There are probably hundreds of different accommodations workplaces are now providing to employees with disabilities. Most are simple, like wrist supports or a schedule modification. Others are more complex like screen reading software, a modified workstation, or the option to telecommute. Regardless of the solution, it's the ability to think creatively about workplace practices and environments--coupled with a general awareness of assistive technology (AT) tools--that is often critical to employment success for individuals with disabilities.
To help develop these awareness skills, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) recently partnered with Easter Seals MA to create AT for Employment Toolkits. The toolkits are for use by employment specialists and job developers. MassMATCH (the Massachusetts state AT Act program) provided technical assistance to steward the design of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)-funded project, brainstorming needs with job placement specialists, and then helping to contract with Easter Seals to design and assemble them and provide trainings on their use.
About the Toolkits:
The toolkits are wheeled suitcases packed with information and equipment. The contents are targeted to raise awareness among employers, counselors, and potential users about the power AT can have leveling the playing field for individuals with disabilities. In total 29 kits were created, one for every MRC area office.
What's in them:
* A guide to using the toolkit
* Sample devices for use with individuals with different disabilities (i.e. trackball mouse, digital recorder, personal amplifier, smart pen, magnifiers, iPod Touch with memory/organization apps, etc.)
* A binder of referral and resource information for employers and MRC staff (including the Job Accommodation Network Accommodation and Compliance Series by disability, information on Universal Design and AT, comparison charts on specific product types, open source information, etc.)
* 3 desktop easels with presentation information on AT for individuals with different disabilities as well as information on employer tax credits and work place accommodations.
How the toolkits are used:
The toolkits are currently integrated into employer sensitivity trainings on working with individuals with disabilities, and are helping to facilitate conversation about different types of disabilities and AT. According to Bill Allen, MRC's statewide employment placement director, most employers do not know what is available and having something in hand can make a very big impression.
MRC is also ramping up to integrate the toolkits into cross-trainings the agency has planned with major Massachusetts employers including MBTA, Allied Barton, Manpower, and Adecco. Cross-trainings allow MRC to learn about these workplaces and what is required of their employees, and for employers to learn, in turn, about services, accommodations, and on-the-job trainings MRC can provide to help fill their positions with qualified VR clients.
Allen is excited by the role he sees the AT toolkits will play to further these employer partnerships. ARRA funds, he explains, have also been used to hire six employment specialists with marketing and business backgrounds to do outreach, and create new employer relationships. The mission of that initiative dovetails nicely with deploying the toolkits. "It's all part of this infrastructure we're building for the future," he says, "for MRC's creating long-term sustainable relationships. We have a strategic plan to tap into market sectors like health care, IT, construction (for when that gets going again!) And AT is going to lead the way. As technology changes the workplace, we're going to be the go-to people for businesses when they understand what we do and all that we offer."
To learn more about what's in the toolkits: Download the AT For Employment Toolkit Power Point
Questions? Email MassMATCH Coordinator Kobena Bonney