Workplace Accommodations R&D Digest - Jan/Feb 2010

Volume 7, Number 1

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

Studying User Input in Assistive Technology Design

Work RERC researcher Dr. Choi recently completed a project to investigate the impact that various types of input have on the design of workplace accommodations. Producers of assistive devices face many challenges in finding ways to produce products that meet end user needs, are reliable and are cost effective to manufacture. One of the things that helps make this possible is the process of collecting information about needs from users during the design of a product. This is a critical step, because it helps the product designer learn about problems and issues faced by users and how they might be solved. There are a number of different strategies that are commonly used to help learn about a problem. The goal of this project was to investigate the impact that three types of input: direct end user input, input from an occupational therapist, and input from simulation; have on the finished version of an assistive product.

Eight different design teams were formed to take part in the study. Each team was given the same design problem: to design a device that will allow a user with limited dexterity to independently tape closed a box. Each team was given a specific type of input while designing their devices. Two teams were allowed to use simulation tools, two teams received input from an occupational therapist, two teams received input directly from end users, and two control teams received no additional input. The designs from each team were then fabricated into fully working prototypes. Finally, each of the prototypes were evaluated by users with dexterity limitations to determine how effectively they functioned and how satisfactory they were to use.

different tape dispenser designs represented through drawings and renderings

The findings showed that any of the three types of input studied can have a significant positive influence on the level of effectiveness and satisfaction with a product. This is very important for producers of assistive devices because it shows that time and effort collecting input to understand needs can result in a better product. The findings also showed that the use of simulation tools during design can aid in producing products that are very effective and satisfactory for end users. Since there are different costs associated with different types of input, this is a potentially important finding. It may be useful in future efforts to improve the process so that AT products can be produced more cost effectively and be more effective and satisfactory at the same time.

Further information about Ms. Choi's PhD dissertation was recently presented:
Choi, Y.M. (2009). The Impact of Different Types of Input in the Design of Assistive Technology Products. Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), San Diego, California.

Policy Delphi Identifies and Explores Options for Improving Workplace Accommodations

Researchers Dr. Paul M.A. Baker and Dr. Nathan W. Moon recently completed their Policy Delphi on Workplace Accommodations. This study is part of the Work RERC's "Impact of Policy on Access to and Utilization of Workplace Accommodations" project, which seeks to understand the legislative and regulatory aspects of accommodations and address policy barriers to their successful deployment in the workplace.

A policy Delphi is a polling technique that seeks feedback from various stakeholders on a given issue. It is usually conducted over the course of several rounds, in which open-ended questions are also asked of the panel. Responses are then used to help develop the questions for the subsequent round. Our Policy Delphi on Workplace Accommodations took place over three rounds and involved about 45 participants representing the disability community, employers, vocational rehabilitation, and state and federal officials.

Starting with a set of forecasts on the future of accommodations, we first examined the important issues on their awareness, regulatory, economic, technological, and social aspects. We then moved to establish the most desirable policy goals in these areas. Once those were determined, we finished the policy Delphi by examining the most feasible policy options for realizing those goals to improve the state of workplace accommodations.

Our panel considered numerous important issues that pose potential barriers for successful workplace accommodations. A couple key ones include various stakeholders' lack of a common understanding about what constitutes an accommodation, unawareness among employers regarding the range of options and their costs, and the importance of promoting a workplace receptive to employees with disabilities. A few of the key goals our Delphi identified were the development and promotion of resources to help educate employers and inform their decision making, campaigns to encourage job recruitment websites to encourage the accessibility of people with disabilities, and expanding programs to offset the costs of making accommodations.

In order to address issues such as these and to make their associated goals a reality, participants in our policy Delphi arrived at a set of 22 policy options that received the support of at least 75 percent of the panel. Many of these options take a collaborative approach, including the involvement of federal agencies such as the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) in the Department of Labor and the ADA Task Force of the Department of Justice.

Drs. Baker and Moon will next turn their attention to disseminating their findings to help inform policymakers and researchers. The results of the policy Delphi will also be used to guide future research activities. A copy of the policy Delphi's findings will be made available shortly on the Work RERC website.

National Engineering Design Challenge Winners Announced

Finalists for the National Engineering Design Challenge (NEDC), a national contest for high school engineering students, will be gathering in Washington DC in late February. The student teams were challenged to design and build an assistive technology device to help a person with a disability from their community succeed in his or her workplace. This year, the Work RERC is sponsoring an additional award for "Best Application of Universal Design Principles."

The 2010 NEDC finalists include:

The competition is organized by the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) and AbilityOne (formerly known as the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program). NISH is one of two national, nonprofit agencies that support the nonprofit agencies participating in the AbilityOne Program. For more information, visit

Survey of Accommodations Use to Launch in Early March

What accommodations work well, for whom, and in what settings? Those are the questions that the Work RERC is trying to determine with its User Needs Project. The purpose of this project is to characterize the assistive technology and other accommodation requirements of workers with disabilities in order to identify gaps in technology and accommodation practice. In addition to identifying what accommodations people are using, the study will also investigate user perceptions of satisfaction, importance, and frequency of use for these accommodations.

The Work RERC will be launching an online survey as part of this study in early March. The survey encompasses all individuals who are employed in any capacity. Please help us spread the word and get people involved!

Professional Education Opportunities

Are you interested in finding out more about workplace and other accommodations? CATEA will be offering several professional education courses this Winter / Spring:

With the exception of the online course, the courses are offered on the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. Contact for further information and to register.

Upcoming Presentations

Work RERC researchers will be presenting the following presentations at CSUN's 25th Annual Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego in March.

Sample of Recent Conference Papers / Presentations

New Resources on the AT Wiki

The AT Wiki is an encyclopedia on assistive technology that anyone can edit, and which is part of the National Public Website on Assistive Technology []. The site has over 800 articles on various aspects of assistive technology and disability. Recent articles dealing with workplace accommodations include:

Since the site is a Wiki, additions to the site - whether adding a resource to an existing article or adding a whole new article - are always welcome.

Other Disability and Employment Updates

Unemployment Statistics Released

Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its first ever official unemployment rate for people with disabilities. Inconsistent use of parameters, definitions and assumptions had previously hindered comparison of unemployment rates based on disability. Now, we can find out that in January 2010, the percentage of people with disabilities in the labor force was 21.8 compared with 70.1 for persons with no disability. The unemployment rate of persons with a disability was 15.2 percent, compared with 10.4 percent for persons with no disability, not seasonally adjusted.

Beginning this month, information on the employment status of persons by disability status will cease being reported in a separate section of the BLS webpage and instead will be included as part of the "Employment Situation" news release published each month, in table A-6 []. These new statistics, collected from the Current Population Survey (CPS), will facilitate discussion of policies impacting employment and of overall employment outcomes.

Disability Employment Listening Sessions

In early 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) will hold a series of six Disability Employment Listening Sessions across the country on disability employment. Each Listening Session is an opportunity for members of the public to provide input to senior Federal officials on their ideas for more effective ways to employ women, Veterans and minorities with disabilities; and what is currently working in their regions to increase employment of people with disabilities.

Sessions will take place in the DOL's regional offices. Three more sessions are scheduled:

Participants may register for the event and submit comments online. For more information, see:

U.S. Office of Personnel Management Launches Government-wide Veterans Employment Website

In November, President Barack Obama established the Veterans Employment Initiative to help the men and women who have served our country in the military find employment in the Federal Government. A website has been set up with resources for both veterans and potential employers to help with transitioning. Visit

New Campaign to Promote Disability Employment

A collaboration of national and regional employment organizations in 30 states is launching a new campaign called "Think Beyond the Label" to promote the employment of people with disabilities. The group is using TV, print and web ads to get their message out, and provides resources for employers on their website []. The first of the light-hearted commercials can be viewed on YouTube:

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