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WorkTech Solutions News, Fall 2001

Special Edition of The New England Council Network Newsletter

Originally published: 9/2001

From the President:
The New England Council Joins with WorkTech Solutions to Address New England's Workforce Needs

Despite recent economic changes, New England businesses continue to search for new sources of qualified employees. At the same time, people with disabilities continue to experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment. To address this, The New England Council has joined with WorkTech Solutions to demonstrate how computer technology and job accommodations can help more people with disabilities enter the workforce.

With funding from Microsoft, WorkTech Solutions was launched by the Institute for Community Inclusion in July 2000. Since that time the project has provided training and consultation to a wide range of businesses to address issues ranging from creating a welcoming environment for job applicants with disabilities to assistive technology options for individual employees with disabilities.

While initially focused on providing a new pool of potential employees, WorkTech Solutions has found that the aging of the "baby boomer" generation also creates new challenges for employers as they work to retain employees who have chronic health issues or an acquired disability. Through WorkTech Solutions, employers are learning that universal design and assistive technology can help employees remain productive in the workplace.

With little population growth projected for New England, it is critical that the business community explore ways to expand the workforce. WorkTech Solutions and The New England Council are working to close the gap between those who want to work and companies who have unmet workforce needs. Our economic growth truly depends on the success of such initiatives.

--James T. Brett, President & CEO

The Museum of Science and WorkTech Solutions Partnership:
Technology Improves Access for People with Disabilities

"The Museum of Science is a model company because they've applied what we have to offer at all levels. They pay attention both to their customers and their employees."
-- Mia Simon, Director of WorkTech Solutions

The partnership between the Museum of Science and WorkTech Solutions (WTS) began in October 2000 when Sherlyn Pang-Luedtke, Senior Recruiter, attended a focus group sponsored by The New England Council. She recognized that by developing a partnership with WTS the Museum would enhance existing efforts to increase the diversity of both its workforce and its customer base. For the Museum of Science, developing a partnership with WTS was a business decision, a response to legal realities, and simply the right thing to do.

In the Museum Shop, John Barbieri, Interim Director, was finding it difficult to hire and retain qualified employees. Improving accessibility for employees with disabilities meant that there would be more candidates for jobs.

John found WTS's visit to the store illuminating. "It was immensely helpful. It's good to have a professional eye come in and say, 'Here's what you can do.' Everybody's first thought is 'we've got to make the aisles wide enough.' That's a good place to start, but there's much more." After WTS's visit, the museum redesigned its displays according to universal design principles, using simple strategies such as raising bins to make them easier to reach.

John plans further modifications, including accessible point-of-sale stations. With these changes, the store has become easier for employees and customers to navigate.

Understanding disability issues is also essential for employee retention. Maria Cabrera, Community Relations Program Manager and a supervisor with a disability, had developed her own accommodation strategies but was not aware of new tools available for the workplace. WTS provided a workplace assessment that she described as giving her "eye-opening ideas about how to make the office space more feasible for my needs." For Maria, "being involved in WTS shows that the Museum really is committed to its staff."

While companies sometimes hesitate to bring in outside experts, Sherlyn felt that WTS understood their issues. WTS staff helped the Museum put philosophy into action, demonstrating a variety of low-tech and high-tech tools for employees and providing a range of practical suggestions.

The partnership has helped Maria perform her job more efficiently and effectively. For John, WTS has improved recruitment and customer service. "Once you get in that way of thinking, a light goes on. You look at it in a whole different way. That's a big success story." With training scheduled for the fall, WTS and the Museum look forward to an ongoing relationship that will help the Museum with recruitment and retention, and continue its efforts to provide the best service possible to all its customers.

Interview with Bill Kiernan, Director of the Institute for Community Inclusion

Q: Who are people with disabilities?

Bill Kiernan: People with disabilities, like anyone else, have unique abilities and interests. They are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends, co-workers, and CEOs. In fact, the disability community is the largest minority group in the USA and includes people from all backgrounds. One out of every five Americans has a disability.

Q: What does "disability" mean?

BK: There are many types of disabilities, including physical disabilities, learning disabilities, blindness, mental retardation, mental illness, and chronic health issues. The Americans with Disabilities Act describes a person with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that results in substantial limitations in one or more major life activities.

Q: What is assistive technology?

BK: Assistive technology is a tool or device that helps a person with a disability be independent in their school, community, or workplace. It can range from low- cost items available at the local hardware store to sophisticated tools such as specialized computer equipment. In our office an employee uses voice recognition software because of a repetitive motion injury. We also have a label maker that prints in Braille. Using this inexpensive tool we can label everything from the microwave to the copy machine, making our office accessible to an employee who is blind.

Q: What is universal design?

BK: Universal design creates environments that are usable by everyone, no matter what their abilities or limitations. The control panel on my PC, for example, allows me to change audio alerts to visual signals. These are more effective for an employee who is deaf and are also useful in a shared office environment where audio alerts can be distracting to co-workers.

Q: How does WorkTech Solutions help employers?

BK: WorkTech Solutions (WTS) provides customized services including training, consultation and individual workplace assessments to help companies attract new employees and retain current employees. WTS brings expertise in areas such as job design and assistive technology. Employers identify the issues to be addressed and work with WTS to develop action plans.

Working with companies such as the New England Aquarium, the Social Security Administration, the Hyatt Regency, Puddingstone Books and Prints, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, WTS has developed partnerships that help companies use assistive technology and universal design to hire and retain employees with disabilities.

Q: How do employers react when you start introducing technology accommodations?

BK: Employers have responded enthusiastically to the concept of universal design. Naturally everyone likes it when changes that increase options for people with disabilities improve the work environment for everyone. Employers are surprised to learn that there are simple, inexpensive accommodations that can increase employee productivity and job satisfaction. The average job accommodation costs less than $500, and most employers report benefits in excess of $5000 (Job Accommodation Network).

William Kiernan, Ph.D., has 25 years of experience in working with individuals with disabilities in employment settings. Dr. Kiernan has written multiple books, book chapters and journal articles on employment for individuals with disabilities and is considered a national expert in this area.

The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) provides disability expertise and leadership throughout the US and internationally to support the inclusion of people with disabilities in all areas of their community, including the workforce. WorkTech Solutions, a Microsoft supported initiative, is one of ICI's many projects.

Universal Design and Assistive Technology in New England Businesses

"Accessible design is good design - it benefits people who don't have disabilities as well as people who do. Accessibility is all about removing barriers and providing the benefits of technology for everyone."
-- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin

"These technologies and many more can be used to help millions of others achieve success in the workplace, regardless of their circumstances."

Examples from his own life:

Theo Graham is an inventory assistant and researcher for Puddingstone Books and Prints. His speech can be difficult to understand for people who don't know him. Theo uses:

Lori Christenson is a billing clerk at a women's health care company in Connecticut who has physical and visual limitations. Lori uses:

Mike Spiteri, a computer consultant, uses technology to offset physical limitations due to quadriplegia. His workstation includes:

How WorkTech Solutions Can Help New England Businesses

New England Resources

The following organizations can connect you to employment, disability, and technology resources in your area:

New England Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC)
Adaptive Environments
(617) 695-0085 (phone/TTY)
(800) 949-4232 (toll-free information line)

A.J. Pappanikou Center for Developmental Disabilities
(860)679-1500 (phone)
(866)623-1315 (toll free phone)
(860)679-1502 (TTY)

Center for Community Inclusion
(207) 581-1084 (phone)
(207) 581-3328 (TTY)

Institute for Community Inclusion
(617) 287-4300 (phone)
(617) 287-4350 (TTY)

Institute on Disability
(603) 862-4320 (phone)

Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College
(401) 456-8072 (phone)
(401) 456-8773 (TTY)

Center on Disability and Community Inclusion
(802) 656-4031 (phone)
(802) 656-4031 (TTY)

The New England Council

Boston office
98 North Washington St., Suite 201
Boston, MA 02114
(617) 723-4009, Fax (617) 723-3943

Washington D.C. office
331 Constitution Ave., NE
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 547-0048, Fax (202) 547-9149

The New England Council gratefully acknowledges Northeast Utilities for its support in the production of this Special Edition of the newsletter.

WorkTech Solutions thanks Judith Moeckel from the Connecticut Bureau of Rehabilitation Services for her help on this newsletter.

WorkTech Solutions is a Microsoft-supported initiative of the Institute for Community Inclusion/University of Massachusetts Boston in partnership with The New England Council.

© Copyright 1992-2002, Institute for Community Inclusion. Permission to use, copy, and distribute all documents on this site, in whole or in part, for non-commercial use and without fee, is hereby granted, provided that appropriate credit to the Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston, be included in all copies.

ICI: promoting inclusion for people with disabilities