Fred Tchang explains why the time is right for creating a certificate program in Assistive Technology for Employment
When employment support professionals work with people with significant physical disabilities, they often look for work that the person can do without accommodation. This tendency comes from a lack of training and experience in developing and implementing accommodations, including the consideration of assistive technology (AT). With funding from the Kessler Foundation, Advancing Opportunities (which partners with the NJ AT Act program) is working to remove that barrier by offering a new certificate program that targets professionals working in employment.
Earning an AT for Employment Certificate will help employment support professions apply the ethical guidelines put forth by the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE). APSE's very first guideline for employment support professionals states:
People receive assistance as unique individuals with varying interests, preferences, and aptitudes. They should not be grouped together on the basis of label, functioning level, or convenience of support.
When job accommodations, including assistive technology, are not used in the process of identifying potential jobs, the interests, preferences, and aptitudes of our consumers are put in the backseat instead of where they belong--as the primary driver. Indeed this lack of accommodation often leaves consumers relying too heavily on other people for assistance. It also results in reassigning some work tasks to co-workers. The result? A worker who is more reliant on others, less valuable to their employer, and less likely to advance.
Our certificate program is designed to train employment support professionals to develop and implement job accommodations and assistive technology supports. An essential component of this training includes loaning assistive technology to participants over a period of 2 months to assist their carrying out trials and applying what they have learned. Students are provided with a kit that includes an iPod Touch pre-loaded with relevant work-oriented apps (and an opportunity to keep the technology for their program).
Helping professionals who are not specialists in AT consider AT is not new. There are many professionals in the K-12 setting, case managers, and vocational rehabilitation counselors, and others who are expected to be able to include AT in a system of supports. While each application is unique, the basic knowledge and skills that are needed for professionals to consider whether or not a consumer can benefit from assistive technology is the same.
With may states proclaiming themselves Employment First states, and with the development of APSE's Certified Employment Support Professional (CESP), the time is right to support these professionals, and support employment first. Learn more at this Advancing Opportunities Assistive Technology Center Web page.
--Fred Tchang, ATP, director of Assistive Technology Services at Advancing Opportunities in New Jersey