Workplace Accommodations R&D Digest - December 2010 / January 2011

Volume 8, Number 2

An update from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Workplace Accommodations (Work RERC) on our research, project activities, and resources of interest. More information about the Work RERC can be found at http://workrerc.org/


State of the Science Conference: The Potential of Emerging Technologies to Increase the Participation of Employees with Disabilities in the Workplace

Plans continue for the Work RERCís State of the Science Conference, which is scheduled for April 26, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency, Bethesda, MD (immediately preceding, and at the same location as the NARRTC conference). This one-day conference will establish a national dialogue on the current state and future directions of workplace accommodations.

The conference will focus on emerging workplace technologies -- including both technologies that are new to the market (e.g., mobile wireless devices) and technologies that have not typically been applied as workplace accommodations (e.g., robotics). Conference participants will identify and examine the potential of these technologies. Issues include:

The State of the Science Conferences sponsored by the various RERCs develop an agenda for future directions in research, service delivery, and product development based on user needs. They are generally held once each funding cycle. The Work RERCís conference will take the form of a working meeting, with attendance limited to 75 participants, representing technology developers, rehabilitation experts, and business. Due to the attendance limits, participation in the conference will be by invitation only. If you would like to request an invitation, please contact Karen Milchus at karen.milchus@coa.gatech.edu. Invited participants will be contacted beginning in January.


Cost-Benefits of Providing Workplace Accommodations

As part of a Work RERC project, the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University is conducting a study to look at the long-term costs and benefits of providing accommodations to employees.

This study builds off of a previous company case-study project that was sponsored by ODEP. A research consortium lead by BBI, and including the Work RERC, examined corporate policies and practices, including how workplace accommodations were provided. Study participants indicated that workplace accommodations generally had no- to low-cost. Benefits included greater productivity and working hours. However, participants also indicated that there were indirect costs (e.g., training, coworker effort) and benefits (e.g., reduced turnover, improved safety) associated with implementing some accommodations. The current study is attempting to determine both direct and indirect costs and benefits of accommodations. This will help us to better assess the costs, benefits, and utility of workplace accommodations and understand what organizational policies, practices, and cultures lead to successful use of accommodations.

For the current study, we want to gather information from both the employee and employer perspective. Therefore, we are interested in hearing about the experiences of employees who have asked for an accommodation, as well as from people who have implemented accommodation for their employees. For questions about this research, contact: BBISurveyteam@syr.edu Please click on the link below to learn more about the research and participate in the survey.
websurvey.syr.edu/accommodations.aspx.


Professional Education

Are you interested in finding out more about workplace and other accommodations? CATEA will be offering several professional education courses in the upcoming months, including several which will be conducted online as a series of webcasts:

For further information and to register for courses, visit www.catea.gatech.edu/courses.php .


Database of Accommodation Case Studies Relaunched

The Work RERC's popular "Accommodation Examples" resource is now being hosted on the ATWiki in a new "AT Applications" section. This change will make it easier for people to add interesting accommodation ideas and stories. The database currently contains about 80 case studies that can be searched by functional limitation, type of job family, or type of technology involved. Examples include several custom devices to help a people working as ticket takers, accommodations for people to work while supine, and jigs for people packaging items. Many of the case studies come from RESNA's Job Accommodations Special Interest Group.

The database was accessed over 27,000 times last year, and we anticipate that even more people will be able to make use of the resource in its new form. Check out the new format and consider sharing your own accommodation stories. Visit the new case study database at www.workrerc.gatech.edu/accommodations.php


Disability and Employment Updates

USBLN Toolkits Helps Businesses Engage Students with Disabilities

The US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) has released three new toolkits aimed at building connections between USBLN affiliates, employers, and students with disabilities (future employees). The toolkits provide guidance on creating or expanding: 1) internship programs, 2) mentoring programs, and 3) student advisory councils.

These efforts are intended to help people with disabilities learn about and prepare for future careers. These types of programs also provide employers with a means to establish relationships with students with disabilities, which is beneficial when recruiting for full-time positions. While developed for the USBLN, these toolkits may be useful to other organizations that are creating similar types of programs.

The USBLN is a national organization representing over 5,000 employers which promotes the business imperative of the preparation and inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. For more information, visit the USBLN website at www.usbln.org

National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Files Suit over Inaccessible Kiosks at Airports

The National Federation of the Blind, a leading advocate for accessible technology for people who are blind, and three blind individuals who travel frequently for work, have filed a class-action lawsuit against United Airlines regarding the inaccessibility of the companyís airport kiosks. The suit alleges that United is violating the California Disabled Persons Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act because the services it provides through these touchscreen kiosks are not available to blind passengers. The company has not made the kiosks accessible through the addition of audio interfaces, a tactile keyboard, or interactive screen reader technology that some companies have implemented.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the NFB, explains: "Instead of enjoying the features and convenience of these kiosks, including a quicker and more convenient check-in process, blind passengers must wait in long lines at the ticket counter, even when they have already purchased their tickets and checked in online." The NFB alleges that this results in a separate and unequal experience for blind passengers. The results of this lawsuit may have implications for the accessibility of other kiosks that employees interact with in public spaces. For more information, visit the NFB website at www.nfb.org/nfb/NewsBot.asp?MODE=VIEW&ID=688

GAO Forum Identifies Practices That Could Increase the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Workforce

In July, the GAO convened a forum to identify leading practices that federal agencies could implement to provide equal opportunity for current or potential federal employees with disabilities, as mandated by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In advance of the forum, stakeholders were asked to identify barriers and leading practices. These were then discussed further in forum.

Participants identified attitudinal barriers, which can include bias and low expectations for people with disabilities, as the most significant barrier keeping people with disabilities from the workplace. In terms of possible practices to address this issue, recommendations included getting a commitment from top leadership for the hiring of persons with disabilities, providing training for agency staff at all levels to communicate expectations regarding the hiring of people with disabilities, creating a flexible work environment, ensuring that career development opportunities for staff are accessible, centralizing funding for accommodations at the agency level, and promoting better coordination within and across agencies.

The full report can be found at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d1181sp.pdf or http://www.gao.gov/htext/d1181sp.html

Lifted by the Cloud: Visions of Cloud-Enhanced Accessibility Challenge

The FCC, the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, and Raising the Floor, an international coalition of individuals and organizations who promote internet accessibility for people with disabilities, have launched a challenge to the public to submit short multimedia presentations on their visions of how cloud computing can create new opportunities for people with disabilities.

Submissions will be accepted until May 1, 2011. The most inspiring visions will be posted on the FCC's Accessibility and Innovation Initiative website, and will be considered for the Chairman's Awards for Advancement in Accessibility. In addition, the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities will award $1,000 for the best presentation that addresses the interests of people with cognitive disabilities, and Raising the Floor will award $1,000 for the best presentation that addresses the interests of people in developing countries. Finally, public voting for "the popular choice" will occur on Challenge.gov during the month of May.

Read more about this challenge at: http://challenge.gov/challenges/82


Featured Accommodation - DARIOS (Digital Accelerator Ring Optimized for Speed)

People who use hand controls now have another option to help them commute to work or drive to worksites during the day. DARIOS is a ring-shaped digital accelerator that is positioned just within the steering wheel. Hand controls typically require a person to use one hand for acceleration / braking and the other for steering. DARIOS enables drivers to maintain both hands on the steering wheel while also operating the accelerator, making turns easier. Since acceleration and steering is possible with the same hand, it also can free up the driverís other hand temporarily for operating secondary functions such as turn signals or wipers.

Push on the ring to accelerate; push down on a separate side lever to brake. The digital accelerator adapts its sensitivity to the speed of the vehicle, producing smooth acceleration. The ring is designed to match the normal interior of the vehicle. If other drivers wish to use the vehicle, the original brake and accelerator pedals remain functional. For more information, visit the Kempf Inc. website at: http://www.kempf-usa.com/Handcontrols_description.html


Upcoming Work RERC and Other Events


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