vision condition reducing their ability to complete the amount of reading they need to accomplish. Or, a person who is blind may read Braille, but since loosing their sight later in life do not read it fast enough for all of the materials they have to read through. Thus, both of these people may need a screen reader or a person to read material allowed to meet their job requirements. As the reading example demonstrates duties and time frame will determine the types of accommodation to consider.

Needs not wants: The assessment should focus on the actual needs of the job, and determine the accommodations to meet those needs. A person who is blind may want or enjoy a Braille display. But the assessment should look at how much detail reading the person is going to do. If the reading is only for short or small phrases the person probably can get all of the information they need from speech output. On the other hand, if the person is doing allot of editing either proofing documents, or writing computer programming code, then they may be more effective using a Braille display if they are a good Braille reader. If the person's job involves identifying or inventory of products then they will benefit from a bar code reader. Where as someone whose job does not require them to identify products has no work need for a bar code reader. Hence, the requirements of the job are what really determine the type of assistive technology the individual will need.

The assessment needs to consider the job functions that the person's condition affects. thus, this phase of the assessment leads into the evaluation of solutions including appropriate assistive technology.

The Assistive Technology

Explore low vision tools: Most people who are considered blind have some usable vision. Therefore, most accommodation assessments will involve how much that vision can be used to perform the work duties efficiently. When vision is assessed for its usefulness, one must take into consideration the efficiency with which the vision is used. For example, reading speed, length of comfortable reading time, eye strain and tendency for headaches will be the variables to assess to determine if print reading is feasible.

If it is, the employee can explore using high end technology tools such as computer screen magnification, print enlargement systems and less complex solutions such as dark lined paper, large print calendars and wide point pens.

Explore nonvisual tools: If the vision is not useful for performing job functions, then speech or Braille would be appropriate accommodations to explore. Employees with no usable vision will use high end technology solutions such as speech or Braille output systems to access the computer monitor. In some cases, employees will use a combination of speech and Braille to work most efficiently. For example, a secretary who is blind and who is required to proofread typed materials finds that proofreading is more accurate when Braille is used, but that when producing the document, listening to the screen output facilitates use of speedy word processing skills. Computer programmers report that using Braille output systems has increased their work productivity more than half than it was when they used the more primitive screen reading devices or just speech output. However, when they prepare the report summarizing the results of programming runs, they rely on the speech output from the computer.

Explore all alternative technologies: For note taking, jotting down phone messages or annotating files, employees with visual impairments may choose from several alternatives. Electronic note takers are available with a standard word processing keyboard or the standard seven or nine key Braille keyboard. These systems provide speech or Braille output and can be connected to a computer for quick transfer of notes to the computer. The more traditional note taking devices are large pointed pens used by persons with low vision or the slate and stylus, considered as a pen equivalent by those taking Braille notes. All of these note taking methods are viable. The employer and the employee will need to evaluate how notes are used to determine which is the most appropriate and reasonable accommodation.

Explore reading alternatives: Most jobs require reading and understanding or interpreting what is read. Persons with low vision generally choose magnification systems such as a Close Circuit Television (CCtv). Those with no usable vision, generally choose reader/scanners. Scanning devices work well when text reading is done. However, if large volumes of reading are required or if specific formats must be maintained, the accommodation solution may be a part time "live" reader; that is, an individual who reads printed material to the employee. Usually the reader need not have knowledge and ability, nor meet the job qualifications required of the employee. The reader must be able to follow directions given by the employee, find information quickly--serve as eyes for print reading. In technical fields the reader will need to be able to properly read mathematical symbols, charts and graphs, and technical drawings such as schematics.

An effective assistive technology assessment must include an opportunity for the person to try different types of equipment. Often it is useful for the person to visit an assistive technology center such as CAPTEC for an evaluation of equipment. People with low vision benefit greatly from trying different CCTVs and screen magnification products. The features that may make a difference for an individual can include how clear images are, the color and color contrast, and the amount of control over the appearance of the image the individual has. It may be useful to test assistive technology software combinations in the individual's work environment to make sure all of the products can work together and that they are able to access the work place applications. The evaluation must assess the amount of training the individual will require. Most assistive technology is simple and come with instructions requiring no additional training. But, other equipment, especially complex software, requires training for the person to make full use of the solution. Accommodation is so individualized to the person and work environment that there is no way to ensure a solution will work until it is adequately tested.

The assistive technology must meet the Individuals and work needs. The equipment needs to be appropriate for the person's condition and meet the requirements of the job. A proper combination of assistive technology is often used. For example, an individual with low vision may use a screen magnification package along with text to speech screen reading capability. This allows the person to see images and details on the screen, but comprehend the material without eye strain. The assistive technology needs to be integrated into the information technology infrastructure. for example, the assistive technology must operate in the organization's enterprise network environment. And, when multiple assistive technologies are combined the packages need to be able to work together. The person and work needs portion of the assessment drives the assistive technology portion of the assessment by establishing the parameters that the assistive technology will be used in.

Conclusion

The factors can be summarized in the following steps:

  1. The employer and employee with a visual impairment form an accommodation team.

  2. Conduct a job assessment to identify job functions and how the functions are performed

  3. Evaluate vision use with various data presentations

  4. Compare evaluation results with alternate output devices

  5. Select the accommodation tools which facilitate the optimal use of the employee's skills and abilities.

The DoD, CAP, provides the assistive technology to individuals with visual disabilities. When using the right combination of tools, whether an individual just fits the definition of legal blindness or has no usable vision at all, these employees can be valuable persons on the office team.

Mark Rew
Team Leader,
Blind and Low Vision Team
TEL 703-681-8812
TTY 703-681-0881
FAX 703-681-9075
Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP)
visit us online http://www.tricare.osd.mil/cap 


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